Thursday, October 30, 2014

One-Offs of the Damned - Charles Ives's Hallowe'en

Happy Halloween!  The bad news is that there's Wiccan razor blades in your caramel apples, and the worse news is that you're apparently the kind of person who likes pulling their own teeth out trying to eat caramel apples.  The good news is that I found the perfect piece to showcase on Halloween night, Charles Ives's Hallowe'en from his Three Outdoor Pieces.  Ives wrote, "It is a take-off of a Halloween party and bonfire - the elfishness of the little boys throwing wood on the fire, etc, etc... it is a joke even Herbert Hoover could get."  Well, as I always say, if it's good enough for Herbert Hoover it's good enough for Re-Composing.

In order to illustrate a building fire and joyous tomfoolery, Ives designed the piece to be played multiple times in growing numbers of voices, speed and volume.  The first time just the second violin and cello play at pp; the second time just the first violin and viola at mp, a little faster.  He allows for a three-time version or a four time, and in the recording I'm using they go four times, the third time still faster with all strings but piano p, and the fourth time everybody ff and pretty dang fast, taking the jokey coda at the end.  He gives the option of having a bass drum play during the moments when all the instruments rest, and this performance by The Boston Chamber Ensemble under Harold Faberman does just that.  Ives notes in the introduction to the score that "It has been observed by friends that three times around is quite enough, while others stood for four - but as this piece was written for a Hallowe'en party and not for a nice concert, the decision must be made by the players, regardless of the feelings of the audience."

I performed in an all-Ives concert with Alea III under the direction of Gunther Schuller a few years ago, and not only did I get mentioned favorably in the Boston Globe, wherein Jeffrey Gantz called my playing in The Unanswered Question "properly disturbing", giving me my career slogan, but was also one of my most successful and enjoyable performing experiences of my life (though we didn't do Hallowe'en).  While rehearsing one of the goofier pieces, Schuller stopped for a second and said, "You know, a lot of pieces Ives wrote were jokes, and some of them ended up being unperformable...but he was a good insurance man."

Happy Hallowe'en.


1 comment:

  1. Check out my books about Ives——hopefully they will point the interested listener to the way to approach his music, and knock down some of the myths that have diminished him:

    "Charles Ives and his Road to the Stars"
    2013, & second expanded ed., 2016
    Also can be found online——free download,

    "Charles Ives's Musical Universe"