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Charles Ives and the horn.

"A sound of a distant horn, O'er shadowed lake is borne, my father's song."

--Charles Ives, "Remembrance"

Horn parts from the music of Charles Ives (1874-1954) are rarely, if ever studied by horn players. They do not appear in any collection of excerpts, and the few performances of Ives's orchestral music these days make it difficult to experience the diversity of his horn parts live. This is unfortunate, as Ives wrote rich parts for horn, including several solos that showcase the lyrical qualities of the instrument. With the exciting news that the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will tackle all four Ives symphonies at Carnegie Hall in May 2013, the time seems right for an examination of the notable horn parts in his music and for an assessment of how he handled the instrument.

The most important excerpts appear in the five symphonies (nos. 1-4 and the Holidays Symphony) and the orchestral suite Three Places in New England. Figure 1 shows a list of complete works by Ives that contain horn. For this essay, I will limit my comments to excerpts of particular interest in Symphonies Nos. 1, 2, and 4, as well as Washington's Birthday from the Holidays Symphony. (1) I conclude with a look at "In the Night," a chamber piece that features the horn prominently. These works feature a representative mix of soloistic passages, quartet writing, and accompanimental or supportive stretches. The pieces also contain a wide variety of compositional techniques, from the traditional to the experimental. I begin with a look at Ives's musical background and how it impacted his approaches to composition and orchestration.

Ives's Musical Training

As is well known, Ives's first notable musical influence was his father, George (1845-94), best remembered as a cornetist and bandmaster in the Union army during the Civil War. Though George did encourage Charles to experiment with polytonality, microtones, atonality, and rhythmic complexity, it is important to remember that George also taught his son traditional harmony and voice leading, and even attempted to write a harmony book. (2) This fusion of the traditional and the experimental would surface in most works Ives composed, beginning with his earliest compositions (some counterpoint exercises and songs) to his more mature pieces.

We should also keep in mind that Ives was a product of his time and place. Music history books often emphasize his supposedly modernist use of musical quotation and experimental techniques without placing him in the full context of late nineteenth-century American music. Such views deemphasize Ives's formal compositional training with Horatio Parker at Yale, with whom he studied from 1894-98. Parker was an American trained in Germany who espoused compositional approaches by mainstream Austro-German composers, such as Brahms, Mendelssohn, and Wagner, and encouraged his students (including Ives) to emulate them. Though Ives eventually rebelled against Parker's conservative instruction, he learned a great deal about orchestration, harmony, and form and he relied on these more conventional methods throughout his own compositional career.

Ives was also influenced by American composers using vernacular and sacred music (e.g., popular songs, protestant hymnody) and by non-Germanic composers who visited America including Tchaikovsky and, most importantly, Dvofak. The impact of Dvofak's visits in the 1890s on American music cannot be overstated, as his writings and teachings suggested to American composers that indigenous music could be written without exclusively emulating the great European masters. Ives took these influences and created a corpus of music that contained nationalist traits exemplified in modeling and quotation, all based on traditional harmonic procedures laced with experimentation and deviation from those conventions.

Let us consider how this training is reflected in the four horn parts in his first significant piece: the First Symphony written from 1898-1902, partly used as a graduation thesis from Yale.

The First Symphony

Horn parts in the First Symphony are largely subsidiary on the whole, but they occasionally feature melodies that stand out or hold formal significance. They are not difficult or taxing, and reveal Ives's familiarity with nineteenth-century music, particularly Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Dvofak, and Brahms. These influences would continue to govern Ives's symphonic music well into his Second Symphony, even as his writing became more sophisticated.

The First Symphony is cast in a traditional four-movement design: I. Allegro (D minor); II. Adagio molto (F major); III. Scherzo (D minor); and IV. Allegro Molto (D major). The horn figures most prominently in movements I, II, and IV, taking on a variety of roles in the orchestral texture. I wish to look at examples from the first and second movements of the First Symphony in particular.

In the first movement, written in sonata form, the horns often contribute to statements of the first and second themes in duos or as a quartet by doubling string and woodwind parts. For example, the first horn doubles the bassoon to state the first theme at four measures before V, well into the recapitulation. Shortly thereafter, horns two and four play the first theme and have a more intricate running line that differs from the previous part and extends well beyond the four measures heard earlier. Example 1 shows these passages. The parts are smoothly written and well within a playable range that would cut through the sustained notes in the strings and woodwinds.

