Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Landmarks (17)

Charles E. Ives, Symphony Nr. 4 (ca. 1910-16, revised ca. 1921-25).

Had long known the Fourth from recordings, the first complete recording, under Stokowski, was only a suggestion of what the piece might be, and the quad recording under Serebrier made a great advance, especially in finding a path through the second movement, as dense a landscape as Ives would ever compose, and one in which not only sounds in the landscape are transient but the observer moves, and is moved, as well. The fourth movement, perhaps the most mysterious music Ives would ever compose, was finally made clear by Peter Eötvös, conducting here in Frankfurt (a typical story: the yank had to move to Europe to hear this piece live). When the chorus began singing Watchman, my heart stopped, and has never beat the same again. I believe that that moment is for an American listener as close as he or she will ever come to knowing what O Freunde, nicht diese Töne! can be for Europeans.


Making this list of landmarks involves a bit of gamesmanship. Although the list is neither ranked nor limited in number of entries, each addition suggests a new set of relationships to the pieces already listed as well as pieces yet to come. A work -- or works -- by Ives was bound to come soon, but which one and when? The Fourth and the Second Orchestral Set are the pieces to which I'm most attached, but Ives' catalog is so full of astonishing works that any choice is practically a chance operation.

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