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Ee The Case of Mr. Ives Modern Music, 16,3 (Mar. 1939) “To tll the full story ofthe first and second New York performances of (Charles E. Ive’s Concord Sonata at Town Hall, January 20th and February 24h [1939] is not my purpose here, for that deserves a whole article. In tabloid form, however, it would read as follows: First performance: very small house. Inthe next ten days: enthusiastic reviews cribbed from Ives's prefaces, by critics most of whom had not been atthe concert. Second performance: packed house and disappointment of critics on ‘eating work, obviously for the fist time. For a good long while now many of us have been puzzled about the ‘musical merits of the Concord Sonata and other of Ives's longer pieces. I Came o know he somata in the years when Stravinsky fit scandalzed ‘America in person and Whiteman gave the Carnegie premiere ofthe Rhap- sody in Blue. A keen time with lots of enthusiasm and lot of performances of new music to which I sometimes went with Ives himself, Sunday ater ‘noons, after these concerts, afew of us would go down to Gramercy Park, where Ives then lived, or later uptown when he had moved to [East] Seventy-Fourth Stret, to discuss the music in the calm atmosphere of his living-room, a Henry James, old New York interior. They were lively talks; new music was new and very “modern” and Ives was much interested: Often he would poke fun, st down a the piano to play from memory bits ofapiece just heard, like Daphnis and Chloé or the Sacre, taking off the Ravel major seventh chords and obvious rhythms, or the primitive repeated dissonances cofStravincky, and calling them “too easy.” “Anybody can do that” he would ‘exclaim, playing My Country Tis Of Thee, the righthand in one key andthe leftin another. His main love, however, was for Bach, Brahms, and Franck, for he found in them spiritual elevation and nobility, which, ike many 2 ctitic of his generation, he fele contemporary music had simplified away. To start the day fesh, he would often play a fugue from the Well-Tempered Clavier before breakfast and long hours at the office. Not that he needed 1939 a ‘much cheering up, for, beinga good sturdy Yankee with plenty of vitality, he poured lots of pep, salty humor, and good spirits into everything he di. During these afternoons we would coax himto try some of his own music, and as he saw we were sincere and not merely polite he would jump tothe piano and play. Then the respectable, quiet, Puritan atmosphere was oddly disturbed, a gleam would come into his eyes as fer excitement seized him, ‘and he would smash outa fragment of Emerson, singingloudly andexclaim- ing with burning enthusiasm. Once the captain of the football tam at Yale, ‘he put the same punch into his music. It was a dynamic, staggering experi ‘ence, which i hard even now to think of clearly. He hated composers who played their works objectively “asf they didn’ tlike them.” This strong, wiry ‘Yankee vitality, humor, and transcendental seriousness were very much 0 cour tasteand we always came away from Ives full oflife'sglad new wine and a thousand projects forthe future. In those days Ives was practically never played. Once, in 1927 at a Pro-Masica concert, two movements of his Fourth Symphony were given under the direction of [Eugene] Goossens, who sat up all one night with a towel around his head trying to figure out how to keep the orchestra together in the places where the bat lines do not coincide. ves had the percussion to his house to teach them the rhythms. Iris no wonder the work didn'e go any too well, for the ccore ofthe “ively movement,” later pub- lished by New Music, has complexities well nigh insurmountable. Ar the time we asked why he didn't write his work more practically, so that performers could play it more accurately, He would reply thatit was written as simply as possible, and then play over precisely what was written indicat- ing that it was nor as hard as all that. We remarked that certain very complicated textures would never sound, but he countered that he had already tried them out when he conducted a theatre orchestra at Yale. Then ‘we asked why the notation ofthe Concord Sonata was so vague, why every time he played it, he did something different, sometimes changing the ‘harmonies the dynamic scheme, the degre of dissonance, the pace, Heeven made a transcription of Emerson with many notes changed and the dynamic plan completely altered. He said that he intended to give only a general indication to the pianist, who should, in his turn, recreate the work for himself. In a foomote to Hawthorne, he writes: “Ifthe score itself, the preface, or an interest in Hawthorne suggest nothing, marks (of tempo, expression, et) will only make things worse.” ‘This improvisational atitude toward musi, so familiar in swing, afets all of es's more mature work. It ffets his conception of performance and ee 501 ELLIOTT CARTER of composing, Unlike Chopin and List, who wrote out very accur soe vlus what they improvise, Iesleavesageat dal tothe mereyar performer. In is compositions, the notation of a work sony the base farther improvisation, andthe notation itself, frequently of muse Rog conceived many years before, isa kind of snapshot ofthe way he played 2 certain prid in is fe. “The improvisation ofen consists in adding dissonance, harmon complicated rhythms to a findametaly simple work, Ths is obvieu tnany songs, and especially in a comparison of Hawthorne with the scherao ofthe Fourth Symphony, which contain much identical material, grealy aeraden with extra harmonies and complicated rhythms. The fase thee critics make about es’ innovations is, I think, greatly exaggerated, for he has rewrinen his works 0 many times, adding dissonances and polyhythms, thai is probably imposible to tell ust at what date the works assumed the surprising frm we now know, The accepted dates of Publication are most likly those ofthe compositions in thts Gal state Anyhow, the questions notimportant. Ives himself has sid that he prefers eople ro judge his musi not for when i was writen but for whae ii Up tothe time [John] Kirkpatrick gave his performances no one had heard the Concord Sonata in its eniery ina concert hall Some of us came waning wo ace in the whole work what we saw in fragments, We found curses sl dsppinted Kirkpatrick extraordinary feat ofimerpet- ton dd make a great del of the music assume a shape through clever