Sunday, August 2, 2015

Charles Ives: Psalm 54 (1894)

BBC Singers
Stephen Cleobury, director

Note the date.  No one else was writing music so uncompromisingly dissonant in 1894. which is remarkable but nothing as compared to the remarkable expressive power of this setting of that Psalm in a language that Ives was, essentially, inventing for himself.

Not one to generally mourn over the lost and unrecoverable past, the loss of many of Ives' pieces from that part of his life when he was an active church musician, is something I've often regretted. Other than a few Psalm settings not much of it survived.  As I recall someone once told me there had been a fire.  I'm going to post some more of Ives' Psalms this week.  They are a challenge a century and a quarter after he composed them, often a sign that music will continue to be performed by musicians who like to learn new things.  The typical strategy in music and the performing arts these days is to pander to the lowest common denominator, in classical as well as pop music, that means giving people what they're so familiar with that they don't have to go to the bother of hearing it, anymore.   But the other strategy of appealing to good performers with the challenge of what isn't familiar and to listeners who like to really listen to things is probably the more sound one.  As Charles Rosen pointed out, musicians are the ones who are ultimately in control of what music is performed.  I don't think here is much of a chance that the best musicians won't want to take on Charles Ives at his hardest and least familiar.  This piece isn't going to get old.

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