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The Three Places in New England (Orchestral Set No. 1) is a composition for orchestra by American composer Charles Ives. It was composed mainly between 1911 and 1914, although sketches for the work date from 1903, and the latest revisions were made in 1929. The piece is famous for its use of musical quotation and paraphrasing. Three Places consists of three movements in Ives' preferred slow-fast-slow movement order:
The three movements are ordered with the longest first and the shortest last, and a complete performance of the piece lasts eighteen or nineteen minutes. As he does in his Orchestral Set No. 2, Ives inverts the fast-slow-fast movement order typical of most three-movement works, using instead a slow-fast-slow order.
The piece has become one of Ives' most commonly performed compositions. It exhibits most of the signature traits of his style: layered textures with multiple, sometimes simultaneous melodies, many of which are recognizable hymn and marching tunes; masses of sound including tone clusters; and sudden, sharp textural contrasts.
Each of the three movements is named for a place in New England, USA. Each is intended to make the listener experience the unique atmosphere of the place, as though s/he is there. To that end, Ives’ paraphrasing of American folk tunes is a particularly important device, providing the listener with tangible reference points. The intention was to make the music accessible despite its avant-garde chromaticism.
Three Places in New England aims to paint a picture of American ideals, lifestyle and patriotism at the turn of the twentieth century.
Three Places in New England was composed between 1903 and 1929. The set was completed in 1914, but was later revised for performance in 1929. The second piece, Putnam’s Camp, Redding, Connecticut was created from two short theater orchestra pieces composed by Ives in 1903. These pieces, "Country Band" March and Overture & March: "1776", were completed in 1904. Lyman Brewster, Ives' uncle, had asked him to compose the pieces for his play Major John Andre which was never performed due to Brewster's untimely death. In the early fall of 1912, Ives began tinkering with these compositions again. The satisfaction that Ives derived from working on the Fourth of July (third movement of his Holiday Symphony), in which he used the trio (or middle) section of 1776, may have been the catalyst for inspiring him to reuse these lost songs and create a longer piece. By October, Ives had completed an ink score-sketch of Putnam's Camp. The final version of the piece clearly resembles its source materials, but many of the complex musical jokes that littered the originals had been replaced with simpler alternatives.
The Housatonic at Stockbridge, the third piece in the set, was composed in 1911 along with the opening piece, The "St.-Gaudens" in Boston Common (Col. Shaw and his Colored Regiment). By 1912, after finishing Putnam's Camp, Ives had settled on the form of a three-movement orchestral set, and had written the majority of it.
In 1929 Nicolas Slonimsky, conductor of the Boston Chamber Orchestra at that time, contacted Ives about the possibility of performing Three Places. Slonimsky had been urged by American composer Henry Cowell, Ives' contemporary, to program an Ives piece for some time, and Three Places caught his attention.
The thorough reworking required to transform Three Places from an orchestral score to one that could be performed by a much smaller chamber orchestra renewed Ives' interest in the work. Slonimsky required that the piece be re-scored for: 1 flute, 1 oboe, 1 English horn, 1 clarinet, 1 bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 1 trombone, 1 percussionist, 1 piano, 7 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos and 1 string bass – a much smaller orchestra than the original. Ives was glad to have his piece played, but his comments on the re-scoring include, on the full score of The Housatonic at Stockbridge, "piano may be used for Bassoons throughout… a poor substitute…".
Three Places was first performed on February 16, 1930 under Slonimsky's direction before the American Committee of the International Society for Contemporary Music, in New York City. Although it had been rehearsed only once, the Committee was sufficiently impressed to recommend the work to the International Society, which surprisingly turned it down for performance at its festival. The first public performance was scheduled for 10 January 1931. Ives himself attended – in fact, he was funding the concert himself! The performance received mild applause, and Ives congratulated the performers backstage – "Just like a town meeting – every man for himself. Wonderful how it came out!"
After the mild success of the first performance, Slonimsky and Ives were inspired to take Three Places abroad: Ives is one of the first American composers to have been played outside America. Slonimsky conducted Three Places in Paris on June 6, at a concert he described as "absolutely extraordinary" because so many important composers and critics of the time were in the audience. Their first experience of Ives left them impressed: Ives’ music was not just interesting because it was composed by an American, it also fascinated them because the music really described America. Although the listeners didn't understand all the cultural references, Ives was calling attention to American ideals, issues, experiences and perspectives. For instance, in The St. Gaudens', Ives paraphrases ragtime, slave plantation songs such as Old Black Joe and even patriotic American Civil War tunes such as Marching through Georgia. The combination of such songs conjured up images of the fight for freedom in America. International recognition solidified the image of Ives as an American composer, especially strengthened by his use of borrowing from typically American sounding pieces.
