Ives' "Set for Theatre Orchestra" (also known as the "Theatre Orchestra
Set") consists of the following movements:
- i. In the Cage
- ii. In the Inn
- iii. In the Night
Ives was particularly loquacious about the "Set for Theatre Orchestra"
in his Memos. I think he felt that it was stronger than any of his other
sets for small orchestra. (Or at least that's how I feel!) Unlike some
of the other sets, the "Set for Theatre Orchestra" doesn't seem cobbled
together. It comes across as an integral work. Here are some of Ives'
comments from his Memos about the "Set for Theatre Orchestra":
The first movement [In the Cage] is a result of taking a walk one
hot summer afternoon in Central Park with Bart Yung (one-half Oriental)
and George Lewis (non Oriental), when we were all living together at
65 Central Park West in 1906 ... Sitting on a bench near the menagerie,
watching the leopard's cage and a little boy (who had apparently been
a long time watching the leopard)--this aroused Bart's Oriental fatalism--hence
the text in the score and in the song.
A leopard went around his cage
from one side back to the other side;
he stopped only when the keeper came around with meat;
A boy who had been there three hours
began to wonder, "Is life anything like that?"
…A drum is supposed to represent the leopard's feet going pro and
con. Technically, the principal thing about this movement is to show
that a song does not have to be in any one key to make musical sense
The second movement [In the Inn] is one of several ragtime dances
which have been used in whole or in part in several things…Some of them
started as far back as George Felsberg's reign in "Poli's." George could
read a newspaper and play the piano better than some pianist could play
without any newspaper at all. When I was in college, I used to go down
there and "spell him" a little if he wanted to go out for five minutes
and get a glass of beer, or a dozen glasses… .
Behind the music [of the third movement, In the Night]
is a … picture-the heart of an old man, dying alone in the night, sad,
low in heart--then God comes to help him--bring him to his own loved
ones. This is the main line, the substance. All around, the rest of
the music is the silence and the sounds of the night-bells tolling in
the far distances…[58-59].
Compare Ives' comments with remarks that he made in a letter to New
…This whole movement [In the Night] is an attempt to reflect those
distant, almost silent sounds of nature on quiet summer night in a forest--and
perhaps some of the feelings & thoughts of a lonely old man who may
be "passing on"--while distant church bells are tolling.
Ives assembled the "Set for Theatre Orchestra" circa 1914, based on material
he had composed between 1899 and 1906.
- "In the Cage" is an orchestration of Ives' song of the same
- "In the Inn" is derived from Four Ragtime Dances, No. 1
and from the Piano Sonata No. 1, second movement.
- "In the Night" is partly derived from Ives' Prelude on "Eventide"
and from a lost sacred choral Hymn-Anthem on "Eventide."
In the first movement, Ives quotes:
- "After the Ball"
- "Bringing in the Sheaves"
- "Happy Day"
- "Reuben and Rachel"
- "Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay"
- "Welcome Voice"
- "With His Hands in His Pockets"
In the third movement, Ives quotes:
- "De Little Cabins All Am Empty Now"
- "Massa's in de Cold Ground"
The premiere performance of the complete work took place on February
16, 1932 in New York City. Adolph Weiss conducted the Pan American Chamber
Orchestra at the New School Auditorium.
The first recording of the complete work was released in 1953 on Oceanic
Records. The Vienna State Opera Orchestra performed the work with Jonathan
Nicolas Slonimsky recorded "In the Night" in May of 1934 with the Pan
American Chamber Orchestra. Slonimsky also recorded the "Barn Dance" section
of Washington's Birthday during the same session. These were the first
commercial recordings of Ives' compositions. They were released by New
Music Quarterly Recordings, an enterprise which Ives helped finance.