Songs of Charles Ives / Ernst Bacon
Charles Ives (1874-1954)
Ernst Bacon (1889-1990)
Songs From Emily Dicinson
- Love and Sentiment -
- Loss -
- Nature -
- Time and Space -
Helen Boatwright, soprano
John Kirkpatrick, piano (Ives songs)
Ernst Bacon, piano (Bacon songs)
Charles Ives (1874-1954) is now widely known for all aspects of his work, though during his lifetime most of his music was unperformed. In 1922, Ives had a collection, 114 Songs, privately printed and circulated it to a list of musicians culled from the Musical Courier. For the end of the volume, Ives wrote a “Postface” which expresses what he felt about the solo song. He allows songs to speak for itself:
A song has a few rights, the same as other ordinary citizens. If it feels like walking along the left-hand side of the street, passing the door of physiology or sit on the curb, why not let it?…Should it not have a chance to sing to itself, if it can sing? - to enjoy itself without making a bow, if it can't make a bow? - to swim around in any ocean, if it can swim, without having to swallow “hook and bait,” or being sunk by an operatic greyhound? If it happens to feel like trying to fly where humans cannot fly, to sing what cannot be sung, to walk in a cave on all fours, or to tighten up its girth in blind hope and faith and try to scale mountains that are not, who shall stop it? - in short, must a song always be a song!
Ernst Bacon (1898-1990), whom Virgil Thomson called “one of America's best composers,” was of that pioneering generation that found a voice for American music. Born in Chicago on May 26, 1898. Bacon's music reflects the dual heritage of his Austrian mother, who gave him a love of song and an early start on the piano, and his American father.
Although his varied career included appearances as a pianist and conductor along with teaching and directing positions at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Converse college (in Spartanburg, South Carolina), and Syracuse University, his deepest preoccupation was always composing. His musical awards included a Pulitzer Fellowship in 1932 for his Symphony in D Minor and three Guggenheim Fellowships.
Self-taught in composition, except for two years of study with Karl Weigl in Vienna, Bacon experienced first hand the depression of post-war Europe and concluded that the avant-garde movement, reflecting the pessimism of that era and locale, was not appropriate to America. Rejecting a cerebral approach and inspired by the history, literature, and indigenous music of our own country, as well as the landscape itself, which he hiked, climbed, and also painted, he captured the vitality and spirit of American in every genre of his output.
As with Schubert, whose music was especially dear to Bacon, a large body of more than 250 art songs is the heart of an oeuvre that also includes numerous chamber, orchestral, and choral works, as well as descriptive pieces for piano. According to Marshall Bialosky, Ernst Bacon was “one of the first composers to discover Emily Dickinson…and set a great number of her poems into some of the finest art song music, if not actually the very finest, of any American composer in our history.”
Bacon's 67 Dickinson settings, which he sometimes referred to as “water colors,” match the poems in poignance and economy. He was also deeply drawn by the amplitude and vision of Walt Whitman's lines, of which he made about 20 settings. Other poets with whom he felt an affinity included Sandburg (who was as personal friend), Blake, Bronte, Teasdale, and Houseman. Bacon continued to compose music right up to his death at age 91. An Ernst Bacon Society is now promoting his music much more actively than he ever did himself, endeavoring to bring to light the music of this “dark Horse” of the twentieth century.
- Ellen Bacon
Helen Boatwright (née Strassburger) was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin in 1916. She earned her masters degree from Oberlin with a thesis on the soprano arias from the church cantatas of J.S. Bach. As a regional winner in the competition of the National Federation of Music Clubs in 1941, Helen Strassburger went to the finals in Los Angeles where she met another contestant, violinist Howard Boatwright, whom she married in 1943. Howard's coming to Yale in 1945 to study composition with Paul Hindemith brought Helen to the East Coast. After performing as a solist in several of Hindemith's Collegium Musicum concerts, she became very much in demand in New York and Boston as a singer of Baroque music and oratorio. Her recordings from that time of solo cantatas by Buxtehude, Rosenmueller and Handel are still treasured by collectors. After 1960 under New York management, she became an orchestral soloist, singing with major orchestras under Stokowski, Leinsdorf, Ozawa, Ehling, Ormandy, Mehta and others.
Helen's involvement with contemporary American song began with her association at Oberlin with the composer Norman Lockwood who first introduced her to the songs of Charles Ives and other contemporaries. On an opera scholarship to Tanglewood in 1942 through Boris Goldovsky (where she sang opposite Mario Lanza in The Merry Wives of Windsor), Helen also took an active part in the young composer's concerts under the direction of Aaron Copland, giving a number of first performances. She gave the premiere of Elliott Carter's Warble for Lilac Time at Yaddo in 1946, and in 1948 gave the first New York performance of his Voyage. Other important contemporary works in Helen Boatwright's career include Hindemith's Das Marienleben, which she performed with Paul Ulanowsky in Town Hall in 1966, and Schoenberg's Erwartung, of which she gave the Chicago Symphony premiere in 1968.
