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.