A rare repertoire

Apart from the seasonal recipes my wife trots out in autumn – the leak-and-potato or butternut squash soups, for example, or the last of the fresh eggplant parmesan  – I mark the occasion with my own extended ritual. Somehow, each October, I pull out my recordings of the symphonies of Charles Ives and play them in sequence. Rarely as 1-2-3-4 and the Symphony of Holidays, either, but more as a dozen playings of the first, followed by a dozen of the second, and so on. And then that’s followed by George Whitefield Chadwick’s string quartets, often leading to other New England Romantic era composers – John Knowles Paine, Amy Beach, Arthur Foote – as well as the more contemporary Walter Piston and his colleagues. These are not pieces I hear often on the radio, not even Boston’s, where all but Ives had lived and worked. (He had become the leading insurance executive in Manhattan, as well as a legendary maverick musician.) These are the neglected but brilliant and often innovative voices of New England, defiantly proving to the world what the Germans were not required to match. I’ve come to feel their music in my soul as my own.

Occasionally, while driving in autumn, I pass a meadow of intense green, even after a killing frost. How inexplicable this reminder of spring aspiration feels so late in the year!

Once, approaching Pinkham Notch on my return from northern Maine, I pulled over beside a boulder-strewn streambed and hiked briefly, thinking myself alone in the now pale yellow, chilled air. As my exhale fogged, I glanced around the forest and listened to the echo of the few remaining birds. Then I noticed the fly fisherman in his waders, patiently casting.

The line, as easily a filament of music as of hope or tranquility; the skill of casting, advanced over the years; the mastery of tying the feathers themselves, likely in the long nights of winter: all coming together in the passing, the present, now, momentary, fleeting, falling wonder.

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3 thoughts on “A rare repertoire”

  1. […] Each October I revisit the symphonies of Charles Ives. It’s not just his birthday month but also an acknowledgement of his deep New England roots. The annual tradition often leads to the symphonies of George Whitefield Chadwick and then John Knowles Paine. Inevitably, I wind up with the one symphony and the piano concerto by Amy Beach. Big, magnificent, often richly Romantic pieces, for the most part. Wish they were much, much better known by the public. (For more.) […]

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