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August 23, 1974 - Image 5

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Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1974-08-23

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. Friday, August 23, 1974

THEMCIGAN DAILY

Page Five

Two new record sets commemorate
the Charles Ives Centennial

By CHARLES SMITH
Charles Ives is at the moment one of
the world's most controversial compos-
ers. Everyone either loves Ives or hates
him - almost no one is indifferent to the
man and his music. This passionate in-
tensity which Ives arouses in the world
around him is, in fact, actually a reflec-
tion of the man's own passion for life
and the pursuit of music.
As a personality, Ives is immediately
appealing to most musicians. He was one
of his generation's most successful insur-
ance executives and could have made
himself a spectacularly wealthy man. In-
stead he lived plainly and unostenta-
tiously, devoting his private life to his
deeply felt convictions about music.
Although he composed almost nothing
in the last 30 years of his life, the num-
ber of his surviving pieces is large; yet
he never made any money off of his mu-
sic, as he wished his music to be freely
available to anyone who wanted it, and
donated any royalties he did receive to
new music groups.
The opinions on Ives the composer are
more divided. His musical style could be
described as eclectic, although that may
be too generous a term. His pieces are
often a grab-bag of diverse techniques,.
with snatches of hymn tunes and pa-
triotic songs, unresolved dissonances,
tone clusters, traditional fugal counter-
point, bizarre instrumental colors, and
so on - strange bedfellows, all forcibly
held together by his exuberance and en-
thusiasm.
The New England Transcendentalists,
Emerson and Thoreau, strongly influ-
enced his musical outlook, as well as did
his memories of his childhood in a small
New England. town. He felt that music
should be a reflection of the way the
world really was, confused and exciting,
rather than a pretty picture of the way
the world should be. All of his life, Ives
despised his teachers and many of his
contemporaries, all of whom he felt were
painters of "pretty pictures".
Unfortunately, with so many diverse
elements being thrown into his pieces,
the results were often less than success-
ful. Even Ives' better pieces are some-
times marred by an unevenness -- they
are long on imagination and daring, but
short on musical logic and coherence.
His music can sound, to me at any rate,
too much like a series of interesting
ideas strung together without much care
or planning.
Of course, Ives would have been dis-
gusted by such criticism, since he al-
ways felt that he was not composing
"masterpieces", but was just "making
music". Now and then he did manage to

listen to it. It is one of the few pieces
by Ives with explicit instructions with
regard to tempi, rhythms, and dynamics,
presenting two distinct orchestral groups
playing in different tempi but with spe-
cific indications of their interrelations.
Leonard Bernstein apparently has little
regard for the integrity of this piece, and
delivers a performance in which these
relationships are haphazard at best; thus
a great deal of the subtle details of this
piece are lost in this recording.
The second record in the set is a selec-
tion of choral works, including the first
recording of the full-length oratoria, The
Celestial Country, an interesting if not
wholly satisfying piece.
The third record is a collection of 25
songs for voice and piano, performed by
soprano Helen Boatwright and pianist
John Kirkpatrick. Some of these pieces
may be worth getting to know, but these
performances are so sad it is hard to
tell. This kind of wooden, shaky, often
off-key performance makes a very poor
case for even the best music.
The last record in the set contains re-
cordings from the 30's of Ives himself
on the piano. While of interest to the
specialist, these recordings do not pre-
sent the best way of becoming acquaint-
ed with Ives.
The other new release is a two-record
set of the complete Sonatas for Violin
and Piano (Nonesuch HB-73025), played
by Paul Zukovsky (violin) and Gilbert
Kalish (piano). All four of the publish-
ed sonatas are included, as well as one
movement from an early work (the
"Pre-First Sonata").
This issue is particularly welcome as
a first recording of some of Ives' best
music. The contrast with some of the
poorer pieces on the Columbia set is en-
lightening. Rather than trying to over-
whelm the listener by throwing every-
thing he can think of into the music,
Ives structures these pieces around a
limited number of ideas, no less original
and daring, but more coherently organiz-
ed.
All four of the Sonatas are worth
knowing. I would recommend in partic-
ular the Fourth, especially the slow
movement, a setting of "Jesus Loves
Me, This I Know" in an elaborate atonal
style.
The performances on this record are
competent without being brilliant. Zu-
kovsky and Kalish give mostly accurate
renderings of these pieces, while making
an enthusiastic case for their musical
worth. If more such competent record-
ings of Ives' best music were available,
he might be less of a figure of contro-
versy, and appreciated more for his
ability to project novel and interesting
musical ideas.

