Saturday, December 03, 2005

Why not the best?

This week, Robert Gable at Aworks is asking:
is Igor Stravinsky America's greatest composer?
I say no. There are real wonders among Stravinsky's American pieces (The Rake's Progress, Agon, Requiem Canticles, The Owl and the Pussycat), but you really want to have pieces from throughout Stravinsky's careet, and a passport can't make them all retroactively American. In my opinion, Charles Ives wins handily (and Cage comes in second, but that's for another post). Here are some pieces that make the case:

The Second Orchestral Set
Second, Third, and Fourth Symphonies
The Piano Sonatas
Orchestral Set Nr. 1 ("Three Places in New England")
Variations on "America" for organ
The Two String Quartets
Set for String Quartet, Bass, and Piano
"Country Band" March
The Unanswered Question
Songs (Afterglow, Ann Street, At the River, The Cage, Charlie Rutlage, The Circus Band, Evening, General William Booth Enters into Heaven, The Greatest Man, Immortality...) and Sets for Chamber Ensembles based on Songs

The Second Orchestral Set is the Ives work which astounds me the most as a composition. Mind, heart, body: all are present. The Fourth Symphony is a work with a strange power; for Americans, a good performance of the Fourth is the equivalent of a good performance of Beethoven's Ninth for Europeans. And the little setting of At the River has everything.

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