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Charles Ives's ConcordEssays after a Sonata$

Kyle Gann

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780252040856

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252040856.001.0001

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The First Piano Sonata

The First Piano Sonata

(p.300) 13 The First Piano Sonata
Charles Ives's Concord

Kyle Gann

University of Illinois Press

Abstract and Keywords

Ives’s First Piano Sonata (1901-1917, written concurrently with the Concord) is analyzed here to show differences between its formal design and the Concord’s. Particularly evident is its greater reliance on ragtime and quoted hymn tunes, including its jazzy rendition of “Bringing in the Sheaves.”

Keywords:   “Bringing in the Sheaves”, “O Happy Day”, Lebanon, “I Was a Wand’ring Sheep”, “Welcome Voice”, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”, ragtime

An analysis of the Concord Sonata alone would feel incomplete to me. It has no context. We can describe what the piece is, but without some comparison we cannot say what is peculiar to it as opposed to what generally pertains to Charles Ives’s music. A point of contrast will grant our analysis dimension. To look through a variety of Ives’s works analytically, however, would stretch the extent of this book beyond its present purposes. Luckily, there is one Ives work that provides a perfectly apposite foil to the Concord: the First Piano Sonata. It is roughly similar in scale and scope: ffy pages as compared to the Concord’s sixty-seven, fve movements rather than four, and a few minutes shorter in performed length. Comparing the two piano sonatas will not only give us a fuller sense of how Ives conceived the medium but will also cast light on aspects of the Concord unique to that piece. (Another piano sonata, the Tree-Page Sonata of 1905, will not be considered here, because it is so much smaller in scale, more formalist/experimental in its compositional method, and was tossed of in a brief composing period. Although there are certainly serious aspects to the piece, Ives claimed that it was “made mostly as a joke to knock the mollycoddles out of their boxes and to kick out the sofy ears!”1)

Ives generally gave the dates of the First Sonata as 1901 to 1909; one page of the manuscript, f3774, bears a large inscription, “Christmas 1902.” However, the earliest surviving sketch of the fnal movement is found on paper available no earlier than 1917, and Ives himself said that he revised this movement—which, as we shall see, is quite diferent from the rest of the sonata—between 1914 and 1917. Te piece was published in 1954, as edited by Lou Harrison and the pianist William Masselos, who premiered it; further editions with mostly minor alterations appeared in 1979 and 1990.2 Te scherzo-like second movement incorporates material from Nos. 1 and 2 of the Four Ragtime Dances, and the fourth (p.301) (a second scherzo) uses material from No. 4 of those dances. In addition, the second half of the second movement was further developed as the “In the Inn” movement of the Set for Teatre Orchestra (the outer movements being titled “In the Cage” and “In the Night,” respectively; the first was based on Ives’s song “Te Cage,” and the third on his Prelude on “Eventide”). Te ffh movement uses material from one of Ives’s “take-of ” pieces published under the title Scene Episode, apparently from 1907. However, since we are examining the First Sonata as a partner to the Concord, and not in terms of its own historical development, we will not discuss these other works further.

Swaford speculates that the First Sonata may have represented a crisis point in Ives’s creative career: it was his first large-scale form in which he would no longer rely on the traditional harmonic devices of the European symphony and sonata. Swaford also calls the sonata an “orphan” among Ives’s works, a piece “lef in limbo” that was never well edited and that Lou Harrison had to copy from a prefnal score in the 1940s.3 Tere was a fnalized copy of the piece that Ives sent to Dr. Griggs; it tragically disappeared. Ives seems to have had programmatic associations with the work, but as he provided them they are hardly satisfactory. In his Memos he ofered a wandering set of related reminiscences:

What is it all about?—Dan S. asks. Mostly about the outdoor life in Conn. Villages in the ’80s … ’90s—impressions, remembrances, … refections of country farmers in Conn. farmland.

On page 14 back, Fred’s Daddy got so excited that he shouted when Fred hit a home run … the school won the baseball game. But Aunt Sarah was always humming “Where is My Wandering Boy” afer Fred an’ John lef for a job in Bridgeport. Tere was usually a sadness—but not at the Barn Dance, with their jigs, foot jumping, … reels, mostly on winter nights.

In the summer times, the hymns were sung outdoors. Folks sang (as Old Black Joe)—… the Bethel Band (quickstep street marches)—and the people like[d to say] things as they wanted to say, and to do things as they wanted to, in their own way—and many old times . . . there were feelings, and of spiritual fervency!4

Additionally, in response to a query from Kirkpatrick, Ives wrote that the sonata represented “the family together in the first and last movement, the boy away sowing his oats in the ragtimes, and the parental anxiety in the middle movement.”5 Tis sketch is an uneasy ft to the sonata, to say the least; there is far more anxiety, of a kind more existential than parental, in the more abstract fnale than in the warm, hymn-flled middle movement. It is odd, given his nuanced views on both sides of the program music question, that Ives, in the 1930s, felt it incumbent upon him to come up with a programmatic rationale (p.302) for a piece a couple of decades old. For all of its hymn tunes, the First Sonata is best approached as just that—a sonata—and we will attempt no correlations between its events and the external world. Te addition of a second scherzo seems not to have been in the first conception; at f3833 the fnal movement has a “IV” at the top, and other manuscripts are similarly misnumbered.

Te First Sonata is sufciently unlike the Concord that we will use a couple of diferent procedures in our analysis: (1) as bar lines and even regular meters are far more common here, we will mostly refer to measure numbers rather than system numbers (which are provided in the 1990 edition of the score but not the 1954); and (2) as central motives here are more likely to be inverted, or have certain intervals inverted, we will precede interval numbers (2 for a major second, 3 for a minor third, and so on) with plus and minus signs according to whether they ascend or descend. Just as the Concord draws so much of its material from a do-re-mi motive, the First Sonata has at its core a central motive, though just what that motive is is subject to some ambiguity and mild debate. Certainly a descending second followed by a descending third recurs frequently and in high profle; in the first and third movements, the second tends to be major and the third minor, for a descending pattern (in half steps) of –2–3. Te fnal movement, however, is focused with a singular intensity on a non-diatonic, –1–3 pattern of a minor second followed by a minor third, and sometimes then by another minor second as well, for a –1–3–1 or –1–3+1 motif—the reader will recall the importance of this four-note motive in the Concord’s “Emerson” movement.

However, two previous and thorough analyses, by Lora Louise Gingerich and Robert Mumper, take the case even further.6 Gingerich makes an argument, compellingly supported by her examples shown in ex. 13.1, that Ives sometimes thought of the –1–3–1 motif as having the fnal half step turned upward, even (or especially) when the fnal note is in another voice or is displaced by one or more octaves, thus sometimes determining connections between phrases. Mumper, however, goes even further, arguing that Ives thought of the motive as a linked major or minor second and major or minor third with either interval ascending or descending, so that any second, such as those in ex. 13.2, followed (or preceded) by a third constituted an instance. Tat Ives was or was not thinking this way cannot be proved or disproved, but as an analytical principle I fnd this fuidity of defnition verging on nebulousness; there are pieces by Mozart and Brahms in which one could circle all the thirds adjacent to seconds and demonstrate (falsely, I think) that they and Ives proceeded similarly.7 Nevertheless, Mumper (as he recognized) has an ally in no less an authority than Lou Harrison, who wrote in his introduction to the published score: “Te FIRST SONATA is equally concerned with a similar small motive: the minor second and the minor third, a motive born of the Baroque ‘pathetic afection,’ subject of all compositions on the name of Bach.”8 Within the B-A-C-H motive to which Harrison refers (which we would label –1+3–1), the minor second B♭-A (p.303) descends and the minor third A-C ascends, which is not the case in any of the examples given above. (Te B-A-C-H motive plays a role in Ives’s Tree-Page Sonata but not in the First Sonata.) So Harrison, too, seemed to think that the sonata’s primary motive consisted of a (specifcally minor) second and (minor) third in either direction.

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.1: Occurrences of the –1–3+/–1 motive

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.2: Motives combining a second and a third

Whatever its analytical worth, the point has been made. Let us conclude more precisely, though, that throughout the First Sonata a motive of a falling second (major or minor) and falling minor third is prominent. Its emotive afect is rendered calm or intense depending on whether the second is major (as most ofen in the first and third movements) or minor (as pervasively in the ffh). In addition, Ives will occasionally extend the motive into strings of alternating seconds and thirds. Our analysis will be as detailed as space permits, perhaps difcult to follow without going back and forth between my text and the score, which I regret, but Ives’s unities in this work are so localized episode by episode that the piece cannot be done justice to without looking at myriad passages in isolation.

