Symphony No. 2 (Ives)
The piece departs from the conventional four-movement symphonic structure, which has been modified by the insertion of the Lento maestoso as an introduction to the Allegro molto vivace. Unusually among the classics, Schumann's 'Rhenish' symphony also has an "additional" slow movement in fourth place.
History and analysis
Although the work was composed during Ives' 20s, it was half a century before it premiered, in a 1951 New York Philharmonic concert conducted by Leonard Bernstein. The symphony premiered to rapturous applause but Ives responded with ambivalence. Indeed, he did not even attend the concert in person but had to be dragged by family and friends to a neighbor's house to listen to the live radio broadcast. The public performance had been postponed for so long because Ives had been alienated from the American classical establishment. Ever since his training with Horatio Parker at Yale, Ives had suffered their disapproval of the mischievous unorthodoxy with which he radically pushed the boundaries of European classical structures to create soundscapes that recalled the vernacular music-making of his New England upbringing.
Like Ives' other compositions which honor the European and American inheritances, the Second Symphony never makes verbatim quotation of popular American tunes such as "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean", "Camptown Races", "Long, Long Ago", and "America the Beautiful", but reshapes and develops them into broad themes. There is a subdued version of the opening notes of Beethoven's fifth symphony and a rescoring of part of Brahms' first symphony, as well as a reference (early in the first movement) to the chorales of Johann Sebastian Bach. The work is an interesting precedent to another significant piece of the 20th century, Luciano Berio's Sinfonia, which was composed about 65 years later. Ives' 5th movement uses quotation techniques comparable to Berio's in his 3rd movement.
Bernstein's premiere and subsequent interpretations were later widely criticized for taking extravagant liberties with the score. Although the 1951 score itself contained about a thousand errors, Bernstein reportedly also made a substantial cut to the finale, ignored Ives' tempo indications, and prolonged the terminating "Bronx cheer" discord. Many conductors and audiences, influenced by Bernstein's example, have enthusiastically considered the last of these practices one of the trademarks of the piece. In 2000, the Charles Ives Society prepared an official critical edition of the score and authorized a recording by Kenneth Schermerhorn and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra to adhere more closely to Ives' intentions.
Although the world premiere performance was later issued on CD, the first studio recording was made by F. Charles Adler with the Vienna Philharmonia Orchestra in February 1953. Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic recorded the work in stereo and mono versions for Columbia Records on October 6, 1958. Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra recorded the symphony for RCA Victor on February 7, 1973, in a multi-channel version later issued on CD with Dolby Surround Sound encoding. Bernard Herrmann, another long-time champion of Ives's music, recorded the work with the London Symphony Orchestra in Decca/London's 'Phase 4 Stereo' on 4 January 1972. He had given the UK Premiere of Ives's 2nd Symphony in a BBC radio broadcast with the same orchestra on 25 April 1956, a historic performance that has now been released on CD by Pristine Audio.
- Wooldridge, Charles. From the Steeples to the Mountains: A Study of Charles Ives. New York: Alfred K. Knopf, 1971, 248.
- Sinclair, James B (1999). A Descriptive Catalogue of the Music of Charles Ives. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. p. 8. ISBN 0-300-07601-0.
- Liner notes for RCA Victor 09026-63316-2
- Repertoire notes from Pomona College Orchestra, 2003-4
- Review of Schermerhorn's recording of the Critical Edition, December 13, 2000