Ives: Concord Sonata

I’ve always been a fan of Charles Ives, but at the same time, I’ve always known that there’s something about his music that I’m either not getting, or don’t understand. I’ve enjoyed his symphonies and piano works, but there’s always been something missing for me. I’ve craved a deeper, intellectual understanding of what Ives was trying to do. And I think I found it tonight.

I was listening to his Piano Sonata No. 2: ” Concord, Mass.,  1840-60″, and a particular passage really stuck out to me. It was one of those moments where everything kind of stops, and you sit there in total awe of what you’re hearing. Maybe because you didn’t expect it, or possibly because it’s just so fantastical that you can’t really believe it. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I just had a similar experience.

It’s been stated by Ives that this sonata is about transcendentalism. First published in 1920, the piece has four movements:

I. “Emerson”
II. “Hawthorne” 
III. “The Alcotts” 
IV. “Thoreau” 

It has been derived by theorists that Ives, a frequent lifter of motifs and themes, used some of Beethoven’s ideas, namely the opening bars of his Fifth Symphony (which I noticed prominently in “The Alcotts”). I heard something else as well. 

I was listening to “Hawthorne”, and there was this seemingly endless run of strange arpeggios about four and a half minutes in. He ended on a fantastically dissonant chord, only to come back in with one of the most beautiful entrances I’ve ever heard in music. It sounded like the first notes of Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto to me, which isn’t really that surprising considering his tendencies. He started along that track, and then suddenly burst back into an absurd banging, only to resolve seconds later into the same beautiful cadence. The next section was unbelievable. It’s a short chorale that sounds like a forest clearing, with random non-chord tones hovering above it. Like Ives was being chased through the jungle and then suddenly arrived in a serene oasis and found himself short of breath for it’s beauty. Shortly after, the section turns into an upbeat, almost jazz-like period.

That’s what changed my mind about Ives.

I managed (after two hours) to figure out how to upload the section that I was talking about. If you click the following link, it’ll take you to a page where you can listen. Enjoy.

Hawthorne – Ives


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