American Sounds

Classic Arts Features   American Sounds
The Dallas Symphony performs the music of Charles Ives.

This season the Dallas Symphony Orchestra is celebrating the anniversaries of two great men of music: the Czech composer Antonìn Dvorák (1841-1904) and the American maverick Charles Ives (1874-1954). First up will be Ives.

Charles Ives was a composer ahead of his time. An American original, this pioneering individualist had a deep love for everyday Americans and their music, and he used Yankee ingenuity to experiment with the form. Ives was born in Danbury, Connecticut, in 1874, and his father, leader of the town band, encouraged him to accept no boundaries, to constantly experiment in musical thought and sound. Under his father's guidance, young Charles developed his musical skills by performing a tune in one key and its accompaniment in another. This restless iconoclast also possessed a Yankee practicality; realizing he could not support his family with his music, Ives founded the very successful insurance offices of Ives & Myrick at Nassau and Liberty Streets in New York. Said Ives, "My work in music helped my business and my work in business helped my music. The fabric of existence weaves itself whole."

Ives loved to exalt the common American by quoting national tunes in his compositions. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra will open its 2004-2005 season with a performance of Ives's Variations on "America" led by Music Director Andrew Litton. "This is music of such tremendous vitality and humor, it could only have been written by an American," says Litton.

The Dallas Symphony's exploration of the music of Ives continues in September with a performance of his Symphony No. 3, subtitled The Camp Meeting. When Ives won the Pulitzer Prize for this piece at age 72, he gave away the $25,000 award, exclaiming, "Prizes are for boys, and I'm all grown up."

In Ives's lifetime, only a few conductors even looked at his music," says Litton. "One of those was Gustav Mahler, the famed composer and conductor of the New York Philharmonic. Mahler planned to perform Ives's Third Symphony, but, sadly, died before that performance could take place."

Three Places in New England is Ives's musical portrait of three settings that held for him great meaning‹a Civil War monument to an African American regiment, a former Revolutionary camp during a Fourth of July celebration, and a wooded riverside where he once took a walk with his wife, Harmony. In October 2004, Dallas Symphony Principal Guest Conductor Claus Peter Flor joins the celebration of Ives's music when he leads the orchestra in a performance of this stirring piece.

In January 2005 the DSO performs Ives's Symphony No. 2. The composer was very specific about the autobiographical program behind this work, which expresses musical impressions from the Connecticut countryside around Redding and Danbury in the 1890s. "The Second Symphony has echoes of Bach and Brahms but goes on to depict a rollicking barn dance complete with fiddler's jigs and Stephen Foster songs," explains Litton. "Ives completed it around 1900, but it wasn't played in public until Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic premiered it in 1951, just a few years before Ives's death."

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