Re: [charlesives] The Musical Substance of Charles Ives's Works
- The borrowing of Ives is what first drew my interest to his music. In "March Collegiate ", he borrowed the tune from "Annie Lisle". The "Annie Lisle" tune was used by my high school as the school song. Turns out, this tune is used for several college school songs and even by a school in China.
Forgive my lack of musical knowledge, but didn't J.S. Bach borrow the "St. Anne" tune for his Prelude and Fugue in E Flat Major? Perhaps Ives was influenced by Bach and others.
Appreciate your thoughts on the matter.
mhberest <mhberest@...> wrote:
I have often wondered about the organization of Charles Ives's music.
One cannot as neatly analyze his methods of composition as neatly as
one can Schoenberg or Stravinski. One can point to the use of
recurrent motives, or atonal pitch sets, but these do not by and large
point to a system.
I think it has been said somewhat before that Ives used quotations as
"connective tissue" in his music, but I think they were more important
A traditional musical composition will be written in a major or minor
key with chromatic ornamentation. Beyond that we may see incessant
modulation or tonal ambiguity. Beyond that we may see the use of
atonal pitch sets, tone rows or other quasi-serial processes, such as
leitmotivs or fixed intervallic structuring.
But the one thing all systems have in common is that they are
_extramusical_ processes. In other words, they exist outside of any
one musical composition, and can be used over and over.
What if Ives's approach was to use quotes from familiar music, or
"artifically created" familiar music as his extramusical system?
I've mentioned the use of ostenati, and one hears things like Ives's
"Country Band March" used over and over in everything from Putnam's
Camp to Hawthorne to He is There. One might think this is the product
of a lack of inspiration, that Ives didn't have enough stuff to fill
the musical space so he kept borrowing from himself, or repeating
things over and over.
This might make sense were it not for the fact that Ives does not do
this in earlier pieces like the 2nd and 3rd Symphonies, or even in St.
Gaudens or Decoration Day, works that cleave more closely to
traditional variation or development techniques. Ives knew how to do
It almost seems like "Columbia the Gem of the Ocean" or the "Country
Band March" were his formal elements, not so much like the traditional
use of quotations, like the "variations on a theme of...", or even
like a tone row, but like a key.
We all know the major and minor scales. We all know "Columbia, the
Gem of the Ocean" (or we did in Charles Ives's day or if we are
familiar with Ives's music). And if we are familiar with Ives's
music, we know "Country Band March." These exist outside of any
individual composition, and can be used as, if not the basis of
variations, as the core organizer, the "tonic" chord.
The ostenati, then, through repetition unchanged, become like
quotations, they become familiar enough to exist separately from any
thematic process, to be recognized as their own entity. We see this
in the strings of "Central Park in the Dark" and "Unanswered Question"
and the solo violin part in the "Pink Teas at Vanity Fair" section of
the Fourth Symphony's Comedy.
Even in the "Pulse of the Cosmos" in Universe, each different rhythmic
layer is an ostinato or quasi-quote with its own distinct timbre and
rhythm. Not surprisingly, in the third cycle, there are actual
This is not unique to Ives. I have read things about brief motives
that continue over and over again in works of Schoenberg or
Stravinski. But they did it only to the most miniscule degree. I
think Ives made it a major part of his "system."
As I said in another post, only as time goes by does the true measure
of Ives's musical innovation becomes clearer and clearer. It is not
just doing everything before everyone else, or multiple orchestras, or
microtones. It probably is far more than we even realize today.
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- --- In firstname.lastname@example.org, Douglas Jordon
> davidgrayporter wrote:line in
> >> <>This is like the idea of composing melisma aganst a tenor
> >> Medieval music.Specifically
> It's funny, I was thinking about Medieval music as well.
> how Medieval composers would layer melodies apparently withoutregard to
> the harmonic consequences. I remember Perotins' name now that youis
> mention him, but the smattering of Medieval music I had in college
> pretty vague to me now. I do remember once our instructor saidthere
> were at one time two distinct schools, one freely dissonant andthe
> other rhythmically sophisticated, maybe one centered in France andthe
> other in Italy. When the schools merged their practices, theresult was
> something akin to 20th cen music. IIRC it was late 14th cen. Doesany of
> this sound familiar?Oh yeah, but it's not quite that way. Bth schools in the 14th C. in
France used free dissonance iun the upper parts (see the Kyrie from
the Missa Tournai for the Ars Antiqua style and the Gloria for the
rhythmically-sophisticated Ars Nova style).
Now the end of the 14th C., that was a wild time for music. Duple
meter in red ink (triple meter still in black), ultra-chromaticism,
rhythmically-involved canons (in MODAL rhythms!), yes, that was a
great time for music -- shitty time for people, but hey!
The Renaissance seems to be based on a reaction against this French
style. Look at what Cicconia composed. To me, the Renaissance,
even Josquin, never seems to match the late 14th C. music.