Ives' Songs From D To G
The American composer Charles Ives (1874 -- 1954) wrote over 200 songs, many of which Ives included in a volume he published in 1922 titled simply "114 songs." Although many recordings are available of Ives's songs, this Naxos CD is the second volume of an ambitious series which will make Ives's songs available in their entirety at a budget price. The CDs are part of Naxos's "American Classics" series and make a worthy and exciting venture indeed. The project features many rising singers and acccompanists all of whom are associated with the Yale School of Music. The series was recorded at Yale in 2005. The Yale connection is appropriate. Ives attended Yale and studied with the early American composer Horatio Parker.
The Naxos recordings present the songs in alphabetical order, which makes them effectively musically random, and captures the kaleidoscopic, iconoclastic character of Ives's art. Many of Ives's early songs are heavily influenced by German lieder or by American parlor songs. The songs of his latter years are as adventurous as anything Ives wrote. Each volume of this series thus captures Ives in microcosm as a song composer.
This second volume of the series features 26 Ives's songs beginning alphabetically with "December" (1913) and concluding with "Grass" (1896). The performers include 14 singers, four pianists, and an organist. The organ appears on chronologically the earliest song on this CD, the hymn- like "Far From My Heav'nly Home" (1893). Ives's early and late, traditional and revolutionary are each represented.
The highlight of this CD is Ives's 1914 setting of Vachel Lindsay's "General William Booth Enters into Heaven" a poem in its character and enthusiasm made for Ives. Lindsay's poem and Ives's song capture the spirit of the founder of the Salvation Army as he ascends into heaven accompanied by the poor, the lost and the damned that Booth has brought to salvation. "Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?" the songs asks. In its raw liveliness, enthusiasm, changes of mood, and transcendentalism, this song is one of Ives's greatest efforts in the form. The bass David Pittsinger gives a convincing performance accompanied by pianist Douglas Dickson. This song alone is worth the price of admission.
Other songs on this CD that I enjoyed include "The Greatest Man" (1921) which sets a poem by Anne Collins. This song becomes Ives's robust tribute to his own father, a band leader in Connecticut, who encouraged his son to develop his large musical gift. The song "Grantchester" (1920), sets a poem by Rupert Brooke and is a nostalgic look at a quiet, peaceful English village before WW I. In "A Farewell to Land" (1909), Ives sets Lord Byron to music both subtle and nuanced. The song "Evening" (1921) sets a text by Milton to music of quiet intensity. Some of the impressive early songs include "Friendship", (1898), on the relationship between friendship and love, the love song "Eyes so Dark" (1902), and Ives's tribute to his Yale alma mater "Flag Song" (1900).
I am enjoying the opportunity to hear Ives the American song composer in this series by Naxos. Long undervalued, these songs are an important part of Ives's output and a major achievement in American art song. The CD includes good annotations on each of the songs but no texts or translations (a number of the songs are in German). The poems by Lindsay, Brooke, Milton, Byron of course, are easily accessible. Some of the texts are available on the Naxos website. These is also an excellent website, the Lied and Art song text page, which includes many of the lyrics for the Ives songs.