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Vera Di WESCHARLE (Charles Edward IVES) (1874-1954)
Songs and Ballads

When we two were young, love [03:41], The heartless moon [02:50], The silent tryst [04:01], My lost huckleberry pie [02:30], An old flame [03:00], Let us sigh once more, my dear [04:22], One evening at the Angelus [03:51], Let Angels guard thee [02:58], The Old Gray Churchyard [05:06], Never, sometimes, sometimes, never [02:05], One day in Paradise [03:28], A song of the autumn plow [02:54], ’Twas in the twilight drear [05:02], I heard, methought, thy footfall as of yore [03:43]
Alexandra Roberts (mezzo-soprano), Ann Street (piano)
Recorded December 2005 at the Kentucky Community Center for the Arts, USA.
VERA 031-2 [49:31]

 

In 1906 Mark Twain wrote:

"Tomorrow I mean to dictate a chapter which will get my heirs & assigns burned alive if they venture to print it this side of A.D. 2006 – which I judge they won’t. The edition of A.D. 2006 will make a stir when it comes out. I shall be hovering around taking notice, along with other dead. pals."

As I write, the year A.D. 2006 is barely a quarter of the way through; any shock waves have yet to break. My source is an article published in 1947 by George Lanning, itself a report of research by H.M. and D.C. Partridge, and reprinted in "Aspects of Alice" (1971, UK edition by Victor Gollancz 1972, Penguin Edition 1974). The "stir", according to this article, was that "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and its sequel were really the work of Mark Twain.

Well, so far Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s paternity of "Lewis Carroll" seems assured. On a slightly less momentous scale it has now been revealed that the long-forgotten Vera Di Wescharle, a composer who published at least a hundred sentimental ballads between 1890 and 1910, achieving a discreet success in fashionable American drawing-rooms of the day, was none other than Charles Edward Ives (of whose name Vera Di Wescharle is in fact an anagram). An elder cousin of mine who settled in America during the Second World War recalls that ballads by "Vera Di Wescharle" could still easily be found in piano stools in those days though she hasn’t seen one around, still less heard one, for many a long year.

More fascinating still, the words of many of these ballads are by – or so the printed scores say – Mrs. Felicia Hemans (1793-1835), a name once lionised by in the best Victorian salons on both sides of the Atlantic but synonymous with tawdry pseudo-literary balladry even in Ives’s day. It now appears that Charles Ives and his wife, Harmony Twitchell, actually wrote many of these themselves, evidently feeling that the long-dead lady could be no more offended than was the even-longer-dead Gaetano Pugnani at Kreisler’s attribution to him of some of his own pseudo-Baroque compositions. The interesting thing is that, while the musical settings by "Vera Di Wescharle" passed into oblivion fairly swiftly, some of these poems were uncritically accepted into the Hemans canon and have remained there ever since, including, it would appear, "Prince Madoc’s Farewell", set by our own Charles Villiers Stanford in 1893 to music so uncharacteristically tasteless that it would indeed be a relief to discover that it was a prank by Ives – no such luck, alas.

Another curious matter, and while research into this is still in its infancy I prefer not to mention any names, is that it would appear that the Ives/Twitchell team also wrote pious texts for the Salvation Army and (just possibly) for the Christian Science Church of Mary Baker Eddy, raising the possibility that some much-loved tunes still going strong in the hymnals of these churches may actually be spoofs by Ives.

Well, now the secret is out, and the interesting thing is that at least one clue had been lying around all these years without anyone ever picking it up: "An Old Flame", a setting of Ives’s own words included in his 1922 publication of 114 songs (and included in the 2-disc Etcetera anthology which I have just reviewed, sung by Roberta Alexander), is identical – down to the title – to a "Vera Di Wescharle" ballad, to a purported text by Hemans, published in 1903. And no one ever noticed!

Ives himself stated that he had included a clutch of sentimental ballads in his 1922 album "principally because they are good illustrations of a type of song the fewer of which are composed, published or sung, the better it is for the progress of music generally". So does the discovery of a whole lot more similar stuff enlarge our knowledge of the man sometimes claimed as America’s greatest composer?

No, I’d say; for the purpose of "knowing" Ives, what we have already is more than enough. It is for the purpose of knowing ourselves that the exercise has some point. Ives always does challenge our perceptions and here we have to reflect that the same song (as is literally proved by "An Old Flame") can appear to us maudlin rubbish when we believe it is by "Vera Di Wescharle", and a profound comment on sentimental balladry, bearing within itself the seeds of the destruction of the genre, when we "know" it is by Charles Ives. True to form, Roberta Alexander sings it simply, with an awareness of what it is and what it is not, while Alexandra Roberts gives it the full drawing-room treatment, tearing passion to tatters (and adding almost a minute to the timing).

As a contribution to the history of song, this disc is pretty well negligible. As a discussion point it is up there with everything else Ives wrote. The performance and recordings are more than acceptable and the booklet essay goes fully into our present state of knowledge about Ives and his pseudonyms. Texts are not given, alas – and it will be yet a-while before you can pull these down from the Internet.

Christopher Howell



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