Ives as Reviser

Here are the last three measures of the Concord Sonata‘s Emerson movement, as published in the score he sent out in 1921, which is now in public domain, and which – ill advisedly, in my view – has just been reprinted by Dover: Emerson-ex1920

And here are those last three measures in the second edition of 1947: Emerson-ex1947

There are several changes here – the addition of the C-D cluster, the reiteration of the final treble dyad, the replacement of fermatas with what seems a more judicious ritard – but the one that interests me most is the replacement of the final D# with F# in the bass line. By setting up an F#-A dyad in the listener’s ear, it renders the final F (which, of course, is the close of an intentional Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony motive) a touch more surprising. The A, D#, and F could be heard as belonging to the same harmony, but the A, F#, and F cannot – in addition to which, in conjunction with the tenor melody, the final D# came precariously close to rooting the tonality in Eb (D#), lessening the delicious ambiguity, and making the final F sound like a second scale degree rather than a new, unexpected tonic. It’s a small change, but a poetic one and perfectly right. In addition, the F-E-C# at the end (with the added harmonics) expresses a 1-3 pitch motive (minor second-minor third) that is important earlier in the movement, being first heard starting from the left hand’s second note. This pitch set is now found in the closing bass pitches F#-A-F as well.

If it matters to anyone, the change from D# to F# is not included in the Four Transcriptions from Emerson, which, based on Emerson, was completed and copied in 1926, which suggests that Ives must have made the change after that date.

Aside from the better-known big dissonant parts added to Emerson, there are dozens of such improvements that Ives made to the 1920 score in the 1947, things that hadn’t been quite right yet, that were surprising and original but not yet magical. I’m detailing many of them in my book. Thus I think it’s rather a shame that Dover has issued a cheap reprint of the 1920 score, which is deficient in many, many respects. Its reappearance in the popular Dover series will convince many buyers that they are getting the real Concord Sonata – and though not everyone agrees with me, I believe it does this great work a disservice.

(Of course, I am sufficiently inured to the internet to know that since I expressed a preference, I’ll now get plenty of comments saying they like the 1920 version better, just as when I produced a clean recording of a Harold Budd piece, there was no end of people saying they preferred the one with the baby crying in the background. If I blogged that I preferred my wife’s cooking to roadkill, the defenders of roadkill would form a line. Such comments will be taken seriously if the writer can explain his reasoning in as much logical detail as I have above.)


Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on RedditEmail this to someone


  1. says

    Spurred on by your “Poisoned Musicology” post, I’ve been listening to the Concord off and on over the last couple of days. The first movement, in particular, has been a hard listen for me each time I’ve tried, but I know it’s worthwhile and I want to succeed with it. (For one, I love the history he’s drawing on and want to understand at least something of what he’s expressing about it.) Your comments here, unlike Carter’s, offer information that sheds light, rather than heat. While I’m somewhat out of my pay grade here, I get enough out of what you’re noting to be further intrigued.

  2. Arthur says

    Much appreciated. This is revealing. But I am left wondering why some of your usual respondents aren’t complaining that it is too full of jargon?

    KG replies: Well, I can’t speak for them. Half the book – the six or seven analysis chapters, out of fourteen – will be quite technical, but as I like to say, I *very* rarely use a term that I wouldn’t expect a veteran of my first-year theory class to recognize, and if I do (like “convergence point” in Nancarrow), I define it in context. The names Deleuze, Lacan, Derrida, et al, will not appear. I even define Transcendentalism.

  3. mclaren says

    Why do we have to choose? Why does one version have to be “better” and the other version have to be “worse”? Why it must be either/or? Why can’t it be both/and?

    And now the suggestion that will assure envenomed verbal abuse: the ideal solution would be to package the Concord Sonata as a 2-CD set, one disk with the 1921 version, the other disk with the 1947 version. Listeners can enjoy and compare both of ‘em. Better yet, a 3-disc set, with both versions and that orchestrated version, the Concord Symphony.

    But of course, Euro/American ideology obsesses over the Urtext. Such a stark gefordert Bedarf, Jawhol, there can be only one original, one correct version of anything.

    Which version of your Summer Serenade is the correct, original version, the version you intended, Kyle? The loud one? Or the soft one?

    Sure, you’ll retort that the Ives situation is completely different, blah blah woof woof — but look, here’s the thing… Sometimes an audience gets a piece of music completely wrong. It just passes right over their heads. Not often, but it hapens. And sometimes that audience is the composer hi/rself.

    People change over decades. Haven’t you ever rejected a piece of music you wrote and then come back to it 10 or 15 years later and decided you were wrong and it’s actually pretty damned good?

    I sure have.

    Moreover, I’ve seen this with other composers. William Schottstaedt is a superb computer music composer and in the mid-80s I heard one of his piece, The Gong-Tormented Sea, on the KFAC radio. Later, it turns out Schottstaedt decided to pull it from his oeuvre. I just cannot understand that. As far as I can tell, it’s one of his best pieces.

    So it seems possible to me that the Ives of the 1921 was right about what he composed in 1921 and the Ives of 1947 was right about revising that composition, but how do we know that one Ives is “more authentic” or “better” or “truer” ? Maybe they’re two different but equally valid versions of the same composer.

    Maybe each version illuminates the other and gives us a fuller picture of Ives as a composer. Or maybe I’m just stupid and ignorant and that’s a ridiculous suggestion…

    KG replies: As I’m writing in my next blog entry, there are many possible variants in playing the Concord. But to me it seems very clear that Ives would not have considered any passage in the 1920 score among those variants. I would be happy to entertain the opinion of anyone who’s examined the manuscripts and Ives’s writings and letters on the matter as closely as I have. As for Summer Serenade, I have expressed my opinion clearly, and left, I hope, no ambiguity. Nor did Ives, I think. My own preference is necessarily subjective, but I can adduce musically sound reasons for it.

    But I appreciate your resolute contrarian-ness nevertheless.

    • kea says

      In such circumstances I typically apply Kea’s Law of Revisions: The revision is always superior, except when I like the original better, or think both versions have their merits and are equally valid.

      So far it has been proven correct in 100% of circumstances where a composition exists in two or fewer versions.

      [I like the 3 disc idea though.]

  4. Aaron Likness says

    It might be worth noting that two other D-sharps in this section were changed to F-sharps— both in parallel positions, under the F-natural (or, in the first instance, E-sharp) of the tenor melody. It puts a pleasing ‘limp’ in the A/D-sharp oscillation, and, as you wrote, avoids too strong a consonance at the end of the phrase. I have the impression, at least from Sondra Clark’s transcriptions, that the F-sharp might have originated as a shadow note in sketches for the Emerson Overture.

    Very much looking forward to reading about more of your findings.

    KG replies: Yes, it’s not the first F#; might be a different effect if it had been.