• Pablo Ziffer

Ives Symphony 2 (1901)



Mov.I: Andante moderato 0:00

Mov.II: Allegro 5:46

Mov.III: Adagio cantabile 17:00

Mov.IV: Lento maestoso 25:20

Mov.V: Allegro molto vivace 28:06

Charles Edward Ives (October 20, 1874 – May 19, 1954) was an American modernist composer. He is one of the first American composers of international renown, though his music was largely ignored during his life, and many of his works went unperformed for many years. Ives combined the American popular and church-music traditions of his youth with European art music, and was among the first composers to engage in a systematic program of experimental music, with musical techniques including polytonality, polyrhythm, tone clusters, aleatoric elements, and quarter tones, foreshadowing many musical innovations of the 20th century.

Sources of Ives' tonal imagery are hymn tunes and traditional songs, the town band at holiday parade, the fiddlers at Saturday night dances, patriotic songs, sentimental parlor ballads, and the melodies of Stephen Foster.

Although the work was composed during Ives's 20s, it was half a century before it was premiered, in 1951, in a New York Philharmonic concert conducted by Leonard Bernstein. The symphony was premiered to rapturous applause but Ives responded with ambivalence (he reportedly spat)---he did not attend the concert in person, but listened to a radio broadcast. The public performance had been postponed for so long because Ives had been alienated from the American classical establishment. Ever since his training with Horatio Parker at Yale, Ives had suffered their disapproval of the mischievous unorthodoxy with which he pushed the boundaries of European classical structures to create soundscapes that recalled the vernacular music-making of his New England upbringing.

Like Ives's other compositions that honor the European and American inheritances, the Second Symphony makes no complete quotation of popular American tunes, but tunes such as "Camptown Races", "Long, Long Ago", "Turkey in the Straw" and "America the Beautiful", are alluded to and reshaped into original themes. The sole exception is "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean", whose verse is heard complete and almost unaltered at the climax of the fifth movement as a counterpoint to Ives's original first theme. There are also a number of references to works from the Western canon of music, notably the first movement of Beethoven's fifth symphony (some rather subdued compared with the original) and a rescoring of part of Brahms's first symphony, as well as a passage (in the first and last movements) from the F minor three-part invention of Johann Sebastian Bach. Ives also quotes the so-called Longing for Death motif from Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde.

Performed by Michael Tilson Thomas with the Concertgebouw Orchestra.

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