Monday, December 15, 2008

music about Charles Ives that makes me think of birds

I am slowly picking through John Adams' biography Hallelujah Junction and finding it to be a lot like his music - tasteful, intelligently wrought, humble and a little funny. The Dharma at Big Sur (lala) likely points to the ecstatic quavering soul of his partner in minimalism Terry Riley (the second movement "Sri Moonshine" shares a name with Riley's California ranch and recording label) Electric violin stutters and swoons like a seabird over a glassy, still sea of strings that occasionally laps its tail-feathers. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. One of the more beautiful pieces of music I've heard in a while.

Elliott Carter (naxos) is the man of the hour in the classical world, having survived to 100 and remain an active composer. I have never gotten a real bead on Carter. I think his music is ponderous, but in a positive, constructive sense, like the pieces are asking themselves what they should be, especially the Oboe Quartet, where strings offer a backdrop against which the oboe chirps and pokes around, trying to find its place. The search this little oboe undertakes is humbling and sweet, but its unclear that it ever finds a place to rest. But then isn;t that how it is? Plus, you don't live to 100 and still manage to write symphonies and whatnot if rest is your primary concern.

In complete coincidence, both these records have pieces about knowing Charles Ives, Adams' My Father Knew Charles Ives, and Carter's Figment No. 2, "Remembering Mr. Ives"

An attempt was made to bring Ives and birds together in a trio of recordings through his Symphony No. 4, as according to the Charles Ives newlesster of April 2004

Ives for the Birds?!
One tidbit viz-a-viz Symphony No. 4 comes forth from research for the new critical edition. In the fourth movement Ives labels the little sparkles of woodwind sound in measures 32 and 64 “Thrush”(and variously marks the notes to try to capture the slight tremolo in the finishing pitch). You can contemplate the bird sound in Michael Tilson Thomas’s Sony recording with the Chicago Symphony at timings 4:36 and 7:17. The new critical edition is now in the (long) process of engraving. A new performing edition is hoped for in 2006 or ’07.

but no such copy could be readily found so I settled for his Five Take-offs and 3 Quarter-Tone Pieces (naxos) instead.

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