Monday, May 29, 2017

Ormandy Conducts Ives

The odd, iconoclastic composer is something of an American tradition, and Charles Ives (1874-1954) was perhaps the oddest and most iconoclastic them all. His career as an insurance executive gave him the freedom to write whatever he wanted to without worrying about commercial considerations. The resulting music made use of polytonality, polyrhythms, and complex, layered textures. He was years ahead of his time, and his music had few performances during his lifetime - a situation not helped by the disarray of his manuscripts, which were often nearly illegible and interspersed with inserts written on scraps of paper.

By now Ives is recognized as a genius, and his music is frequently performed and recorded. This 1968 album features Eugene Ormandy conducting the brilliant Philadelphia Orchestra in two long works by Ives - the early and relatively conservative Symphony No. 1 (composed while he was still a student at Yale), and the more typical (and quite beautiful) Three Places in New England. The first movement of Three Places, "The 'St. Gaudens' in Boston Common (Col. Shaw and His Colored Regiment," was presumably written first, and it echoes the conservatism of the Symphony No. 1 to some extent. But the other two movements, "Putman's Camp, Redding, Connecticut" and "The Housatonic at Stockbridge" are pure Ives - complex, haunting, and otherworldly. Here's Ormandy and the Philadelphians performing that last movement.

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