This Saturday, May 19th, we celebrate the death anniversary of one of America’s most original composers Charles Ives (1874-1954).
Ives was known even during his lifetime as an
“American original” although the last 30 years of his life were not spent composing. During that time, his works were discovered and performed and he received many accolades. His originality must have come from his freedom-loving, musical father, George.
George was a bandmaster and leader of musical ensembles. He taught both Charles and his brother, Joseph, about the rudiments of music–but from the very beginning he encouraged them to experiment, especially with harmonies, different keys at the same time, and unusual textures and instruments.
That brings us to the piece that we would like to feature–Ives’ setting of Psalm 90. He first worked on this early in his life in 1894 and then again in 1901.He then set it aside and revised the work in 1923-4. It is set for choir, chimes, gong and organ and lasts about 10 minutes. It is a strikingly evocative work and given the verses that Ives chose to set, there is a great contrast between strong and dissonant chords which set the text “to destruction” with verses of great serenity and unity.