My Concord Sonata book is the most ambitious thing I’ve ever done, and one of my proudest achievements, but it seems to bear the mark of Cain. It will indeed be published, but according to the schedule it will appear in fall of 2016. Having waited ten months since I turned in the manuscript, I have fifteen months to go, by which time I can’t imagine I’m going to care anymore. Anything could happen by then. I want to make the information I have public and move on, and so I might as well blog the remaining best parts of the book. The world has afforded me here a venue with several dozen devoted readers, to whom I am grateful, and whom I can approach at any time without censorship, alteration, or delay. So be it. I am through writing for publication, I am through composing for performance. The rest of the world can go to hell, which it seems very much in a hurry to do.
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One of the irritating leitmotifs of Concord scholarship is the supposed seven-part structure of the Hawthorne movement. This originated with pianist John Kirkpatrick, whose sense of musical analysis was fuzzy at best [I put this more diplomatically in the book manuscript]. In his preface to the 1965 score of Ives’s Symphony No. 4, Kirkpatrick offered a formal picture of the Hawthorne movement (on which movement 2 of the Symphony No. 4 is partly based) as a seven-section palindrome:
phantasmagoria – nocturne – ragtime – contrasts – ragtime – nocturne – phantasmagoria
This has some relevance to especially the first half of the piece, but is misleading. It seems to suggest an arch form, as is often found in the music of Bartok, but the paired sections are not materially related; the second “nocturne” section, for instance, is much shorter than the first, more a brief pause than a section; it uses no thematic material from the first “nocturne,” and transitions smoothly into the final “phantasmagoria,” while the “contrasts” section (a loosely-defined grab-bag of gestures, as the title implies) shares some material with the first “ragtime.” And so on. In the manner of a hallowed document being reverently quoted by scholar after scholar who arrive at nothing better to supplant it with, Kirkpatrick’s seven-part division has earned considerable purchase in the Ives literature, but it is time to retire it. It correlates to the 2nd edition (1947) score as follows:
21-1 to 24-4 phantasmagoria
21-4 to 26-1 nocturne
26-2 to 33-1 ragtime
33-1 to 37-1 contrasts
37-1 to 42-2 ragtime
42-3 to 42-4 nocturne
42-4 to 51-5 phantasmagoria
I would merge the last two sections; the second “nocturne” is so brief, and flows so smoothly into the final phantasmagoria, that I hear no sectional division there. In addition, I would break up three of the other sections, dividing the first half of the first ragtime away from the grand statement of the “Human Faith” theme in C# major/minor (which is not ragtime-like at all); dividing the contrasts section between the interrupted fragments of Martyn and the long evocation of a marching band; and dividing the final section among the fantasia on “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean,” the blizzard of 16th-notes in a dotted-8th beat, and the recapitulation of material based on the Human Faith motto. [The Human Faith theme is the main theme of the work, exposed in final form at the end of The Alcotts, and the motto is its first four notes, C-D-E-A.] In all, this gives us ten well-defined sections, which can be correlated to Kirkpatrick’s hallowed ones as follows (click on the image to make it legible):
[System 21-1 means the first system on page 21; sys. 49-3 b. 5 means the fifth beat of the third system on page 49, and so on.] This is not yet entirely satisfactory; for instance, it fails to acknowledge that the first interruption of Martyn uses material from the first ragtime. It does, however, avoid the misconception of some kind of arch or palindromic form, and also acknowledges the inner unity of the Country Band March section and the one based throughout on “Columbia,” as well as the parallel of both halves culminating in the Human Faith melody. It is based on unity of material rather than (like Kirkpatrick’s scheme) merely raw changes of speed and dynamics, and will make it easier to encapsulate each section, as I will do now.
Phantasmagoria/Frost/Railroad/Demons’ Dance, syss. 21-1 to 24-4 m.1: a classic example of moment form; each phrase, each moment is basically static (aside from occasional transitions), all ostinato-based, none relates linearly to the next, and each could be increased or decreased in length without violence to the musical effect. G# is a low drone note for the first six systems (out of 17), D and then E become drone notes for the last three systems. The section is punctuated by three “human faith” mottos, in F#, F, and F# respectively. [Ives in his Memos wrote that the opening suggests frost on the window pane in Hawthorne’s Tanglewood Tales. Demon’s Dance was a now-lost piano piece incorporated into Hawthorne, and based on demons dancing around the witch’s pipe in the story “Feathertop.” And the general perpetual motion in this section relates to its origin in Hawthorne’s satire “The Celestial Railroad.’]
Nocturne (Phoebe’s Garden), syss. 24-4 m.2 to 26-1: In terms of the whole, this could of course be considered another moment, but it is quasi-self-contained. It begins on a middle Db (sys. 24-4, m. 2, end of beat 1), which is repeated four times, and it returns to that Db, also repeated four times, starting at sys. 26-1, beat 12. In between there is some linear development with a clear climax at the white-note cluster in sys. 25-3. No particular tonality appears in the contrast of white against black keys, but Eb is a lowest note in the introduction, G more or less through the cluster section, and the phrases of the brief denouement all begin on a low A. Ives mentions Phoebe’s Garden from The House of the Seven Gables in his essay on Hawthorne, and this passage strikes me as the most likely candidate for what he had in mind; could the pandiatonic chords depict her innocence and charm, ever shadowed by the black-key clusters representing the cursed and guilty past of the Pyncheon family?
