Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Creating Space: Perception and Structure in Charles Ives's Collages

Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Creating Space: Perception and Structure in Charles Ives's Collages

Article excerpt

[1] Charles Ives's musical collages present remarkably complex sound environments made up of dense layers, multiple quotations, and sound effects such as cuckoo calls or the pealing of bells. The competing elements are most often deployed in the service of an overarching programmatic narrative, made believable through an adherence to the perceptual realities of the scenario. Consider "Putnam's Camp," from the orchestral set Three Places in New England: the piece begins with a raucous and brassy scalar descent, which gives way to a march-like string melody. Various quoted tunes are introduced in typical Ivesian fashion, often rhythmically awkward or slightly mistuned. The march character, continuing brass punctuations, musical missteps, and quoted melodies (including military tunes such as "Yankee Doodle" and "British Grenadiers") are all references to the amateur marching bands in Ives's program for the piece, which details a provincial fourth of July celebration in Connecticut (see Appendix A).

Example 0. "Putnam's Camp," measures 64-76. The beginning of the 'B' section.

[2] The vigor of the opening march eventually yields to a more contemplative B section; the tempo slows, vaguely whole-tone washes replace functional harmony, and woodwind timbres predominate (hear Example 0). The flute heralds the new B section with a distant, timbrally disfigured bugle call that is soon transformed into an originally composed oboe melody; meanwhile the string section contributes soft, incomplete whole-tone clusters in accompaniment. Perhaps surprisingly, march-like elements from the A section-specifically piano, bassoon, and snare drum articulations in a different tempo-begin to intrude on the reflective calm of the B section almost immediately. The listener is likely to quickly recognize that the intervening drum group does not belong as a second accompaniment to the oboe melody, accepting the interpretation above that the new drum beats are "intrusions" from another part of the piece or another part of the story. What makes this interpretation plausible? The listener probably recognizes the temporal asynchronicity between the oboe melody and the piano/snare articulations and interprets them as originating from different sources.

[3] At the beginning of the B section, Ives has established an aural scene that is internally coherent. The rhythmically flexible flute/oboe melody and its soft, vaguely whole-tone string accompaniment give the impression of temporal or spatial distance alluded to in the program, as the child moves away from the games and music of the main picnic, "rests on the hillside of laurel and hickories," and dreams he sees the "Goddess of Liberty" (see Appendix A). When the piano/snare articulations intervene, the listener is suddenly presented with a problem requiring analysis.(1) Why do these two events have different tempos? What is the relationship between these new articulations and the established musical tableau? If the listener recognizes the two events as distinct, probably based on their lack of temporal cooperation, he or she has an advantage in constructing an interpretation. Keeping the two events distinct based on perceptual data allows the listener to understand the piano/snare articulations as intrusions from a different time or location. Furthermore, the listener can easily adopt the narrative Ives suggested in the program: As a child daydreams on a wooded hillside, he imagines the oboe melody to be the pleadings of an allegorical Goddess of Liberty, while the intervening drum cadence represents Revolutionary War soldiers marching away, abandoning the cause despite her pleadings (see Appendix A).

[4] This brief example illustrates the aural problem-solving process listeners are likely to undertake in much of Ives's oeuvre, especially his collage works. In "Putnam's Camp," The Fourth of July (from the Holiday Symphony), and especially in the second and fourth movements of the Fourth Symphony, Ives presents listeners with dense, layered textures and creates aural scenes that mimic "real-world" environments. …

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