25 May 2011

Ives – Three Places in New England

Written by Jeff Counts

THE COMPOSER – CHARLES IVES – Quite simply America’s most iconoclastic musical artist, Charles Ives was a radically unique innovator for most of his compositional life. No voice was more distinct, no music more ahead of its time than that of Ives. Proper adulation and reward came very late for him, however, and much of his music suffered long periods of hibernation and revision before seeing the stage. Ives is now widely regarded as the original pioneer of serious American concert music.

THE MUSIC – So many important dates adorn the history of Ives’ Three Places in New England that it becomes difficult to pin the piece to a specific moment in time. It was written between 1903 and 1914, revised and reduced in 1929, performed privately in 1930, premiered to the public in 1931 and restored to its original form around 1980. Each of the three movements evokes images of Ives’ native region through his signature blending of musical quotes and gorgeously atmospheric coloration. Fragments of popular hymns, ballads, marches and patriotic songs appear throughout the score to create an intricate polytonal/polyrhythmic palette that places the listener in each of the three specific “places” with a thrilling exactness. Ives expertly captures the conflating sounds, emotions and memories of the American experience in general and especially those moments of shared historical reflection. Saint-Gaudens is a bas-relief in Boston which commemorates the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry – the first black unit that fought in the Civil War. Putnam’s Camp was a Revolutionary War memorial park in Redding, Connecticut named for General Israel Putnam and the site of July 4th celebrations during Ives’ childhood. The Housatonic at Stockbridge is based partly on a Robert Underwood Johnson poem which suggests a “Contented river!” and partly on a walk Ives took with his new wife along the titular waterway that he described as “something one would always remember.”

THE WORLD – 1931 saw the German invention of the electron microscope, the first look at the iconic drooping clocks in the Salvador Dalí painting The Persistence of Memory, the end of the Spanish Monarchy and opening of the George Washington Bridge in New York.

THE CONNECTION – The most recent Masterworks series performances of Three Places in New England were in 1987 (Yoel Levi) and 2004 (Keith Lockhart).