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Essays Before a Sonata   By: (1874-1954)

Book cover

First Page:

ESSAYS BEFORE A SONATA

by

Charles Ives

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

BRIEF BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH INTRODUCTORY FOOTNOTE BY CHARLES IVES INTRODUCTION I PROLOGUE II EMERSON III HAWTHORNE IV "THE ALCOTS" V THOREAU VI EPILOGUE INFORMATION ABOUT THIS E TEXT EDITION

BRIEF BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

Charles Ives (1874 1954) was probably one of the most psycho intellectually brilliant, imaginative and flexible Americans to ever "walk the land of freedom." A graduate of Yale, he became a multi millionaire in the American insurance industry, introducing brilliant innovations within that industry. He also, unlike a few composers, found the time and the money (being a shrewd and practical businessman) to get married and have children.

His accomplishments for which he is best known, however, are those in the field of music. At the time of its composition, Ives' music was probably the most radically modern in history, and by itself had enough material to serve as the foundation of modern 20th century music. For example, at the turn of the century, this eccentric composer created band works featuring multiple melodies of multiple time signatures opposing and complimenting each other within the same piece. Ives was also a revolutionary atonal composer, who created, essentially without precedent, many atonal works that not only pre date those of Schoenberg, but are just as sophisticated, and arguably even more so, than those of the 12 tone serialist.

Among those atonal works was his second, "Concord" piano sonata, one of the finest, and some would say the finest, works of classical music by an American. It reflects the musical innovations of its creator, featuring revolutionary atmospheric effects, unprecedented atonal musical syntax, and surprising technical approaches to playing the piano, such as pressing down on over 10 notes simultaneously using a flat piece of wood.

What a mischievious creative genius!

And yet, despite the musically innovative nature of these works, from a thematic standpoint, they are strictly 19th century. Ives, like American band composer Sousa, consciously infused patriotic or "blue blood" themes into his pieces. In the "Concord," he attempted to project, within the music, the 19th century philosophical ideas of the American Transcendentalists, who obviously had a great impact on his world view.

Thus, while other atonal composers such as Schoenberg or Berg attempted to infuse their music with "20th century" themes of hostility, violence and estrangement within their atonal music, the atonal music of Ives is, from a thematic standpoint, really quite "tonal."

Ives wrote the following essays as a (very big) set of program notes to accompany his second piano sonata. Here, he puts forth his elaborate theory of music and what it represents, and discusses Transcendental philosophy and its relation to music. The essays explain Ives' own philosophy of and understanding of music and art. They also serve as an analysis of music itself as an artform, and provide a critical explanation of the "Concord" and the role that the philosophies of Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau and the Alcotts play in forming its thematic structure.

"ESSAYS BEFORE A SONATA," BY CHARLES IVES

INTRODUCTORY FOOTNOTE BY CHARLES IVES

"These prefatory essays were written by the composer for those who can't stand his music and the music for those who can't stand his essays; to those who can't stand either, the whole is respectfully dedicated."

INTRODUCTION

The following pages were written primarily as a preface or reason for the [writer's] second Pianoforte Sonata "Concord, Mass., 1845," a group of four pieces, called a sonata for want of a more exact name, as the form, perhaps substance, does not justify it. The music and prefaces were intended to be printed together, but as it was found that this would make a cumbersome volume they are separate... Continue reading book >>




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