Three Little Americana Songs
texts as set once by Charles Ives
Three songs for medium voice and piano
Nature - (no citation) [
1 page, circa 50" ]
When a man is sitting before the fire on the hearth,
"Nature is a simple affair."
Then he looks out the
window and sees a hailstorm, and begins to think that
can't be so eas'ly disposed of."
ii. Ann Street - Maurice Morris by
courtesy of "The New York Herald" (1921) [ 2 pages,
circa 1' 45" ]
name, Ann Street.
Width of same, - ten feet
Barnum's mob - Ann
far from obsolete.
Narrow, yes, Ann Street,
but business both feet
(Nassau crosses Ann Street)
hits Ann Street.
Then it quits - some greet!
Rather short, Ann
iii. Like a Sick Eagle - attributed to
Keats [ 2 pages, circa 1' 40" ]
spirit is too weak;
mortality weighs heavy on me
and each imagined pinnacle and steep
God-like hardship tells me I must die,
like a sick eagle looking
toward the sky.
Total duration [ 5 pages, circa 4' 15" ]
These three little settings take texts which have
also been set by that unique American "oner," Charles Ives, and see
the same words and surrounding culture somewhat differently.
An appreciation of Ives is intended, for I myself have sung his
songs with great enjoyment. It is another way to think about his
choice of texts and how to imagine them being alternatively set.
Charles Edward Ives (1874–1954) was successful in the
insurance business, and his music was largely ignored during his
life, many of his works going unperformed for years. In 1894, Ives
attended Yale University, studying under composer and organist
Horatio Parker. Here Ives composed in a choral style similar to his
mentor, writing church music and even an 1896 campaign song for
William McKinley. But not intending to make a career of music, Ives
studied a broad array of subjects at Yale, including Greek, Latin,
mathematics and literature. He was an accomplished pianist and
organist, and was capable of improvising in a variety of styles.
After working in several other firms, he and his friend Julian W.
Myrick formed their own insurance agency Ives & Co., which later
became Ives & Myrick, where he remained until Ives retired. Ives
died in 1954 in New York City.
Ives was an enthusiastic songwriter, and his
self-published song anthology contained 114 works (Redding,
Connecticut 1922) remains a prize in my own library. These settings
are a little respectful nod in the direction of Ives' singular art
and craft. As an iconoclast, he had little respect for the "schools"
which bind academic composers to a certain style and limit their
craft. In that, Ives shares with may poets whose works I have chosen
to set the sense that "style" and subject matter are a matter of
individual choice and not the province of a parochial perspective
such as one sees throughout academia in the twentieth century
leading to the many artistic blind allies into which the orthodoxy
of the avant-garde has so firmly stumbled.
Ives underscores the truth that "nature can't be so
eas'ly disposed of." The modern enthusiasm for one of the many
flavors of environmentalism is encouraged by the underlying
assumption that nature is manageable, a strange orthodoxy which
seems a direct descendant of the miracle workers of centuries ago,
and even the "rain makers" of the American West. As with any
orthodoxy, those who do not acknowledge the ascendant power of their
myth are to be punished. In fact, it is often nature which has her
way, irrespective of man and his ego.
The New York Herald was a large distribution
newspaper based in New York City that existed between 1835 and 1924.
The text, "Ann Street," possibly struck Ives as charming as he read
his copy of that newspaper over breakfast. The simple accompaniment
gesture from this song -- a sentimental slow waltz -- was reused in
my setting of Whitman texts,
An Echo from the Shore.
The last text is an excerpt from a longer poem, "On
Seeing the Elgin Marbles" of John Keats. The entirety of the poem
reads as follows:
My spirit is too weak — mortality
Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep,
And each imagined pinnacle and steep
Of godlike hardship tells me I must die
Like a sick eagle looking at the sky.
Yet 'tis a gentle luxury to weep
That I have not the cloudy winds to keep
Fresh for the opening of the morning's eye.
Such dim-conceived glories of the brain
Bring round the heart an undescribeable feud;
So do these wonders a most dizzy pain,
That mingles Grecian grandeur with the rude
Wasting of old time — with a billowy main —
A sun — a shadow of a magnitude.
The old hymn tune, "Sweet Hour of Prayer" by William
Bradbury, moves across the accompaniment as the bass line descends
with an opposing weight of "mortality," the dissonant counterpoint
Another short cycle of songs is based on poems
authored by Charles Ives, titled
The Circus Band and Other Delights.
The score for 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.
Three Little Americana Songs