Ives wrote that Central Park in the Dark is ‘a picture-in-sound of the sounds of nature and the happenings that man would hear some thirty or so years ago (before the combustion engine and radio monopolized the earth and air) when sitting on a bench in Central Park on a hot summer night’. The ambience of the trees in New York’s Central Park is evoked in a mysterious, unchanging wash of strings, playing a series of atonal chords built on a pattern of expanding intervals. Bit by bit we begin to hear events around the park, conveyed by solo violin, two pianos, and a small group of winds and brass: vague rustlings, ragtime from a bar across the way (featuring a hit tune from the 1890s, Hello, Ma Baby). While the background remains unchanged and unperturbed, the external sounds swell in volume and activity to an Ivesian poly-everything climax conveying a runaway horse and carriage crashing into a fence.
After these human and animal interruptions the music fades back to the eternal hum of nature. Central Park is a prime example of Ivesian impressionism: not the external wind-and-sea Impressionism of Debussy, rather the impression of a moment or an event on the heart and soul of a listener.
from notes by Jan Swafford © 2006