February 13, 2015

Ives Concord Sonata

Several years back, I would read Jeremy Denk's blog (Think Denk!) as he was practicing Ives' Second Piano Sonata (sheet music here). It's an early modern work--though from a composer far ahead of the curve--that I should like but I'd never really warmed up to Ives and so never gave it a chance. In college I'd heard a visiting tenor (baritone?) perform Ives' song "General William Booth Enters Into Heaven" (sheet music here) and fell in love with its sheer rock and roll as modernist dissonance and rhythmic cubism. It's colorful, dramatic, wide-ranging, collaged, and allows the piano to speak a separate, orchestrated story from the vocalist. Another one of those Songs I Wish I Would Have Written. Still, nothing else Ives did captivated me.

In a recent article titled "Charles Ives as Improviser", Kyle Gann examines the source material for the sonata as pulled from research for an upcoming book. The sonata consists of four titled movements ("Emerson", "Hawthorne", "The Alcotts", and "Thoreau") and was published in 1919 with a revision published in 1947. The first draft of the Emerson movement was in the form of a piano concerto (the Emerson Concerto) in around 1913, and later reworkings of the first movement to return it to its concerto-state became "Four Transcriptions from Emerson" in the 1920s. As with most composers, themes from the one work appears in multiple places. For the Concord, the themes were also shared in several of his 20+ Studies for piano (these are poorly internet-documented, but I've found reference for at least 22 studies in the set [ updated the next day ] I've updated the Wikipedia page of Ives' compositions with the list of studies. There are 27 with 8 of those being lost.). From the 1930s to 1940s, Ives went into the studio and recorded from across all of these pieces. Kyle Gann's article focuses on those recordings and their provenance in the Emerson stuff based on the transcriptions he's made from them. The article has excerpts of both the recordings (of dismal quality) and Gann's transcriptions (of excellent quality). The efforts at transcription and resulting DNA analysis of the music contained is fascinating.

This weekend shall be a get acquainted with the Concord weekend.

Ives Concord Sonata by Scott D. Strader on Grooveshark
posted by sstrader at 5:13 PM in Music | permalink