First Movement

Unlike the Concord’s “Emerson” movement, the First Sonata’s first movement ofers no clear reference to sonata form; only one brief passage, to be identifed later, appears in both the first and second half of the movement as a partial recapitulation, and the transposition level involved has no obvious structural function. Tis is, instead, one of Ives’s cumulative forms; the hymn “Lebanon” (“I was a wand’ring sheep”) is alluded to throughout and fnally appears clearly (p.304) quoted at the end of the movement. Written by John Zundel in 1855 to an 1843 poem by Horatius Bonar, “Lebanon” is based on a triplet-rhythm neighbor-note motif that defnes its presence in the movement (ex. 13.3). Te fnal fve systems of the movement refer to this tune in its entirety. In a couple of instances, however, Ives infects the tune with an upward neighbor note (third to fourth-scale degrees), which in context is enough to identify it with another 6/8 hymn having to do with “wand’ring,” the sentimental song “Where Is My Wandering Boy Tonight” (ex. 13.4) by Robert Lowry (1826–1899).

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.3: “Lebanon”

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.4: “Where Is My Wandering Boy Tonight”

Like the “Emerson” movement, this one is based on a web of interrelated motives. Te first four systems are generated from two fve-note formulas that work together in harmony (ex. 13.5). Te top formula, F«-A-B-G«-A, seems a simple melodic motive in F minor (and note its adjacent thirds and seconds); the bottom one, F-C-G-CX-D, spells out three perfect ffhs plus one chromatic note, and such strings of perfect ffhs will be central to this (and the third) movement. Ives sometimes alters each of these motives by octave displacement. Looking now at the first eight measures of the piece in ex. 13.6, we see these paired motives repeated and sometimes setting up a momentary ostinato of fve sixteenth notes in duration, out of sync with the 3/4 meter. Oddly, instead of starting at the pitch level based on F, Ives gives the first three sixteenth notes of the piece at a diferent transposition level, on E|,, before settling into the regular repetition on F. Tis is curiously reminiscent of his feint at the beginning of “Hawthorne,” where the first (p.305) fve notes spell one diminished triad before shifing to the diferent one that will be used for the rest of the page. Since the opening note is E♭ and the first melody notes in m. 2 are A, C, and F♯ (stated as two falling major sixths, an interval that will soon give birth to a theme), there is a sense here of outlining the notes of a diminished triad, but this sense gives way to an A♭-major scale collection in m. 3, C major in m. 4, and then a resumption of F♯ minor .

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.5: Opening melodic formulas

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.6: Mm. 1–8

(p.306) In the right hand of m. 3 we get the first appearance of a motive that will be very important in the sonata, a triplet-scale motif followed by a varying number of rising perfect ffhs, which we will call the seconds/ffhs theme.9 Tis fgure will be paired and alternated, and sometimes combined, with a similar three-note fgure leaping to a series of chromatically descending thirds (ex. 13.7). Te second motive’s leaping interval is usually but not invariably a major seventh (note that the distance from B to the lower note F♯ is a ffh), and the thirds are usually major. At one point later in mid-movement (mm. 38–39), the seconds/ ffhs motive is explicitly linked to the ffhs in the opening F♯C♯G♯C𝀼D♯ formula (ex. 13.8).

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.7: Seconds/ffhs theme and its alternate continuation

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.8: Seconds/ffhs theme at mm. 38–39

Notice also in ex. 13.6 that in the last two beats of m. 3, right hand, we have a B♭D♭E♭CD♭ sequence, which is a transposition of our F♯ABG♯A motive. Tis is then echoed on the last beat of m. 4, where the right hand resumes one of our formulae, F♯ABG♯A, but as it continues, it grows into a longer theme that we will encounter later in the following form, its ending blurring into various repeating fgures (ex. 13.9). Burkholder refers to this as “the coun-termelody” of the movement because it is heard near the end in counterpoint with the hymn “Lebanon,” but it occurs three more times at major points in the movement, besides this one (and later several times in the third movement as well), all independent of the hymn except one: at m. 30 starting on E♭; at the end of m. 98 on G; and at m. 100 on F♯ as above (as countermelody to “Lebanon”). For lack of a more precise connotation to tie it to, we will call it the falling-sixth theme. It contains a falling interval sequence of alternating minor thirds and major seconds (AF♯EC♯, or –3–2–3) that will characterize many other melodic parts of the movement as well.

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.9: Te “falling-sixth” theme

(p.307) We can now sum up, then, our motivic materials for this first movement:

  • the neighbor-note motive that characterizes “Lebanon" (B-A»-B-C);

  • a rising major second and minor second leading to a sequence of upward perfect ffhs (the seconds/ffhs motive), sometimes varied to lead to scale-wise falling thirds;

  • a long theme identifable by its beginning with a descending major sixth (the falling-sixth theme); and

  • a falling sequence of alternating minor thirds and major seconds (heard in the falling-sixth theme and designated here as the “-2-3 motive”).

Except for the falling-thirds variation of the seconds/ffhs theme, all of these can be found in the first eight measures. As in “Emerson,” Ives introduces basically all of his musical ideas on the first page, although here the profusion of them is not nearly so complicated or dramatic.

Tough it is not the only plausible structural interpretation, we will divide the first movement into fve sections, taking the brief cadenza at mm. 70-71 as dividing the otherwise related third and fourth of these:

  • mm. 1-20 [syss.1-1 to 3-1]: introduction and development of seconds/ffhs motive

  • mm. 21-27 [syss. 3-2 to 4-5]: interlude with mostly B major in the right hand over a C drone

  • mm. 28-69 [syss. 5-1 to 7-3]: development of falling-sixth theme materials and seconds/ffhs motive

  • (mm. 70-71 [syss. 7-3/4] interruption by brief cadenza)

  • mm. 72-97 [syss. 7-5 to 9-2]: continuing development of falling-sixth theme materials

  • mm. 98-103 [syss. 9-3 to 10-4]: fnal statement of “Lebanon” with falling-sixth theme10

Sections 1, 2, and 4 all end by gradually arriving at a kind of repetitive harmonic stasis, a technique that we haven’t seen in the Concord—except, perhaps, for the end of the first A section in “Te Alcotts.” Tat section 3 here does not so end is one reason to question whether 3 and 4 should really be regarded as separate.

At the upbeat to m. 6 (ex. 13.6) we get the first hint of the hymn tune “Lebanon,” the FM-B-B-B-AM-B-C suggesting the words “I was a wand’ring sheep.” Te tune’s continuation on D-E, however, seems to be taken from “Where Is My Wandering Boy Tonight.” Te B above the treble clef at m. 6, ofen supported by two or more lower notes (usually with an A a ninth lower) is a central reference sonority throughout the first movement. It may serve us at this point to detail in advance, in ex. 13.10, the instances in which this upper B with neighbor notes is emphasized, eventually building up to a full statement of “Lebanon.” (p.308) Among the first sections we’ve outlined, the tune “Lebanon” is referred to at the beginning of section 1, appears vaguely through section 2, inspires a dramatic cadenza between sections 3 and 4, comes back briefy in section 4, and occupies almost the entirety of section 5. In other words, it is suggested at the beginning; seems to increasingly haunt much of the movement via its neighbor-note motive; makes a dramatic partial appearance at the movement’s point of greatest tension; and fnally emerges in toto at the end as a kind of serene denouement.

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.10: Cumulative buildup of “Lebanon”

Te continuation of the first section from the passage given above develops all four motives in complexly layered counterpoint. We see in ex. 13.11, showing mm. 9, 10, and 12, an alternation of the first fve notes of the falling-sixth theme alternating with a quick motive from the seconds/ffhs theme. In addition, there is a syncopated motive of thirty-second/sixteenth/thirty-second/eighth, quite emphasized in mm. 9–12 with accents and then absent from the remainder of the sonata. Also note the –2–3 motive on EDB in m. 12, followed by what one might call the “Lebanon chord” on a major ninth AB. Tis particular transposition of the –2–3 motive is prominently fxated upon at the close of section 4; it is interesting that, from the beginning, Ives forecasts its importance at that pitch level.

Moving on, we fnd at mm. 13–14 a broad reference to “Lebanon” in the key of G in the right hand, with motives from the seconds/ffhs theme and, once again, the –2–3 motive on EDB (ex. 13.12). From this point for several measures, Ives indicates that the lef hand should be more prominent than the right. With considerable atonal complexity, the lef hand develops the variant


The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.11: Motives in mm. 9–12

of the seconds/ffhs theme that leaps upward to descending scale-wise chords of parallel octaves and thirds as the right hand weaves a line in thirty-second notes emphasizing intervals of a perfect ffh. Te end of the section at m. 20 draws to a quiet but expectant close on, simultaneously, chords of G minor and an Italian sixth chord of the key of C—as preparation, it turns out, for a new passage suggesting C♯ minor.

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.12: First movement, mm. 13–15

Section 2 (mm. 20–27), a serene interlude, is the most easily characterized part of the movement. Ives sets going a thirty-second-note drone arpeggio of mostly C-sharps and G-sharps with occasional other notes as the waves reach from the lowest C♯ to the piano’s middle register. Over this he places, in the right hand, a chordal motif that would suggest the key of B major were it not for the ofsetting C♯ drone. Te motif is made up of merely B-major and G♯-minor chords, with B and G♯ in the melody respectively, with A♯ (on a B-major seventh) as a passing or neighbor note reminiscent of “Lebanon.” Interspersed in this dreamy continuum are a few tonally dissonant references to the seconds/ffhs theme.

