A doctor in the sanitarium looked at [the score] strangely, and assumed I was a patient.
—Charles Ives John Kirkpatrick, ed., Charles E. Ives, Memos 104]
Charles Ives wrote of his piece The Fourth of July, the third of the four pieces included in his A Symphony: New England Holidays:
I remember distinctly, when I was scoring this, that there was a feeling of freedom as a boy has, on the Fourth of July, who wants to do anything he wants to do, and that’s his one day to do it. And I wrote this, feeling free to remember local things etc., and to put [in] as many feelings and rhythms as I wanted to put together. And I did what I wanted to, quite sure that the thing would never be played, and perhaps could never be played—although the uneven measures that look so complicated in the score are mostly caused by missing a beat, which was often done in parades. [Memos 104]
Ives wrote two versions of the “postface” to the piece. Below is the longer one; a shorter one was appended to the score.
It’s a boy’s ‘4th—no historical orations—no patriotic grandiloquences by ‘grown-ups’—no program in his yard! But he knows what he’s celebrating—better than most of the county politicians. And he goes at it in his own way, with a patriotism nearer kin to nature than jingoism. His festivities start in quiet of the midnight before, and grow raucous with the sun. Everybody knows what it’s like—if everybody doesn’t—Cannon on the Green, Village Band on Main Street, fire crackers, shanks mixed on cornets, strings around big toes, torpedoes, Church bells, lost finger, fifes, clam-chowder, a prize-fight, drum-corps, burnt shins, parades (in and out of step), saloons all closed (more drunks than usual), baseball game (Danbury All-Stars vs Beaver Brook Boys), pistols, mobbed umpire, Red, White, and Blue runaway horse,—and the day ends with the sky-rocket over the Church-steeple, just after the annual explosion sets the Town-Hall on fire. All this is not in the music,—not now. [Memos 104]
Commenting on the two “explosions-periods” in the piece, Ives wrote:
If one player should get to the end of an explosion-period first, he steadily holds until everybody reaches him, and the conductor wipes them out all together. Or in other words, the worse these places sound to Rollo, the better it is. [Memos 105-6]
Composer-conductor Bernard Hermann commented:
People looking around at Ives to find his musical technique or form are all wasting their time, because he didn’t have any. I think he made up each technique for each piece. It wasn’t even a technique; it was some kind of miasma that hit him and then he went to work on it. Ives’s music doesn’t go on in time and space. His music is a photographic replica in sound of a happening. His The Fourth of July is a replica not of all Fourth of Julys, but of one. [Vivian Perlis, Charles Ives Remembered, An Oral History 161]
Happy 4th to those who celebrate it and, for those who don’t, best wishes for whatever your season is right now. (More in earnest than has been the case since I first noted it, I will soon be offline for a while, so it may take a while for comments to appear.)
Keeping Score (Michael Tilson-Thomas with the San Francisco Symphony)
Keeping Score, Music Made From Memories (interactive feature; choose the “Piling It On” segments)
James B. Sinclair, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Music of Charles Ives
The Fourth of July, Charles Ives (1911-1913)
Instrumentation: Picc-2-2-2-2-cbn; 4-3-cnt-3-1; timp, perc (sn dr, b dr, cym), xyl, bells (high, middle, low), pf; str (opt. 2-3 fifes, picc 2, cl 3) [James B. Sinclair, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Music of Charles Ives]
The score quotes from several pieces, including Assembly, The Battle Cry of Freedom, Battle Hymn of the Republic, Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean, Cuckoo’s call, Dixie’s Land, Fisher’s Hornpipe, Garryowen, The Girl I Left Behind Me, Hail! Columbia, Irish Washerwoman, Katy Darling, Kingdom Coming, London Bridge, Marching Through Georgia, Reveille, Sailor’s Hornpipe (College Hornpipe), St. Patrick’s Day, Street beat, Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, Yankee Doodle. Possible borrowing: The Star Spangled Banner, The White Cockade. [James B. Sinclair, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Music of Charles Ives]
The Fourth of July received its premiere February 21, 1932, in Paris, France, with Nicolas Slonimsky conducting musicians from the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris. [James B. Sinclair, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Music of Charles Ives]
Charles Ives’s Country Band March (circa 1905-1914) (also included on the Spotify playlist)
The Country Band March is about amateur musicians trying to play their best. Some of the players haven’t learned their parts very well and can’t always stay in tune, so they start playing a tune that they do know instead. The result is a crazy hodge-podge of sound that includes recognizable tunes such as “London Bridge” and “Yankee Doodle” along with passages in which the marchers get out of step and lose their places. Listen at the end for the saxophone player who forgets to cut off with everyone else! [citation]
Mickey Mouse & Friends, The Band Concert (with thanks to Elizabeth Drivas for noting this and to Curt Barnes for locating it on YouTube)
Credits: The image at the head of the post may be found here; the images of postcards may be found here, courtesy of James R. Heintze, Fourth of July Celebrations Database. The quotations are from the sources identified and linked in the text.