Winner of the 1947 Pulitzer Prize in Music
ed. Kenneth Singleton
Charles Ives composed the Symphony No. 3 between 1901 and 1904. He lived in New York at the time and worked in an insurance office during the day and composed during the evenings and the weekends. He supplemented his meager salary by playing the organ and directing the choir first at the First Presbyterian Church in Bloomsfield, New Jersey, and, from 1899 to 1902, at the Central Presbyterian Church on West 57th Street, New York. Ives described the Third Symphony in his autobiographical notes: “The themes are mostly based around hymns and from organ pieces played in Central Presbyterian Church around 1901. Lead pencil score was finished about 1901. But the final ink score (now lost) had, I think, a few of less off-shadow parts in it, and also church bells, that are crossed out in the old score…The middle movement was the ‘Children’s Day Parade’ (for string quartet and organ), played in Central Presbyterian Church, New York, for the organ alone, 1902. Scoring of this symphony was finished about 1904; copied out in full in 1911.”
Symphony No. 3 was performed for the first time on April 5, 1946, in New York by the New York Little Symphony with Lou Harrison conducting. The score was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1947.
The first movement, andante maestoso, is called Old Folks Gatherin, suggesting a hymn sing. It is based on Ives’ organ piece from 1901, and it also uses three hymn tunes. Soon after the music is underway, the violas and clarinet introduce the tine by Carl Glaser, arranger by Lowell Mason, for Charles Wesley’s hymn “O for a thousand tongues to sing My great Redeemer’s praise.” This tune is elaborated and then the horns, with a certain rhythmic distortion of the melody, present William Bradbury’s tune set to Charlotte Elliott’s hymn “Just as I am without one plea.” Toward the end of the movement there is a section marker adagio cantabile in which the Charles Converse tune set to Joseph Scriven’s hymn “What a Friend we have in Jesus” is heard in the high register of the oboe and soon is answered by the flute. Near the close, “O for a thousand tongues” is combined with “What a Friend.”
The second movement is called Children’s Day; it is marked allegro. This is a lovely piece. The opening theme suggests a derivation from the opening of the American melody, arranged by Lowell Mason and set to William Cowper’s hymn “There is a fountain filled with blood.” The middle section is a march. At the end, the opening metrical returns and is treated in an imitative manner.
The third movement, called Communion, is marked largo, and is based on an organ piece by Ives written for Communion service in 1901. The melody is built freely on the hymn tune “Just as I am.” The music is contrapuntal, yet lyrical. At the end, the distant sound of church bells is introduced ppppp.
The score calls for a relatively small orchestra: flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon; tow horns, trombone; and a quintet of strings.
Ives’ autobiographical sketches contain the following report of the reactions of friends on hearing some of his music, including the Third Symphony. He wrote:
“Dave and Max Smith were old friends of mine, and real friends of that, men I respected and got along with, except when it came to music. Max Smith and Mary spent one Sunday with us in May 1912 0r 1913 at the Whitman House in Hartsdale. I played over the Third Symphony and Max asked how I had ‘got so modern. It’s even worse than 10 years ago!’ Then I played over the Black March (St. Gaudens) which I was working on then, and some of the brass band stuff in Putnam Camp, and some of the Hawthorne music, and on particular spot in the Fourth Symphony. After I finished, Max, who had gone out on the stoop, said: ‘That first one was bad enough, but these were awful! How CAN you like horrible sounds like that?’ Max at that time had been for a good many years the music critic on the N.Y. American. And Dave, like a lot of other professors in college, would have agreed with the violinist Reber Johnson, who once lay back and groaned: ‘Music is now a lost art; it is going to the dogs.’ Professors who take that stand are exactly like a Professor of Transportation who teaches all about steam and refuses to admit that any things exist such as electricity or combustion engines.
“Another time Reber said to me, after I played over for him the Second Violin Sonata (that harmless little piece!): ‘Stuff like that…! If you consider that music and like it, how can you like Brahms and any good music?’ So! If you like the one, you can’t like the other! This is as much as to say: ‘If you look out of this window and enjoy the mountains, how can you possibly look out this window and enjoy the ocean?’”
Charles Edward Ives is one of the most remarkable composers America has produced. He grew up in a musical environment – his father was a musician interested in various aspects of acoustics. Ives studied the organ and he was a composition pupil of Horatio Parker at Yale University, from which he graduated in 1898. At an early age, Ives decided that he would not make music the means of earning his livelihood; he realized that it might be too difficult not to compromise his artistic ideals if his livelihood depended on his music. Accordingly, he entered the insurance business in which he made a fortune. Most of his wiring was down around the turn of the century – he composed very little after the 1930’s. His Yankee refusal to accept the usual way of combining sounds left him to explore many novel, and often descriptive, ways of putting sounds together, placing him far ahead of his time.
Many of Ives’ explorations into new harmonic and contrapuntal possibilities antedated the work of Schoenberg and Stravinsky. A long list of compositions, most of then written before 1920, includes four symphonies, chamber music, two piano sonatas, five violin and piano sonatas, and many songs and choral pieces, as well as a number of other orchestral works.
Charles Ives (1874-1854), Symphony No. 3
I. Old Folks Gatherin’
II. Children’s Day
For this symphony, Charles Ives drew upon material from earlier liturgical organ works. Though finished in 1904 and revised in 1909, the Third Symphony was not performed until 1946, subsequently winning the 1947 Pulitzer Prize. As with many of his works, it is difficult to construct a definitive or authoritative version, due to many conflicting manuscript sources. Ives was in the habit of revising his music in an almost improvisatory spirit, and he like leaving choices of possible solutions up to the performer. The version we will hear tonight is based upon the published score of 1964 edited by Henry Cowell, but also takes into some account a new edition, by Kenneth Singleton, which has significant differences with Cowell’s edition. Most notable is the extreme dissonant counterpoint near the close of certain passages. Ives’ revisions sometimes amounted to going back and adding dissonance where he felt the music was “too soft” or “easy on the ears.” He is often quoted as complaining about the conservative musical establishment, “Can’t they take a dissonance like a man?”
Subtitled “The Camp Meeting”, the Third Symphony evokes the nostalgia and intensity of feeling Ives remembered of evangelical revival services during his childhood in Danbury, Connecticut. It was the religious fervor and the spirited hymn singing by untrained voices not the doctrinal ideals preached at these gatherings, that so deeply aroused him: Ives’ own spiritual outlook was deeply rooted in the New England tradition of Emerson and Thoreau. This work, one of the four numbered symphonies, is, as Ives described, “a kind of crossways between the older ways and the newer ways.” Here he retains largely traditional tonal and formal elements, such as extended “correct” fugal-type passages (in mvt. 1), and integral development and recapitulation of themes; what is most notably new appears in the third movement, where there are more dissonances in the counterpoint and the melodic writing is highly chromatic at many points. A standard feature of Ive’s later style also begins to emerge in this movement, that is, quotation of tune fragments in a stream-of-consciousness manner; note how small quotations of Silent Night suddenly appear, as motifs of peaceful contentment. In fact, much of the major thematic material for the Third Symphony derives from the hymn tunes Azmon, Erie, Cleansing Fountain, Happy Land, and Woodworth.