The Circus Band and Other Delights - (2006)
Charles E. Ives
for medium or high voice and piano
i. The Circus Band
[ 1' 05" ]
All summer long, we boys
dreamed 'bout big circus joys!
street, comes the band,
Oh! "Ain't it a grand and glorious noise!"
Horses are prancing, knights advancing;
Helmets gleaming, pennants
Cleopatra's on her throne!
That golden hair is all her own.
Where is the lady all in pink?
Last year she waved to me I think,
she have died? Can! that! rot!
She is passing but she sees me not.
ii. The See'r
[ 30" ]
An old man with a straw in his mouth
sat all day long before the village
he liked to watch the funny things a going, going, going
iii. The Cage
[ 1' 15" ]
A leopard went around his cage
from one side back to the other side;
he stopped only when the keeper came around with meat;
A boy who had been
there three hours
began to wonder, "Is life anything like that?"
iv. The Side Show
[ 25" ]
"Is that Mister Riley,
who keeps the hotel?"
is the tune that
the trotting-track bell;
An old horse unsound,
making poor Mister Riley
look a bit like a Russian
some speak of so highly,
as they do of Riley!
[ Based on a text in English by P. Rooney ]
[ 2' 25" ]
Round and round the old dance ground,
Went the whirling throng,
with wine and song;
Little Annie Rooney,
(now Mrs. Mooney,)
gay as birds in May,
s'her Wedding Day.
Far and wide's the fame of
Also of her beau,
Every one knows it's "Joe;"
(now J. P. Mooney,)
All that day, held full sway
"An old sweetheart!"
vi. 1, 2, 3 [
1' 00" ]
Why doesn't one, two, three
seem to appeal to a Yankee
as much as one,
[ Total duration - 13 pages, 6' 50" ]
Charles Ives (1874-1954) wrote about the question of art in his
self-published song collection:
"This is a question which each man must answer for himself. It depends, to a
great extent, on what a man nails up on his dashboard as "valuable." Does
not the sinking back into the soft state of mind (or possibly a non-state of
mind) that may accept "art for art's sake" tend to shrink rather than
toughen up the hitting muscles -- and incidentally those of the umpire or
the grandstand, if there be one? To quote from a book that is not read, "Is
not beauty in music too often confused with something which lets the ears
lie back in an easy-chair? Many sounds that we are used to do not bother us,
and for that reason are we not too easily inclined to call them beautiful?"
. . .
"Possibly the fondness for personal expression -- the kind in
which self-indulgence dresses up and miscalls itself freedom -- may throw
out a skin-deep arrangement, which is readily accepted at first as beautiful
-- formulae that weaken rather than toughen the musical-muscles. If a
composer's conception of his art, its functions and ideals, even if sincere,
coincides to such an extent with these groove-colored permutations of
tried-out progressions in expediency so that he can arrange them over and
over again to his delight -- has he or has he not been drugged with an
overdose of habit-forming sounds? . . . ."
Charles Ives : from "Postface To 114 Songs", Essays Before a Sonata,
The Majority, and Other Writings)
[ 1 ]
"Tried-out progressions" and "sounds that we are used to do not bother us?"
So worried Ives once upon a time.
[ 2 ] Many decades after these concerns were penned,
the exhaustive experimentation in all forms of modern classical music has
searched for progressions yet untried and sounds to "bother." The public as
consumers has grown weary from novelty for the sake of novelty -- just as
Ives complained of "art for art's sake" -- and strides in neuroscience and
neuro-philosophy have shown that there is indeed a limited and ever-better
known range of human experience, emotion and artistic response. An "overdose
of habit-forming sounds" was delivered up aplenty by the twelve-tone and set
theory enthusiasts, who were and remain surprised that the majority of
consumers of classical music in their own "self-indulgence" have wandered
off in search of a good tune.
