Charles Ives

Charles Ives page at IMSLP

Charles Ives: Tom Sails Away; Thanksgiving from Holiday Symphony

"Music is tne of the many ways God has of beating in on man - his lives, his deaths, his hope, his everything - an inner something, a spiritual storm, a something else that stirs man in all of his parts and consciousness, and "all at once." .. What this inner something is which begets this, is something no one knows... Music ... no one knows what it is - and the less he knows he knows what it is the nearer it is to music - probably." - Charles Ives 1924

Charles Ives (1874-1954)
As a child, Charles Ives was surrounded by music, sacred, secular and experimental; it is the memory of these sounds that forms the core of Ives's output. In his music, Ives relived an idealized time this ideal time, and reminisced about his father, George, a civil war bandleader with a bent for the experimental. Ives's father was a classic New England figure, a hard-scrabble experimenter with rough opinions on all subjects. In Ives' music, one can hear buried the strains of old hymn tunes, marches, his father's experiments, snatches of Beethoven, popular song, bells, drumbeats and more. In a way Ives created an entire musical language made from other "tunes" filtered through his memory. Particularly in his orchestral works it sometimes seems as though the entire kitchen sink has been thrown into the composition; for Ives, creating a symphony was the same as creating, or recreating, a world.
The musical language of the work can often be thought of as a tapestry of these various childhood influences. Brief phrases from patriotic tunes such as "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean" and "The Battle Cry of Freedom" are ubiquitous. Even in the Impressionistic musical language of the song Tom Sails Away, he references popular music: George M. Cohan's World War One anthem "Over There"
Musical experiments also lie at the core of Ives's music. During his childhood in Danbury, Connecticut, his father would ask him and his sister to sing hymns harmonized with microtones (intervals smaller than the smallest interval on the piano). More outlandishly, one experiment involved two amateur marching bands. In order to see what the resulting sound would be, Ives's father asked the two marching bands to march through each other while playing different marches. These childhood memories developed a keen musical ear for dissonance and left a long shadow on Ives' future development.
Ives' music was barely played while he was still composing; he made most of his money as a successful insurance executive and composed only on nights and weekends. After heart problems got the best of him, Ives gave up composing all together. "Tom Sails Away," a setting of Ives' own words was written in direct response to World War One. Throughout the song, Ives illustrates each tiny prosaic aspect of the text with new musical material.

Thanksgiving is the fourth movement of Ives' symphony New England Holidays. Each movement illustrates a particular holiday: George Washington's birthday; Decoration Day; The Fourth of July; and finally Thanksgiving. Ives intended to portray the "sternness and strength and austerity of the Puritan character." In his memos, Ives remarked about the character of this movement:
"'Thanksgiving & Forefathers Day' played in Center Church (I think these are Dr. Griggs words partly--but I agreed with him (Parker didn't [Horatio Parker, Ives' college composition teacher at Yale] 'Our fore fathers were stronger men than can be represented by "triads" only--these are too easy sounding.'"
At the climax of the movement a chorus enters singing the text of an old Thanksgiving Hymn written by Leonard Bacon, pastor of Center Church, New Haven from 1825-1866, to the hymn-tune "Duke Street." ("From all that dwell below the skies...") or ("I know that my redeemer liveth...")
Thanksgiving makes use of any number of hymn and patriotic tunes to create its musical language including these famous examples: My Country Tis of Thee, The Shining Shore, ("My days are gliding swiftly by...") Federal Street(Score) ("All that I am I owe to thee..."), The Sweet by and By("In the Sweet By and By, we will meet on that Beautiful Shore...") and Nettleton ("Come thou font of Every blessing.."). These tunes are not necessarily heard in their entirety, nor as they were originally intended. Rather, they crop up in the work either as variations on an unstated theme (so commonplace as to not need to be presented unadorned) or else as simply "memories" or "impressions." It is uncertain when Ives composed the work.

A Note on Protestant Hymn tunes
In the Protestant tradition, hymn tunes are separate from the words that are sung to them. Often a metrical verse that has the same rhythm as a tune will be "matched" to that tune. Thus the melody "Federal Street" can be sung to many different poems and known to various congregations by various diffferent names, traditionally the first words of the verse. For the hymn tunes mentioned in the context of Ives, I have noted next to them the most popular Verse attached to them, for those to whom the words might jog their minds to the melody.

Texts of Ives' Songs:

Tom Sails Away (1917)

Scenes from my childhood are with me,

I'm in the lot behind our house upon the hill,
a spring day's sun is setting,
mother with Tom in her arms
is coming towards the garden;
the lettuce rows are showing green.

Thinner grows the smoke o'er the town,
stronger comes the breeze from the ridge,
'Tis after six, the whistles have blown,
the milk train's gone down the valley.
Daddy is coming up the hill from the mill,
We run down the lane to meet him

But today!
In freedom's cause Tom sailed away
for over there, over there, over there!

Scenes from my childhood are floating before my eyes.

The opening measures of Tom Sails Away

Text: from "Thanksgiving"
O God, beneath thy guiding hand
Our exiled fathers crossed the sea;
And when they trod the wintry strand,
With prayer and psalm they worshipped Thee

The opening measures of Thanksgiving

Listening Chart: Thanksgiving (1904-1937)
0:00 Introduction; A Polytonal and strong opening chords, perhaps based on "My Country 'Tis of Thee" at (:45) trombones enter with opening strains of "The Shining Shore"
3:36 A triumphant-type tune enters in the strings, activity increases, building to a climax that never really comes and eventually dissipates to
5:40 Quiet bells alert transition to
6:40 B Oboe and flute present "The Shining Shore" over atmosphere of quiet bells
7:18 Fantasy on "the Shining Shore" continues in strings over rocking in the lower strings and piano chords.
8:30 C Strings present hoe-down style variation of "Arlington" ("Am I a soldier of the cross?...)
9:13 B A return to the quietness of "The Shining Shore"
11:00 Transition to Trouble arises, the orchestra gets louder, the rocking motive takes over the entire orchestra
12:48 D Chorus enters with "Duke Street" to accompaniment of full orchestra and bells: a seeming apotheosis.
13:50 Coda (?) Strings resurrect original polytonal chords to accompaniment of bells, orchestra fades out.

Ives in 1945; Ives in 1950

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All text © Todd Tarantino 2002-2012.
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