Program Notes
The Complete Piano Music of Carl Ruggles
and
Unknown Works of Charles Ives

Performed April 3, 2003
Miller Theatre at Columbia University
 
A subtle chain of countless rings
The next unto the farthest brings;
The eye reads omens where it goes,
And speaks all languages the rose;
And, striving to be man, the worm
Mounts through all the spires of form.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Nature" (1836)

Against the Grain: The Sketches of Carl Ruggles and Charles Ives
Tonight's program explores the works of two maverick American composers - close friends and colleagues Carl Ruggles and Charles Ives. Ruggedly independent and fiercely proud, the two New England Transcendentalists were nevertheless publicly ambivalent about their art. Working "against the grain" (as Joseph Reed puts it in his excellent book Three American Originals -Charles Ives, William Faulkner, and John Ford) of the popular in music and puritanical in pioneering America, they adopted defiant musical poses, yet diffident personas. Ruggles was the reclusive and cantankerous landscape painter, Ives, the patriotic insurance man and, later, champion of political causes. Behind their ambivalence toward a career in music ticked the ever-evolving constructions of brilliant originators. They sketched and revised like all composers. But they took a degree of satisfaction in the unresolved nature of their sketches. They believed that unfinished works fulfilled an artistic end—strove toward greatness—perhaps more nobly than finished compositions. "Creation is soul-searching. Nothing is ever finished," Ruggles said.
That is not to say that they did not want their works played. And their stance wasn't purely a philosophical one. Ives recast the Emerson Concerto into Four Emerson Transcriptions, various Studies, and two published versions of the Concord Sonata, because of some practical concerns of getting the music played, and because there were many forms, small and large, through which he wanted to hear variations on the same material. Ruggles campaigned for membership in the newly formed composer's consortium based in New York City, the International Composers Guild. Meanwhile, he retreated to Arlington, Vermont, where he took a painter's satisfaction in his musical sketches. He created scores on large canvasses, small postcards, charcoaled laundry cardboard, painted paper bags—sometimes one musical bar to a leaf. He would stand across the room, viewing each as a portentous model that might stand alone as artistic testament.
This recital offers a tour of these artists' workshops. The pieces you will hear include some of Ives and Ruggles' most searching experiments, unfinished compositions, and personal explorations, among some works published in their lifetime. What emerges is a sense of canon. The spectrum of pieces, simple to complex, illustrates the boundaries of their complete oeuvre. From fragment to complete work, reminiscent gestures meld, and thematic excursions begin to describe their broad musical profiles.
Since this is largely a concert of unpublished music, I am indebted to the collections at The Irving S. Gilmore Music Library at Yale University and librarian Suzanne Eggleston-Lovejoy, archivist Richard Boursy, and head librarian Kendall Crilly. The program took shape as a result of editing work by the Ives Society, Inc., especially recent editions by David Porter. Five of the Ruggles pieces are conjectural realizations by John Kirkpatrick (1905-1991), the American pianist, editor, and fervent colleague to the composers. His meticulous efforts in identifying, indexing, and cataloguing loose manuscript sheets by both composers at their deaths is unquestionably one of the heroic jobs of twentieth century American music. His fastidious quest to divine playable editions of their music is a fascinating—and at times problematic—counterpoint to the composers' rough edges. Ives and Ruggles' volcanic natures and ambivalent attitudes likely served to obstruct public hearings of their music during their lives. Kirkpatrick's asserting influence brought, and continues to bring, much of that music to light, including tonight's program. After Ives died, Ruggles wrote to Kirkpatrick about a posthumous performance of the Fourth Symphony: "It's a good thing, a most fortunate thing that you are on the job. Order out of chaos!"