Helen Boatwright has taught at Connecticut College, the Eastman School of Music, the Peabody institute, Syracuse University and most recent, Cornell University.
John Kirkpatrick was born in 1905 in New York City. After briefly attending Princeton University, he went to France to study composition with Nadia Boulanger, 1925-28, and piano with Louta Nouneberg, 1928-31.
In 1927, while still a student in Paris, Kirkpatrick saw a friend's copy of Ives' Concord Sonata and his fascination with Ives had begun. His first letter to Ives was in October, 1927 requesting a copy of the Sonata, which he received promptly. By 1932, when Kirkpatrick returned to America, he was playing the Alcott movement and considering playing the whole work. In 1932, he sent Ives a detailed questionnaire about the piece to which Ives gave answers through his wife and daughter. The two finally met in person for the first time in 1967. Two years later came the epoch-making performance of the Concord Sonata in New York, January 20, 1939, that marked the beginning of Ives' acceptance as a major composer. Critic Lawrence Gilman, who praised the composition, called Kirkpatrick “an unobtrusive minister of genius.”
After his intensive involvement with the Concord Sonata (the first of his two recordings of the work was released in 1945), Kirkpatrick focused more and more of his attention on the music and writings of Ives as a whole, most of which still remained unknown. This involved making clear copies and editions of numerous works previously existing in frequently unclear and disorganized manuscripts. This work culminated in a detailed analytic catalog of the Ives manuscripts at the library of the Yale School of Music (privately printed in 1960), and in a source book of Ives writings other than the large essays entitled Charles E. Ives: Memos (Norton, 1972).
John Kirkpatrick and Helen Boatwright first met at the Yaddo Festival in 1946, where they performed Louise Talma's song cycle, Terre de France. In 1953, Kirkpatrick was asked to give an all-Ives program at Jonathan Edwards College, Yale University, which was to be the first all-Ives program. It featured the Concord Sonata, the Second Sonata for Violin and Piano (played by me), and a large group of songs sung by Helen, several of them with violin obbligati arranged by John.
From this concert came the idea of a long playing record containing twenty-four Ives songs. This recording was made by Richard C. Burns of Overtone Records in the summer of 1954 (the year of Ives' death) at St. Thomas's Church, New Haven, on a specially constructed wooden platform over the chancel steps. There was a symbolic significance in the use of St. Thomas's Church, for Ives was the organist there from 1892 to 1894. The organ on which he played is still in the church, though it has been rebuilt and the church is no longer in the old location.
John Kirkpatrick's principal academic affiliations were with Cornell University (1946-1968), and Yale University (1968-1973). He was Curator of the Ives Collection at Yale from its establishment in 1955, and Chairman of the Board of the Charles Ives Society from its incorporation in 1967 until his death in November, 1991.
Charles Ives: 24 Songs recorded August 1954 in St. Thomas's Episcopal Church, New Haven, CT by Richard C. Burns. Originally released on Overtone 7, 1955. Al rights reserved by Overtone Records.
Ernst Bacon: Songs from Emily Dickinson recorded Spring, 1964 at Boston University, Boston, MA by Charles Fisher. Originally released on Cambridge 1707, 1966.
Abide with Me, Disclosure. Berceuse, Autumn, Tarrant Moss, He Is There and Flanders Fields published by Peer International Corporation, New York. (BMI).
Walking, Where The Eagle, Evening, The See'r, Maple Leaves, (BMI) O Friend, Is There Such A Thing As Day? And The Grass So Little Has to Do (ASCAP) published by Associated Music Inc.) (G. Schirmer).
The White Gulls, Two Little Flowers, The Greatest Man, The Children's Hour, Ann Street, General Booth Enters Into Heaven, Swimmers, Harpalus, At the River, “1, 2, 3” and Tom Sails Away published by Merion Music, Inc. (Theodore Presser), Bryn Mawr, PA (BMI)
It's All I Have To Bring, To Make a Prairie and So Bashful published by G. Schirmer, New York (ASCAP).
Eden, I'm Nobody, As I Love Thee?, A Word, Weeping and Sighing She Went, A Threadless Way, The Imperial Heart, Summer's Lapse, A Spider, The Snake, Alabaster Wool, Eternity, Sunset, The Simple Days and On Wondrous Sea available from Classical Vocal Reprints, P.O. Box 20263, New York, NY 10023. (ASCAP).