The choral pieces on this Stokowski disk also appeared on "Charles
Ives: The 100th Anniversary"(Columbia Masterworks M4 32504; the 5-LP
set...now out of print).
Stokowski's accounts of these choral works were one of the big
highlights of that LP set...I was so happy to get them on CD (on Sony
MPK 46726)years ago.
I was particularly entranced by "Lincoln, The Great Commoner" and "An
Election (It Strikes Me That)". These performances are absolutely
stunning and evoke much mystery and wonder.
Ives wrote "An Election" in response to Harding's presidential
victory (won by a landslide) in 1920. In the score of the song, Ives
writes, "sung as a soliloquy of an old man whose son lies in
Flander's Fields." We don't need to get into the details of the
political arena at the time (Harding led a corrupt and incompetant
administration), but on hearing the music it is obvious this is one
of Ives's 'blowing off steam' pieces. I never think too much on the
political anger when I hear this work...I really love the unison
voices and the ending, which is my favorite Ives ending ever. It has
a hard, comical and industrial air about it. I keep imaging a cold
winter sky every time I hear this. It is very raw and brittle
sounding...very cold, in a sense. Yet the ending is such a blissful
cry...the mood blooms into something else...MY CAPTAIN (Whitman's
evocation of Lincoln after Lincoln's assassination).
"Lincoln" feels like a companion work to "An Election". The mention
of "My Captain" in "An Election", the unison chorus, and almost the
same musical material (that awesome low bell) in both endings tie
these two songs together. The brass writing is stunning and scary in
a sublime way.
I discovered some a great commentary on "An Election", by Emily
Graefe. I'll post it below:
"...The song raises issues of the duty of each citizen to vote
intelligently, and to uphold the founding fathers' vision of
democracy. It focuses on the dualities of the individual's duty to
action and passivity in relationship to the betterment of society.
Although sung by one man, there is dialogue between him, who speaks
of the duty the individual as to society, and the people who have
forgotten this duty. They are shown as passive, while the singer is
active. The song pities those who wanted to keep the status quo. They
are presented in stark contrast to the soldiers who fought and died
for change in World War I. The listener is reminded of this with
the brief musical and lyrical quotation of the popular war
song, "Over There" by George M. Cohan, in measure six. We are told
that the soldiers "fought and died that better things might be!"
whereas "the timid smiled and looked relieved, `We've got enough to
eat, to hell with ideals'!" The Transcendentalists would see the
timid as resigning their individuality to what society proscribes,
instead of challenging ideas and finding something to believe in.
Ives presents his bias clearly and the listener does not doubt which
set of people he believes are better individuals. The soldiers
possessed individual honor and duty to serve their country and force
a change for the better. The people at home, on the other hand, are
easily satisfied and lose their desire to change the world for an
ideal. They do not act on their own accord because they are part of a
group mentality and possess a placidity that prohibits their own
ideas from being fostered.
Musically the piece is varied. As is evidenced by the lyrics, a
dialogue is set up between two different groups that represent action
and inaction, which gives the song a unique character. This is
handled musically by the use of staccatos in the accompaniment when
the group speaks. An ostinato figure beginning in measure four is
said to be played in "an uneven and dragging way," showing the
sluggishness of the passive group and makes that inaction cohesive
throughout the piece. The staccatos show how their mentality is
detached from the larger understanding of what is good for society.
Throws of passion are tempered by lines that are practically spoken,
which help to express the duality present in the song. The music
enhances the whirlwind of emotion shown in the lyrics.
The song incorporates unusual musical ideas to further Ives' point.
To begin with, the piece has no key signature or time signature. This
is common in Ives' music because of his chromaticism and polyrhythms,
but also, those things would simplify the piece and break it down
into conventional language, just as politicians break things down for
the public so they feel they have nothing worth voting for. Ives
shows the contrast between "there" and "here" by the triplet rhythm
groupings for the "there" section (m. 6, 7) in the beginning. It is
found in both the melody and the accompaniment, either separately or
This unifying rhythm shows the unity in duty to the country and
society. Also, the texture of thick chords shows unity because the
notes are played together. This rhythm is not found again until the
ending call to "my Captain." Also not heard until the ending is a
triple forte dynamic. It occurs in the beginning on the
word "fought." The soldiers' duty was expressed through action,
whereas society's desire to "quit," is marked by a pianissimo.
Underpinning the phrase "beginning to forget and to quit" are minor
descending chords to show his melancholy over this fact.