Section 3 (mm. 28–69) is a series of phrases each beginning with the seconds/ ffhs theme. Te first, at m. 28, starts in the key of E going to its subdominant, then the next at m. 29 in D♭ going to its subdominant; this latter segues into a falling-sixth theme starting on E♭ for seven and a half measures, leading to a harmonic stasis; we will later see that this passage may have been the earliest idea for the sonata. Two more seconds/ffhs themes, seemingly in E but with C♯ in the bass, lead to a loping bass line of alternating quarters and eighths, (p.310) alternating first between E and D and later between D♭ and C♭, leading down to A. Te gestural logic of this section is quite audible: phrases begin with a dotted-triplet impulse of a rising whole step and half step, leaping up usually through perfect ffhs, and then descending through an interval pattern continually in fux—descending half steps at first, then whole steps, moving to a more frequent pattern of a descending whole step and minor third (–2–3), which will become a basic motive of section 4 (and movement 3). Te beginning of the process is summarized in ex. 13.13. Meanwhile, at m. 48 an ostinato-like bass line starts up with emphasis on E♯, G♯, and A, the retrograde (+3+1) of our –1–3 motive that will dominate the fnale (ex. 13.14). At m. 60 the ostinato relocates itself up a step to B, and at m. 72 (afer the interruptive cadenza) shifs further upward to C. At mm. 68–69 the neighbor-note motive of “Lebanon” will take over from the descending pentatonic motive.

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.13: First movement, motivic structure of section 3, mm. 28–57

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.14: First movement, mm. 49–53

(p.311) Tese neighbor-note motives in mm. 68–69 seem to drive the music into a frenzied reminiscence of “Lebanon” in the key of B, with fourishes of mostly whole-tone-scale notes, which Ives refers to as the cadenza (already seen in ex. 13.11). Aferward in section 4 (mm. 72–97), the music goes into a long, resolute passage of 3/4 meter, with the octave ostinato returning in the bass and the melodic interest now centered on a scale of alternating major seconds and minor thirds (ex. 13.15). Aside from a reminiscence of section 3 at mm. 83–85, the music intensifes in focus until it fxates on EDB as its –2–3 motive and BF♯C♯ as its rising ffhs, in an almost mechanically stylized and regularized version of gestures that had been more fuid in sections 1 and 3 (ex. 13.16).

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.15: First movement, mm. 72-75 -2-3 motive

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.16: First movement, mm. 91–94

Te energy built up thus exhausted, the music lapses into section 5 (mm. 98–103), beginning with two mezzo-piano statements of the seconds/ffhs theme in serene G major, with the ffhs both ascending and then descending, emphasizing B in the melody both above and below. Te third seconds/ffhs theme leads into a falling-sixth theme in a manner recapitulated from page 5 and transposed upward a major third (the notation is slightly simplifed in ex. 13.17, and Ives’s non-matching bar lines are omitted). Tis is the only passage repeated from the first half of the movement in a manner suggesting recapitulation. (As we shall see below, these are also the two passages that closely parallel the beginning of the original 1901 sketch for this movement.) (p.312) Te fnal treble F♯ in the above example, repeated, turns into the upbeat for the long-awaited statement of “Lebanon,” in B major with the falling-sixth theme used as countermelody, as previously seen in ex. 13.11. At the climax of the tune (where the words “Shepherd’s voice” would appear), Ives has the tune wander up the whole-tone scale on D♯FG instead of the expected D♯EF♯. (Interestingly, its distorted continuation on GED♯ retrogrades the –1–3 motive.) And, instead of the last note, the music is interrupted with a fortissimo fourish on F♯ triads, with a G♯-major triad as neighboring chord and a pounding of VI in the bass followed by rising perfect ffhs from F♯ to E♯. An upper neighbor in the melody at m. 101 refers back to “Where Is My Wandering Boy.”

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.17: First movement, comparison of mm. 98–99 with mm. 29–33

Te freworks subsided, the end of the melody resumes, makes the rise to F♯ correctly this time (as in the original tune) and is interrupted once again by a quiet seconds/ffhs theme motif before proceeding to its fnal note (notation in ex. 13.18 somewhat simplifed). Ives has one last thoughtful surprise for us, though, turning the fnal notes into a question: instead of the predictable B-major cadence, the bass chord enters on A major, a whole step below the tonality. Te efect is unmistakably like what happens in the second system of the Concord’s “Alcotts” movement, there using B♭ and A♭.

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.18: First movement, m. 103 (sys. 10–4)

(p.313) Ives lef behind more early sketches for the First Sonata, especially for the first and third movements, than he did for the Concord, and from them we can learn much about how he developed a piece from sketch to fnished product. Having this analysis behind us, if we look at what seems to be Ives’s earliest sketch (f3680) for the First Sonata, dated August 4, 1901, with the location identifed as Pine Mountain (a stony but beautiful wilderness just south of Danbury where the Ives family owned property and to which Ives would escape from the city on weekends11), we get a vivid idea of how Ives derived and developed his material. ex. 13.19 is all one page in Ives’s manuscript, and I have added to my transcription of the score indications of where each bit of material shows up in the completed sonata movement.


The First Piano SonataThe First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.19: Sketch for First Sonata at f3680

First of all, we can see that Ives’s initial thematic idea was a longer arc, encompassing what we’ve called the seconds/ffhs theme, the –2–3 motive, and the falling-sixth theme (ex. 13.20). In fact, there is no discernible unity of idea in the first nine measures, just a long, spun-out, rambling melody, but what Ives would eventually do is detach several of these motives and develop them independently. Notice the allusion to “Lebanon” at the bottom of the first page of the sketch (ex. 13.19), and its fuller but interrupted continuation later, which eventually is transferred, in a broadened and more dramatic way, to the very end of the movement. Notice the bass notes beneath it, B moving to A (already foreshadowed in mm. 3–4), which ultimately happens in the movement’s fnal notes. Note the statement of the seconds/ffhs theme in the ffh line, containing the C𝀺 not only does it end up in mm. 38–39 of the fnished movement, but it (p.315) also yields the F♯C♯G♯C𝀼D♯ motive with which Ives later decides to begin the movement, and at that same transposition level. To this he ultimately appends the first fve notes of the falling-sixth theme, F♯ABG♯A, as counterpoint (though in this early version the F appears to be natural). Note the CG♯B bass line in the fourth system, which will dominate the middle of the fnished movement. Compare the opening measures of this sketch with the passages in ex. 13.17, and you’ll see that Ives ended up using his original opening twice, almost verbatim (mm. 29–33 and 98–99), although in the middle of the movement rather than as a beginning. In the earlier passage, even the irregularity of the 7/8 measure is kept. Other passages here were used at the end and at several points in the middle, and then Ives fashioned a new introduction from ideas here that didn’t originally appear together. We could, in fact, consider this another example of Ives’s cumulative form, even if the completed theme isn’t something we “recognize” when it fnally appears. Ives reuses the first half of this melodic arc again, at the identical pitch level, to open his third movement.

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.20: Initial thematic idea of f3680 sketch for first movement

Remarkably, Ives ended up using virtually every idea in this one, through-composed page that seems so disunifed and wandering (perhaps he himself was the “wand’ring” boy), but by developing each idea at greater length, and by spreading out his various fgures and harmonies over a larger canvas, he turned this rather weak-looking page into a tightly knit and coherent sonata movement. As with the “Toreau” sketch we looked at in chapter 11, this is evidence of an impressive feat of trusting your material and repeating and reimagining it until the initial incoherence begins to acquire an inner logic. Great European composers (at least German ones) were presumed to start with one small germ of an idea and develop it into a larger, organic structure, but Ives wrote his meandering melody complete and then took it apart, motive by motive, to obtain the building blocks of the entire movement.

Second Movement

Te second movement of the First Piano Sonata is oddly split into two parts (commonly referred to in the literature as IIa and IIb), the second titled “In the Inn.” In fact, Ives admits that the sonata contains “fve movements—(seven movements counting 2a …2b, 4a … 4b as separate).”12 Tis movement is based on three hymn tunes that share motives in common, so it is sometimes (almost humorously) ambiguous which tune Ives is quoting at a given time. Te first quoted is the hymn “O Happy Day,” better known in recent decades by a parody (p.316) of it using the words “How Dry I Am” (ex. 13.21). Te second tune is the popular revival hymn “Bringing in the Sheaves.” Note that in “O Happy Day” I marked the fnal four notes, which are the same as those in “Bringing in the Sheaves”; in ex. 13.22, in the seventh measure, I’ve marked the occurrence of a sol-do-re-mi motive identical to the first four notes of “O Happy Day.” Ives capitalizes on these coincidences as a way of pivoting, stream-of-conscious-like, from one hymn to the other. Te third hymn, shown in ex. 13.23, is “Welcome Voice,” whose fnal chorus on “I am coming Lord!” Ives uses climactically for each half of the movement; once again, the last nine notes have the same contour as those of “Bringing in the Sheaves.” In other words, all three hymns end on the scale steps re-do-mi-re-do, and “Bringing in the Sheaves” and “Welcome Voice” both end on do-re-mi-do-re-do-mi-re-do. No wonder Ives got such an obvious kick from writing pieces around these three motivically related hymns in combination.

