Hyperion Records

General William Booth Enters into Heaven
General William Booth Enters into Heaven (1914) is one of Ives’s supreme achievements in the field of song. Vachel Lindsay (1879–1931) made his name as the writer (and pyrotechnical performer) of a modern ballad poetry whose strenuous rodomontade established an ‘American rhythm’ dealing with indigenous and contemporary subjects. He gained widespread acclaim with the publication in 1913 of his first collection, of which General William Booth Enters into Heaven, in memory of the founder of the Salvation Army, was the title poem.

Ives seems to have come across the text in a review of Lindsay’s poetry published in the New York Independent on 12 January 1914, since he sets only the thirty-one lines quoted in that review. The poem’s musical possibilities – and also no doubt the fervour of its Gospel religion – clearly fired him, and he had soon composed a setting (he called it a ‘glory trance’) for voice and piano. This was not published in his collection of 114 Songs, maybe because the possibility of using larger forces was present from the beginning. Ives made some sketches towards a brass band version, and a male chorus form. In 1934 the composer John J Becker, one of Ives’s staunchest admirers, arranged General Booth for bass voice, chorus and chamber orchestra, in which form it has become best known. But it remains a stunning tour de force in the original song version.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2005

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