The John Kirkpatrick realizations of the Ruggles sketches
Four of tonight's piano works and Mood are posthumous realizations by John Kirkpatrick from disparate Ruggles sketches. Ruggles published precious few pieces in his lifetime (13 in all). Evocations is the only for solo piano. With Kirkpatrick as trusted editor, Ruggles showed preliminary sketch ideas to him, some via letters, leaving remaining drafts and miscellaneous fragments at his death. Counting the material marked for Affirmations (or Evocation #5, or in one place, Visions—the title Kirkpatrick favored), there are over 1,000 potential contributions to this piece alone. Considering the mountain of viable sketches, his past collaborations with the composer, and a thirst to hear more music of the reticent Ruggles, Kirkpatrick assembled various sketches into performable editions. They are remarkably tight in construction. He described this work "like stringing pearls."

I first learned of Valse Lente and the other Ruggles pieces in the 1980s from Kirkpatrick. When Kirkpatrick died in 1991 his papers were left to Yale. Comparisons to the Ruggles sketches, also housed at Yale, reveal that the notes of the Kirkpatrick realizations are indeed from Ruggles' sketches. Where Kirkpatrick asserts editorial judgment is in occasional emendations—a completed phrase, a transposition, a tidied-up rhythm, an elaborated inner voice. Decisions as to sequence are largely speculations of Kirkpatrick. He detailed the sources and explained his decisions in commentary to the pieces.
Where there is no finished autograph, there is no ürtext, and this makes Kirkpatrick's editorial judgments more loaded, especially considering Ruggles' private nature. But Ruggles' many starts and variations on similar musical material present an undeniable challenge to the admirer of his very few finished public pieces. What to do with the sheets of manuscript that far outnumber the published output? Given Ruggles' belief in the power of the unfinished, is it not fair to follow the path that segued drafts of related motifs might take us?

Notes on individual works

Evocations: Four Chants for Piano
Like Ruggles' many oil paintings and charcoal drawings, each Evocation, or Chant, branches upward from the germ of a single gesture. The music develops organically, following a projection worthy of Emerson's poem "Nature." In Evocation #1 and many other works on tonight's program, the originating germ is the perfect 5th (do-sol)—as perfect, immobile, and unyielding as a perfect 5th can be.

Each of the four Evocations is dedicated to a person central to Ruggles' life and career. Following the visual art model, each is a kind of "portrait" of its dedicatee. #1 is for Harriet Miller, the art patron and sculptor, whose sponsorship was crucial to Ruggles throughout his career. #2 is to John Kirkpatrick, committed collaborator, pianist, and the type of editor Ruggles would turn to for finalizing works throughout his career. Here, Kirkpatrick's whimsical side is evident. During an extended canon, the two hands follow closely in imitation, evocative of intricate musical discussion. #3 is for Ruggles' wife, Charlotte. It is marked "plangently" (like bells), and is the most impassioned of the four. #4 is for Charles Ives. It is the most mystical of the set.

Varied Air and Variations Varied Air and Variations is a short yet far-reaching set of variations. The theme is a two-hand unison melody, three octaves apart (or to the organist, Ives--"Trisdiapason") to which Ives refers as "The old stone wall around the orchard - none of those stone eggs are the same size." (Yes, rocks and pebbles have their own beauty!) Ives was a fiercely independent composer at a time in this country when musical sponsorship tended toward the genteel, and being an avant-garde artist was regarded as tomfoolery. His bitingly satiric marginalia in the score of Varied Air makes light of this state of affairs. The programmatic description still acts as a successful foil: it is easy to be hoodwinked by Ives' rogue spirit and allow his polemical text to obscure a deeper musical expressivity. But taken in the right vein, Ives' verbal jabs offer insights into the piece's deeper craft. Surrounding each variation is a "protest," the moans of "box belles" when a "man comes on stage" or a "sissy's" reaction to the gritty music. The middle variations are marches, with the intervening "protests" taking on a more intriguing chorale-like character. The searchingly beautiful slow variation is marked: "16 nice measures . . . All right, Ladies, I'll play the rock line again and harmonize it nice and proper." That is slyly followed by "applause," a rollicking blast of C major chords which introduces a finale, where, Ives writes, "[the pianist] gets mad and starts to throw things. . . . he ought to be polite for he will not be engaged and paid at the nice afternoon TEA concert!"