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.21: “O Happy Day”

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.22: “Bringing in the Sheaves”


The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.23: “Welcome Voice”

Despite its division into two parts, the second movement falls into something of a clear ABA form. Te first half opens with a kind of cubist collage of quotations of “O Happy Day”; the second half of “In the Inn” returns to that same hymn. Plus, each half of the movement ends with an ecstatic statement of the chorus of “Welcome Voice.” Tus, IIa and the second half of IIb each open with “O Happy Day” and close with “Welcome Voice,” while the first half of IIb is contrasting in character.

Movement IIa can be broken into sections as follows (the measure numbering used here is continuous between IIa and IIb, thus “In the Inn” starts on m. 58):

  • Mm. 1-14: Fantasy on “O Happy Day,” closing on final re-do-mi-re-do motive in D

  • Mm. 15-35: Material on “Bringing in the Sheaves,” melodically in the key of G, though with some bitonality suggesting E major; “O Happy Day” makes a reappearance at m. 30

  • Mm. 36-45: More abstract rhythmic material, with a reference to “O Happy Day” at m. 43

  • Mm. 46-50: Climactic close on final re-do-mi-re-do motive in D (becoming a dominant preparation for the fnal section in G)

  • Mm. 51-57: “Welcome Voice” in G, with inconclusive do-re-mi-do-re-do-mi-re, leaving of before fnal note

Movement IIb “In the Inn” can be similarly divided, with a split of the movement into two parts, mm. 58-130 and 131-186. Te first half is more concerned with the obsessive ragtime on G major/minor, the second half with the more relaxed passage on “O Happy Day” in A|, major. Te similarity of the fnal climactic sections at mm. 114-130 and 163-182 reinforces the formal parallel, as the return of “Welcome Voice” does the parallel between IIa and IIb:

  • Mm. 58-66: abstract chord rhythms based on 3+3+2 rhythm

  • (p.318) Mm. 67-98: ragtime over drone on A (also C and Ft at first), with 3/8 patterns in lef hand and syncopated, thirty-second-note-flled melody on G alternating B and B^

  • Mm. 99-107: return to “Bringing in the Sheaves” fragments in G

  • Mm. 108-114, b. 1: return of ragtime with 3/8 lef-hand pattern and thirty-second notes

  • Mm. 114, bb. 2-130: “Bringing in the Sheaves” returns, main motive migrates to lef hand, switches keys, progresses to motive the song shares with “O Happy Day”; the drone on A switches to the treble

  • Mm. 131-135: motives from “O Happy Day” in relaxed A|, major (between repeat signs)

  • Mm. 136-138: rhythmicized white-note clusters

  • Mm. 139-141: brief reference to “Bringing in the Sheaves”

  • Mm. 142-153, b. 1: a static, march-like section in which the left hand centers on D

  • Mm. 153, b. 2, to 159, b. 1: return of “O Happy Day" in relaxed A^ major

  • Mm. 159, b. 2, to 162: return of rhythmicized white-note clusters

  • Mm. 163-182: something of a recapitulation of mm. 114-130, with "0 Happy Day” motive modulating in the bass and incorporating the re-do-mire-do cadence on D

  • Mm. 183-186: “Welcome Voice” now in A, once again ended inconclusively

One might notice something of an arch form from mm. 114-182: the outer sections develop the “O Happy Day” motive in the left hand, with the contrast between the calmer A|, material and the pounding clusters in the middle. Or perhaps it would be clearer to divide IIb into two parts (the BA of our ABA form), mm. 58-130 and 131-182, each half of which ends in a climactic development of the “O Happy Day” motive, and the second of which flows into a coda on “Welcome Voice.” In any chosen scansion, the nested symmetries are quite evident. We could perhaps make the form more visibly clear in chart 13.1.

Parenthetically, the derivation of this movement from the Four Ragtime Dances and Set for Teatre Orchestra (dated by Ives 1900-1911, though possibly not completed until 191413) is quite complicated, and while it need not be spelled out in detail here, it does tell us something about Ives as a recomposer. In general, movement IIa is based on the second ragtime dance and “In the Inn” on the first. Fify of IIas 57 measures (1-5, 7-17, 21-39, and 43–57) are based on the second dance, while 19 of the dance’s measures are omitted from IIa or so altered as to be unrecognizable. Likewise, 70 of the 129 measures of “In the Inn” (67-79, 92–95, 99-107, 114-118, 123-127, 130-145, 147-161, 164,


The First Piano Sonata

Chart 13.1: Form of First Sonata, second movement

and 175-176) are based on the first dance, with many measures of that work omitted as well. Many of the changes clearly have to do with making the piece more pianistically interesting, lacking the expanded timbral resources of the orchestra. Most telling is that the coda on “Welcome Voice” is in G major in both ragtime dances, which both correspond to the ending of IIa; for the coda of “In the Inn,” Ives wrote a similar ending but transposed it up a whole step, with a diferent melodic contour and rhythmic profle. Given the harmonic plan of the First Sonata, it was clearly important for Ives to end IIa in G and IIb in A rather than stick to the harmonic plan of the Four Ragtime Dances. We will look for further structural ramifcations of this change when we consider the First Sonata as a whole.

What will interest us most, I think, is the overall harmonic conception of the movement. Te consistency with which Ives quotes each hymn repeatedly in certain keys imparts a collage-like efect. For instance, in the first half, the first four notes of “O Happy Day” appear in the keys of either C or F, followed immediately by a statement in B major or minor (with the tritone F^ rather than the “correct” F), save for one double statement at sys. 11-3 in D major, which is the main key for “Bringing in the Sheaves”; in “In the Inn,” there is another, humorously languid statement in the distant key of A . Tese instances are summarized in ex. 13.24.


The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.24: Second movement, occurrences of “O Happy Day”

Te opening notes of “Bringing in the Sheaves” are pegged to be heard almost always in G major, with the BDE in the treble clef—the similarity of this to the prominent and of-recurring EDB fgure in section 4 of the first movement is striking. Te original hymn’s second phrase transposes that motive up to EGA, which, in the first two statements, Ives changes to EG♯A(♯) for a kind of bitonal efect (ex. 13.25). Te re-do-mi-re-do motive is almost invariably heard in the key of D, even at m. 176 just before Ives moves to a dominant preparation on E in anticipation of the grand return of “Welcome Voice” in A at the end of “In the Inn.” Te two exceptions appear at the end of iia, where it follows “Welcome Voice” in the key of G, and at mm. 158–159, where it follows the hymn “O Happy Day” in its comically languid incarnation in A♭ (ex. 13.26). Tus we have a loose association with quoted hymns, their motives, and certain keys throughout the movement. Tis may still seem complicated, but when he’s not moving around atonally, Ives centers the keys of the movement in C, F, G, and A (the keys whose notes spell out “O Happy Day”), with the occasional cadential formula on D and a recurring comic interlude in A♭.

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.25: Second movement, occurrences of “Bringing in the Sheaves”


The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.26: Second movement, occurrences of re-do-mi-re-do motive

Also of interest are the points of stasis at which Ives centers the musical interest on a drone note: D in iia at mm. 11–14 and similarly in mm. 46–50, and an A drone in “In the Inn” at mm. 58–91 and 108–113. Tis latter surely has something to do with the necessity he felt to end the movement in a grand statement of A major.

As a fnal note to this movement, let us note the long “ragtime” passages in “In the Inn” (mm. 67–91, also returning briefy in the fourth movement at mm. 69–71 and 82–84), which more or less constitute the B section in our ABA form, and which obsessively run in the melody from G to either B or B♭, over an A drone in the bass. Ives was clearly fascinated with this fgure—he used it at length in all four of the ragtime dances. For him it was a way of playing with polyrhythmic efects of diferent phrase lengths going against each other in a harmonically static context. In places one can rebeam the phrases to show different repetitive rhythmic groupings, such as (in ex. 13.27’s passage from mm. 84–86, in which I have had to clean up the printed rhythmic notation a little to show what Ives clearly intended) a melodic phrase of 5/16 in duration against a 3/8 accompaniment in the bass, amounting at times to a kind of minimalist phase-shifing. Te vertical accents Ives adds reveal what he’s thinking rhythmically. Tat the melody appears to be in G major/minor while the lef hand is playing in A Lydian also points to the centrality of these two keys. We might note that the alternation of B♭ and B over a G is yet another expression of our –1–3 motive. Te opening of this section, mm. 67–75 (a version of which we’ve seen in ex. 8–14), emphasizes the pitches A, D♯, F♯, and C in the bass, just as the fnal measures of the “Emerson” movement move among A, D♯, and F♯. Ives likes to shif his bass ostinatos among notes a minor third or tritone apart.

