'Finley is a wonderfully assured interpreter … perfectly registering their switchback changes of mood and presenting their occasional lapses into sentimentality with total conviction. More than any other performers on disc, Finley and Drake establish these songs, with all their quirks and flights of fantasy, among the most important of the 20th century in any language' (The Guardian)
'Gerald Finley has everything and more in his darkly full-bodied voice to match the often formidable technical and expressive requirements of Ives's songbook - reinforced by Drake's elastic, expressive piano … This is a must-buy album' (The Times)
'This is a highly successful follow-up to Gerald Finley and Julius Drake's first Ives recital from 2005. Here there is the same sort of mix, from familiar songs such as The Circus Band and Watchman! to an early requiem for the family cat and the intriguing title song, Romanzo (di Central Park), with its obbligato violin part atmospherically played by Magnus Johnston. Finley is his usual charismatic self, at home as much in the hymnody as the parody, and he is careful not to over-sentimentalise the more homely numbers while injecting pathos into the war songs. Drake projects Ives's often complex accompaniments with clarity and style' (Daily Telegraph)
'Outstandingly well sung and played, equally well recorded, and highly recommendable to all lovers of fine songs and fine singing' (BBC Music Magazine)
'The variety of songs recorded here is extraordinary … Gerald Finley's warm baritone sits right inside Ives's soundworld, while Drake refuses to be fazed by the idealistic piano writing' (Classic FM Magazine)
'The programme has been selected and sequenced with care … The booklet includes not just texts but also comments by Calum MacDonald about every single song. Hyperion always gets these things right; even the cover art is a bull's-eye. Finley and Drake give no cause for complaint either … The engineers have done their work well. Finley and Drake are perfectly balanced and they perofrm in an environment of intimate warmth' (International Record Review)
'It's the best kind of fun. The astonishing range Ives exhibits in the 30 songs on the disc - some comic, others serious – Is astonishing. Finley, in even better voice than on the Barber CD, and Drake, relishing Ives' complexities, dig deep into them all' (Bay Area Reporter, USA)
'Gerald Finley's second disc of Ives songs is every bit as wonderful as the first. Finley is the perfect song recitalist... He can sound dreamy, tender, raucous, heroic, and serene, all without ever disfiguring his timbre or letting the pitch waver. Julius Drake offers accompaniments that are as perfect and knowing as the singing, and the engineering couldn't be better... This is magnificent--vocal recitals don't come any better' (ClassicsToday.com)
'Listening to a collection such as this reveals genuine delights of phrase and harmony. These are, by and large, not songs for "showy" singers, yet several of the numbers more citational of popular song do demand some verbal panache, which the Canadian bass-baritone can certainly supply, along with fine-honed dynamic control and a warm, solidly delineated tone... Drake, very sensitive as to tempo and mood, proves willing to haul out the trombones when needed' (Opera News)
Ilmenau Über allen Gipfeln [2'12]
Songs my mother taught me [2'25]
Mists Low lie the mists [1'38]
In Flanders fields [2'58]
My native land [1'41]
Those evening bells [1'53]
In a second disc of Ives’s songs, the unbeatable partnership of Finley and Drake again enthral their listeners and bring them to the emotional core of each work.
The range of style and approach in Ives’s text-setting is startling—from simple, sentimental ballads to complex and strenuous philosophical discourses, sometimes encompassing the most dissonant and virtuosic piano parts, sometimes with the accompaniment pared down to an almost minimalist phrase-repetition. Even those composed in a superficially conventional or ‘polite’ tonal idiom usually contain harmonic, rhythmic or accentual surprises somewhere.
A particular beauty is Mists, composed in 1910. The poem is by Ives’s wife Harmony—an elegy after her mother’s sudden death that year. The manuscript, written while on vacation at Elk Lake in the Adirondacks, is dated ‘last mist at Pell’s Sep 20 1910’. This exquisite and deeply felt setting, with its brume of Impressionistic harmonies in contrary motion, is among Ives’s most atmospheric songs.
This thrilling collection also includes Ives’s War Songs and settings of Goethe.