In the second movement, closely modeled on the slow movement of Dvofak's Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, "From the New World," the horns chiefly function as accompaniment and support to the other parts. The texture thickens and the music grows in intensity throughout, and at rehearsal 9 the horns state one of three layers of melodic ideas heard throughout the symphony to this point. Horns 1 and 3 are marked forte and play a variation of the first theme in the first movement (as seen in Example 1), but this time there are competing themes and the melody has some rhythmic differences from its earlier model. Moreover, the part continues with sextuplet figures that contribute to the building intensity and support the woodwinds. When the climax arrives at rehearsal 10, the horn quartet plays sustained, chorale-like chords with the other brass as seen in Example 2. Again, the parts are not particularly challenging technically, but they are important melodically and fit smoothly into the overall structure.

Second Symphony

Ives wrote his Second Symphony over a span of several years, and it is probably one of his more frequently performed orchestral works. (3) The symphony is a significant step forward compositionally, and the horn parts are reflective of this musical development. Ives casts the symphony in five movements, with substantial thematic recursion across the piece. (4) In addition to borrowing stylistically from European composers as cited earlier, this symphony features large stretches of music based on American tunes, including "Turkey in the Straw," "Camptown Races," and "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean," to name a few. The four horns assume a more prominent role in the orchestration. The Second Symphony also contains a substantial principal horn solo (with involvement from the other section players) that can be compared in technical and expressive difficulty to other major symphonic horn excerpts.

In the sprightly second movement (Allegro), shown in Example 3, the four horns have an exposed section where they play part of the opening theme of the movement at m. 213 in what appears to be a false recapitulation in the key of F major (instead of the original Ab major). Before this point, the parts had been doubled with other instruments and unexposed, but at this spot the horn quartet has a brief solo moment that features the first horn playing the melody with a turn and a move to a high g". The first horn then develops the main theme in a sequence, accompanied by sustained chords from the entire woodwind section. Ives uses simple harmonization allowing the melody to rise out of the texture. There are many other moments in the symphony where Ives scores the four horns in unison or harmony (including a nice snippet of "Camptown Races" at the beginning of the fifth movement), but none is as exposed as the one in the second movement.

The glorious horn solo in the fifth movement is a clear example of Ives's ability to write in a lyrical style, a skill that scholars and critics often ignore. Even more interesting is how the solo is traded between the first, second, and third horns, each of which must enter seamlessly so that there is no break in sound or style. Example 4 shows this section beginning at the Meno Allegro at m. 58. While the first violins quietly play "Pig Town Fling," the horn enters with a mostly pentatonic, cantabile melody that, as J. Peter Burkholder notes, resembles two songs by Stephen Foster, "Old Black Joe" and "Massa's in de Cold Ground." (5) This sweeping melody should soar above the violins and thus requires good breath support and sound, even though Ives does not specify the dynamics.

This passage is not only a solo display, but also clearly requires strong ensemble work from the entire horn section. Ives includes some common orchestration techniques, including the dovetailing of first and third horns at m. 65, and a call-and-response gesture between first and second horns at mm. 77-78, that need to be practiced and coordinated. Because he divides the line, it is critical that the players discuss how to make each part sound as one and minimize the breaks. For its fusion of the solo and ensemble, this excerpt is certainly one of the highlights for horn players when performing the music of Ives.

Fourth Symphony

After the extensive use of horn in the Second Symphony, Ives scales back its role in his Third and Fourth Symphonies. The Fourth Symphony, arguably Ives's greatest and most important piece, contains few horn parts of consequence. Though ostensibly scored for four horns, they do not play in the first two movements, one is optional in the third ("horn or trombone") and they have some rather unusual parts in the fourth movement.

Ives calls for one horn in the third movement, a fugue transcribed from his First String Quartet. This is one of the most straightforward compositions he ever penned, but as is typical for his style, Ives scoffs at strict contrapuntal conventions by using simple hymn tunes as his fugue subjects. The primary fugue subject is Lowell Mason's hymn "From Greenland's Icy Mountains," which is later joined by excerpts from "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name" and "Joy to the World." The horn (listed in the score as "Horn or Trombone"; most recordings contain both instruments) enters at m. 9 with the third statement of the subject, in this case "From Greenland's Icy Mountains." Example 5 displays this excerpt. This is a very comfortable solo to play, rising to a transposed high e" and descending to a d' an octave lower. Apart from this solo, the horn mostly doubles the trombone and strings and blends into the texture.

