The Henry Brant Collection, Vol. 7
A Concord Symphony (1995)
Orchestral transcription of Charles Ives' Piano Sonata No. 2
(Concord, Mass., 1840-1860) by Henry Brant
1. Emerson 18:29
2. Hawthorne 14:53
3. The Alcotts 6:07
4. Thoreau 12:14
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Dennis RussellDavies, conductor
Ives is the greatest composer of the 20thcentury. His music taught me that there are no limitations as to what you canexpress. My orchestration is a service in return for everything I’ve learnedfrom Ives, though I never have had the chance to meet him in person, I’m sorryto say. All I had to do was imagine that symphony. I didn’t try to orchestratein Ives’ style. I could never have done that. I would have needed a vision oflife just as complex as Ives had. I also wanted the work to be accessible toconductors, to encourage them to program more works of his. So, A ConcordSymphony is colored by my own visions, just like Ravel’s or Schoenberg’sorchestrations of other people’s works. Such compositions come to life becauseof these personalities.
– from an article by Anthony Fiumarain the Dutch paper TROUW
Saturday, September 9,2000
ThePiano Sonata No. 2, Concord,Mass., 1840-60 by CharlesIves (1874-1954), commonly known as the ConcordSonata, is one of thecomposer’s best-known and most highly regarded pieces. Some material dates backas far as 1904, but Ives began substantial work on the piece around 1911 andhad largely completed it by 1915. It was first published in 1920 with a second,revised, edition appearing in 1947.
Inthe introduction to his EssaysBefore a Sonata(published immediately before the ConcordSonata) Ives said thework was his “impression of the spirit of transcendentalism that is associatedin the minds of many with Concord, Mass., of over a half century ago. This isundertaken in impressionistic pictures of Emerson and Thoreau, a sketch of theAlcotts, and a Scherzo supposed to reflect a lighter quality which is oftenfound in the fantastic side of Hawthorne.”
(afterRalph Waldo Emerson)
3 “The Alcotts” (after Amos Bronson Alcott andLouisa May Alcott)
4 “Thoreau” (after Henry David Thoreau)
Thesonata was publicly premiered by John Kirkpatrick on November 28, 1938 in CosCob, Connecticut. There had been earlier performances of isolated movements andexcerpts. Unusual for a pianosonata, there are optional parts for other instruments: near the end of thefirst movement there is an optional part for viola, and in the last movement aflute (an instrument which Thoreau played) briefly appears.
My interest in Ives’ music dates from1929, when I was a young composer of 15 living with my parents in Montreal. Wewere charter subscribers to Henry Cowell’s New Music,a publication which printed ultra-modern and experimental scores. One day the mail brought us the fullscore of the scherzo movement of Ives’ 4th Symphony, possibly hismost complicated, controversial work. Thus, my introduction to Ives’ music was entirely by sight, for the workwas not publicly performed until 1965.
Aftermoving with my family to New York in 1929 (just in time for the GreatDepression), I continued to acquire Ives’ scores; and Henry Cowell presented mewith a rare copy of the original edition of the 114 Songs,which Ives had published at his own expense. However, it was some time before I saw a copy of the Concord Sonata, and I did not hear Kirkpatrick’s NewYork premiere in 1939.
My most far-reaching encounter withIves’ music came in 1941. The Unanswered Question revealed to me three revolutionarymusical procedures of which I had no previous conception. In this work, I was amazed to discoverspatial separation, un-coordinated rhythm, and a polyphony of simultaneous,contrasted styles! These ideashave become the premises on which all my music from 1950 to the present isbased, and they continue to define my work.
By1957 my first spatial works had been performed, and I was teaching atBennington College. I bought acopy of the Concord Sonata and began to study and practice it. At the same time, my then student, thelate American composer James Tenney, decided to learn the first movement (Emerson), and when he played it for me, I heard a clarity, impact,contrast, and comprehension of the Ives idiom which immediately convinced me ofthe work’s importance.
As I began to know the work better, Isensed that here, potentially, was a tremendous orchestral piece. It seemed to me that the complete Sonata, in a symphonic orchestration, might well become the “GreatAmerican Symphony” that we had been seeking for years. Why not undertake the task myself? What better way to honor Ives andexpress my gratitude to him for showing me a new direction for my own music?
Inchoosing the Concord Sonata for orchestral treatment I felt, aboveall, that here Ives had achieved his most complete and comprehensiveexpression, and that of all his works, this was the one with the most immediateaudience appeal. Henry Cowellagreed, and encouraged me to go ahead with the project. From 1958 until 1994 I worked on A Concord Symphony in odds and ends of spare time in betweenteaching, commercial orchestration and my own experimental composing. I decided to tackle the movements ofthe Sonata in order of increasing difficulty,beginning with the third movement (TheAlcotts), then proceedingto the fourth (Thoreau). Only then did I feel ready to face theformidable challenges of the first movement (Emerson),and the mystery of how to convert the second movement (Hawthorne) from its essentially pianistic idiom toan authentically orchestral style. My task throughout was illuminated by Ives’ own Essays Before a Sonata and his collected Memos, and in some cases Ives’ words helped me decipher what atfirst seemed baffling in his printed music.
