Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Charles Ives’ Symphonic Celebration of the Fourth of July

Listen to this vivid, startling evocation of the enormous power that came out of a wild, chaotic yearning for freedom that coalesced under the leadership of general George Washington into the glorious achievement that became the only fully successful Revolution the world has ever known.
Ives, himself, who appeared to be a typical, tall, lean, spare and rather dour New Englander was possessed of a true revolutionary spirit that came out in his music.
“The Fourth of July” comprises the third movement of Ive’s “Holiday Symphony” also known as “A New England Holiday Symphony.” The first movement honors George Washington’s birthday, the second is about Decoration Day, and the fourth is called Thanksgiving. 
In "The Fourth of July” you will discover a virtual parade of Americana with thematic nods to such popular tunes as Columbia the Gem of the Ocean, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, The Battle Cry of Freedom, and Yankee Doodle, though you may have to listen hard to hear them. 
Probably the most complex and fascinating of the four movements of the "Holiday" Symphony, Ives's Fourth of July takes metrical and motivic play to its outer limits. that means he used multiple rhythmic patterns and shifted freely from duple to triple time and various irregular rhythmic patterns all the while using fragments of familiar tunes in startling juxtaposition. 
All this may seem a little frightening at first, but becomes downright exhilarating on repeated hearings.
Commenting in his Memos, Ives wrote, "I did what I wanted to, quite sure that the thing would never be played, although the uneven measures that look so complicated in the score are mostly caused by missing a beat, which was often done in parades. In the parts taking off explosions, I worked out combinations of tones and rhythms very carefully by kind of prescriptions, in the way a chemical compound which makes explosions would be made."
In case after hearing “The Fourth of July” for the first time you might be thinking Ives must have been crazy, please note that to earn his living he functioned successfully as the president of an Insurance company, and wrote his strikingly original music in his spare time largely-if-not-wholly independent of the European avant garde movement of his time. 
Charles Edward Ives (1874-1954) was born Danbury, Connecticut. To learn more about him visit this link:
The recorded performance was given by Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

~ FreeThinke


  1. Did you listen to the Ives, Kurt?

    It stages a revolution all by itself -- a FABULOUS thing.

    I had to listen to it many times before it got through to me, but when it did –––––– WOW!

    ~ FT

  2. Listened to it twice, wish I hadn't, couldn't possibly listen to it again.

    Nothing personal, but I'd have to say it's the musical equivalent of dining in several five-star restaurants, coming home, throwing up in a box and calling it gourmet food while declaring yourself a master chef.

    Happy 4th!

  3. Well, Finn, at least you bothered to listen to it.

    Your reaction is not unusual, but it is by no means universal.

    This why we have chocolate and vanilla, and why Howard Johnson's conjured up 28 different flavors and then Baskin & Robbins did them one better, etc.

    Having a negative reaction to a work for which learned musicians and a few unusual untutored souls with remarkable aural facility have high regard offers no proof of the virtues and worth either of the work or the offended listener.

    Much better to be honestly shocked, disturbed or offended than merely indifferent. Your response proves there is something of substance in Ives' music, or you would only have been bored by it and not moved to despise it.

    S0 GOOD!

    Glad you came by.

    ~ FreeThinke

    PS: I happen to feel much the same way about Bruce Springsteen's Born in America as you do about Ives. But I sense no mystery in Springsteen. It's just blatant vulgarity and aggressive coarseness run amok –– to me. Cheerio! - FT

  4. And you HAVE to admit the graphics are terrific, even if you don't like the sound.

    Anyway,we've presented plenty of July Fourth Variety –– a virtual smorgasbord -- almost.

    ~ FT

  5. I wouldn't say I despise it, I dislike it. It grates on the ear and I don't enjoy listening to it, but what more should I expect from the man who supposedly yelled at an audience "Stand up and take your dissonance like a man".

