Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Blog #7, Ives

Since opening this web site last summer I have concentrated on my setting of the Bill of Rights and its performances. There is some news about that topic, and a blog on the updates (future performances and related matters) will be forthcoming in a few weeks. The two blogs about my Introduction and Grand March were timely, of course, and the whole episode fresh in my mind. For the month of February, however, I would like to concentrate on another project, the Ives Vocal Marathon. Here’s something I wrote in the fall of 2005 for one of my Ives recitals in this series.

Neely Bruce first encountered the vocal music of Charles Ives as a freshman at the Eastman School of Music, when he accompanied Sylvia Anderson in “Evening.” He played a few more songs in undergraduate school at the University of Alabama. In 1966 he entered graduate school at the University of Illinois, and in the late sixties began to work on Ives with his office mate, baritone David Barron. They began to present all-Ives programs and other recitals featuring this extraordinary repertory of song, and in July of 1969 they presented the earliest documented performance of “August.” In 1972, as part of the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music, they presented the first major performance of Ives songs in Poland—the second half of a concert which opened with John Ogden playing the “Concord” Sonata.

Over the years Neely continued to perform the vocal music of Ives—with his wife Phyllis Bruce, the American Music/Theatre Group (AM/TG presented an all-Ives and Foster program at the Bushnell in 1982 and participated in “Wall-to-Wall Ives” at Symphony Space, NYC, in 1984), and other soloists and ensembles. His paper comparing 114 Songs of Ives and the collection of Stephen Foster songs known as the “Morrison Foster Songbook” was published in the proceedings of the 1974 Ives Festival-Conference, An Ives Celebration.

In the summer of 2004 the long-awaited critical edition of the bulk of Ives’ vocal output, 129 Songs, was published by MUSA (Music of the United States of America). Master-fully edited by H. Wiley Hitchcock, and exhaustive in its detailed treatment of Ives’s many eccentricities, this volume, with the critical editions of early and miscellaneous songs by John Kirkpatrick and James Sinclair (Forty Early Songs, Eleven Songs and Two Harmonizations), makes it possible for Bruce to produce a complete Charles Ives song series, up-to-date, full of surprises, and drawing on forty-five years of experience with this repertory—the Ives Vocal Marathon.

Neely Bruce is joined by soprano Johana Arnold, mezzo Elizabeth Saunders, tenor Gary Harger, his old friend David Barron, other soloists, members of AM/TG, flutist Peter Standaart, violinist Paul Woodiel, and two other pianists (“On the Antipodes” and “Vote for Names” require more than one) to present all 183 Ives songs over a three-year period. This project will culminate in a festival of Ives vocal music at Wesleyan University (and other locations in Connecticut and New York) in the fall of 2007: five song concerts, with lectures, panel discussions, and other special events.

* * * * *

The first concerts in this series took place in January of 2005. Saunders, Harger and I performed two blockbuster concerts, with the assistance of my wife Phyllis, flutist Peter Standaart, members of the South Church Choir, and old buddies Toby Twining and Martha Smith (formerly Hanen) from the glory days of AM/TG. That summer Gary Harger and I did a chunk of the tenor songs at Wesleyan, and called it “Round Two.” On Saturday 24 September 2005, we did two more concerts (“Round Three”), the shorter one in the afternoon and the bigger one in the evening. To introduce the first concert there was a panel discussion—Ives scholar and conductor Jim Sinclair, my colleague Yonatan Malin who studies art song, and myself. There have been spinoffs: a recital with Harger at the Hartt School, a couple of previews at South Congregational Church at Middletown, and other previews planned for local educational venues. The Connecticut Humanities Council has given us a handsome grant to do Ives songs about religion at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, in conjunction with the current exhibit of American paintings (1780-1920) entitled “Finding Religion”—check out the details at their web site,

In future blogs I will have a lot to say about this project—what Ives means to me at this time in my life, how the songs are typical (and atypical) of his output, what I think “the Ives method” of songwriting is, grouping these songs into topics (not just Ives/religion, but Ives/nature, Ives/peace/war, Ives/politics, etc.), the special challenges and rewards of this venture, and many other things. For now, suffice it to say that this is turning into the most meaningful performing project of my life. I’ll explain later.

Notices about future Ives performances (and there are lots of them in the works) will be listed on the web site.

For Ives aficionados and those who may be curious, here is a list of the 121 songs (out of 183) we will have performed by the end of February 2006, in alphabetical order. For details about the way we have grouped this material into concerts and other points of information about the Ives Vocal Maraton, please feel free to contact me directly.

The All-Enduring
Ann Street
At Parting
At Sea
At the River
Because Thou Art
The Cage
Canon (first version)
Chanson de Florian
Charlie Rutlage
The Children's Hour
A Christmas Carol (the one in 114 Songs)
The Circus Band
The Collection
Down East
Ein Ton
Far in the wood
Flag Song
General William Booth Enters Into Heaven
The Greatest Man
Her Eyes
Her Gown Was of Vermilion Silk
I travelled among unknown men
Ich grolle nicht
In Autumn
In My Beloved's Eyes
In the Alley
In the Mornin'
The "Incantation"
The Indians
The Innate
Kären (Little Kären)
The Last Reader
The Light That Is Felt
Like a Sick Eagle
Luck and Work
Die Lotosblume
Maple Leaves
Memories: a. Very Pleasant; b. Rather Sad
Mists [II] (second version)
My Lou Jennine
My Native Land
Night of Frost in May
A Night Song
Nov. 2, 1920 (An Election)
Old Home Day
The Old Mother (the version with Ives’s text)
Omens and Oracles
On Judges' Walk
On the Counter
"1, 2, 3"
The One Way
The Only Son
Qu'il m'irait bien
The Rainbow (So May It Be!)
Rock of Ages
Romanzo (di Central Park) [five different versions!]
Rosamunde (first setting)
Rough Wind
The See'r
The Side Show
Slugging a Vampire
A Son of a Gambolier
A Song–For Anything
Song for Harvest Season
Song without words [I] (world premiere)
Song without words [II] (world premiere)
The South Wind
Tarrant Moss
There is a lane
The Things our Fathers Loved
Those Evening Bells
Through Night and Day
To Edith
Two Little Flowers
Two Slants (Christian and Pagan): Duty/Vita
The Waiting Soul
Walt Whitman
Weil' auf mir
West London
When stars are in the quiet skies
Where the eagle cannot see
Wie Melodien zieht es mir
William Will
Yellow Leaves

PLUS: The following piano pieces as change-of-pace items:
Three Protests
Some Southpaw Pitching
From the Concord Sonata: “Hawthorne,” “The Alcotts” and “Thoreau”
(performed on different programs, in relation to different songs)

AND: The following songs by German composers (Ives set the same texts):
Romanze, aus dem Schauspiel Rosamunde, by Schubert
Widmung, by Robert Franz
Wie Melodien zieht es mir, by Brahms
Wanderers Nachtlied, by Schubert
Ein Ton, by Peter Cornelius
Die Lotosblume, by Schumann

AND: The following miscellaneous items:
The first “Song Without Words” as a violin and piano piece
The arrangement of “A Christmas Carol” by Paul Echols for voices SATB

Whew! What a workout.