Three Places in New England became the first of Ives' compositions to be commercially published. Slonimsky was in touch with C. C. Birchard (a publisher from Boston) on Ives’ behalf, and by 1935 the two had negotiated a deal. Ives and Slonimsky both painstakingly proofread the score, note by note, to make sure the engravings were correct. In 1935, Ives held a copy of his first work in his hands. He had requested that the binding bear his name in as small a font as possible, so as to not appear egotistical.
For many years, very little interest in performance of Three Places was aroused by its publication. After Slonimsky's retirement from conducting, the piece lay dormant until 1948, when longtime BSO concertmaster Richard Burgin programmed Three Places on a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert. The current practice of performing Ives' chamber scores rescored for full orchestra was thus established.
In the 1970s, interest in Three Places in New England was piqued once again, this time regarding the differences between the original 1914 scoring, much of which had been lost, and the 1929 chamber-orchestra rescoring for Slonimsky’s chamber orchestra. After extensive research by James Sinclair at Yale University, he concluded that the 1914 orchestration could not be recreated in its entirety since only 35% of the second movement had survived Ives' cutting for the 1929 version. Sinclair created what is currently believed to be the closest replication of the 1914 score for full orchestra by extrapolating Ives' scraps, sketches and notes.
The first movement of Three Places in New England, St.-Gaudens, is a tribute to the monument on the corner of Beacon and Park Streets in Boston, MA. The monument was created over fourteen years by the world-renowned artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens in honor of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the first all-black regiment to serve in the Union Army during the American Civil War. The official name of the monument is the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial. Colonel Robert Shaw was the white commander who led the Regiment in their assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina. Of the six hundred men who stormed the fort, 270, including Shaw, were killed. They were subsequently recognized for their courage and valor in battle.
Composed between c. 1913 and c. 1923 and revised in 1929, it is possible that initial sketches of this piece were penned as far back as May 1911, at the time of Ives' move to Hartsdale, New York. A distinguishing characteristic of the movement is its sophisticated handling of harmonic progressions, technically atonal though supporting a diatonic melody dominated by the interval of a minor third.
Ives referred to the piece as a brooding "Black March", inspired by a reflective experience at the monument. The piece evokes images of a long, slow march South to battle by the 54th. It achieves this with the use of minor third ostinatos in the bass. Ives uses chromaticism, placed distantly below the main themes, to make it sound like a vague recollection of the events rather than a vivid depiction.
The piece builds to a dynamic high before rapidly receding, perhaps to signify the fate of the regiment at Fort Wagner. From a full, rich C-major chord at m. 63 (rehearsal letter H), the music falls into minor disarray and, for the last 2 1/2 minutes, it can be heard as a solemn memorial to those lost, or the crushed hopes of hundreds of black soldiers who had come to fight for the freedom of other blacks.
Of particular significance is the main melody, which is made up of a patchwork of motives from old plantation tunes or parlor songs such as Massa's in the Cold Ground and Old Black Joe, and the patriotic Civil War songs Marching Through Georgia and The Battle Cry of Freedom. The paraphrasing of these pieces is especially clear in the opening bars of the piece, where motives from the three main sources interweave to create an American-sounding pentatonic melody typical of many 19th-century American songs.
Throughout the opening of the piece, ostinatos based upon minor third intervals are heard in the bass instruments. These are intended to evoke images of a solemn trudge down to battle. They, too, are derived from the same four source materials as the main melody. Throughout Marching Through Georgia, Old Black Joe, The Battle Cry of Freedom and Massa's in the Cold Ground, minor third intervals predominate.
Ives chose these sources because of their musical similarities and the possibility of creating fresh, seamless motives from them. Furthermore, the pieces have strong extra-musical associations Ives used to full advantage. Mixing patriotic Civil War songs with old slave plantation songs created a vivid image honoring those who fell fighting for the emancipation of blacks during the Civil War.
Derived from two earlier pieces, "Country Band March" and Overture & March: "1776" (both 1904), Putnam's Camp was finished in 1912. It is thought that working on his Fourth of July was an impetus for Ives here, since he had just recently used the trio (or middle) section of 1776 in that work. A distinguishing characteristic of this movement is the combination of multiple divisions of the orchestra playing against each other while occasionally throwing in asymmetrical phrases or wild dissonances.
Putnam's Camp, near Redding, Connecticut, was established as a historic landmark by the Connecticut legislature in 1887 and named in honor of the American Revolutionary War General Israel Putnam, who set up a camp in the area during the winter of 1778-79. The site has been preserved as a historic treasure because of Putnam's important role in the Revolutionary War, especially the Battle of Bunker Hill. Fourth of July celebrations are often held at the site due to its historic significance.
