CV René Eckhardt





Charles Ives'

First Sonata


René Eckhardt


Sonatas nos. 1 & 2
Vanguard Classics 9905, 1995
 (in 2009 released again by Brilliant Classics 9135)
René Eckhardt, piano



The press about the CD

The Dutch music magazine Luister (Listen) accorded Eckhardt an A for a "superior performance". 

"For Eckhardt is the large and in some  passages almost unplayable Concord Sonata hardly a problem. There are few pianists who perform part 2 of the Concord this convincing."
Hans Heg, de Volkskrant

"Eckhardt excells in earthly storytelling, has a superb imagination and is able to blend all moods, impressions and quotations (from Beethoven to populair American hymns) perfectly together." 
Melchior Huurdeman


The press about live performances:

"In his unadorned interpretation Eckhardt unraveled clusters of notes and exposed complex structures withouth depriving the music of its propulsive force."
"Eckhardt showed that analytical precision could go with the disclosure of spiritual dimensions." 
Frits van der Waa,
national daily newspaper de Volkskrant"

"In piano solo works by Charles Ives Eckhardt shows his great passion and respect for this very original American composer." 
Marjolijn Sengers, regional daily newspaper Eindhovens Dagblad 


Quotation from an  interview with Eckhardt in the national daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad

"There are moments that Ives' music is breaking through something. No rules, everything gets mixed up. That makes an overwhelming impression. Yet the music does not leave the listener whith a feeling of chaos, but harmony. How that happens? I don't know. May be because Ives' music sounds like life itself."








Charles Ives (1874-1954)

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.

The 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 aesthetic dogmas. 

A pianist is able to engage himself his whole life with those compositions for he discovers always something new.

First Sonata (ca. 1900-1910) - duration: 35'

American 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 from humanity.”

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.

Piano Sonata no. 2, 'Concord, Mass. 1840-1860' (gecomponeerd tussen 1911 en 1916)  
duration: 40'

In his Essays before a Sonata, a commentary on the Piano Sonata no. 2, 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 transcendentalists represented
a group of American writers and philosophers who were convinced that one can find the divine in nature as well as in the soul of each individual. One can only come into contact with the divine in an intuitive manner - not through doctrines or intellectual principles. They also strived after humanitarian ideals and social changes. They all lived in the town Concord (Massachusetts) around 1850. That's why the Second Piano Sonata is also called the Concord Sonata. Realizing the paradox of fixing spontaneity in musical notation, he appended the first movement with the indication: Throughout this movement, and to some extent in the others, there are many passages not to be too evenly played and in which the tempo is not precise or static: it varies usually with the mood of the day.”

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. A 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 longest part. 
In the second movement, Hawthorne, the hymn Jesus, lover of my soul should be played as "as a Hymn, sometimes heard over a distant hill after a heavy storm". In this movement the pianist has to use a piece of wood  of 14
,75 inches in order to hit two octaves of the black keys very softly and steadily. 
The harmonious third movement, The Alcotts, exudes the tranquillity of "old man Alcott's – the great talker's - sonorous thought." Ives coloured the movement as though he were seated behind an organ and shortly before the end he pulls all the registers open. The third movement flows into a glorious moment in C major in which the Beethoven motif and the hymn are masterly raised. 
As a guide to the fourth movenment, Thoreau, Ives describes a day of Thoreau's life at the shore of Walden Pond in poignant imagery. Nature is the central issue and mist, train sounds, the church bells of Concord and the crystal clear water serve as metaphores of the fluctuations in Thoreau's frame of mind. Near the end we hear a melody that combines the various main motivic elements of the sonata. Ives suggestied to play this melody on the flute - ad libitum - for "Thoreau prefers to hear the flute over Walden."

© René Eckhardt  

Charles E. Ives, Memos (John Kirkpatrick,  Calder & Boyars, London, 1972)
Charles Ives (J. Bernlef en Reinbert de Leeuw, De Bezige Bij, 1969)
Charles Ives - a Life with music - Jan Swafford (Northon & Company, 1996)
Ives, Concod Sonata (Geoffrey Block, Cambrigde University Press, 1996)
The life of Charles Ives (Stuart Feder, Cambrigde University Press, 1999)



CV René Eckhardt

Charles IveS: songs