The 2021 Classical Grammys

The 63rd Annual Grammy Awards ceremony took place in Los Angeles Sunday evening. Here are excerpts from the winning albums in the classical categories: Best Orchestral Performance This album features the four numbered symphonies of Charles Ives. The “New England Holidays” is not included. We sense an exciting artistic progression from the relatively conservative Symphony No. 1, completed in 1902 in response to a graduation assignment from Ives’ teacher Horatio Parker, to …

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Ives’ “The Housatonic at Stockbridge”: The Eternal River of Time

On a June weekend in 1908, Charles Ives and his wife, Harmony Twichell, vacationed in the rolling Berkshire Hills. A hiking trip led the newly married couple by the Housatonic River near Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Ives recalled, We walked in the meadows along the river, and heard the distant singing from the church across the river. The mist had not entirely left the river bed, and the colors, the running water, the banks …

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Ives’s Three Quarter-Tone Pieces: Adventures in Microtonality

Quarter tones occupy the narrow spaces halfway between the pitches of the chromatic scale. In other words, they are approximately half as wide as a semitone. Venture into their colorful domain, and you arrive in a wild new microtonal universe which expands the expressive possibilities of tuning and tonal color. Traditional Persian music is filled with quarter tones. These intervals also can be found in numerous works by twentieth century composers. Charles Ives’ father, George, …

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Charles Ives’ “Thanksgiving and Forefathers’ Day”

Thanksgiving and Forefathers’ Day is the final movement of Charles Ives’ Holiday Symphony, a work the composer conceived as much as a collection of four stand-alone, atmospheric tone poems as a unified symphony. Completed in 1904, Thanksgiving and Forefathers’ Day grew out of an organ prelude and postlude Ives composed and performed for a Thanksgiving service at Center Church in New Haven, Connecticut. We can only imagine how the congregation might have reacted to Ives’ adventurous …

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Joyful Sounds of Praise: Five Musical Settings of Psalm 150

Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in the firmament of His power. Praise Him for His mighty acts; praise Him according to His abundant greatness. Praise Him with the blast of the horn; praise Him with the psaltery and harp. Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; praise Him with stringed instruments and the pipe. Praise Him with the loud-sounding cymbals; praise Him with the clanging cymbals. Let every thing that …

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Charles Ives’ “A Set of Pieces for Theatre Orchestra”: Radical Sounds from 1906

In 1906, Gustav Mahler had just completed his cosmic Eighth Symphony, Sibelius’ final four symphonies were yet to be written, the premiere of Stravinsky’s The Firebird was still four years away, and Arnold Schoenberg had just begun to take the first tentative steps into atonality. The ethereal soundscapes of Olivier Messiaen and the jazzy, soulful orchestral scores of George Gershwin remained decades away. Yet listen to Charles Ives’ A Set of Pieces for Theatre Orchestra, written between 1899 and 1906, and …

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Aftertones of Ives

Mahler, Schoenberg, Sibelius, Debussy, Ives, and other voices from the past emerge throughout the music of John Adams like fleeting ghosts. These voices are present in Adams’ towering neo-minimalist, neo-romantic symphony, Harmonielehre. They can also be heard in Slonimsky’s Earbox, the composer’s brief 1995 tone poem, premiered by Kent Nagano and the Manchester, UK-based Hallé Orchestra on the occasion of the September, 1996 opening of Bridgewater Hall. The title refers to Nicolas Slonimsky (1894-1995), the Russian-born American conductor, composer, musical theorist, and author. …

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