Ives: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 3, “The Camp Meeting”

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

Charles Ives Symphony No. 3, The Camp Meeting (1904)

Charles Ives (1874-1854)

Symphony No. 2

Symphony No. 3

I. Old Folks Gatherin’
II. Children’s Day
III. Communion

For this symphony, Charles Ives drew upon material from earlier liturgical organ works. Though finished in 1904 and revised in 1909, the Third Symphony was not performed until 1946, subsequently winning the 1947 Pulitzer Prize. As with many of his works, it is difficult to construct a definitive or authoritative version, due to many conflicting manuscript sources. Ives was in the habit of revising his music in an almost improvisatory spirit, and he like leaving choices of possible solutions up to the performer. The version we will hear tonight is based upon the published score of 1964 edited by Henry Cowell, but also takes into some account a new edition, by Kenneth Singleton, which has significant differences with Cowell’s edition. Most notable is the extreme dissonant counterpoint near the close of certain passages. Ives’ revisions sometimes amounted to going back and adding dissonance where he felt the music was “too soft” or “easy on the ears.” He is often quoted as complaining about the conservative musical establishment, “Can’t they take a dissonance like a man?”

Subtitled “The Camp Meeting”, the Third Symphony evokes the nostalgia and intensity of feeling Ives remembered of evangelical revival services during his childhood in Danbury, Connecticut. It was the religious fervor and the spirited hymn singing by untrained voices not the doctrinal ideals preached at these gatherings, that so deeply aroused him: Ives’ own spiritual outlook was deeply rooted in the New England tradition of Emerson and Thoreau. This work, one of the four numbered symphonies, is, as Ives described, “a kind of crossways between the older ways and the newer ways.” Here he retains largely traditional tonal and formal elements, such as extended “correct” fugal-type passages (in mvt. 1), and integral development and recapitulation of themes; what is most notably new appears in the third movement, where there are more dissonances in the counterpoint and the melodic writing is highly chromatic at many points. A standard feature of Ive’s later style also begins to emerge in this movement, that is, quotation of tune fragments in a stream-of-consciousness manner; note how small quotations of Silent Night suddenly appear, as motifs of peaceful contentment. In fact, much of the major thematic material for the Third Symphony derives from the hymn tunes Azmon, Erie, Cleansing Fountain, Happy Land, and Woodworth.

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