‘Charles Ives was an original man, a talented man, a courageous man. Let us honour him with his works’ Igor Stravinsky
Ives was self-taught, and composed for pleasure in between his various business enterprises – he ran a successful insurance company. His early music, especially the first two symphonies show the influence of Schumann, Brahms and Dvorak. However, the music of America, specifically the music of New England permeates his music – hymn tunes, rag time music, jazz, military band music frequently come together in kaleidoscopic tapestries of sound.
The two sonatas date from the early years of the 20th century, No.1 from 1900–10. The sonata is a montage of late-19th and early-20th century American life. Snatches of hymn tunes, rags, folk music and traditional songs. No.2 depicts the town of Concord in Massachusetts, and in particular the philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82), naturalist Henry David Thoreau (1817-62), the Bronson Alcott (1799-1888) his daughter Louisa May (1832-88) and finally novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-64). Ives wrote that the sonata is ‘an attempt to present ones person’s impression of the spirit of the literature, the philosophy, and the men of Concord, Mass of over half a century ago’ .The sonata is written on a vast scale ( Ives had originally intended ‘Emerson’ and ‘Hawthorne’ as piano concertos) and is modelled on and quotes from the largest of all piano sonatas – Beethoven’s 29th ‘Hammerklavier’. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is also quoted throughout the sonata. The music is rough and ready, rugged and big boned – a mighty masterpiece from one of music’s great originals.