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The Second Symphony was written by Charles Ives between 1897 and 1901. It consists of five movements and lasts approximately 40 minutes.

The piece is scored for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 clarinets, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horn, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, bass drum and strings.

In a testament to Ives' disciplined powers of invention, the piece departs from the conventional four-movement symphonic structure, which has been modified by the insertion of the Lento maestoso as an introduction to the Allegro molto vivace.

Although the work was composed during Ives' twenties, it had to wait half a century to be premiered, in a 1951 New York Philharmonic concert conducted by Leonard Bernstein. The symphony premiered to rapturous applause but Ives responded with ambivalence. Indeed, he did not even attend the concert in person but had to be dragged by family and friends to a neighbor's house to listen to the live radio broadcast. The public performance had been postponed for so long because Ives had been alienated from the American classical establishment. Ever since his training with Horatio Parker at Yalemarker, Ives had suffered their disapproval of the mischievous unorthodoxy with which he radically pushed the boundaries of European classical structures to create soundscapes that recalled the vernacular music-making of his New Englandmarker upbringing.

Like Ives' other compositions which honor the European and American inheritances, the Second Symphony never makes verbatim quotation of popular American tunes such as "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean", "Camptown Races", "Long, Long Ago", and "America the Beautiful", but reshapes and develops them into broad themes. The work is an interesting precedent to another significant piece of the 20th century, Luciano Berio's Sinfonia which was composed about 65 years later. Comparing Ives' 5th movement with Berio's 3rd movement one can compare the similarities in the quotation techniques, thus a testament to Ives' pointing to the direction that 20th century music would eventually take.

Bernstein's premiere and subsequent interpretations were later widely criticized for taking extravagant liberties with the score. Although the 1951 score itself contained about a thousand errors, Bernstein reportedly also made a substantial cut to the finale, ignored Ives' tempo indications, and prolonged the terminating "Bronx cheer" discord. Many conductors and audiences, influenced by Bernstein's example, have enthusiastically considered the last of these practices one of the trademarks of the piece. In 2000, the Charles Ives Society prepared an official critical edition of the score and authorized a recording by Kenneth Schermerhorn and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra to adhere more closely to Ives' intentions.

Although the world premiere performance was later issued on CD, the first studio recording was made by F. Charles Adler with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in February 1953. Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic recorded the work in stereo and mono versions for Columbia Records on October 6, 1958.

Notes

  1. http://www.leonardbernstein.com/disc_other.php?composer_keyword=Ives&submit=Go&disc_other.php=&page=2


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