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.27: Second movement, mm. 84–86

(p.322) Third Movement

Te third movement Largo is complicated on a detailed level, but on the largest scale it is a fairly clear arch form, with a slightly jazzed but almost complete statement of the hymn “Erie” (sometimes known as “Converse” for its author, but better known by its opening words, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”) at its center (ex. 13.28). An unusually large number of sketches for this movement exist, and the analyst who wants to chart Ives’s compositional process will fnd fertile ground here. Apparently the earliest is f3774, which is dated “Christmas 1902” and shows this movement numbered as “II,” the idea of two paired scherzos apparently not having occurred to Ives yet. It shows Ives initially intending to begin both with “Erie” and with the seconds/ffhs theme, intertwining them (and I have to think there is an implied key signature in ex. 13.29 of at least two sharps, which Ives neglected to write in). Once again, we have here material that will eventually end up in mm. 1 and 66, and Ives later found plenty of notes to insert in between.

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.28: “Erie” (“What a Friend We Have in Jesus”)


The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.29: Sketch for third movement, f3774

To trace the arch form in the completed movement, let us note and label the following events (I have to revert to some system numbers because in the first section we are partly back in no-bar-line territory):


Sys. 20-1a:


wedge motive moving outward in perfect fifths

Sys. 20-1b:


skewed statement of “What a Friend” on F

Sys. 20-4:


treble statement of “What a Friend” in E

Sys. 20-5a:

parenthetical “What a Friend” in E♭ and CD

Sys. 20-5b to 21-1:


falling-sixth motives


Mm. 3–19:

buildup of “What a Friend” in the key of A

Mm. 27–48:


almost complete statement of “What a Friend” in A

Mm. 53–54:


falling-sixth motives


Mm. 62–64:


treble statement of “What a Friend” in E

M. 65:


skewed statement of “What a Friend” on F

Mm. 66–67:


return to rising ffhs of the beginning

Mm. 70–71:

coda with phrases from “What a Friend” in E

Tis outline does not include everything that happens, but it contains most of the high-profle events, and the ones I’ve labeled A through E show the symmetry. Note that the symmetry is slightly ofset by the tempo division into Largo-Allegro-Largo.

Te opening starts with our seconds/ffhs theme from the first movement (in fact, with the very notes that open the 1901 sketch of the first movement, (p.324) ex. 13.19) in both hands, mirroring it by inversion in a wedge motive that starts with a C♯G♯ ffh and moves outward in both directions to a AEB sonority. From here the right hand ascends through the circle of ffhs as the lef hand descends until they are a tritone apart (GD versus C♯G♯, in ex. 13.30). Note, following this, the right-hand –2–3 motive, G♯F♯D♯. Te do-re-mi motive in ffhs (actually more like la-ti-do because the second step is minor) will not return until the end of the movement. Immediately following is an anticipation of “Erie” on F (that is, starting on F but in an implied key of B♭ that doesn’t materialize), descending through a whole-tone scale rather than the expected pentatonic. Similarly, seven pages later, following the climactic hymn statement, in the analogous location at the end of the arch form, the tune returns on F and descends via a diatonic scale (both passages shown in ex. 13.31). In each case, the continuation implies the key of E, with diminished intervals in the first instance and a kind of quasi-retrograde in the second, emphasizing the pentatonic. Te end of this example shows the return to the do-re-mi motive in the bass.

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.30: Tird movement, opening

Continuing at sys. 20-2 (ex. 13.32), “Erie” appears in the key of C♯ (though polytonally harmonized), skipping among middle, top, and bottom registers. Te triplet seen at the end of this example comprises two series’ of rising ffhs at once (BF♯C♯ alternating with AE♯B♯), leading to a DC♯A♯ motive, which is one of our few chromatic forms of the falling-second/third motive (–13), before its pervasive appearance in the fnal movement. Te melody continues with the second half of the first movement’s falling-sixth melody, foreshadowing the more obvious references to that theme soon to come. Two lightly disguised versions of the theme’s first six notes follow, tending toward the major key as if moving toward V/iv harmonies (ex. 13.33). Tis gives way to a more literal quotation of “Erie” in E major, which will be echoed later at the corresponding return in the arch form, at sys. 27-1 (ex. 13.34). Note how Ives varies the original BBC♯BG♯E to BC♯BG♯F♯E, which is actually a phrase from “Massa’s in de Cold, Cold Ground,” which we therefore must also consider as quoted in this sonata as well. Te former instance is then echoed pianissimo by a lower repetition in E♭ (ex. 13.35), something like the relaxational sinking into A♭ in the second movement (or the similar slide from G to G♭ in the second movement at


The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.31: Tird movement, comparison of syss. 20-1/2 and mm. 65-67

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.32: Tird movement, concealed “Erie” at sys. 20-2

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.33: Tird movement, concealed falling-sixth themes at syss. 20-3/4


m. 101). Te music immediately returns to the predominantly sharp key area, however, via opening motives from the falling-sixth melody, implying (over augmented triads) first F♯, then up a fourth to B, and up another to E.

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.34: Tird movement, occurrences of “Erie” in E

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.35: Tird movement, sys. 20-5

In the denouement at sys. 26-2, this motive returns on G, as shown on the example’s second line (both instances shown in ex. 13.36). Te sys. 20-5 statement is in the opening Largo section, the sys. 26-2 statement in the middle Allegro; that the first is stated in sixteenth notes and the second in eighth notes compensates for the diference in tempo. Te remainder of this Largo introduction, through sys. 21-2, diminuendos through the kind of chromatic, repetitive stasis that Ives ofen uses to bring a section to a pause in this sonata, over a drone on D.

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.36: Tird movement, falling-sixth motives

Te next section, mm. 3–26 (syss. 21-3 to 23-4), constitutes a buildup to the climactic statement of “Erie” that forms the movement’s centerpiece. Rhythmically varied and increasingly longer fragments of the tune’s beginning (humorously interrupted by a pair of chords on B minor and C) come back over and over, always starting on E and suggesting the key of A (ex. 13.37). Along the way a couple of the hymn’s later phrases are quoted in diferent keys at mm. 12–13 (sys. 22-2): the first measure of the ffh phrase in the key of C, leading directly into the first measure of the sixth phrase in B♭ (ex. 13.38).

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.37: Tird movement, buildup to “Erie” in mm. 4–19


The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.38: Tird movement, phrases from “Erie” at mm. 12–13

As a kind of diversion at mm. 15–16 (sys. 22-3/4), Ives seems to be trying to get the theme started in a lower register in the key of E♭ (ex. 13.39). Note, in the bass, the arpeggios of ffhs leading into a whole-tone scale at the top. Tis kind of approximation of the harmonic series seems similar to the bass arpeggios in the central Nature episode of the Concord’s “Emerson” movement, though infected by the First Sonata’s preoccupation with chains of perfect ffhs. Tese ffhs and whole-tone fragments run throughout the accompaniment of this Allegro section.

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.39: Tird movement, mm. 15–16

At last, following some more development of “Erie” and a chromatic, preclimax wedge motive (mm. 25–26), we reach the climactic statement of “Erie” in the key of A (ex. 13.40). Notice that in addition to other playful melodic substitutions, the F♯ at the beginning of the tune is altered to (or rather clustered with) G, as though the intensity of the rendition is endangering the intonation.

Te inconclusive denouement of the hymn statement leads to the previous elements, in reverse order, as we have already seen. As a kind of brief coda, Ives fnally gives us, for the first time, the fnal two phrases of the hymn, interrupted at the penultimate moment for a feint to the subdominant and another chord of stacked ffhs at the cadence (ex. 13.41). Note the fnal appearance of the beginning of our “falling-sixth” theme just before the closing chord of E major.

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.40: Tird movement, mm. 27–30


The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.41: Tird movement, mm. 70–71

Fourth Movement

Te bulk of the fourth movement, from m. 52 to the end at m. 161, is an arrangement of Ives’s Four Ragtime Dances, No. 4, but this is preceded by a jarring ffy-one-measure passage, hammering away at collections of clusters, octaves, and sevenths and ninths in a polyrhythmic, thoroughly modernistic stasis that might be described as hyper-dissonant minimalism. Tis bourgeois-shocking (p.329) passage in 2/4 meter can be divided into four phases of seven, fourteen, fourteen, and sixteen measures respectively:

Phase 1, mm. 1–7: Te right hand alternates in major sevenths or sometimes octaves between D and E♭ in the top melody, over a variety of lef-hand clusters. Twice the lef hand spells out a motto in octaves of CBGA♭, our –1–3+1 motive.

Phase 2, mm. 8–21: Te right hand continues similarly, though now with D♭, E♭, and E and in quintuplet sixteenth notes. Te lef hand hits mostly a chord F♯ACF in the middle register, alternating with major sevenths with G, B, C, and F on the top notes (and an additional septuplet pattern at mm. 17 and 20).

