Psalm 90: Charles Ives’ Time-Altering Swan Song

When you think of Charles Ives (1874-1954), the visionary experimental composer and New England insurance executive who assembled shocking, never-before-imagined sonic collages, what music comes to mind? Probably the enigmatic Unanswered Question. Perhaps the dense, American folk-song-laced orchestral tone poems or the harmonically advanced Concord Sonata. But beyond all of this lies another side of Ives. By the age of 14, he was an organist of immense technical skill. (At 17, Ives described his fiendishly difficult, …

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A Charles Ives Fourth

Firecrackers, a cannon on the village green, an out-of-step band on Main Street, a fife and drum corps, church bells…All of this, and more, can be heard in Charles Ives’ 1912 tone poem, The Fourth of July, which forms the third movement of the “Holidays” Symphony. Ives imagined the larger-than-life festivities of a small New England town, as experienced by a child. But this music goes far deeper than the quaint Americana of Ives’ …

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Kleinhans Music Hall Turns 75

  Today marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo, New York. Home of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Kleinhans is considered one of the world’s most acoustically perfect concert halls. It’s also one of Buffalo’s most significant architectural landmarks. Located in a leafy residential neighborhood just north of the city’s downtown, it anchors majestic Symphony Circle, part of Frederick Law Olmsted’s extensive parkway system which runs throughout …

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The Joy of Wrong Notes

The element of surprise is an important ingredient in every great melody. Each note of a melody sets up expectations which are either fulfilled or delightfully challenged. Often subconsciously, we enjoy the unexpected “wrong” notes that take a melody in a bold new direction. We listen closely to hear how the disruption will work itself out. For an example, listen to the jarring appoggiaturas in the second movement of Mozart’s otherwise serene Piano Concerto …

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Washington’s Birthday

Washington’s Birthday, the first movement of Charles Ives’ Holiday Symphony, emerges out of the desolate, snowy gloom of a midwinter night in rural New England. The music feels strangely amorphous, as if we’ve suddenly slipped into a dream. As we enter this sonic dreamscape, it’s easy to get the sense that we’re joining music already in progress. Who knows where or when it began? Drifting from one hazy moment to the next, we …

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Music Fit for an Emperor

Violinist Mark Sokol passed away last week. He was a founding member of the Concord String Quartet. Between 1971 and its disbanding in 1987, the Concord String Quartet championed music by American composers including Charles Ives, George Crumb, Jacob Druckman and Morton Feldman. Mark Sokol later joined the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Here is the Concord’s recording of Haydn’s String Quartet in C Major, Op. 76, No. 3. This quartet …

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Decoration Day

Listen closely to Charles Ives’ Decoration Day and you may hear the lament of the dead.* The piece evokes ghosts of the battlefield and the distant echoes of small town New England observances of Decoration Day, the solemn American holiday of remembrance, started in the aftermath of the Civil War. It’s the holiday we now know as Memorial Day. Decoration Day is the second movement of Ives’ four movement Holidays Symphony, written between 1897 …

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