Ives wrote songs through his entire creative life—from Slow March for the funeral of the family cat (probably 1887) to In the Mornin’ (1930), a setting of the Negro spiritual Give me Jesus!. This aspect of his art brings us closer than any other to his emotional core. In all he composed around 200 songs—far more than the famous collection of 114 Songs he published privately in 1922. The following brief notes give the dating of each song as recorded in 114 Songs, but these are frequently at variance with the compositional history, which is also outlined.
It was quite a frequent practice for Ives to compose a song to one text and then, years later, adapt it to a quite different one. A significant number of new songs were composed in 1920–21 for inclusion in 114 Songs; but equally important are the large number which Ives arranged and adapted from works in other genera which had always had a ‘hidden’ song basis. In fact, many of Ives’s songs began life as ‘songs without words’—suggested by a specific text, and setting that text, but as purely instrumental pieces for a chamber ensemble, with one instrument taking the ‘voice’ part. ‘The principal reason for this’, he wrote in his autobiographical Memos, ‘was because singers made such a fuss about the intervals, time, etc. … when they were arranged later for voice and piano, they were weakened in many cases, also simplified—which I should not have done. This is no way to write a song—but it’s the way I wrote some—take it or leave it, Eddy!’
The range of style and approach in Ives’s text-setting is startling—from simple, sentimental ballads to complex and strenuous philosophical discourses, sometimes encompassing the most dissonant and virtuosic piano parts, sometimes with the accompaniment pared down to an almost minimalist phrase-repetition. Even those composed in a superficially conventional or ‘polite’ tonal idiom usually contain harmonic, rhythmic or accentual surprises somewhere—because the vocabulary of the late-Romantic Lied (though it was a genre he well understood) was eventually inadequate for the way Ives felt poetry, and for what he was impelled to say about poetry in music.
On the Counter, as with many of these songs composed to Ives’s own text, is one of his meditations on the power of old tunes remembered, deftly woven out of song-quotations. In a footnote to 114 Songs Ives wrote: ‘Though there is little danger of it, it is hoped that this song will not be taken seriously, or sung, at least, in public.’ The Circus Band is dated 1894 and also has words by Ives. One of his most famous songs, it enacts a boy’s excitement at a circus parade, with plenty of the participants out of step. It was originally a quickstep march for band or piano—the song version was made soon afterwards. In the 1930s Ives encouraged his copyist George F Roberts to make an orchestral version, which is often heard.
Ives and his wife Harmony Twichell jointly wrote the words of Two Little Flowers (and dedicated to them), an unabashedly loving tribute to their adopted daughter and her playmate Susanna Minturn, composed in 1921. Ilmenau sets one of Goethe’s most famous lyrics, in German, providing it, as an alternative, with a translation into English by Harmony. Ives dated it 1902 in 114 Songs but it was probably composed earlier. With its simple, largely chordal accompaniment, it is an utterance of piercing lyricism.
A Night Song is dated 1895 and sets words by Thomas Moore. This is one of a group of eight songs Ives called ‘Sentimental Ballads’. It is a beautiful piece in late-Victorian drawing-room mode. Down East was composed in 1919; the text is by Ives. It is perhaps partly derived from a lost Down East Overture for orchestra of about 1897. The song opens in a kind of Impressionistic haze, a texture Ives often used in songs evoking childhood memories; and the whole piece, with its suggestions of Irish ballad and hymn-tune, is an essay in memory, ending in a quote from Nearer, my God, to Thee. Premonitions, to a poem by Robert Underwood Johnson, started life in 1918 as a sketch for chamber ensemble with or without voices and was arranged for voice and piano in 1921. In a short space it traverses a wide range of mood in Ives’s most complex, mature idiom. The See’r, another song to a text of Ives’s own, is a pawky portrait of a village character watching the world go by. It was written in 1920—or, more likely, arranged from a portion of the Beecher Overture he had been working on in 1904.
Songs my mother taught me was written in 1895: the text is a translation by Natalie Macfarren of the Czech poem by Adolf Heyduk that had already been set (rather famously) by Dvorák. Around 1903 Ives made a chamber-ensemble version of this song under the title An Old Song Deranged—in his ‘psychological biography’ of the composer Stuart Feder takes this to imply that Ives’s mother Mollie could have suffered from dementia, but there is no hard evidence: the title may have been a passing word-play.