Phase 3, mm. 22–35: Te right hand continues in quintuplets, but now in four-note, white-note clusters alternating a step apart, a real endurance test for the pianist’s wrist. Te lef hand plays duplets and triplets on black notes in the bass, in a pattern alternating (p.330) perfect fourths and major sixths perhaps suggested by, and certainly replicating, certain accompaniment fgures in the third movement (ex. 13.42). Tis perfect fourth inside a major sixth, as we will see, is a major feature of this movement.

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.42: Tird movement, major sixths with internal fourths in movements two and three

Phase 4, mm. 36–51: Te lef hand’s latter pattern gets transferred to the right hand, which now plays only on black notes. In the same register, the lef hand repeats a six-measure phrase in D mixolydian/dorian, with an emphasis on phrases of 5/8 across the bar line. In the fnal four measures, the lef hand descends through a series of ffhs. (Tis passage also appears in Ives’s Study No. 23.)

Te introduction over and concluding with a brief pause, the rest of the movement is a ragtime building up to a jazzy rendition of “Bringing in the Sheaves” in the key of F at the climax and giving way aferward to two references to “Welcome Voice,” one in a surprising B major and the other, more quietly, in the B♭ that the music had led one to expect. Te beginning of the ragtime, mm. 52–56, goes back and forth in the bass between A and D♯ (tritone bass movement, as in the second movement ragtime and the close of “Emerson”), and the transitional buildup to “Bringing in the Sheaves” at mm. 97–108 is on chords with E♭ in the bass and A in the treble so that these two pitches (an opposition so familiar from the Concord) frame the entire opening section. At m. 59 the lef-hand ostinato begins to alternate between A and G at the bottom and between the perfect fourths and major sixths we’ve already seen in the introduction. Over this ostinato, rhythmically skewed fragments of “Bringing in the Sheaves” appear in the key (or at least on the triad) of B♭, though at about the same pitch level that we had them at in G in the second movement, so our accustomed BDE is mapped on to B♭DF, as seen in ex. 13.43. As the music continues, there is a momentary suggestion (to my ears) of “Erie” that wavers between B and B♭ (ex. 13.43 again) and then an incomplete re-do-mi-re-do motive in F. Te following passage, mm. 69–92, uses material the movement shares in common with the second movement, and at the same pitch level, notably the ragtime rif GA B♭GB, and a fuller development of a EDEF motive at m. 89 that was heard in mm. 147–48 of the second movement. Ragtime rhythms emphasizing E♭ in the bass and A in the treble build up from mm. 97–108, leading to the glorious statement of “Bringing in the Sheaves” that scattered motives of the tune had been leading us to anticipate.

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.43: Fourth movement, mm. 59–67

Ives’s syncopated version of “Sheaves” is joyously infectious and unmistakable even though it is not really the tune. Comparison with the original in ex. 13.44 shows that Ives combined the contour of the chorus with the rhythm of the verse and also took the harmonic rhythm from the chorus. Te clever way he enlivens the harmony with augmented triads, dominant sevenths, and sharp elevenths, and the rhythm with impatient dotted eighth notes, surely gives us some idea of how the college boy Charlie must have regaled his Yale friends down at Poli’s bar in New Haven with his musical jokes.

At m. 131 the music climaxes in a rhythmically conventional (but hardly sedate) version of the original verse, ending in a barrage of repeated notes em-


The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.44: Fourth movement, mm. 109–116, compared to “Bringing in the Sheaves”

phasizing F, though blurred by an array of Es, E-fats, and F-sharps as well. Ives clearly sets up an expectation of an F dominant resolving to B♭, but then at m. 150 makes a surprise move to “Welcome Voice” in the key of B, although the lef hand keeps trying to retain B♭ in the mix (ex. 13.45). At last this gives way to a slow, pianissimo version of “Welcome Voice” in the delayed key of B♭, with “Bringing in the Sheaves” in counterpoint, singing sweetly in the tenor. Te ending is one of Ives’s most poetic efects: a fnal re-do-mi-re-do in B♭, completed this time, but with a quiet diminished-vii chord casting a gentle doubt on the fnality of the cadence and the tonic chord apparently held out to eternity (ex. 13.46).

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.45: Fourth movement, mm. 154–158


The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.46: Fourth movement, mm. 160–161

Fifth Movement

Te ffh movement of Ives’s First Piano Sonata is a striking departure from the hymn quoting and intermittent tonality of the first four, in its abstraction, its motivic saturation, its general atonality, and even in its relative rhythmic straightforwardness. Signifcantly longer in pages and performance timing than any of the other movements, this fnale is almost single-mindedly based on a motive of a descending half step followed by a descending minor third, our –1–3 motive, sometimes followed by an additional minor half step; except for a brief contrasting middle section, that motive is found in almost every measure. Tere is a four-measure discrepancy between the 1954 and 1979 editions of the sonata and what I feel is the corrected 1990 edition, due to the excision of a passage that will be identifed below. We will use here the 1990 measure numbers, but owners of the earlier editions should keep in mind that past m. 132 they should subtract four from the remaining measure numbers.

Te movement is easily divided into three sections (the third further divided), the second one over a C drone being the contrasting one:

Section 1: mm. 1–130 (syss. 37-1 to 44-1)

Section 2: mm. 131–148 (syss. 44-2 to 46-2, over a C drone)

Section 3a: mm. 149–203 (syss. 46-3 to 49-2)

Section 3b: mm. 204–225 (syss. 49-3 to 50-3)

Te first section, however, comprising some 130 measures and 35 systems, though it has a long-lined, monolithic feel that is unusual in Ives’s music, needs to be further broken down in order to be manageable. Let us consider it in seven smoothly continuing phases, or episodes:

Episode 1

mm. 1-15

Episode 2

mm. 16-26

Episode 3

mm. 27-48

Episode 4

mm. 49-59

Episode 5

mm. 60-86

Episode 6

mm. 87-125

Episode 7

mm. 126-130

(p.333) Episode 1 consists of four phrases on a –1–3 motive, going into a repetition of the motive that leads us to a quasicadenza (so described by Ives). Te first three such motives begin with FED♭, over an A drone in the bass, and actually an AG seventh in two cases; the fourth phrase transposes the melody up to B(C♭)B♭G and the bass note to C♯. At the onset of each of the first three phrases, B and F are also emphasized in the lef hand. Te D♭ in the melody is accompanied each time by a kind of dominant seventh on E in the bass, EG♯D with ofen B♭ and other pitches. A side-by-side comparison (ex. 13.47) shows clearly how Ives slightly changes rhythms and chords for each new phrase. Tis comparison encapsulates just about everything in mm. 1–11 except for a couple of quick-note fourishes, two –1–3 motives in ffhs or octaves, and a rather quiet quotation (quieter than the surrounding context) of our hymn “Lebanon” from the first movement, easy to miss, beginning with one of the notes of the –1–3 motive, stretched out in D♭ major as it is over that motive (ex. 13.48). Later in the movement, at page 49, we fnd “Lebanon” again in the same notes, almost the same rhythms, and with the same surprise standing on the supertonic at the end instead of the expected descent to the tonic. (Te manuscripts, f3820–21, seem to suggest that Ives was thinking of making more extensive use of the tune than he ended up doing.) Here, at m. 12, an increasingly animated reiteration of the –1–3 motive on C♭B♭G leads to a climactic high G♯ (which will return at the movement’s end) and then to a transitional, highly chromatic quasicadenza with little apparent motivic function, just a chromatic sliding downward until it is distilled into mostly white-key notes toward its end.

Let’s note the relation of this introduction’s emphasized pitches to the whole-tone scale. Bass notes: A and G, then C♯. Beginning melodic note: F three times, then B. Key of “Lebanon” quotation: D♭. We have every note—FGABC♯— except E♭, which is the climactic end note of “Lebanon.” (We might note that of the two lef-hand –1–3 motives in mm. 9 and 11, one ends on an E♭ ffh and the other starts on E♭.) It is safe to say that this opening episode emphasizes this whole-tone scale.

Episode 2, mm. 16–26, is marked by Ives “quasirecitative.” Afer a couple of –1–3 motives in bass octaves, this brief and consistent passage settles into the pitches B♭, A, F♯, and G (–1–3+1, but not always in order) in the lef hand, punctuated in the right by C♭ and an EGBC chord.

Episode 3, mm. 27–48, is characterized by a syncopation between the two hands (partly introduced in episode 2), with an octave or chord in each half-note beat answered by the other hand, or a treble chord, or an octave from the bass note, answering on the ofeat. ex. 13.49 abstracts the episode into its upper and lower lines, marking all identifable melodic features. Note the opening –1–3 motives and the chord sequence on AAGAGFGF, stated in triads, which spells out a motive from “Lebanon”—the only moment here in which a

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.47: Fifh movement, mm. 1–11, phrases compared


The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.48: Fifh movement, quotation of “Lebanon” at mm. 4–9

tonality is suggested. Otherwise this passage moves around on scale fragments and is not strong on thematic elements.

