Robin Preiss - Codification of the Concord Sonata: Editorial and performative composition 30:20
- Saison 2015-2016 - None - None > TCPM 2015 : Analyser les processus de création musicale / Tracking the Creative Process in Music
- Oct. 10, 2015
- Program note: TCPM 2015
- Robin Preiss (conférencier)
Charles Ives began formulating literary and musical ideas that would evolve into Concord Sonata as early as 1902. The piece was first published in 1921, and significantly revised to the point of being “re-written” in 1947. Throughout those years, the work was manifested in alternative iterations, notably A Set of Proposed Movements, Emerson Overture for Piano and Orchestra, and Four Transcriptions from “Emerson”. This project will trace the editorial development of the Concord Sonata over the twenty- six-year span between the two editions. Fundamentally, Ives did not believe that the Concord should be played through exactly the same way every time. Rather, he clearly identified with Ralph Waldo Emerson's observation that “forever wells up the impulse of choosing and acting on the soul. Intellect annuls fate. So far as man thinks, he is free.” (Emerson, Ralph Waldo.“Fate” from The Conduct of Life. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 2003. 12-13.) His feelings for the piece changed with the seasons and with his mood on any given day, a factor that probably was strongly influenced by his health, which was in a constant state of flux. In short, composing was a seemingly never-ending and constantly unfolding process for the composer. Considering Ives’s original intent to leave the work unfinished, how did the publication processes impact the codification of the Ives’s Concord Sonata? To what extent did the canonization of the work, both in print and performance, affect Ives’s compositional style with regard to the piece?
Taking a paleographic approach, my research focuses particularly on the intersection between publication processes and creative aesthetic, including the notational variance among copyists, the necessity for firm deadlines, and technological limitations of offset lithography that prevented excessive revision of printing plates. The opposing nature of editorial and improvisatorial methods illuminates an overall dichotomy in artistic creation: the need both to solidify a creative work for dissemination, appreciation and longevity and the need to stay true to one’s aesthetic impulse. This tension was mediated by a revolving cast of interlocutors who were deeply and intimately involved in the codification of Ives’s work. Performers, editors, copyists, scholars, friends and family members of the composer impacted his creative process and production, to the degree that I argue that they should be considered as his ‘collaborators.’ Chief among these collaborators was the pianist John Kirkpatrick, who premiered many of the composer’s pieces including the Concord Sonata. Kirkpatrick openly expressed discomfort with Ives’s improvisational style of composing. Around the time that he was preparing the Concord for its 1938 premiere in Cos Cob, Connecticut, the pianist expressed in a letter : “I have to decide what notes I’m going to play and play just those, short of the kind of relearning that takes some time. I suppose all that is in a way the very antithesis of your creative action, bringing in the element of a well rehearsed circus act, which always goes off like clockwork and always exactly the same.” (Kirkpatrick, John. "To Ives, Charles." 25/Oct/1935. Letter 302 of . Ed. Tom C. Owens. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. 238-239.)
Copyists and editors including George F. Roberts, Emil Hanke, Lou Harrison, and Harmony Twitchell Ives, also actively contributed to the composer’s creative process in less direct but equally interesting capacities. George F. Roberts wrote and notated exceptionally clearly and possessed the patience and attention to decipher Ives’ messy hand. Even though his manuscripts were very hard to make out, causing Roberts to make many initial mistakes, Ives was very meticulous about proofing engravings of his works before they were sent off to the printing press. Over the years they developed a solid working relationship as well as sound personal friendship.
This paper will transcend traditional paleographic methodologies that have already been employed by Ives scholars Geoffrey Block and Gayle Sherwood, whose work addresses the transformation of the Concord in terms of thematic development, formal structure, and musical borrowing. Instead of relying exclusively on published scores and manuscript sketches, I broaden the purview of sketch studies to include other varieties of source materials. Many of the collaborative relationships already discussed are documented in extensive exchanges of correspondence. While selections of Ives’s correspondence were recently published in a dedicated volume, many materials remain only accessible in manuscript form. My work uniquely draws from both published and unpublished sources of personal correspondence that enriches our understanding of the genesis and eventual dissemination of this now canonized work.