Second (Concord) Sonata
People who heard Charles Ives play, speak of his great talent for improvisation. He would portray his wildest fantasies on the piano, giving commentary or singing enthusiastically all the while. Characteristic for Ives is the way he snatched tunes from his childhood, hymns, ragtimes, marching music, and quotation from musical history (e.g. Beethoven) into a closely knit unity. Ives was a master of the art of quotation and those familiar with the riches of American popular melody of over hundred years ago are still finding new allusions in his work.
two Piano Sonatas abound in examples of his fantasizing on
the American musical tradition. They are monumental tales thas rise far
above treasured childhood memories and putting together
different styles and represent the
musical expression of an authentic philosophy of life in
which is room for everything - except for technical or
pianist is able to engage himself his whole life with those
compositions for he discovers always something new.
- duration: 35'
- duration: 35'
hymns form the essence of the musical content of this sonata. Ives heard them as a child at religious
gatherings. Their intervals, motifs and rhythms are the
building blocks of the composition. Emerging from the contemplative polyphony at its beginning
are shreds of the hymn I was a Wandering Sheep.
Movement 3 is a fantasia on the hymn What a friend we have in
Jesus. This movement forms an impression of the open-air
meetings conducted by Ives' father who was a band and choir
leader. In his Memos Ives writes: “I
remember how great waves of sound used to come through
the trees when the hymns were sung by thousands of 'let out'
souls. There was power and exaltation in these great conclaves of sound
Furthermore, a totally different kind of music plays an important role in this sonata, that is: ragtime. The movements 2 and 4 are arrangements of ragtimes which Ives had written previously. The swinging accents and counter-accents stimulated the composer to create polyrhythmic structures of five beats in the right hand against three in the left or ten against seven. Ives could hear perfectly in his mind this, at the time advanced, type of rhythmic combination. Movement 2b, In the Inn, was inspired by George Felsburg, the pianist at 'Poli's', a little theatre in New Haven which the composer frequented. Greatly admired by Ives, Felsberg had gained notoriety for being able to read the newspaper while playing the piano with impressive force and virtuosity. Sometimes, when he would pause to drink a glass of beer, Ives would take over from him.
Sonata no. 2, 'Concord, Mass. 1840-1860' (gecomponeerd
tussen 1911 en 1916)
In his Essays
before a Sonata, a commentary on the Piano Sonata no.
Ives wrote: “The
whole is an attempt to present one person's impression of
the spirit of transcendentalism that is associated in the
minds of many with Concord, Mass., of over a half century
ago. This is undertaken in impressionistic pictures of
Emerson and Thoreau, a sketch of the Alcotts, and a scherzo,
supposed to reflect a lighter quality which is often found
in the fantastic side of Hawthorne (1804-1864).”
The 'Beethoven motif', the first four notes of Beethovens Fifth Symphony, plays an important role in de Concord Sonata. This well known motif consists of three repetative notes followed by a declining major third, just like the beginning of the hymn Jesus, lover of my soul which plays a part throughout the whole composition. Thus, the Beethoven quotation and the hymn are both the building blocks of the Concord Sonata. The Beethoven motif is often characterized as the 'fate motif'. Ives gave it a different philosophical meaning, that is: 'The Soul of humanity, knocking at the door of the Divine Mysteries'.
Ralp Waldo Emerson was the leader of the transcendentalists.
well known remark of which reflects his philosophy of life
is: "What lies behind us and what lies before us, are
tiny matters compared with what lies within us." He was Ives' hero. That's why the first
movement of the Concord Sonata that portrays Emmerson is the