Episode 4 (mm. 49–59) continues hinting at “Lebanon” in triads—namely, with a downward-sequencing series of neighbor notes in mostly white-note triads—as the bass continues alternating notes an octave apart in a similar series of downward-sequencing series of chromatic neighbor notes.


The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.49: Fifh movement, melodic outline of mm. 27–48

Episode 5 (mm. 60–86) is a milder passage, marked “(andante) allegretto.” We could further divide it into episodes 5a and 5b at m. 77. In 5a the right hand delicately outlines –1–3 motives with their downward chromatic continuation as the lef hand, while the lef hand plays upward arpeggios that emphasize ffhs, the first three starting on F and the rest starting on A except for one (an E dominant) on G♯. One chord, EG♯A♯D♭F, recurs four times in 5a and the beginning of 5b (ex. 13.50). We could explain away this chord as two second/ third pitch sets from the opposing whole-tone scales (EG♯A♯ and D♭FG), but without much confdence that Ives was thinking that way, or that the fact is auditorily signifcant; we note that it contains an E, G♯, A♯, and D♭, which were also in the second chord of each phrase from the first page. Te second half features a gentle, hymn-like melody in the key of G, shown in ex. 13.51, decorated in its second half with –1–3 motives and their inversion. Beneath it, the lef hand plays chords or arpeggios of a third above either a perfect ffh or tritone, the bass notes weaving mostly among A, G♯, G, and F♯. Note that in episode 5a the bass notes emphasize F and A, and then the melody in 5b is in G.

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.50: Fifh movement, recurring chord at mm. 67, 70, 72, and 79


The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.51: Fifh movement, melodic motives at mm. 77–85

Episode 6 (mm. 87–125) is a welter of –1–3 motives and its inversions, irregular chromatic scales, repeated fgures, and momentary points of harmonic stasis. As with episode 2, we could summarize it in a chart, but it would be a much longer and more involved one, and the reduced visual would not add much in the way of clarity. Marked “più mosso (very evenly),” the episode opens with two –1–3 motives AG♯F in the treble accompanied by a CC♯G motive in the bass, as if the motive has evolved to include a tritone, which it ofen seems to have in this passage. Te bass continues through inverted +1+3 motives, with repeated right-hand fgures that include the –1–3. Along the way we have passages in which chromatic movement in the bass octaves is set against moments of tonal stasis, such as ex. 13.52’s passage at mm. 96–100 in which the upper lines fxate on a dominant seventh on D. A similar passage at mm. 117–121 harps on a D♯-major triad in the inner line. A measure repeated three times (save for the initial F♯ moving to G in the last) leads to a climax descending through a whole-tone scale at m. 109. At mm. 123–125 the episode comes to a point of stasis in which (following two similar C-major triads in the bass) the bass octaves outline G major (including the opening tritone C♯) as the top line spells out ascending –1–3 motives in diminished and augmented triads, and the middle part spells a four-against-three rhythm on F♯-major, G-major, and F-augmented triads (ex. 13.53).

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.52: Fifh movement, mm. 96–100


The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.53: Fifh movement, mm. 123–125

Episode 7 is truly a gradual transition to the contrasting Adagio cantabile section, and Ives marks it as “a dissolving kind of thing.” Te process starts with chords of two thirds separated by an internal tritone, echoing motives of a minor third plus a half step in transposition, and introducing the major sevenths that will become common in the next few pages (ex. 13.54). Meanwhile, the lef hand introduces more and more notes from the G-major triad, and the remainder of the episode repeats these with D surrounded by C♯, E♭, and E, B neighbor-noted by A-sharps, and G paired with A-fats, as a dominant preparation on G major comes more and more into focus.

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.54: Fifh movement, mm. 126–127

From mm. 131–148 (syss. 44-2 to 46-2) comes a milder, Adagio cantabile middle section over a drone on C, mirroring the passage in the first movement that was based on a C♯ drone with a B-major melody above it: similar in atmosphere but less regular and a little more dissonant. (At manuscript f3812 there is a page that presents some of this material, notated in 3/8 meter, headed “IV” and marked “Largo,” as though it was first intended to be a separate additional slow movement by itself.) Te drone notes comprise the pitches C, E, and G with an occasional D♯ or F♯, ofen as a half-step cluster with E or G respectively. Above this comes a rising C-major arpeggio whose ffhs—or, more specifcally, whose pattern of smaller intervals rising up to larger ones—is suggestive of the first movement’s seconds/ffhs melody, altered at the beginning to also resemble (p.338) “O Happy Day” (ex. 13.55). As though “Happy Day” brought other happiness to mind, between these treble fgures and the drone, in the mid-register, appear quotations of a hymn called “Happy Land” (its opening phrase shown in ex. 13.56), which Ives also uses to advantage in his Tird and Fourth Symphonies.

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.55: Fifh movement, arpeggio themes at mm. 131 and 141

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.56: “Happy Land”

We note the conjunction of a second and a third, F♯G♯B. Ives transposes the dotted rhythm at the end of the phrase to the tune’s first measure and develops it gradually: first in halting B♭ minor, then in C with the previous theme’s rising ffh attached, and then adding an upper neighbor note between the first two notes (ex. 13.57). Meanwhile, the “Far, far away” phrase seems to get gently sublimated into a simple fa-mi-re-do cadence, and even the more elaborate fgures conceal an octave-displaced falling scale (ex. 13.58).

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.57: Fifh movement, quotations and variations of “Happy Land”

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.58: Fifh movement, falling scale at mm. 142–143 and 137

(p.339) Here is where the textual problem comes. On page 44 of the original 1954 edition, there are two measures in the third system repeated virtually verbatim (save for dynamic markings) in the fourth. Te same repetition is preserved in the 1979 edition, but the 1990 edition removes the repeated measures and two bar lines. Tus the 1990 score has 225 measures in the ffh movement, where the 1954 and 1979 had 229. Te repeated measures on page 44 of the earlier editions look like an engraver’s error, they are so identical, but there is a manuscript page, f3839, at which Ives repeats the phrase here, so there is some textual justifcation. However, other and later-appearing manuscripts at f3847 and f3893 omit the repetition and seem to be more authoritatively revised copies. In addition, the 1954 and 1979 scores have the right-hand melody at this point as GAGFE DF, while all manuscripts have the melody as GFEDF, which is followed by the 1990 edition; where the extra AG came from is unclear. In any case, for those who might have the 1954 or 1979 editions, the 1990 edition replaces mm. 133–137 in those scores with the measures in ex. 13.59. Tis seems to be the reading most justifed by Ives’s manuscripts. Both versions can be found played on recordings of the work.

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.59: Fifh movement, mm. 132b–133 as in the corrected 1990 edition

Eventually, the mi-fa-mi-re-mi-sol pattern Ives weaves around “Tere is a happy land” begins to assert itself and is joined by the m. 2m. 3 motto to begin the fnal Allegro (allegretto), as seen in ex. 13.60. Note that in this simple context the m. 2m. 3 motive seems to have a more conventional tonal function implying a move from I to V/V; also note the bass drone’s move from G to A, keys that have been paired in other movements of the sonata.


The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.60: Fifh movement, mm. 152–155

Te first extended passage of this fnal section, mm. 149–203 (syss. 46-3 to 49-2), is sharply focused on the m. 2m. 3 motive, the “Happy Land” mi-fa-mire-mi-sol pattern, and the rising scale in the bass that can be seen developed from it in the example above. A glance along the bottom of these three pages of material quickly reveals an interesting point: at first the recurring bass note moves from G to A; then (at sys. 47-1) a low E appears as the bottom note of a series of scale fragments, recurrently leading to a sustained A; then the bass octaves wander around with much reference to one whole-tone scale or the other, fnally arriving (at sys. 49-2) at yet another pedal point on A. In short, these three pages prolong an A pedal point that fnally resolves as a VI onto a fortissimo D at m. 208 (the beginning of sys. 49-3).

Te remainder of the movement is obsessed with the –1–3 motive. At m. 207, as the right hand plays our recapitulated “Lebanon” in D♭, the lef hand cycles around the related motive DD♭AB♭ (–14+1), transposed upward by a whole step from a similar motive at mm. 5 and 7 of the fourth movement. At m. 211 the music hits a triumphant A♭-major triad, but then the bass hammers back and forth on E♭ and B♭, pounding cadenza-like in a kind of insistent tonality similar to that on F♯ and C♯ on the first movement’s last page. Te hymn-like tune heard in G at m. 77 reappears here in A♭ at m. 217. Te 13 motive saturates the fnal page, the transposition C♭B♭G once again leading to a high G♯, as it did on the movement’s first page. Tis time, however, the G♯ is followed by a D, F, and E, making a surprisingly conventional E dominant-ninth chord, which leads to the implied A-major triad and then to a less predictable fortissimo cadence on E major—although one contradicted by a quiet 13 motive on B♭AF♯. Tere is no apparent large-scale logic for this mostly atonal movement ending in E major.