Despite the apparent discord between the "protests" and the variations, the atonal pitches of the theme actually revolve around the key centers of the chordal respites. The two musics are joined in the first variation ("Follow the stone wall around the mountain/Things and sounds in the distance"). Thus, behind the bluster, Ives' music seeks common ground. Underneath Ives' mocking stance of the C-major "applause" and the ensuing ruckus (erupting after the solemn core of his work) is triumph: celebration of the piece's successful expressivity, allowing for a coda of unabashed creative emancipation.

Study #6
Study #6 is an exploration of multi-layered sonic worlds. It is a veiled setting of the hymn Bethany ("Nearer my God to Thee"—Sarah Flower Adams/Lowell Mason, 1859) and shares the hazy atmosphere of Ives' orchestral masterpiece The Housatonic at Stockbridge. The floating hymn excerpts take as its departure the melodic fragment for the words, "Still all my song would be/Nearer my God, to thee." The melodic kernels circulate above and below the swirling accompaniment. Ives creates a reverent atmosphere without arrival, a suspended gaze, a stillness.

Waltz-Rondo Waltz-Rondo sets out, after a brief introduction, with a refrain in the style of a waltz that is equally funny and mesmerizing. The main tune alternates between two keys in a kaleidoscopic way, so one's point of reference is constantly shifting. A rondo, the refrain alternates with seven episodes. Ives develops the episodes with increasing activity, introducing musical quotes from popular and patriotic songs. The final coda is a digest of all that has occurred up to that point, with Ives challenging the listener to keep up with the ever-complex hilarity, which, he reminds us from time to time and at the close, is based on the most common of chord changes.

Allegretto
The impetus for the more simple Allegretto may well have been an assignment by Ives' Yale composition teacher Horatio Parker to write in the style of Bach (Kirkpatrick supplied the title Invention in D). Amid snippets that evoke imitation counterpoint and Bach 3-part inventions are touches of barbershop quartet harmonies and home-spun melody that bring the baroque example down to earth as Ives knew it.

Affirmations
Of the Kirkpatrick realizations, Affirmations is most likely the projected fifth Evocation. Beginning with a chain of 5ths, (marked in the sketch "To John, May '45"), the piece proceeds in an arching, angular, and uncompromising manner. Throughout are strong octaves in both hands. Being a conjecture, the work takes on a more rhapsodic nature than the epigrammatic Evocations, a work Ruggles obsessively revised throughout his career. For the center of the work, Kirkpatrick used sketches that predate the material for the outer sections, making for a middle section that is a detour, a "window" on a more serene setting. A later sketch used contained a quote: "I'm a lone eagle, A Talisman, Proclaiming the Shapes of Destiny." On the manuscript for the work's intended ending, Ruggles simply wrote, "sublime."

Study #23
Study #23 is a romp through tunes popular in Ives' day: Hello, My Baby; Beautiful Dreamer; Roll out the Barrel. It also contains music adopted in the orchestral works Emerson Overture, Take-off No. 3, and Scherzo: Over the Pavements. Those works set out to portray the bustling streets and counter-rhythms of Ives' business days in lower Manhattan: the cosmopolitan Ives. In addition to the great fun of the work's rhythmic counterpoint, fist-smashes and tempo markings such as "Prestoto con blasta," are passages of depth and stretching expressivity.

The critical edition was edited and performance molded in part from Ives' recorded improvisations of the piece. In the 1930s and 40s Ives made three trips to the recording studio to save for posterity this and other unfinished pieces, as well as a few published ones. He remarked at the time, "I've got to make them understand! . . . After the record is made, Mr. Henry Cowell or Mr. Nicholas Slonimsky, or some other acoustical genius, could write it down for me—and probably better than I can" (from Ives' Memos, ed. J. Kirkpatrick, and Vivian Taylor's Ives Remembered).

