Where the truer beauties lie: Analytical issues in four unbarred songs by Charles Ives
Chernov, Eric B.
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This study examines four songs by Charles Ives (1874-1954) that lack time signatures and barlines. The songs, which are all mature works written in the last six years of his active compositional life, are "Afterglow," "Like a Sick Eagle," "Premonitions," and "Thoreau." Works without time signatures or barlines create unique interpretive challenges. Superficially, both the re-creative artist and the analytical artist might accept such presentations at face value, i.e., as truly ametrical works of art. Some kind of metrical interpretation, however, is suggested (even demanded) by features of these songs--features both of local-level patterning and formal articulations. This study investigates ways in which Ives hides coherent patterns within an apparently unorganized surface in this repertoire, and analyzes the songs to evaluate possibilities of interpretation when some of the more common indices of time organization or meter are absent. Though there are sometimes shared techinques in these works, as explored in the current study, Ives's methodologies were so greatly varied that finding a common thread, even where one would expect to find one, is difficult. This study, in essence, argues that by studying a set of songs that seem to share something, one is confronted with a fundamental issue with Ives's music: what (if anything) is shared (in terms of compositional/technical identity) from piece to piece? At first sight, "Like a Sick Eagle" seems to be assembled out of patterns that are almost random, but this superficial arbitrariness conceals a calculated approach to formal partitioning. Introductory, expository, developmental, and recapitulatory sections can be discerned, though in an arrangement that is not wholly in agreement with the clear formal divisions of Keats's poem. In this song Ives used a pre-existing rhythmic/metric construct in a new, non-barred environment, palindromic writing and axes of pitch symmetry (both on the surface at significant structural moments and in larger contexts) -- all to articulate and emphasize formal divisions. Other features include isomorphic patterning between parts, rhythmic displacement to obscure the formal divisions, alterations in the recapitulatory section to "balance" seemingly inconsistent elements of the expository section, apparent rhythmic stasis, and finally a transformational pitch-text interaction in which pitch segment repetitions figure importantly. The study of "Premonitions" is concerned with Ives's poetic editing and how this informs his artistic setting. A careful survey of meter in the poem as it corresponds to a nominal, normative rhythm is juxtaposed with Ives's changes to the poem and how his setting works both with the normative rhythm and against it. Pitch material correspondence (here representing a metaphor for the poem's message) is found primarily in Ives's use of various, familiar musical "currencies" to depict a path from the everyday towards pitch class equality (freedom). The principal tools used in the work for these purposes are triadic combinations, pentatonic collections, and, ultimately, whole tone collections (PC equality). Several other techniques are also explored in detail, including "hanging tones," "near collections" and "spoilers." The analysis of "Afterglow" is primarily concerned with investigating the orthographic dilemmas of the work and how certain techniques of orthographic obscurity can be tools to both promote cohesion in the work and to effectively x obliterate barlines. Details of the Ives (1975) publication are examined, as well as a review of Ives's sketch of the song. The importance of complementation and abstract hidden melodies ("shadows"), as well as the importance of set class correspondence is also examined. "Thoreau" is part of a conglomeration of interconnected pieces of music and writing, and the song's dependence on previous works is examined. Several techniques discussed in the other works also figure in "Thoreau." Additionally, the various ways in which Ives partitions the song into clear sections while keeping a sense of both flow and stasis is examined.