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Ives's First Symphony

CharlesEdwardIves1889.jpg
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<p>The man bent over his guitar,<br>A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.</p><p>They said, "You have a blue guitar,<br>You do not play things as they are."</p><p>The man replied, "Things as they are<br>Are changed upon the blue guitar."</p><p>And they said then, "But play, you must,<br>A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,</p><p>A tune upon the blue guitar<br>Of things exactly as they are.</p>~Wallace Stevens "The Man with the Blue Guitar"
Two of the United States's greatest artists made their living selling insurance: the poet Wallace Stevens and the composer Charles Ives. By remaining outsiders, both could follow their muses without concerning themselves with critical or popular reception. The oeuvres of both remain challenging, at times grating, but ever pregnant with new forms. Today we hear Ives's First Symphony. Here the composer leans more heavily on European traditions than he would again - it is a student work, mind you, greatly influenced by a more conservative mentor. It is hard to predict that the fellow who would famously berate his audience to, "Stand up and take your dissonance like a man," is somewhere waiting his turn in this symphony. But, it is titillating to know, like savoring a sweet candy with a sour center. 

 

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