Charles Ives’s The Fourth of July (1912) abounds with polymeter, polytonality, dense simultaneous layering of seemingly independent and contrasting elements, and quotations from at least 15 traditional U.S. songs and march tunes. In particular, the work includes two musical “explosions” (representing fireworks) comprising extremely dense strata of non-synchronous materials.
However, a close analysis of Ives’s compositional techniques demonstrates how the work’s many diverse elements have been integrated within a carefully organized structural framework.
Further, an equally deliberate pondering of Ives’s philosophical and aesthetic ideals illuminates how the work expresses his deep connection to transcendentalism’s search for spiritual truth in the divine oneness of the present, the ongoing fabric of human experience. In its depiction of a boy’s experience of a community’s celebration, Ives’s work points to the shared spiritual roots that underlie this communal expression; the inner relationships between its seemingly disparate elements are analogous to the oneness that pervades all things in the transcendental universe.
This according to “Beyond mimesis: Transcendentalism and processes of analogy in Charles Ives’ The Fourth of July” by Mark D. Nelson (Perspectives of new music XXII/1–2 [1983–84] 353–84; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1984-5966).
Happy Fourth of July! Below, a recording of the work by the New York Philharmonic, led by Leonard Bernstein.
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From colonial times to the present, U.S. composers have lived on the fringes of society and defined themselves in large part as outsiders. This tradition of maverick composers illuminates U.S. tensions between individualism and community.
Three notably unconventional composers—William Billings in the eighteenth century, Anthony Philip Heinrich in the nineteenth, and Charles Ives in the twentieth—all had unusual lives, wrote music that many considered incomprehensible, and are now recognized as key figures in the development of U.S. music. Eccentric individualism proliferates in all types of U.S. music—classical, popular, and jazz—and it has come to dominate the image of diverse creative artists from John Cage to Frank Zappa.
This according to Mavericks and other traditions in American music by Michael Broyles (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004).
Above, a portrait of Heinrich, nowadays the lesser-known of the three composers; below, “Victory of the condor” from The ornithological combat of kings, or, the condor of the Andes (1847), which remained his favorite work throughout his life.
Baseball played an important part in Charles Ives’s life, music, and writings; it was a place where he proved himself as a man, and it provided a framework within which he could build new musical ideas. Ives’s identity as a U.S. composer links him to this game, and a brief chronology of baseball history demonstrates significant changes in the game over the course of his lifetime (1874–1954).
Baseball provided Ives with a vehicle to establish his masculine identity, counterbalancing societal and self views of his musical participation as feminine. His pieces and unfinished sketches about baseball provided a vehicle for him to invent new musical ideas in reference to specific baseball situations that he could use as part of his basic musical language in later pieces.
Analyses of Ives’s baseball-related completed pieces (All the way around and back, Some southpaw pitching, Old home day, The fourth of July) and unfinished sketches (Take-off #3: Rube trying to walk 2 to 3!!, Take-off #7: Mike Donlin–Johnny Evers, and Take-off #8: Willy Keeler at the bat), compared with passages from later works, reveal these associations.
This according to Baseball and the music of Charles Ives: A proving ground by Timothy A. Johnson (Lanham: Scarecrow, 2004).
Today is Ives’s 140th birthday! Above, the Danbury Alerts, ca. 1890; a young Charles Ives is the first seated player from the left. Below, James Sykes plays Study no. 21: Some southpaw pitching.
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