March
March was dedicated to Ruggles' son Micah, who was a military police sergeant during World War II. The beginning and ending of the work were delineated by Ruggles, and he made some of these sketches with Kirkpatrick in mind. The middle of the piece is taken from a trumpet motif that existed as a separate sketch—perhaps for the abandoned opera The Sunken Bell. This fanfare motif, and ensuing paraphrase from Ruggles' visionary work Portals, give this work the most programmatic suggestiveness of the Kirkpatrick realizations. A Ruggles sketch for that work included Walt Whitman's two-lined poem:


What are those of the known but to ascend and enter the Unknown?
And what are those of life but for Death?

Organum
Organum was Ruggles' last published work in 1944. Originally called "Invention for Orchestra," he settled on the title Organum after a suggestion by Edgard Varèse, who helped see to its publication. Varèse's insight speaks to the elemental in Ruggles' unvarnished style. Organum is polyphony used in liturgical music from the late 9th century to c. 1250, the first contrapuntal style emerging from Gregorian chant. It is "syllabic," meaning there is only one note per syllable. Much of this canonic piece intuitively evokes the "Parallel Organum" style—strict homophony with parallel 4th, 5ths, and octaves (the type of part writing that became taboo to classical and Romantic composers). Ruggles, with the help of Kirkpatrick, transcribed the orchestral work for piano solo for publication in the New Music journal. Later Ruggles was moved to create this two-piano version. The transcriptions for piano enabled Kirkpatrick to present recitals in conjunction with exhibits of Ruggles' art works. Ruggles was happy to quote Virgil Thomson's review of the piece, saying "He seemed almost convinced that the Organum was real music, "noble, passionate, climatic, declamatory, violent in expression," etc., etc., etc."

Parvum Organum
When Ruggles wrote to Kirkpatrick about hoping to finish up some new piano works "which need polishing," Parvum Organum may have been one of them. Ruggles first sent Kirkpatrick the last eleven bars of "little organum." Also rooted in a melodic layering of perfect 5th intervals, various overlapping sketches in the same sketchbooks established the opening section and much of the middle section. A passage in parallel 4ths and 5ths voices the organum idea, and a sketch for a three-part orchestral work fit seamlessly before the ending. The piece is less consistently canonic than Organum, more rhapsodic and lyrical.

Studies Nos. 1, 2, 11, Storm and Distress
Each of these works is a singular setting of episodes expanded from the Concord Sonata. Ives' exploration of ideas in that work originated with the Emerson Concerto (recently edited by David Porter and premiered by pianist Alan Feinberg), and later pursued in the Emerson Transcriptions, two published versions of the Concord Sonata, and the Studies. Each setting allowed Ives to keep from permanently excising material. Instead, alternate versions could be heard in large and small-scale settings. The Studies particularly gave Ives a vehicle for trying out his own piano mastery and improvisations.

There were two major impetuses for the music: the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the speeches of Wendell Phillips, the Massachusetts Abolitionist. About Emerson, Ives wrote (in Essays Before a Sonata) that he is "America's deepest explorer of the spiritual immensities, a seer painting his discoveries in masses and with any color that may lay at hand—cosmic, religious, human, even sensuous . . . ," a pretty good description of Ives' own music! David Porter speculates that Study #11, an extension of the Emerson Transcription #4, is the latest of the pieces, and that Ives was fashioning it in the 30s around the time he recorded it, still occupied with the Emerson idea.
Study #2 and Storm and Distress are expansions of Study #9, The Anti-Abolitionist Riots. Ives' grandfather, George W. Ives, chartered territorial rights to a railroad line later affected by the anti-abolitionist riots that spread through the Union in the mid-18oos. Ives loved the example of an orator inspired, on the spot, to change the minds of pro-slavery sympathizers. Phillips' spontaneous speech at Boston's Faneuil Hall attacked "the tyranny of this many-headed monster, the mob . . . [which] deprives not only the individual and the minority of their rights, but the majority also. . . ."

