05 July 2009

 

Fifth of July Encore

Need an antidote to that fabulous/noisome Keith Emerson droning of yesterday? Try this: Charles Ives's "Variations on 'America'" performed by Tom Trenny at Trinity Church, NYC. This via Jeff Shaumeyer's current Beard of the Week.
Jeff:
I like the flashy and silly, too, and this is one of my guilty pleasures: Ives' 'Variations on "America" ' for Organ; that's "America", the tune that starts "My country tis of thee…". Ives wrote these variations in 1891, when he was 17. The piece is frequently heard in an arrangement for orchestra made by William Schuman, but I much prefer the piquancy of it performed on organ.

I read an essay about the variations that called them "cheeky". That's probably true, but I don't think they go as far as "mocking". Ives treats the theme seriously enough and does up a clever set of treatments, including a very flashy and noisy toccata for a finale — watch for the pedal fireworks.

When I was in college, our college organist played this once on a recital. He hated the piece so he chose the most outlandish registrations he could think of, and it really bought the piece to life. For the finale he literally pulled out all the stops including the Zimbelstern (a little mechanical, tinkly bell device), which he happily left on and tinkling away when he left the organ bench at the end. Brilliant!
More information about Charles Ives can be found on the internet.

Happy Fifth of July!!

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Comments:
Thanks for the mention Tim, and for the link to the Slate article, too. It had some good reading and fun sound clips in it.
 
Well, I love Symphony No. 4, but I'm really a fan of Symphony No. 1, which the article deprecates somewhat. Somehow I had never heard the Variations on America before, so I was grateful for your posting it.
 
People will devalue the first symphony just because it isn't "real" Ives yet; same with Beethoven's first two, but they still get played. After the 4th I'd probably go with the 2nd, just because of the rousing setting of "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean" in the last movement--and the closing raspberry, of course.

When I was writing that it made me realize that there is an awful lot of Ives I haven't heard in some time that I need to revisit to regain some sanity.
 
Is that the musical equivalent of reading Kafka to maintain emotional balance?
 
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