Te listener to a recording of both sonatas will hear, as one gives way to the other, the same motive with which the first ends entering in the lef hand of the second (ex. 13.61). Strangely enough, in one manuscript (f3899), Ives writes “God bless our son!” beneath the B♭AF♯ motive. Ives had no son, of (p.341) course, but perhaps it is a sign that he was indeed thinking programmatically of a boy leaving his family afer all, inserting a little prayer afer the triumphant ending.

The First Piano Sonata

Ex. 13.61: –1–3 motive at end of First Sonata and beginning of Concord

We have not done the First Sonata justice and cannot without writing another book. But within the constraints of a single chapter we have developed enough of an overview to contrast Ives’s large-scale thinking here with that in the Concord. Tat the two works are remarkably diferent need hardly be pointed out. We have represented the Concord as beginning with an open-ended question in the “Emerson” movement, exploring it in “Hawthorne,” answering it in “Te Alcotts,” and moving to a deeper level and perhaps further questions in “Toreau.” In contrast to this schema—which is at least fairly traditional in its unidirectionality, paralleled in this respect by other works in the sonata-form repertoire—the First Sonata, as nearly every commentator has pointed out, is far more concerned with symmetry. First there are the grandly rhetorical first, third, and ffh movements broken up by two related ragtimes, and each of those in two distinct parts. In addition, the odd-numbered movements all have contrasting middle sections. But the symmetry is more subtle than this. In terms of their hymn tunes and cumulative forms, it is the first and third movements that seem parallel to each other, while the more abstract ffh seems a grand, almost philosophical summation of the entire work: making the entire sonata not so much ABCBA as ABABC. In less obvious ways, however, the ffh movement reprises the first’s “Lebanon” tune at moments and has a slow section over a C drone to balance the first’s slow section over a C♯ drone. Te symmetries are elegantly multilayered but obvious enough, it seems to me, to make the First Sonata a slightly easier nut to crack for the untrained listener than the Concord. Not only its hymn tunes in every movement, and excitingly ragged “Bringing in the Sheaves,” but its overall form make it more accessible. On the other hand, the movements of the Concord all feature the same unifying theme, and I fnd the underlying harmonic form there a little clearer, even if it is not really an element of the auditory surface.

(p.342) Let us attempt to sum up the suggested tonalities of the First Sonata, movement by movement:

  • 1st: seeming to start in Ft minor, eventually in B major, though with a middle section over a C drone

  • 2nd: first half ends in G, second half in A afer passage in A|,; both A and G emphasized as bass notes in the ragtime passages

  • 3rd: E major at beginning and end, long A-major passage in middle

  • 4th: emphasis on A and G in bass in ragtime passages; statement of “Sheaves” in F, switch to B, quiet ending in B^

  • 5th: emphasis on F-G-A-B-C» whole-tone scale in first episode; middle passage on a C drone, emphasis on A near the end but ending abruptly in E

I am tempted to theorize that Ives wrote the First Sonata around tonalities in the partial whole-tone scale F-G-A-B-C, as against the Concord’s A|,-B|,-C-D-E-(FM), though I fear it might seem like I’m cherry-picking my evidence to make the point. Te first movement achieves B major though with one statement of the hymn tune in G and with a drone section on C. Te second and fourth movements certainly hammer away on G and A in various guises, and the fourth’s climax is in F, switching to B. Te third’s grand middle section is in A, while the ffh, furiously atonal for the most part, has tunes in D|, and G and uses a whole-tone scale on F for most of its structural moments, emphasizing A at the end.

For the sake of accuracy, let’s look at the sections that don’t ft this schema. Chief among these are the first movement’s apparent beginning in F minor, the ffh movement’s long drone on C, the third movement’s beginning and especially ending supporting E major, and the ffh’s unexpected close on E. But the keys of E and A have a curious relationship in this sonata. In the third, E takes on the character of a dominant preparation to the A-major middle section, and in the ffh (I’m thinking of mm. 67-75 and 165-182) arguably dominant chords on E seem to point to A, as well as the fnal notes seeming to make E a dominant. Te fourth movement’s fnal move to B|, almost seems a concession afer a confict between that key and B^. Te ffh movement’s middle section over a C drone (for which G acted as a dominant preparation) is a little harder to explain away. Still, whether one buys the whole-tone scale as a structural underpinning for this sonata as well, I think we can consider it evident that within each piece there are certain keys that Ives considers basic and unifying from movement to movement. Te emphasis on A in movements 2 through 5, and on G in movements 2, 4, and 5, strike me as undeniably signifcant.

Let us, in chart 13.2, further outline the correspondences among the First Sonata’s movements in terms of the hymn tunes used, the recurring motives and themes, and the underlying tonalities. A chart like this for the Concord (p.343) Sonata would be far less informative, both, paradoxically, because the piece is more unifed as a whole and because there are fewer specifc correspondences among its movements. It needs no chart to explain that the same cyclic theme runs through all four movements—although one might welcome a graphic that could show the process of the theme lying in fragments in the first two movements, coming together as a whole in the third, and drifing back into parts in the fourth.

The First Piano Sonata

Chart 13.2: Correspondences among movements in First Sonata

We get the impression that Ives wasn’t as proud of the First Sonata as of the Second—the Concord, afer all, was the work he sent out first into the world, while the First Sonata rather languished and had to be reconstructed by Lou Harrison (although perhaps Ives’s disappointment over the disappearance of the completed score he sent to Dr. Griggs played some role). Both pieces had movements that originated in other works, but the cyclic use of the Human Faith theme grandly efaces that fact in the Concord. By contrast, the integration of the Four Ragtime Dances into the First Sonata seems less complete, although some harmonic alteration was made in order to create large-scale linkage. Te First Sonata contains no ongoing source of tension in all movements such as the Concord has in its AE♭ opposition. No harmony sticks out as a unifying factor as the whole-tone-plus-one collection does in the Concord. Te fact that the ffh movement took Ives so long to complete is refected in the palpable diference of its style from the other four movements, yet I have always heard it as a kind of grand culmination, its massive energy absorbing that of the earlier movements and raising it to a new level. Pianist Donna Coleman came up (p.344) with a rather apt interpretation in the liner notes to her recording of the First Sonata: “I only fully understood and appreciated the signifcance . . . of the ffh movement afer I had learned Concord when I realized that it is the movement that links these two great works to each other. . . . Here is where Ives’s transformation takes place, where he is transported from the religion of his boyhood to the spirituality of his manhood.”14 Indeed, as we’ve seen, the link of the 13 motive between the First Sonata’s fnale and “Emerson” adds some plausibility to the conceit.

Te First Sonata is indeed a more personal work, more evocative of the hymn tunes of Ives’s youth—which is probably the gist of Ives’s fumbling attempt to derive programmatic connections—while the Concord is more philosophical and overall more abstract. Te First Sonata’s beauties are more on the surface, and its form clearer, which we know did not count as virtues in Ives’s aesthetics. Te diferences in this respect, however, are only relative. It is easier to demonstrate, on paper, the four-movement unity of the Concord—also not a selling point that would have impressed Ives. Te Concord gains an advantage from its programmatic links to writers known to all readers of American literature. Together the two sonatas form stunning matched pillars of the modernist piano repertoire, and in forty-fve years I have never felt compelled to an opinion that either one of them was, overall, better, more enjoyable, or even more profound than the other.


(1.) Charles Ives, Memos, ed. John Kirkpatrick (New York: W. W. Norton, 1972), 155.

(2.) James B. Sinclair, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Music of Charles Ives (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), 189.

(3.) Jan Swafford, Charles Ives: A Life with Music (New York: W. W. Norton, 1996), 165–67.

(6.) Lora Louise Gingerich, “Processes of Motivic Transformation in the Keyboard and Chamber Music of Charles Ives,” PhD diss., Yale University, 1983. It considers only the first, third, and fifth movements; D. Robert Mumper, “The First Piano Sonata of Charles Ives,” DMA document, Indiana University, 1971.

(7.) As Gingerich puts it, “The overly general technique of motivic analysis Mumper uses is problematic, for it weakens the power of a motive to unify diverse sections of music, and it only begins to describe the rich motivic relationships.” Gingerich, “Processes of Motivic Transformation,” 11.

(8.) Lou Harrison, “On Ives’s First Piano Sonata,” published in the 1954 score by Peer International Corporation.

(9.) In her dissertation Gingerich separates this figure into two motives, one a scale-wise run of seconds and the other a series of ascending fifths. By so doing she achieves an admirable fluidity in being able to trace either motive through the musical texture, but in this less in-depth context I prefer to concentrate on the total idea’s perceived role as a theme. See Gingerich, “Processes of Motivic Transformation,” 159.

(10.) Gingerich divides this last section into two brief parts, syss. 9-3/4 and 9-5 to 10-4. (p.419) Since they are linked by a continuation of the falling-sixth theme, I find the division (in mid-measure) unnecessary. She also counts the interruptive cadenza as part of the previous section. Gingerich, “Processes of Motivic Transformation,” 158.

(14.) Donna Coleman, Charles Ives: Piano Works, Vol. 2, in Etcetera KTC 1079, 1992 (unpaged).