Ives’ “Adeste Fideles” in an Organ Prelude: Inversion and Bitonality

Charles Ives (1874-1954) led a fascinating duel life as a Yale-educated insurance executive and a maverick composer.

By the age of 14, Ives was also a professional church organist. Between 1889 and 1902, he “held a series of six posts as an organist or organist-choir master at Congregational, Baptist, Episcopal, and Presbyterian churches in Danbury, New Haven, Bloomfield (New Jersey), and New York.” (James B. Sinclair) The virtuosity of his organ playing is evidenced by the youthfully irreverent Variations on “America,” which Ives later described as “but a boy’s work, partly serious and partly in fun,” and “as much fun as playing baseball.”

Congregations must have been shocked by the young Ives’ free-spirited organ concoctions. Already, in this wildly adventurous music, we hear the seeds of Ives’ later works, with their dreamlike sonic collages and polytonality. One example is “Adeste Fideles” in an Organ Prelude from 1897. Emerging over a primordial drone, it begins with a statement of a countermelody which is an exact inversion of the famous hymn tune. Then, the inversion, sounding in B-flat minor, is played simultaneously with Adeste Fideles, which is heard in F major. The brief piece unfolds with a sense of mystery and timelessness that is present in Ives’ The Unanswered Question

Fragments of Adeste Fideles return in Decoration Day, composed in 1912, in which the music answers a dirge amid muffled drums. Here, the typically celebratory Christmas hymn melody, first published in 1751, takes on a similar tone of lament.


  • Ives: “Adeste Fideles” in an Organ Prelude, Hans-Ola Ericsson Chandos

Featured Image: Center Church in New Haven, Connecticut (1900-1912), where Charles Ives played the organ, Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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