Monday, August 6, 2012

Ives's Fouth Symphony and Carter's Concerto for Orcehstra

As I said in my previous post, the time I spent of the air with Marvin Rosen July 25 went by very quickly — so quickly, indeed, that I did not have the opportunity to play all of the music I wanted. One of the pieces I cut before I even got to the studio was the second movement, the so-called "comedy," of Charles Ives's Symphony No. 4, which I wanted to contrast with Elliott Carter's Concerto for Orchestra. I have long thought that the latter would not have been feasible without the example of the former, even though Carter never mentions it in his list of inspirations for the piece.

To my ear, both pieces have a similar expressive arc, and they end in much the same way: all hell breaks loose and then things get very quiet, quickly in the case of the Ives, more gradually in the case of Carter. Although Ives completed his Fourth Symphony by the mid-1920s, more or less, and Eugene Goosens conducted the first two movements as early as 1927, a performance of the full work had to wait until 1965, when Stokowski led the premiere at Carnegie Hall. The famous first recording, still considered definitive, followed in a few months.

This was just a couple of years before Carter began to plan his Concerto for Orchestra. He certainly was familiar with the Ives, having attempted to edit the manuscript at one point, and with the Stokowski LP, and I insist that it was lurking somewhere in the back of his mind as he fulfilled his commission from the New York Philharmonic. To me, it is almost as though he set out to re-write Ives's symphony while eliminating what he always thought to be its flaws — first, the use of musical quotations, and, second, the muddied orchestrations in which some instruments are impossible to hear. One thing about Carter's music: as complex and multi-layered as it is, everything is audible. I floated my theory past one Carter expert who responded with what felt like an e-mailed shrug, but I stand by it. Not that it matters. The Concerto for Orchestra stands very much on its own.

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