Ragtime 1, syss. 26-2 to 31-1: With its gradual rises and falls in register, this section seems more organic than the Phantasmagoria, but each phrase has a different principle: the first based on the ragtime motive, the second whole-tone, the third octatonic, and so on. The section contains the movement’s only real large structural repetition: the section from sys. 27-3 through nine beats of 28-3 recurs, with alterations, from sys. 29-1 through the first two beats of sys. 30-1. Between these “A” repetitions there is a repeated “B section” at sys. 28-4. Soon after the second repetition in sys. 30-2, the music begins focusing on the human faith motto, as a transition into the next section. Assigning tonalities isn’t easy, but F# is tonicized at sys. 27-4, there are drones on A, B, and C# in syss. 28-1/3, Eb is tonicized in the structural repetition at sys. 29-2, followed by drones on G#, G, and F.
Human Faith Statement, syss. 31-2 to 33-1: This section is a development of the second half of the Human Faith theme centered on E, but harmonized in C#-major/minor with a continual drone-arpeggio. Its quick disintegration starts with the Eb-Bb-F sonority at sys. 32-4, b. 3 1/2, providing a harmonic link to the next two sections.
Martyn with Interruptions, syss. 33-1 to 35-1: Eight chords of the hymn Martyn (“Jesus, lover of my soul”) are played in G, followed by a return of the ragtime motive and some whole-tone ostinatos over stacked-fifth sonorities. Then Martyn returns for a longer period in F#, interrupted by a tonally fluid dissolution.
Marching Band Evocation, syss. 35-1 b.7 to 37-1 m.1: Opening and closing on an Eb-Bb-F sonority, the marching band section is relatively self-contained, mostly more linearly developmental rather than moment-form, and containing the movement’s most conventionally tonal music. Despite the beginning and ending on Eb, the main tune in the middle is clearly in Ab [echoing the first section’s emphasis on a G# drone, and marking an important point in the harmonic structure of the entire sonata, as I’ll explain another day]. The section ends when the tune is interrupted by drumming patterns.
Ragtime 2, syss. 37-1 m.2 to 42-2: As documented elsewhere, this moment form is quite complex. We include in it the buildup to the fist clusters at sys. 41-2, m. 2, because the neighbor-note motive beginning here has been foreshadowed earlier in the section. The section begins seemingly in Db Lydian mode, but keeps returning to A as a grounding bass note, with occasional jumps to Eb [A and Eb being oppositionally related in every movement of the sonata].
“Columbia” Section, syss. 42-3 to 46-5 m. 1: After a ghostly appearance of Martyn in F, the dotted rhythm of “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean” dominates this entire section. The gradual emergence and development of the patriotic tune prevent any feel of moment form. The tonality is ever-evolving, but it opens oscillating between G# and G as drone notes, lands on a low A several times, and there is a section clearly in Bb-major at syss. 46-2/3.
Perpetual Motion in 6/16, or “The Blizzard,” syss. 46-5 m.2 to 49-3 b.4: This, I think, is the most radical music in the sonata, an abstract barrage of notes with few motivic hooks, and little for the listener to hold onto; not that it is unpleasant, only confusing, and deliberately so as a climactic descent into chaos. Disparate events are foregrounded one-by-one, most notably a statement of the first half of Human Faith at sys. 47-4. Some of Ives’s complex local transformations of material are evidently not meant to be heard as such. I got so tired of referring to this as a blizzard of notes that I just started calling the section “The Blizzard.”
Recap of Human Faith Material, syss. 49-3 b.5 to 51-5: This final section, marked by reliance on both halves of the Human Faith theme, begins and ends with a D-major emphasis, and with keys of C# and Eb both making an appearance. The rhythmic organization by dotted-8th beats continues intermittently. The feel of a recapitulation comes at once with repetition of material from Ragtime 1, though the left hand part is altered to turn into the first half of the Human Faith theme. Next the left-hand recapitulates, in part, the C# statement of the second half of Human Faith from that section of the piece. The final page brings back quotations of “Columbia” in D/G over Human Faith motives alternating between D and Eb. There is a final reference to Martyn in Eb and a final gesture taken from the first Phantasmagoria grounded in D.
There are features, mostly melodic ones, that tie the movement together as a satisfying whole. Chief among these is the Hawthorne motive [a leap upward followed by a descending second]. Of the ten sections, it dominates the 1st, 3rd, part of the 5th, 6th, and 9th; plus, because it is integral to the tune “Columbia,” also the 8th and 10th. The neighbor-note motive of the second ragtime [e.g., A-G-A-C, the final note being a downward leap] might be called, in part, its retrograde. The theme of the Country Band March is related to it. The Demons’ Dance and Slaves’ Shuffle [two lost Ives piano works that he claimed were incorporated into Hawthorne] might have been conceived independently, the March and “Columbia” may have originated elsewhere, but every element seems to have made its way into this movement because it fit motivically. Beyond that we have the Human Faith melody, which dominates the 4th and 10th sections, and makes appearances in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 9th. (In fact, the retrograde of the four-note Human Faith motto is itself a Hawthorne motive.) And since the Human Faith theme quotes Martyn, the 5th section based on Martyn links to the others. For all the movement’s formal complexity and discontinuities, it possesses a notable organic quality, and is quite distinct from the other movements.
All material copyright © Kyle Gann 2014
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More to come. If any of you scholars out there see fit to print some of this information elsewhere, an attribution to this blog will be greatly appreciated.