Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Bernstein Conducts Ives

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

Vinyl’s Revenge takes a look at an early-60’s Columbia recording by Leonard Bernstein and the New-York Philharmonic. According to Bernstein’s own website, he recorded over 500 compositions with Columbia Masterworks (now Sony Music Entertainment) between 1956 and 1979, 455 of which were recorded with the New York Philharmonic. Bernstein’s commitment to 20th century music – from the symphonies of Gustav Mahler to his own symphonic works – is well known, and this vintage recording of Charles Ives’ Third Symphony and a trio of short symphonic works adds to this aspect of his recording legacy.

I loath to pigeon-hole Charles Ives as an “American:” composer, as his work transcends the ill-defined notion of “America Music”. His music is a blend of late-Romantic and modern music, more akin to, say, Scriabin than to Schoenberg or Stravinsky in that sense (save for the mysticism). His later works can be challenging to listen to at times (e.g., the landmark first recording of his Fourth Symphony by Stokowski and the American Symphony Orchestra), but the set assembled by Bernstein is quite accessible, and some of the pieces have become American classical music “standards”.

Ives wrote at least five symphonies – four are numbered, and a fifth is the result of four movements dedicated to “New England Holidays”.

Although there is no conclusive evidence that Ives and Gustav Mahler ever met, Mahler had seen the manuscript and talked of premiering the Third Symphony with the New York Philharmonic. There is also a story (which Ives himself put out) that Mahler took the score back to Europe, planning to conduct it there. Mahler's death in 1911 prevented any such performances.

Subtitled “The Camp Meeting” – a reference to the travelling religious revivals of yesteryear when people gathered in fields to sing and listen to preachers - the third symphony has many influences including War songs, dances, and general European classical music. Ives was sentimentally nostalgic, glancing back as a modern composer at a nineteenth-century childhood of hymns, bells, and children's games. The symphony is filled with complex harmonies and meters. In 1947, the symphony was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Decoration Day, the second movement of the afore-mentioned Holidays symphony, was completed in 1912. The holiday, forerunner of the US Memorial Day, takes its name from the practice of decorating soldiers' graves with flowers. Ives was inspired by more childhood memories, this time of listening to his father’s marching band play on Decoration Day. The marching band would march from the Soldiers’ Monument at the center of Danbury (Connecticut) to Wooster Cemetery, and there Ives would play Taps. The band would leave often playing David Wallace ReevesSecond Regiment Connecticut National Guard March.

Central Park in the Dark and The Unanswered Question form a diptych known as “Two Contemplations”. Whereas The Unanswered Question is subtitled “Contemplation of Something Serious”, Central Park is a contemplation of “Nothing Serious”. Both pieces, scored for Chamber Orchestra, sometimes involve divided forces – which is the case for Central Park in this recording. For the occasion, two of Bernstein’s “apprentices” are credited as conductors, their names you will readily recognize.

Happy Listening!

Charles IVES (1874-1954)
Symphony No. 3, S. 3 (K. 1A3) "The Camp Meeting"
(*) Central Park In The Dark (1906)
Decoration Day (1912)
The Unanswered Question (1907, rev. 1930-35)

New York Philharmonic
Leonard Bernstein, Maurice Peress (*) and Seiji Ozawa (*), conducting

Columbia Masterworks ‎– MS 6843
Format: Vinyl, LP, Stereo
Released: 1966
Details - https://www.discogs.com/Bernstein-Co...elease/3169673


Internet Archive URL - https://archive.org/details/01SymphonyNo3


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