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Friday, November 9, 2012

From Hanover Square North, at the End of a Tragic Day, the Voice of the People Again Arose*

I was setting up in the library this morning, collecting books to go out and listening to a lecture on ethics given by the daughter of someone who worked for the first Daley administration in Chicago in the 1970's (that's going to be the subject of another entry, trust me), when an extraordinary book caught my eye.  I'm a huge fan of Charles Ives, not only of his music but of his written contributions to the American conversation on the arts and politics--plus, I'm playing in a performance of the Ives Third Symphony next week (www.spso.info).  So when I saw "The Extraordinary Music of Mr. Ives" by Joanne Stanbridge (Houghton Mifflin, 2012), I literally stopped dead in my tracks.  It's not often that a book does that to me.

In age-appropriate terminology, Stanbridge describes what inspired Charles Ives to write down his extraordinary music--steamship whistles, baseball games, even the click-clack of manual typewriters in the office.  One day, Ives is downtown and hears news of the sinking of the Lusitania.  Spontaneously, people start singing a gospel hymn, In the Sweet By and By, a performance that haunts him.  People knowledgeable about Ives' music will remember that he was quite fond of quoting familiar songs in unconventional ways, and Stanbridge does a good job explaining this to young children. She even introduces the reader to works by other American composers, including Elliott Carter (Pocahontas), Aaron Copland (The Tender Land), and John Adams (On the Transmigration of Souls), whose works were influenced by Charles Ives.

It should be noted that she began writing this book in the months before the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.  The jacket notes state that after 9/11, "the mood and setting of my book felt too raw, so I had to put it away". We can be grateful that she chose to complete this wonderful book  The only issue I have with "The Extraordinary Music of Mr. Ives" is the omission of a CD containing a recording of the musical work discussed in the book.  Future editions of this work would do well to include such a feature.

*--Charles Ives, third movement of Orchestral Set No. 2 (1919), c. 1915.  First performance given by the Chicago Symphony, Morton Gould conducting, 11 February 1967. Available commercially on Sony Music Distribution #37823 with Michael Tilson-Thomas leading the Concertgebouw Orchestra.
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