Ives began his compositional career by writing very conventional horn parts and later crafted more adventurous and advanced parts both rhythmically and texturally. The fourth movement of this symphony clearly exemplifies this development. Ives deemed this movement "the best, compared with the other movements, or for that matter with any other thing that I've done," and indeed, one finds an intricate, sophisticated piece that features lengthy ostinatos, a meditation on another hymn ("Nearer, My God, to Thee"), and extended techniques. (6) The horns play mostly minor background parts until Ives launches into a disjointed brass chorale at rehearsal 22, where he writes for two horns that should be "scarcely audible (just a distant wail)" and marks the dynamic ppp. (7) Example 6 shows a representative excerpt from this section (in concert pitch), which contains changing meter (including 6 1/2/2 meter!) and asynchronous parts that create a blurring effect with the other instruments. In this case, Ives uses the horns and other brass as a section sounding in its own world, not aligned with any other group of instruments. The horn parts are not terribly demanding in range, but given how the surrounding instruments operate on different time streams, syncing the rhythms creates a challenge. After this passage, the horns play ostinatos and seem to travel in and out of the dense texture, serving as part of an overall aural effect.

Let us consider another orchestral example of Ives's horn writing that combines both traditional and experimental techniques.

"Washington's Birthday" from Holidays Symphony

In "Washington's Birthday," the first movement of the Holidays Symphony, Ives writes a programmatic piece about winter for a small chamber orchestra containing only flute, horn, Jew's harp (!), bells, and strings. It contains a bit of everything--lyricism, experimental passages, and innovative rhythmic constructions to test the flexibility and capabilities of the horn player. The piece comprises three parts: an Impressionistic evocation of snow and a cold evening, a lively barn dance with numerous meter changes (influenced by a fiddler "who had been seated too near the hard cider barrel"), and a shorter section filled with nostalgia and a return to the cold night. The horn plays significant parts in all three sections.

In the first section at m. 5, the horn enters with a quiet tune fragment that resembles Stephen Foster's "Old Folks at Home," followed by a repetition of that tune up a tritone. As the music leading to the barn dance increases in density, the horn makes up one of three temporal layers (the other being the bells and strings) and plays a peculiar figure at m. 32 that jumps octaves and exploits the low register. Example 7 shows this in mm. 32-36. At the densest part of the first section a few measures later, the horn enters with a rhythmic ostinato that, as Ives indicates, should not increase in volume. While the strings ebb and flow in contour as if to suggest snowdrifts, the flute, horn, and bells continue their ostinatos. In the barn dance, the horn doubles other instruments but gets to play some humorous lines including a statement of "Camptown Races" at m. 86 reminiscent of the parts in the Second Symphony. As the barn dance gets louder, denser, and more intense, Ives writes jagged and syncopated ostinatos in the wind parts. As in the Fourth Symphony, fitting the horn part into the overall rhythm and texture is the challenge here. The final section of "Washington's Birthday" has the horn double the first violins in a lyrical tune, filled with nostalgia. The tune starts at m. 170 and once again, highlights the expressive side of the horn.

"In The Night"

In addition to the prominent use of the horn in his orchestral music, Ives has also written several chamber music pieces that assign noteworthy and demanding parts to the instrument. One such example is "In the Night," the third movement from the Set for Theatre Orchestra. The "theatre orchestra" in this movement consists of the horn solo, bells, piano, and strings. Ives writes that the movement is "an attempt to reflect those distant, almost silent sounds of nature on a quiet summer night in a forest--and perhaps some of the feelings and thoughts of a lonely old man who may be 'passing' on while the distant church bells are tolling." (8) He even mentions the importance of the horn in his notes: "In any case, the number & arrangement of instruments is at the discretion of the conductor, and so that the solo part (Horn) will not be over covered." (9) Ives paints a hazy aural picture of solitude, loneliness and quietude by writing soft ostinatos in all the parts while the horn (and later a solo cello) plays a contemplative, wistful melody.

As one might expect in a nocturnal work, the rhythms, melodies, and harmonies are quiet, ambiguous, and dreamy. Example 8 shows the horn part for this short piece. Rhythmically, the horn part is rather complex, though one can interpret this notation flexibly and play it somewhat freely against the ostinatos of the other instruments. The horn should have no trouble projecting over the rest of the ensemble, as the part is marked "m/or mp" while all the other instruments are marked piano or softer.

The horn part (written in C) is accompanied by a text under it. In the program notes, Ives states that:


  The words are not to be sung .... They are from
  an old song (suggested in a general way in this part),
  which was often sung in the traveling "Minstrel
  Shows" popular in the '80s and '90's--a form of "theatricals"
  that unfortunately has almost disappeared.
  ... The source of this verse is unknown to the writer.


