“Songs My Mother Taught Me”: From Dvořák to Ives

Songs My Mother Taught Me is the fourth and most famous of Antonín Dvořák’s seven-song cycle, Gypsy Songs, Op. 55. Composed in 1880 at the request of the Viennese tenor, Gustav Walter, the texts are from a collection of poems by Adolf Heyduk. Songs My Mother Taught Me highlights the timelessness of music, and enduring truths, passed lovingly through generations: Songs my mother taught me in the days long vanished, Seldom from her eyelids were …

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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 …

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Ives’ “Central Park in the Dark”: Sound Pictures of the Night

In his program note for the brief and atmospheric 1906 tone poem, Central Park in the Dark, Charles Ives wrote, This piece purports to be a picture-in-sounds of the sounds of nature and of happenings that men would hear some thirty or so years ago (before the combustion engine and radio monopolized the earth and air), when sitting on a bench in Central Park on a hot summer night. Originally titled, A …

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Ives’ “Decoration Day”: Lingering Ghosts

In his Essays Before a Sonata, first published in 1920, Charles Ives reflected on a vivid memory from his Danbury, Connecticut childhood: In the early morning of a Memorial Day, a boy is awakened by martial music—a village band is marching down the street, and as the strains of Reeves’ majestic [Second] Regiment March come nearer and nearer, he seems of a sudden translated—a moment of vivid power comes, a consciousness of …

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All Aboard! Five Pieces Inspired by Trains

Music reflects the sounds of the time. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, music was centered around the human voice and the motion of the body through dance. Music of the eighteenth century emerged from the pastoral sounds of nature, hunting horns, and the bugle calls of the battlefield. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, music got louder and more discordant amid the mechanized roar of the Industrial Revolution. Perhaps electricity and computers inform …

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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 “Ives: Complete Symphonies” — Gustavo Dudamel, conductor (Los Angeles Philharmonic) 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 …

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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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