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Finale from Symphony No 2

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Charles Ives

Charles Ives (trans. Jonathan Elkus)

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General Info

Year: 1907/ 1974
Duration: c. 10:00
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Southern Music
Cost: Score and Parts - Out of print.


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None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

The synthesis of European symphonic technique and living American music is the chief premise of Ives’s Symphony No. 2. In form and general sonority, the work takes its cue from Brahms, Dvorák, and Tchaikovsky, whose symphonies were performed often enough in the U.S. at the end of the 19th century, and which Ives studied at Yale. Ives even bows to the pre-eminent symphonist of the time, quoting a snippet of Brahms’s Symphony No. 3 at several points in the work.

But whereas the formal design and much of the harmonic language of this symphony bespeaks a European provenance, its content stems largely from the music Ives grew up with. Much of the work’s melodic material derives from songs, hymns, anthems, and dance tunes well known in this country when Ives was coming of age, and the composer does not hesitate to place these references cheek by jowl with more conventionally symphonic sounding ideas. Ives develops those melodies that serve as his main themes in a highly inventive manner, as a good symphonist traditionally would do. More notably, the contrapuntal “piling up” of quotations from popular sources produces the symphony’s most audacious harmonic moments, particularly in the finale.

As did so many of Ives’s major compositions, the Symphony No. 2 languished unheard for many years before receiving a performance. It was not until 1951 that the piece finally had its premiere, when the New York Philharmonic Orchestra played it under the young Leonard Bernstein. Ives, then in fragile health and having long ago turned his back on the musical establishment represented by major orchestras, declined the conductor’s invitation to attend the performance. But he listened to a radio rebroadcast of the concert two weeks later at the home of friends in Connecticut. “After it was over," one of his hosts recalled, “I’m sure he was very much moved. He stood up, walked over to the fireplace, and spat! And then he walked out into the kitchen. Not a word. And he never said anything about it. I think he was pleased, but he was silent.”

- Program Note by Paul Schiavo

The finale of the Second Symphony is a reworking of the lost overture, The American Woods, a piece played by Charles Ives's father in 1889 and also by the Danbury (Connecticut) Band. Regarding this work, Ives wrote the following in his Memos:

Some of the themes of this symphony suggest gospel hymns and Stephen Foster. Some nice people, whenever they hear the words "Gospel Hymns" or "Stephen Foster" say "Mercy Me!" and a little high-brow smile creeps over their brow -- "Can't you get something better than that in a symphony?" The same nice people, when they go to a properly dressed symphony concert under proper auspices, led by a name with foreign hair, and hear Dvorak's New World Symphony, in which they are told this famous passage was from a Negro spiritual, then think that it must be quite proper, even artistic, and say, "How delightful!"

Besides evoking the spirit of Foster in its French horn theme "while over it the old farmers fiddled a barn dance with all of its jigs, gallops, and reels," the movement works up to a rousing climax in Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean. In the 1940s, Ives changed the last three measures of the movement from conventional harmonies to the wildly dissonant flourish, either as joke or as a remembrance of the way the old fiddlers used to end the barn dance with a crunching chord.

- Program Note from Program Notes for Band

Commercial Discography

State Ratings

  • Minnesota - Category I


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Works for Winds by this Composer


  • Ives, C.; Elkus, J. [1974]. Finale from Symphony No. 2 [score]. Southern Music: San Antonio, Tex.
  • Smith, Norman E. (2002). Program Notes for Band. Chicago: GIA Publications, pp. 320.