This is not to take exception with Ives' opinion per se, but rather to
suggest that though his position in the history of American music is
seminal, central and yet curiously built on only a few works, while most of
his 114 Songs remain outside the normal art song repertoire. (This is
true for many songs of Beethoven and Schubert, lest complaint be made that I
target Ives somehow for some special critique.)
While I have an original edition of Ives' songs and have myself sung several
of them in recitals over the years, I know few colleagues who have sung any
of Ives' work. Are these colleagues guilty of "sinking back into the soft
state of mind?" Are they "self-indulgent?" Are they "drugged with an
overdose of habit-forming sounds?" I suspect not; rather the art song
repertoire is so vast that one cannot possibly survey all of it. Tastes
change as well. To respond to these vagaries with hard words is to fall prey
to that side of many artists' life in which they feel that their work is
being bypassed in favor of others. And yet his work has not been bypassed
and much remains for discovery and exploration anew. The debut of my
Concerto grosso for Harpsichord, Organ and Orchestra (1997) was paired
with Ives' The Celestial Country; I felt myself in his good company
then, as I did when I sang Ives' songs and as I do to compose these
"tried-out progressions" to Ives' poetry, with a certain affection for the
man and his singular art.
"The Circus Band" sings a boyhood memory of ogling the ladies in the circus
parade, a reminiscence the the femme fatale which was once a dream, then
became a young man's reality and then a memory. The 12/8 is meant to recall
a popular style of the time when these notions were first experienced.
The "old man with a straw in his mouth" is a see'r -- one who sees -- which
is far different from a seer. Was this a pun for Ives? Certainly this little
vignette, as with all the songs in the cycle, are memories of the people
which Ives must have known. They are people whom we too know.
The leopard in "The Cage" is a metaphor of life, as Ives asks us to question
whether or not we too are "caged." But the memory is from a boy's visit to
the circus and side show as well. What an exotic and ferocious beast this
caged leopard must have seen to the "boy" who recalls the scene later as the
poet. The bottom triad in the piano should not be played overly loud, but be
a growl beneath the "pacing" above, all very impressive to a small boy.
The merry-go-round must have been an alluring part of the traveling circus,
and perhaps a little worse for wear from the traveling, set up and tear
downs in each town and whistle stop. Perhaps the music box organ has a wrong
note in it after so much use?
Belonging the the memories of boyhood and later years, seeing one's
sweetheart married must evince melancholy, even when remembered in later
years. This sentimental waltz should be lyrical and blurred.
The Yankee blood deep in Ives' veins recalls the better thump and tumult of
a decent, square martial rhythm, which washes away the bittersweet memory of
the wedding day waltz with its strutting "oom-pah."
Another small cycle of songs to texts which Ives chose to set to his own
music but which he did not author is titled
Three Little Americana Songs.
is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial
performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement
with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this piano-vocal score.
The Circus Band and Other Delights
[ 1 ]
In another statement
on music, Ives suggests "Music is one of the many ways God has of
beating in on man -- his lifes, [sic] his deaths, his hope, his
everything -- an inner something, a spiritual storm, a something
else that stirs man in all of his parts [and] consciousness, and
'all at once' -- we roughly call these parts (as a kind of entity)
'soul' -- it acts thro or vibrates or couples up to human sensations
in ways (or mediums) man may hear and know: that is, he knows he
hears them and says (or thinks or feels) he knows them. -- further
than this, what this inner something is which begets all this is
something no one knows -- especially those who define it and use it,
primarily, to make a living. -- all this means almost nothing to
those who will think about it -- music -- that no one knows what it
is -- and the less he knows he knows what it is the nearer it is to
music -- probably." [Memo on notepaper of the St. James's
Palace Hotel, London, June 1924.]
[ 2 ] "No single ideology which ignores these
'fictional' and very 'human' facts can make useful the breadth and
extant range of all we call music, music theory and the many theories about
music which comprise the web of discourse which centers itself on music." As
quoted in Borrowings: Towards a Theory of Music
and the Mind, 1993.