Ives wrote a program into the score, describing the story:
Once upon a '4 July,' some time ago, so the story goes, a child went here on a picnic, held under the auspices of the First Church and the village cornet band. Wandering away from the rest of the children past the camp ground into the woods, he hopes to catch a glimpse of some of the old soldiers. As he rests on the hillside of laurels and hickories the tunes of the band and the songs of the children grow fainter and fainter; -- when-"mirabile dictu"-- over the trees on the crest of the hill he sees a tall woman standing. She reminds him of a picture he has of the Goddess Liberty -- but the face is sorrowful -- she is pleading with the soldiers not to forget their "cause" and the great sacrifices they have made for it. But they march out of camp with fife and drum to a popular tune of the day. Suddenly, a new national note is heard. Putnam is coming over the hills from the center, -- the soldiers turn back and cheer. -- The little boy awakes, he hears the children's songs and runs down past the monument to "listen to the band" and join in the games and dances.—Charles Ives, Three Places In New England Score.
James Sinclair, who was responsible for the work done in the 1970s to recreate the original score of Three Places, correlated many of the measures in the score for Putnam's Camp with this program. A picture has since been worked out which shows the measures of the piece along with their programmatic significance.
Ives borrowed extensively from American patriotic tunes to create the imagery of frantically patriotic 4 July celebrations. The opening measures are typical of Ives in their heavy chromaticism and varying time signatures (4/4 against 9/8) to create the sound of community marching bands. This touchingly realistic interpretation resolves shortly after the start of the piece into a B-flat major march; but chromaticism and disarray are never far from breaking through, giving the impression that the musicians in this band are only amateurs.
Ives also experimented with quoting famous musical excerpts in different keys from the main theme. This idea stems from an incident when Ives was listening to two different marching bands, and could still hear one band marching away while the other was marching towards him, thus sounding like two pieces simultaneously played in two different keys.
Many American patriotic tunes, such as Yankee Doodle are quoted during the piece. In the last two measures of the piece, the national anthem resolves to an unexpected, dissonant chord.
Borrowed tunes include: The British Grenadiers; Marching Through Georgia; The Girl I Left Behind; Arkansas Traveler; Massa's in the Cold Ground; The Battle Cry of Freedom; Yankee Doodle; Columbia, Gem of the Ocean; Hail, Columbia; and Tramp, Tramp, Tramp.
First drafts were written primarily in the summer of 1908, reworked in 1911 and then again in 1913, extending the atmospheric depiction of mists and running water far longer than the original first two measures. The scoring was completed in 1914. It was arranged as a song in 1921 to lines excerpted from Robert Underwood Johnson's poem To the Housatonic at Stockbridge, but this final movement of Three Places in New England is purely orchestral. It features strident polyrhythmic activity in the strings, coupled with a hymn-like tune derived from the opening motto of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.
This piece was inspired by a walk Ives had taken with his newly married wife, Harmony, in June 1908 on a honeymoon hiking trip in western Massachusetts and Connecticut, a rural setting they enjoyed so much that they chose to go back to the Berkshires the very next weekend. While there, they took a walk by the Housatonic River near Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Ives recalled,
We walked in the meadows along the river, and heard the distant singing from the church across the river. The mist had not entirely left the river bed, and the colors, the running water, the banks and elm trees were something that one would always remember.
Two days later, on 30 June 1908, Ives sketched some ideas to try to capture the atmosphere of this rustic scene. He used irregular, quasi-isorhythmic ostinatos in the violins to create the image of mist and fog rolling over swirling waters, and an English horn and violas to mimic the sound of singing from a church across the river.
Unlike the other pieces in this set, no American folk tunes are quoted in it. Instead, this piece exemplifies Ives' use of paraphrase, namely of Isaac B. Woodbury's hymn tune Dorrance, and can thus be classed as an extended paraphrased melody using the following devices:
Missionary Chant begins in the same way as Dorrance except for an added note, which occasionally Ives adds to his paraphrased melody, suggesting that Missionary Chant may also be borrowed.
Ives recomposed this movement as an art song for a solo singer with piano accompaniment. The original symphonic version was purely instrumental, but conductor Michael Tilson Thomas took the liberty of adding a full choir to sing the Dorrance-based melody in place of the horns/woodwinds/lower strings when he rerecorded the work in 2002 with the San Francisco Symphony on the RCA label. This was likely inspired by performing Ives' Holidays Symphony, which originally did use a chorus at the end of the final movement.