The state of the majority's inaction is shown musically. When Ives is
describing the common attitude as being "to hell with ideals," he has
the singer descend on a chromatic scale. This motion alone shows the
exhaustion and release with which the individual can easily resign
his role as an active citizen. Details like these descending
chromatic figures show the general downtrodden nature of the
country's political situation. The five-note clusters in the left
hand of the accompaniment for "to hell with ideals" are ascending and
come together with the descending right hand line. The result is not
harmony and agreement, but collapsing inwards and is another example
of the inactive mood he tried to create. Both the chromaticism and
tone clusters do not serve a traditional purpose harmonically.
By associating these stagnant musical ideas with the inaction of
society, Ives further links his text to the music. The murkiness of
the clusters of tones is ambiguous and unpleasant, especially for the
audiences of his day. They represent the passive citizens in the
song, and the unharmonious nature of the clusters marks the citizens'
grating effect on the country. The dark dissonances serve to echo the
dark place that the American government is in: the alternative path
of the individual, one in which he resigns his duty to society, leads
to a dim world with little enlightenment.
The ending section with the call to "my Captain" is the climax of
this emotional and bitter critique on society. One might expect this
hopeful end full of major chords and clear harmony because of its
hopeful ending that America will reclaim its past of involved
government. Ives chose not to be so simple for this ending. The
chords in the last five bars are the same, beginning with a loud
proclamation (f) followed by a quiet one (p).
This is symbolic because the dynamics show the polarity that exists
between individualism and the group. The first chord is anchored in
the bass clef with a C-major chord. The vocal melody outlines a C-
major chord before hovering around e, only to settle on c, giving the
impression that C is the root. What is placed in the accompaniment on
top of the C chord, though, is an A-minor chord.
This bitonality serves to demonstrate the two forces of individualism
and group, with great tension resulting from the two. The second,
quieter but more dissonant, is built out of a set of augmented
fourths centered on C, D, and E (C to F-sharp, D to G-sharp, and E to
A-sharp), which show that Ives chooses his intervals with some
unifying element. The tonal ambiguity for the ending section proves
that even though the past can be looked to for inspiration, it cannot
be replicated. By evoking this past spirit, clarity is not reached
because it has no place in the present. The diminuendo for the
passage suggests that the memory will die away if it is not enhanced
by a modern event to replace the ghost of the past.
The nation's "heritage" is discredited because its citizens have
neglected their duty of being informed about their government and
living by high ideals. The song ends with a call to "my Captain,"
Walt Whitman's poetic reference to Abraham Lincoln.
Ives leaves the listener with an idealization of the past of
Lincoln's day when Ives believed that a strong individual led the
country and when the people could be democratic about voicing their
opinions. That age in history could not be repeated, though. The
Transcendentalists felt the weight of the past pressuring them to
live up to the ideals of their revolutionary forefathers, just as
Ives fondly remembers an old way of American government. Ives
recognizes that the past cannot be
recreated, so he uses this memory to propel the country into action.
The Transcendentalists used a similar technique in regards to the
Anthony Burns slave trial. They did this by emphasizing America's
formative identity as a bastion of freedom. When southerners
threatened to bring the escaped slave Anthony Burns back to the
south, northerners were rallied by the idea that they had to preserve
their identity with freedom. By evoking images of the Revolutionary
War, they moved the citizens of Boston to action to prevent the
return of the slave. Ives believed that "the need of leaders in the
old sense is fast going but the need of freer access to greater
truths and freer expression is with us."
He used the memory of a leader to encourage citizens to become their
own leaders empowered to make their own decisions..."
I definitely recommend the Stokowski disk. I haven't yet mentioned
his account of the 4th Symphony, but that is a great interpetation as
--- In email@example.com
, "David O'Dette" <dodette@...>
> This is ArkivMusic's print-on-demand reissue of Sony MPK 46726. I
have the Sony CD. The performances are from 1960s LPs: the symphony
from 1965 (its premiere recording), Browning from 1966, the songs
from 1967. I wouldn't hesitate for a moment!
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Frank Camiola
> To: firstname.lastname@example.org
> Sent: Saturday, April 28, 2007 11:28 PM
> Subject: [charlesives] Stokowski/Gregg Smith?
> Is anybody familiar with this album? Were these issued before on
> "It is conceivable that what is unified form to the author or
composer may of necessity be formless to his audience."
> Charles Ives
> [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
> [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]