    I find it the clumsiest and most heavy handed piece of his work. I'm not a big fan of the symphony, but Washington's Birthday and Decoration Day are far more tolerable, Thanksgiving less so.

    How can I put this? I like pepper just fine but I wouldn't want to eat it out of the tin.

    What works in Central Park in the Dark and The Unanswered Question is far overdone in The Fourth of July.

    On a more humorous note regarding the piece, my wife asked my why I was listening to horror movie music.


  6. Ives, himself, never expected his work to be performed. He did it for himself in his spare time as did the great poet Emily Dickinson, whose work for the most part is also not Everyman's cup of tea.

    It's perfectly all right not to like these things, but it's not all right to dismiss them as unworthy just because they don't strike you right.

    I didn't like this much, myself, until after I'd heard it numerous times. It may sound chaotic, but the material is brilliantly organized, the orchestration unique, magnificently well realized, and the overall effect –– to me (and believe me I am not alone) –– stunningly powerful and evocative of the primitive, seething, rarely acknowledged passion to count for something -- to be able to make a difference -- to transcend feelings of powerlessness -- to be a positive force instead of a pathetic gibbering piece of flotsam. Just like The Spirit of '76, itself, this work of Ives is fiercely imaginative, boldly assertive, brilliant, courageous, daring, and totally outrageous in its deliberate offense to stultifying traditions and conventional notions of propriety.

    In short it evokes the quintessential nature of rebellion portrayed almost to perfection in orchestral sound.

    No wonder it bugs the bejesus out of most people th first time they hear it!

    Liberty is a terrifying thing. Most people say they yearn for it, but usually shrink back and shudder inwardly if confronted with it face to face.

    Embracing Liberty is a lot like stepping off a diving board placed fifty feet above the pool. Few have the necessary courage and skill to make the move.

    Ives made the leap, and landed safely in the water. The triumph of his incredible effrontery quite naturally irks the faint-hearted and the stolid and unimaginative.

    Haven't you ever noticed how nothing annoys most people more than someone who appears to be happy and content or highly achieving?

    An outward show of bliss is most often interpreted as "smugness," "conceit," or vanity by those less capable or less sure of themselves.

    Why else do you think the United States -- and Western Civilization in general –– have been the target of so much virulent hatred?

    We've been attacked and hollowed out from within by intellectual termites of a markedly different, highly antagonistic, hyper-critical "breed," who hate our incredible success, because they were never able to achieve anything like it on their own.

    SO, instead of EMULATING the methods and modes of thought that brought about our obvious success, they have sought to undermine, uproot and destroy everything that made our manifest superiority possible.

    They do this by OPPOSING everything WE stand for with hostile QUESTIONING and relentless DENIGRATION.

    Somehow, we must again get in touch with the powerful spirit of resistance, rebellion, and daring Ives captured in his tone poem. If we don't, we will soon wind up on the ash heap of history, with Egypt, Bablyon, Greece, Rome, the Ottroman Empire, the British Empire, the Third Reich and the U.S.S.R.

    ~ FreeThinke

  7. PS: If it makes you feel any better, the first time I listened to The Rite of Spring I was about 14. The performance sans ballet took place in Carnegie Hall back when the the seats were ripped and stained from long use, and the interior was still the color of raw beef liver. I hated every minute of it, and felt like fire ants were crawling up and down my legs and threatening to attack my groin the whole time.

    It only later that I began to appreciate the work. Familiarity -- with important music, anyway -- usually breeds respect, and often affection.

    Stravinsky, however, will never be my favorite composer, and I admit I still have trouble with Webern, Berg and much of Schoenberg. I say much of" because I truly love Verklaerte Nacht.

    In the main I will admit that a whole evening of advanced" twentieth century music would be something I could endure only out of a sense of duty to Art.

    That said my version of Hell would a Rock Concert that never ends. Listening to that stuff is like banging your head with a hammer. It feels so good when you stop. ;-

    ~ FT



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