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Ives Quotes


Essays &





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Ives' First Symphony consists of the following four movements:

  • i. Allegro
  • ii. Adagio molto
  • iii. Scherzo: Vivace
  • iv. Allegro molto


Ives' First Symphony is a student work, heavily influenced by European precedents and composed while Ives was studying under Horatio Parker at Yale. Comparatively speaking, the Second Symphony, composed only a few years later, represents a great stride beyond the First. Regardless, Ives' first essay in the symphonic form is interesting. Perhaps it indicates the direction Ives music would have taken if he had chosen to become a "professional" composer.

Ives has little to say about the First in his Memos, other than the fact that he completed it during his college years, and that Horatio Parker insisted that he re-write the first movement. He does however relate an interesting anecdote:

The last three movements of this symphony I showed to [the New York conductor] Mr. Walter Damrosch . . . and he tried them over at a rehearsal. "Tried" is a good word. He started with the second movement (Adagio), an English horn tune over chords in the strings. (When he heard the pretty little theme and the nice chords) he called out "Charming!" When the second themes got going together, and the music got a little more involved (but not very involved), he acted somewhat put out, got mad, and said it coul[dn't] be played without a great deal of rehearsal [51].

By the time Ives was collecting information for his Memos, he clearly felt somewhat ambivalent about this early, Parker-influenced work.

Composition History

Ives composed the First circa 1898 to 1902. The copyist full score may have been made as late as 1908-10. A rejected Largo movement later became the basis of the third movement in the Second Symphony.

The work is most clearly modeled after Dvorák's Ninth Symphony, but you can also detect echoes of Beethoven, Schubert, and Tchaikovsky.

Premiere Performance

Richard Bales and the National Gallery Orchestra premiered the First Symphony on April 26,1953 in Washington, D.C.

Premiere Recording

Morton Gould and the Chicago SO issued the first recording of the symphony in 1966 (RCA Victor, LSC-2893). This recording is still in print in the U.K.



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Original text copyright © Scott Mortensen 2002