<< -- 2 -- David Wilkins TIME TRAVEL
Time, being an essential weapon in the armoury of all musicians given to understand its signatures and its metronome certainties, served to backfire somewhat on this New England iconoclast who might, almost, have come to regard bar-lines as a kind of intemperate delinquency. Time-passing makes it all too easy to forget that most of the innovations of (to pluck the most obvious examples) Schoenberg, Bartók, Stravinsky, Cowell, Messiaen, almost everyone, really, were prefigured in the music of Ives. He heard little-or-nothing of them; they heard (nobody heard!) much of him until the various patterns of twentieth-century music were already set. Grammarians will rightly say that it's impossible to qualify the word -- but it seems more dishonest than pedantic to deny that this man was, somehow, more than unique.
Autobiographies can be labelled as such or they can, more ambiguously, be derived from all or some of the abstract work. In the case of Ives -- however much you can argue for the importance, indeed, the indispensability, of other great works -- the two essential pieces are the Concord sonata and the 114 Songs collection. It would only be more absurdly eccentric than churlish to complain that Warner Classics haven't completed the vital trilogy by reprinting the prose Essays Before a Sonata as inset notes. So what a gratitude we owe them for a selection of the songs, superbly performed, and a reading of the sonata that, only in deference to Ives who would have abhorred the idea, we must refrain from calling definitive!
Copyright © 19 May 2004
David Wilkins, Eastbourne UK