One of a group that Ives described as ‘Street Songs’, In the Alley, to a text of his own, is a song rife with autobiographical associations and jokes. Ives composed it in 1896, ‘after a session at Poli’s’—a reference to Poli’s Theatre in New Haven, where Ives used to go to hear the seven-piece orchestra and their pianist George Felsberg accompanying vaudeville shows and blackface minstrels. Felsberg was legendary for being able to improvise and accompany while reading a newspaper—one bar in In the Alley designates the right hand to turn the newspaper while the left hand takes the right hand part. In 114 Songs it is proclaimed as ‘Not Sung by Caruso, Jenny Lind, John McCormack, Harry Lauder, George Chappell or the Village Nightingale’, and Ives added a note: ‘This song (and the same may be said of others) is inserted for association’s sake—on the grounds that that will excuse anything; also, to help clear up a long disputed point, namely:—which is worse? the music or the words?’
Mists was composed 1910. The poem is by Ives’s wife Harmony—an elegy after her mother’s sudden death that year. The manuscript, written while on vacation at Elk Lake in the Adirondacks, is dated ‘last mist at Pell’s Sep 20 1910’. This exquisite and deeply felt setting, with its brume of Impressionistic harmonies in contrary motion, is among Ives’s most atmospheric songs.
When the USA entered the Great War in 1917, Ives wrote a number of ‘war songs’. The barnstorming They are There! (subtitled Fighting for the People’s New Free World) is composed to a text of his own. (Strictly speaking, in 1917 the song was He is There!: They are There! is the revision Ives made of it in 1942 for use in World War 2.) This is a quick march in 4/4 time, and over a dozen patriotic songs are quoted in the piano part and voice, including The Battle Cry of Freedom, The Star-Spangled Banner and Reveille. For all his pacificism, Ives was pugnacious in his defence of democracy, which shines through in his own privately recorded performance of this song, singing to his own accompaniment.
In Flanders Fields is another 1917 ‘war song’, very different in temper from He is There!. It sets—at his business partner Julian Myrick’s request—a poem by John McCrae, who had been medical referee for their insurance firm, Mutual Life, in Montreal. Myrick had it premiered at a luncheon for Mutual managers at the Waldorf Hotel. The audience was understandably nonplussed, and Ives was distressed by the poor performance, and he revised the song in 1919. It partly derives from a lost march of 1899 and is a dirge for the war dead, opening with a bitter fanfare and containing sardonic references to Columbia, Gem of the Ocean, God Save the King, the Marseillaise and several other national tunes.
The South Wind was originally composed in about 1899 as a setting of Heinrich Heine’s poem ‘Die Lotosblume’, but as Ives noted in 114 Songs he felt ‘the setting was unsatisfactory, and other words were written for it’. This was a new poem by Harmony Twichell, soon to become Ives’s wife, and the re-casting took place in 1908. Nevertheless 114 Songs prints the two texts as alternatives. Gravely expansive, this is one of Ives’s finest homages to the spirit of post-Brahmsian Romanticism.
My Native Land dates from 1895 and sets a Heine poem in an anonymous English translation (possibly adapted from a translation by Eduard Lassen): Ives was fond of the poem and made two settings—the one in 114 Songs which we hear on this disc is the earlier. The themes of dreaming and attachment to home always drew a sympathetic response from him.
Watchman! is one of a group of four songs (At the River is another) based on hymn-tune themes, adapted from some of Ives’s chamber works. The words are by John Bowring and the tune by Lowell Mason, but the song was adapted in 1913 from the wordless setting in Ives’s Violin Sonata No 2 of 1907, with the sometimes complex piano part untouched. Ives gave the same hymn-tune to the choir in the first movement of his Symphony No 4.
The Children’s Hour was composed in 1901 to words by Longfellow (from a much longer poem). This is an example of the exquisite lyrical simplicity of which Ives was capable; the flowing outer sections (with delicate high chiming tones from the left hand crossing the right) frame a recitative-like centre. Note the children’s names: fifteen years later Ives and Harmony would adopt an Edith as their daughter.
Evidence is dated 1910, but here again Ives had substituted his own words to what was a much earlier setting (about 1898) of the poem ‘Wie Melodien zieht es mir’ by Klaus Groth (also set by Brahms, in his Op 105). In this lyric landscape, the onset of night is symbolized in the voice’s drooping, descending phrases.
