String Quartet No. 1 (Ives)

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String Quartet No. 1 is one of the most studied works by composer Charles Ives. The piece is composed for the standard string quartet of two violins, a viola, and a cello. There are four movements:

Movement I is fugal in form and is considered separate from the rest because of its difference in tone. This piece is also found as the third movement of Ives' Fourth Symphony, arranged for full orchestra. Historians agree that the fugal subject is based on "Missionary hymn" and the fugal countersubject is based on "Coronation".

Movement II is in ABA form. The "A" section is said to be based on the hymn "Beulah Land", which is quite apparent if the tune is familiar to the listener. The B section is said to be based on "Shining Shore", which is also used as the B section in movements III and IV.

This use of the same theme or melody in several movements is an example of cyclic form. Cyclic form is meant to unify the piece as a whole by using similar themes in several movements.

Movement III primary theme is said to be based on the hymn "Nettleton", and is a perfect example of how Ives changes hymns to make them his own and develop them in different ways. Ives took the "Nettleton" hymn and changed the ending so he could develop it throughout the A section. The B section, as mentioned above, is believed to be based on an inverted (or upside down) version of "Shining Shore".

Movement IV is one of Ives' first uses of polymeter: composing in 3/4 over 4/4 time. The main theme is said to be based on "Coronation" as well as "Stand up for Jesus". "Shining Shore" is said to connect the two hymns as a B section. The piece ends on a plagal cadence (IV-I), reinforcing the piece's heavy use of hymns. (Hymns typically end on plagal cadences).

Sketches: Burkholder does a very good job of looking through Ives' sketches to verify the use of several of these hymns. Ives reportedly wrote the hymns in their entirety in the sketches and used bits and pieces to compose the actual string quartet.

J. Peter Burkholder (one of the leading Ives scholars) claims that the main themes of this piece are paraphrased from familiar Protestant hymns such as "Beulah Land", "Shining Shore", "Missionary Hymn" and "Nettleton" to name a few.[citation needed]