As a youngster, Charles Ives became a church organist in his hometown of Danbury, Connecticut. His dad had been a bandmaster during the Civil War, and continued afterwards as a civilian. Young Charles was used to hearing the cacophony of musicians tooting various passages through their instruments before and after rehearsal—though New England folks may not have expected the boy’s experiences to meld together quite the way they did.
During his sophomore year at Yale, Charles began a string quartet (1896), which is known under two different titles: A Revival Meeting and From the Salvation Army. Scholars believe he recycled bits of earlier organ and string pieces for the quartet. Complicating it further, he based the piece on the Protestant hymns he’d been hearing his entire life: Missionary Hymn, Coronation, Beulah Land, Shining Shore, Nettleton, Webb, and Stand up for Jesus. Ives throws in a little of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor for good measure.
A pastiche is a time-honored method of composition, which entailed lifting other people’s music into a new form. Ives compresses and stacks these ideas into something wholly original.
Hear the String Quartet No.1 of Charles Ives played by the Emerson String Quartet on Thursday afternoon around 4:30 on WFMT.