Variations on America (1949)
CHARLES IVES 1898 (trans. William E. Rhoads)
(based on the orchestral version by william schuman)
Charles Ives, son of a Civil War bandmaster, is regarded as the first truly American composer of the twentieth century. Encouraged by his father, Ives experimented with all kinds of music and acoustic sounds. A church organist at thirteen, he later entered Yale University, studying composition with Horatio Parker, but chose to become an insurance executive instead of a professional musician.
In his compositions, Ives employed techniques such as polytonality, atonality, polymetric patterns, tone clusters, and microtones. Subjects of these innovations were hymn tunes, patriotic melodies, and ragtime, mixed together in a style which has both imagination and daring. Variations on America is a witty, irreverent piece for organ composed in 1891 when Ives was sixteen. According to Ives’ biographers, Henry and Sidney Cowell, it was played by Ives in organ recitals in Danbury, Connecticut and Brewster, New York in the same year. This is the earliest surviving piece using polytonality (melodies in more than one key simultaneously). William Schuman wrote the orchestral transcription in 1949, and William E. Rhoads the concert band transcription in 1964.
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