The World’s Wanderers, with its two-bar refrain, was—like My native land—composed in 1895 to a German text by Heine. Later (perhaps not much later) Ives adapted the song to the Shelley poem it now sets. Slow March stands as the very last item in 114 Songs, signifying that it was the first to be composed—one of the very earliest pieces by Ives we possess. Written in 1887 or 1888, to words contributed by the Ives family and his uncle Lyman Brewster, it commemorates the burial of the family cat. Ives noted long after on the manuscript that Harmony found it in the cellar on 16 May 1921, to which fact it undoubtedly owed its publication the following year. The music is based on the ‘Dead March’ from Handel’s Saul.
Omens and Oracles, composed about 1900, is another of Ives’s ‘Sentimental Ballads’: its emotional extremities well fulfil that description. Ives noted that the author of the text was not known to him, although it has been identified as an adaptation of a poem by Owen Meredith, a pseudonym of Robert Bulwer-Lytton, first Earl of Lytton (son of the better-known novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, first Baron Lytton). Those Evening Bells, adapted in 1907 from a 1903 song to a different text, is another of Ives’s settings of Thomas Moore: parallel fifths in the left hand and arpeggiated chords in the right create a ‘bell-like’ play of overtones. The excitable Allegro was initially sketched in 1900 as a setting of German verse—Ives tried fitting two different poems by different authors to the vocal line before giving up and writing the poem himself.
Evening was composed in 1921; the words are from Milton’s Paradise Lost. Apparently at one time this was intended as the first item in 114 Songs, which proceeds in reverse chronological order from latest to earliest songs. (It is now the second item.) The mood is valedictory, suggesting a gentle harmony of all life, and closing with a quotation from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata ‘Les Adieux’.
The Last Reader was arranged for voice and piano in 1921, and furnished with a text by Oliver Wendell Holmes, but started life as a song without words for chamber ensemble in 1911. Ageing, the power of song, and memory are all eloquently celebrated here in Ives’s most refined mature idiom. The music quotes the hymn-tune ‘Cherith’, adapted from an oratorio by Louis Spohr and usually sung to the words ‘Remember, Lord, what Thou hast laid on us’.
Harmony Ives supplied the text of To Edith, a tender paean to the Iveses’ four-year-old adopted daughter, in January 1919. The music was adapted, as Ives noted, from an old song (now lost) that he had written in 1892. At the River is dated 1916; the text and basic tune come from the revivalist hymn by Robert Lowry, now famous from the setting in Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs. Ives arranged this song from the second movement of his Violin Sonata No 4; there may have been an earlier version for cornet and violins. Note the very free accentuation of the words, which causes the song to end with an ‘unanswered question’ of its own.
A Christmas Carol probably dates from Christmas 1894; the poem is Ives’s own and the Berceuse-like rhythm and devotional atmosphere establish parallels with many another carol, such as Warlock’s Balulalow. The Light that is Felt sets a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, a poet Ives admired so much he sketched some of a Whittier Overture for orchestra. He seems to have set the poem first as an anthem for use in church in about 1895, and arranged the song version in 1904. The theme of the desire to recapture the faith and simplicity of the child is a recurrent one in his work.
Finally, Romanzo (di Central Park) was composed in 1900. The title is Ives’s own: the text is a concoction which Leigh Hunt called ‘A Love Song’—he used it in his essay ‘Rhyme and Reason’ as an illustration of a poem ‘of which we require no more than the rhymes, to be acquainted with the whole …’. In an after-note Ives mentions that ‘the above collection of notes and heartbeats’ shows ‘the influence, on the youthful mind’ of an unnamed composer, much admired at the time he was writing the song. The Ives scholar John Kirkpatrick found a jotting which identifies this figure as the once-popular Victor Herbert. Romanzo (di Central Park) is also one of a number of settings in 114 Songs which, Ives noted: ‘have little or no musical value—(a statement which does not mean to imply that the others have any too much of it). These are inserted principally because … they are good illustrations of types of songs, the fewer of which are composed, published, sold or sung, the better it is for the progress of music generally. It is asked—(probably a superfluous request)—that they be not sung, at least in public, or given to students as examples of what not to sing.’ Despite this eloquent disclaimer, the Romanzo is a real charmer.
Calum MacDonald © 2008