Inundertaking this project, my intention was not to achieve a characteristicallycomplex Ives orchestral texture (which in any case, only he could produce), butrather to create a symphonic idiom which would ride in the orchestra withathletic surefootedness and present Ives’ astounding music in clear, vivid andintense sonorities.
Exploringthe possibilities of an orchestral setting appropriate to the Concord Sonata, and devising workable solutions to themany technical problems involved —these things have been exhilaratingexperiences for me.
As the present millennium departs, Iinvite you all to welcome one of our century’s musical monuments, in its neworchestral environment.
— Henry Brant, June,1995
HenryBrant (b. 1913) isAmerica’s foremost composer of acoustic spatial music. The planned positioningof performers throughout the hall, as well as on stage, is an essential factorin his composing scheme and a point of departure for a radically expanded rangeand intensity of musical expression. Brant’s mastery of spatial composingtechnique enables him to write textures of unprecedented polyphonic and/orpolystylistic complexity while providing maximum resonance in the hall andincreased clarity of musical detail for the listener. His catalogue nowcomprises over 100 spatial works.
Since2005, Henry Brant has been completing his textbook on orchestration begun inthe 1940's. Textures &Timbres, a projectspanning nearly his entire career, will bepublished in 2008 by Carl Fischer.
Recentpremieres include Wind,Water, Clouds & Fire,a Present Music commission for St. John’s Cathedral, Milwaukee, Wisconsin inNovember 2004. Ghosts &Gargoyles, a concerto forflute solo with flute orchestra, for New Music Concerts, Toronto had is premierein May 2002. Ice Field, for large orchestral groups and organ,was commissioned by Other Minds for a December 2001 premiere by the SanFrancisco Symphony.
Inthe mid 1950’s Brant felt that “single-style music…could no longer evoke thenew stresses, layered insanities, and multi-directional assaults ofcontemporary life on the spirit.” In keeping with Brant’s belief that music canbe as complex and contradictory as everyday life, his larger works often employmultiple, contrasting performing forces, as in Meteor Farm(1982) for symphony orchestra, large jazz band, two choruses, West African drumensemble and chorus, South Indian soloists, large Gamelan ensemble, percussionorchestra and two Western solo sopranos. Brant’s spatial experiments haveconvinced him that space exerts specific influences on harmony, polyphony,texture and timbre. He regards space as music’s “fourth dimension,” (afterpitch, time and timbre). Brant continues to experiment with new combinations ofacoustic timbres, even creating entire works for instrumental family groups ofa single timbre: Orbits for 80 trombones, and others for multipleflutes, trumpets and guitars. This predilection for ensembles of a single tonequality dates from Angels and Devils (1932). Brant does not use electronic materials orpermit amplification in his music.
Amember of the American Academy of Arts & Letters, Brant was awarded the2002 Pulitzer Prize in Music for IceField. He has receivedtwo Guggenheim Fellowships and was the first American composer to win the PrixItalia. Among other honors are Ford Foundation, Fromm Foundation, NationalEndowment for the Arts and Koussevitzky awards and the American Music Center’sLetter of Distinction. The Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel has acquired Brant’scomplete archive of original manuscripts including over 300 works (1998). Inconjunction with Brant’s 85th birthday concert, Wesleyan University conferredupon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts (1998).
Bornin Montreal of American parents in 1913, Henry Brant began composing at the ageof eight. After moving to New York in 1929, he composed and conducted forradio, film, ballet, and jazz groups. Starting in the late 40s, he taught atColumbia University, Juilliard, and, for 24 years, Bennington College. Since1981, he has made his home in Santa Barbara, California.
World premiere June 16, 1995 with HenryBrant conducting the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa Canada.
American premiere February 25, 1996conducted by Henry Brant at Carnegie Hall, with the American ComposersOrchestra.
European premiere October 21, 1997 at Vienna’sMusikverein, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies.
On September 15, 2000 the Concord was performed in Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw with DennisRussell Davies conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra. This was also Henry's 87th birthday soa birthday tribute XXXX was performed following the 6-minute ovation, heard intruncated form here as Track 5.
The score for A Concord Symphony is available (for perusal or rental) fromG. Schirmer, Inc. (Associated Music Publishers, Inc.) The web site is:www.schirmer.com. If you click on “Rent” at the top of their home page, itgives you the necessary contact information to obtain a perusal score. If youdo a search on the Schirmer site for the ConcordSymphony, they have itlisted under “Charles Ives, Orchestral works.”
Thanks to Nelleke Plugboer, Nederlandsinstituut voor Beeld en Geluid, Henry Brant and Kathy Wilkowski
Recording Engineer: Ruth Dreier
Mastering: Bob DeMaa
Supported by a grant from the NationalEndowment for the Arts.
Innova is supported by an endowment fromthe McKnight Foundation.
Philip Blackburn: director, design
Chris Campbell: operations
AVRO & RNW
Recorded September 15, 2000
Also in this series:
The Henry Brant Collection, Volume 1(#408): Northern Lights Over the Twin Cities, A Plan of the Air
Volume 2 (#409): Nomads, Ghost Nets, SolarMoth
Volume 3 (#410): Trinity of Spheres; Wind,Water, Clouds, and Fire; Litany of Tides
Volume 4: (#411): Meteor Farm
Volume 5 (#412): Autumn Hurricanes
Volume 6 (#413): Rainforest
Volume 8 (#415):Inside Track, etc.