Indeed, the tune has a kind of swing to it and its limited pitch and harmonic implications could suggest a nostalgic parlor song melody. The horn player would benefit from reading the text, which refers to the sadness and fear felt after hearing an "owl a-hootin' in the darkness of the night." To capture the essence of the text, the melody should be played with a plaintive and mournful tone. While this piece is very challenging, especially rhythmically, it should be programmed more often to illuminate the programmatic and theatrical side of Ives's music.

As this essay details, the music of Charles Ives contains horn parts that deserve a second look by performers. The examples demonstrate that Ives scored for the horn in ways that explore multiple sides of the instrument and present challenges and rewards for the performer. Though events such as the Ives festival by the New York Philharmonic in 2004 and the upcoming Carnegie Hall concerts launch Ives's music to more prominence, serious study of his horn parts remains elusive. It is incumbent upon us as horn players, particularly American horn players, to know what Ives's music can offer us and to explore the many riches found within it.

Works by Charles Ives that include horn (dates are from James Sinclair, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Music of Charles Ives, Yale University Press, 1999)

Symphonic Works

Symphony No. 1 (c. 1898-1902): 4 horns, all movements

Symphony No. 2 (c. 1900-1902,1907-10): 4 horns, all movements

Symphony No. 3 (c. 1904,1909-11): 2 horns, all movements

Symphony No. 4 (c. 1910-16): Movement 3,1 horn, Movement 4, 4 horns

A Symphony: New England Holidays (Holidays Symphony)

Washington's Birthday (c. 1909-13): 1 horn

Decoration Day (c. 1912-13): 4 horns

The Fourth of July (c. 1911-13): 4 horns

Thanksgiving and Forefathers' Day (c. 1904): 4 horns

Universe Symphony (c. 1911-28, unfinished; completed version by Larry Austin, 1994): 4 horns

Three Places in New England (c. 1913-14, chamber version,

1935): 1 horn (2-4 optional)

The "St. Gaudens" in Boston Common (Col. Shaw and his

Colored Regiment)

Putnam's Camp, Redding, Connecticut

The Housatonic at Stockbridge

Other Works

Set No. 1

The See'r (Schuller version): 1 horn

Set No. 3

Premonitions (Schuller version): 3 horns

Set No. 7 (Water Colors)

Swimming (Sinclair version): 1 horn

The Pond (Singleton version): 1 horn

Set for Eheater Orchestra

Mvt. 3 (In the Night): 1 horn

Chromatimelodtune (Schuller version): 1 horn

General Slocum: 4 horns

Orchestral Set No. 2: Mvt. 3: 2 horns

Orchestral Set No. 3: 1 horn

Postlude in F: 4 horns

Ragtime Dances #2 and #3: 1 horn

Robert Browning Overture: 4 horns

Scherzo: All the Way Around and Back: 1 horn

Yale-Princeton Football Game (Schuller and Sinclair): 4 horns

Notes

(1) The Third Symphony, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947, has parts for two horns but very few exposed passages.

(2) For more see Carol K. Baron, "George Ives's Essay in Music Theory: An Introduction and Annotated Edition," American Music 10, No. 3 (Autumn 1992): 239-88.

(3) There is a fine DVD performance of this piece by Leonard Bernstein and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks worth watching, if nothing else for the novelty of seeing Ives performed on video (especially with Bernstein conducting, given his fervent enthusiasm for Ives).

(4) There is some question about whether there are really five separate movements. For example, Preston Stedman writes that the "overall structure of the symphony implies five movements. In actuality, the first movement serves as an introduction to the Allegro second movement. This same 'first' movement reappears in a shortened version as the fourth movement, which is an introduction to the faster fifth movement." Preston Stedman, The Symphony, second edition (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1992), 352.

(5) J. Peter Burkholder, All Made of Tunes: Charles Ives and the Uses of Musical Borrowing (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), 122-23.

(6) Charles Ives, Memos, ed. John Kirkpatrick (New York: W. W. Norton, 1972), 66.

(7) The "wail" would certainly be "distant" if played at the written dynamic given the surrounding density.

(8) Ives, Memos, 66.

(9) James Sinclair, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Music of Charles Ives (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 84.

David Thurmaier is Assistant Professor of Music Theory and Head of Academic Studies in Music at Florida Gulf Coast University. He holds a Ph.D. in Music Theory from Indiana University, where he wrote a dissertation called "Time and Compositional Process in the Holidays Symphony by Charles Ives." He studied horn with Kazimierz Machala as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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Author:Thurmaier, David
Publication:The Horn Call
Date:Feb 1, 2013
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