Charles Ives's Concord

Charles Ives's Concord: Essays after a Sonata
By Kyle Gann


Page 29: The composer's name was Charles-Valentin Alkan, not Charles-Marie. I had included only last names in the text; the editor added first names, got this one wrong, and I didn't catch it.

Page 81: The system numbers on the last three motives of ex. 5.8 list them as being on page 3, when they're actually on page 4; the corrected example is below:

Page 186: The caption of ex. 8.46 should refer to "Ragtime 2," not "Ragtime Dance 2"; I started confusing Ives's Ragtime Dances with the two Ragtime sections of Hawthorne.


"This is an interesting and important book. Gann (Bard College) weaves together documentary research and perceptive theoretical analysis to offer unique and densely textured insights into the creation, performance, and critical reception of the Piano Sonata No. 2, known as the Concord Sonata, of American composer Charles Ives. One refreshing aspect of this book is that Gann takes seriously Ives's book Essays before a Sonata (1920), written to accompany the Concord, and demonstrates how the composer's ideas about the subject matter of the sonata - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, the Alcotts, and Henry David Thoreau - informed and shaped the composition of the sonata over its various manifestations... Highly recommended."

- W.E. Grim, Strayer University, in Choice, December 2017

"Now Kyle Gann, America's best public musicologist, has produced this deep and deeply researched study on Ives's most important work, the Piano Sonata No. 2, Concord, Mass. 1840-1860....
"Context is everything here, and it is invaluable. There is detailed and illuminating technical analysis (that demands at least a basic understanding of tonal harmony to grasp) that breaks out the key themes that the music searches out, dashes past and lingers on in what musicologist Peter Burkholder calls 'cumulative form.' With the barest acknowledgement of it, Gann demolishes the still undead idea that Ives was a primitive, craftless musician, or even a fraud.... "[T]his is what makes the book not only an important addition to the thinking about Ives, but a moving companion to the artist and to the Concord... Gann's book makes this ever more vivid and piquant."

- George Grella, The Wire magazine

"Gann eschews the more far-flung outposts of musicological discourse. He writes clearly and persuasively, whether discussing the philosophy of the Transcendentalist writers with whom Ives is concerned or leading us through a virtually note-by-note analysis of the musical text. And he is not afraid to assert strong personal opinions when they seem relevant; but they are voice with deference and good humour.
"Gann proceeds from the assumption, now surely agreed by all, that the Concord Sonata is a truly great work which repays multiple listenings and exploration in a variety of ways by any pianist brave enough to tackle its difficulties. Indeed, some of the most valuable parts of the book deal with the inconsistencies between the two editions of the work when seen in light of Ives's approach to playing the music, which recognize that any given passage can change according to the mood of the performer, 'like John Coltrane playing "My Favorite Things" for the 145th time and still hearing new things he could do with it - but staying within the spirit of the music [p. 370].'
"The analysis itself is meticulous and yet easy to follow. Musical examples are generous and clearly printed... Gann convincingly shows how the music was enriched by this gradual accumulation of changes and second thoughts, and demonstrates the continuity of ideas that brings the movements together....
"This is a book which no Ives scholar or enthusiast can be without. It is quite indispensable, a glowing and lasting monument to the forty years Gann has spent loving and working on his subject."

- Christopher Hobbs, Journal of Experimental Studies, Aug. 5, 2017

"Gann thus positions himself as a multifunctional advocate and interlocutor, offering note-by-note interpretations of Ives's complex score; grappling with the work's philosophical premisses as explicated in Ives's Essays Before a Sonata (1920), an extended literary exegesis of the Concord Sonata; and positioning himself in an active dialogue with his subject. Gann parses the extraordinary - even obsessive - detail in Ives's manuscripts and prose, and he sets up an intertextual conversation in overlapping dimensions. That is, he explores the Concord in relation to other works by Ives and those by a wide range of composers; he also puts Ives's score in conversation with the writings of the nineteenth-century New England authors commemorated in it. Gann builds on a long career as a music critic and chronicler of the so-called Downtown new music scene in New York City. For Gann, like Ives, there is a contentious relationship between composers who exhibit American individuality (Downtowners) and those who write "complicated music in European genres" (Uptowners). In addition to a long tenure as the new-music critic for the Village Voice, Gann has previously published books about other Downtown luminaries, including Robert Ashley, John Cage and Conlon Nancarrow.
"In Charles Ives's Concord: Essays after a Sonata, Gann's analysis takes the form of a kind of biblical exegesis, where canonical texts are pored over by ever-new generations. He achieves a balance between writing for Ives specialists and delivering a text that is compulsively readable, hence accessible to fans of American music and culture."

- Carol Oja, Times Literary Supplement, Dec. 8, 2017

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