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Ives' First Orchestral Set, Three Places in New England, consists of the following three movements:

  • i. The "Saint Gaudens" in Boston Common (Col. Shaw and His Colored Regiment)
  • ii. Putnam's Camp, Redding, Connecticut
  • iii. The Housatonic at Stockbridge

Ives also alternatively referred to this work as A New England Symphony.

Commentary

"Three Places in New England" is Ives' most popular multi-movement work. (Perhaps only the single-movement "Unanswered Question" surpasses it in popularity.) It's also the first Ives composition that I ever heard. In fact, my first glimpse of Ives was a recording by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra of "Putnam's Camp, Redding, Connecticut." The piece struck me like a bolt of lightning! It made me so happy that I laughed out loud. The next day, I was out looking for more.... I still love Three Places. It's quintessential Ives.

Nicolas Slonimsky, the conductor who premiered Three Places, was an early advocate of Ives. He explained his initial reaction to the work in his autobiography Perfect Pitch:

I told Ives about my chamber orchestra and asked him if he could give me one of his works. He suggested "Three Places in New England." As I looked over the score, I experienced a strange, but unmistakable, feeling that I was looking at a work of genius. I cannot tell you precisely why this music produced such an impression on me. The score possessed elements that seemed to be mutually incompatible and even incongruous; a freely flowing melody derived from American folk song, set in harmonies that were dense and highly dissonant, but soon resolving into clearances of serene, cerulean beauty in triadic formations that created a spiritual catharsis. In contrast, there were rhythmic patterns of extreme complexity. . . . The more I absorbed the idiom of the "Three Place in New England" the more I became possessed by its power (119).

i. The "Saint Gaudens" in Boston Common

The first movement was initially inspired by the Augustus Saint-Gaudens' bas-relief on Boston Common in Boston, Massachusetts. The sculpture depicts the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. (The 54th was the first African-American unit of soldiers who fought in the Civil War.)

For more information about the Shaw Monument, click here.

Ives included the following poem (which he composed himself) with the score:

Moving,-Marching-Faces of Souls!
Marked with generations of pain,
Part-freers of a Destiny,
Slowly, restlessly-swaying us on with you
Towards other Freedom . . .

You images of a Divine Law
Carved in the shadow of a saddened heart--
Never light abandoned--
Of an age and of a nation.

Above and beyond that compelling mass
Rises the drum beat of the common-heart
In the silence of a strange and
Sounding afterglow
Moving,-Marching-Faces of Souls!

There have been many other works of art that have been inspired by 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, including:

  • Robert Underwood Johnson's "Saint-Gaudens: An Ode"
  • John Berryman's "Boston Common"
  • Robert Lowell's "For the Union Dead"
  • The film Glory; directed by Edward Zwick; starring Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, and Denzel Washington. If you've never seen it, go get it! Washington won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance.

ii. Putnam's Camp

Ives wrote the following program notes to this movement:

Near Redding Center, Conn., is a small park preserved as a Revolutionary Memorial; for here General Israel Putnam's soldiers had their winter quarters in 1778-1779. Low rows of stone camp fireplaces still remain to stir a child's imagination. The hardships which the soldiers endured, and the agitation, of a few hot-heads, to break camp and march to the Hartford Assembly for relief, is part of Redding history.

Once upon a "4th of July," some time ago, so the story goes, a child went here on a picnic, held under the auspices of the first Church and the Village Cornet Band. Wandering away from the rest of the children past the camp ground into the woods, he hopes to catch a glimpse of some of the old soldiers. As he rests on the hillside of laurels and hickories the tunes of the band and the songs of the children grow fainter and fainter; --when-"mirabile dictu"--over the trees on the crest of the hill he sees a tall woman standing. She reminds him of a picture he has of the Goddess Liberty, --but the face is sorrowful--she is pleading with the soldiers not to forget their "cause" and the great sacrifices they have made for it. But they march out of camp with fife and drum to a popular tune of the day. Suddenly, a new national note is heard. Putnam is coming over the hills from the center,-the soldiers turn back and cheer. --The little boy awakes, he hears the children's songs and runs down past the monument to "listen to the band" and join in the games and dances.

iii. The Housatonic at Stockbridge

Ives included the following words on an early draft of this work:

Housatonic Church across River sound like Dorrnance*. River mists, leaves in slight breeze river bed--all notes and phrases in upper accompaniment . . . should interweave in uneven way, riverside colors, leaves & sounds--not come down on main beat . . .

*"Dorrnance" was one of Ives' favorite hymns.

Ives also included the following poem (excerpted from Robert Underwood Johnson) in the score:

"Contented river! In thy dreamy realm--
The cloudy willow and the plumy elm:"...
...Thou hast grown human laboring with men
At wheel and spindle; sorrow thou dost ken;...
Thou beautiful! From every dreamy hill
What eye but wanders with thee at thy will,
Imagining thy silver course unseen
Convoyed by two attendant streams of green...
Contented river! And yet over-shy
To mask thy beauty from the eager eye;
Hast thou a thought to hide from field and town?
In some deep current of the sunlit brown
Art thou disquieted--still uncontent
With praise from thy Homeric bard, who lent
The world the placidness thou gavest him?
Thee Bryant loved when life was at it's brim;...
...Ah! There's a sensitive ripple, and the swift
Red leaves--September's firstlings--faster adrift;..
...Wouldst thou away!...
...I also of much resting have a fear;
Let me thy companion be
By fall and shallow to the Adventureous sea!

Composition History

Apparently, Ives composed most of the Three Places during the years circa 1908-1914. Ives completed the final score for full orchestra in the years 1913-14. However, the final score was considerably simpler than his original sketches, most notably in "The Housatonic at Stockbridge." In 1929, Ives rearranged the work for chamber orchestra for Nicolas Slonimsky's premiere performance. Ives restored many of the complexities from the original sketches that were not included in the version for full orchestra of 1913-14.

i. The "Saint Gaudens" in Boston Common

Ives initially called this piece "Black March." He completed this score circa 1912.

ii. Putnam's Camp, Redding, Connecticut

Ives completed the score in 1912. The work is derived from two of Ives' earlier pieces from 1903: "Country Band March" and "1776."

iii. The Housatonic at Stockbridge

Ives began the work in 1908 immediately after returning from his honeymoon, where he had seen the Housatonic River with his new bride. In 1911, three years after the initial sketch, Ives sketched the whole movement. In 1912, Ives scored the movement (for full orchestra), considerably simplifying the texture.

Premiere Performance

On January 10, 1931, Slonimsky conducted the premiere performance of the work with his Chamber Orchestra of Boston in New York's Town Hall. Ives financed the concert himself. It was the first complete performance that any of his major orchestral works had ever received.

Premiere Recording

Walter Hendl and the American Recording Society Orchestra made the first recording of Three Places in New England. It was issued in 1953 by the by the American Recording Society (ARS-27).

Related Links

The BBC has developed an excellent audio program on Three Places. To listen, go to:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/classical/ram/cdm0133.ram

For additional information about Augustus Saint-Gaudens' monument to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, go to:
http://www.nga.gov/feature/shaw/home.htm

 

 

 


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Original text copyright Scott Mortensen 2002