Studies Nos. 4, 5
For those who might still deride Ives as a dabbler in musical quotes, these pieces are for you! They are the most rigorous workings of tone rows and contrapuntal devises in Ives' canon. They are abstract and unforgiving in their demands. The most experimental of the smaller piano works, Ives gives the chance, as he writes in the margins, "to Strengthen & give more muscle to the ear, brain, hearts, limbs & Feat . . . atta boy . . . knock 'em out—put 'em over the ropes!"

Study #4 is a final page fragment (it seems the first two of three pages are missing) and serves as a brief introduction to Study #5, which follows on the same manuscript leaf. (Ives numbered and re-numbered the Studies over the years, probably aiming for the Chopin 24). #4 shares some of the rhythmic identity and gathering strength of Rough and Ready, the Take-off on the Mark Twain story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. #5 is in 4-part counterpoint throughout, with atonal rows perpetually voiced in canon, inversion, retrograde inversion—you name it. The effect of striving and the triumph that comes from that effort is noteworthy.

Valse Lente
Valse Lente grew from two phrases that Ruggles sketched on the score of another piece. There were enough other sketches for similar music that Kirkpatrick remarked, "shaping it up was more rejection than discovery." Ruggles was especially reticent about sharing this work (in the face of repeated pleas) prompting Kirkpatrick to speculate that the music "tended toward relaxing his self-imposed taboos more than his personality was ready to allow." In other words, this piece is pretty. It is more gentle and tender than what Ruggles revealed in his published works. All the sketches for the piece are in 3/4 time and relate to the slow waltz idea.

Song without (good) words
Song without (good) words is the third piece in the Set of Five Take-Offs, Kirkpatrick's titled compilation of five studies included in the collection of piano works that Ives bound and gave to him in 1938. Ives used the word "take-off" to describe works of an "academic, athletic, anthropolitic, economic, tragic" nature [Memos]. Song without (good) words is Ives' poke at the Mendelssohn Lieder ohne wörte (Songs without words). The setting is humorous yet hauntingly beautiful, with an unresolved final chord.

Mood
Mood was the title Ruggles supplied on a sketch bearing the superscription: "Our world is young/Young, and of measure passing bound/Infinite are the heights to climb/The depths to sound." Ruggles' life in music started as a violinist and then conductor of the Winona (Minnesota) Symphony Orchestra from 1907-12. Formative sketches for this piece were undated, but suggest that they were made around the same time as work on the abandoned opera, The Sunken Bell (1918-23). Kirkpatrick was intrigued by this early work in the medium of Ruggles' own instrument. Unlike the piano realizations, which are extensions of Ruggles sketches in letters to Kirkpatrick and other initial ideas for finished works that he shared, Kirkpatrick edited the pre-dated sketches solely on his own. As always, he faithfully transcribed the Ruggles sketches into clear copy. He then searched for the piece's "inner urgency." His balancing of the sketches into "four paragraphs" makes the final edited form of Mood Kirkpatrick's most speculative of the realizations. But its derivation from sketches for a violin and piano piece (also called "Prelude to a Tragedy" in one case) and music from the opera, makes for a uniquely individual setting and the only examples we have of those works.

Violin Sonata #2
A program note pasted onto a photostat of Violin Sonata #2 by the copyist Emil Hanke, presumably by Ives, reads:

"This Sonata is in part a general impression, a kind of reflection and remembrance, of the peoples' outdoor gatherings in which men got up and said what they thought, regardless of consequences—of holiday celebrations and camp meetings in the [18]80s and '90s—suggesting some of the songs, tunes and hymns, together with some of the sounds of nature joining in from the mountains in some of the old Connecticut farm towns. The First movement may, in a way, suggest something that nature and human nature would sing out to each other—sometimes. The second movement, a mood when The Old Oaken Bucket and Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys are Marching would come over the hills, trying to relieve the sadness of the old Civil War days. And the third movement, the hymns and actions at the farmers' camp meeting inciting them to 'work for the night is coming.'"

—Donald Berman