'ourtesy o Columbia Records

channel his spectacular imagination into
a carefully worked-out composition
which can stand up to the most search-
ing musical examination. More often,
however, his music-making resulted in a
musical autobiographical sketch of a fas-
cinating man.
October 20, 1974 will be the 100th anni-
versary of Charles Ives' birth. This sum-
mer two new record sets have appeared
in preparation for this event. Together
they present an almost complete pic-
ture of Ives the composer. Here one can
find, side by side, some pieces which
are the best he ever wrote with others
which are so bad it's embarrassing.
Charles Ives, the 100th Anniversary
(Columbia M4 32504) isa four-record set,
with a bonus record containing recorded
reminiscences by acquaintances of Ives.
Columbia Records has long been a cham-
pion of the music of Ives, but unfortun-
ately this set is not their most successful
release. It will be of interest, in part at
least, to the Ives specialist, but poor
performances and above all poor editor-
ial planning undermine whatever value it

might have had to the person who is
searching for an introduction to the
man's music.
The first record, titled "The Many
Faces of Charles Ives", is a collection of
previously released recordings of short-
er pieces for various mediums. It con-
tains, among other pieces, The Fourth of
July and The Unanswered Question for
orchestra, The Pond for chamber or-
chestra, the Variations on America for
organ, and some songs for chorus and
soloists.
All of these recordings have been re-
leased before by Columbia, usually with-
in more coherent contexts, such as on a
record devoted solely to choral works,
etc., so that the only real value of this
record is as a potpourri of Ives' diverse
styles. Yet there are no symphony move-
ments or chamber pieces included, and
with one exception the pieces anthologiz-
ed here are not representative of Ives at
his best.
The Unanswered Question is one of
Ives' masterpieces, a piece which be-
comes better and better the more you

SRecords in rev
Eric Clapton is back after an absence of o
His new album, 461 Ocean Boulevard (RSO Rec
necessarily going to be an event. But it is als
a lot of expectations if people aren't ready
changes of those years.
There is no "Layla" on this album. In
a noticible de-emphasis of lead guitar solos t
though Clapton's playing has never been better
voice is pronounced and turns out to be the bes
any of his albums. He is backed by ex-Jesus
vocalist Yvonne Elliman, who turns in a surpris
herself.
Put together in Miami in three weeks, this al
excellent version of Elmore James' "I Can't]
an equally fine Robert Johnson tune (Clapton
claims), "Steady Rollin' Man".
Together with blues, Clapton has written
mellow songs - "Let It Grow" is the best.
makes this release the most relaxed - or what
and delicate" - of his career.
After his long absence and bout with heroin
laxed album is not one that most people ares
Clapton is always ahead of the music scene, w
is considered one of the best.
This album may not be a commercial success.
Clapton has succeeded in puling together all the se
his musical past, from JMin Mayall to Derek an
and has made a statement of the present.

e W 'U' play hard to swallow
ver three years. By BOB SCHETTER of the audience. Direct allusions to the present
ords SO 4801), is "People Are Better Off In Zoos", an intellect- however proved bombastic and eventually boring.
o going to blow ual exercise in banality, opened at the Univer- The play is not believable. Albeit, there might
for the musical sity Theater Program's Arena Theater last night, have been yoga and Chinese egg rolls in 19th
and I only wish that the author, too, was behind century Paris, but even so the play fails because
fact, there is bars. in those times people did not speak nor behave in
hroughout, even The play, set during the time of the Paris the ways presented by this Zoo story.
. This time, his Commune of 1871, concerns an artist, Jean- Incidentally, there are definite parallels to Al-
t vocalization of Baptiste Lemonde (translated: The World) and bee's "Zoo Story". In both author's work, each
Christ Superstar his reactions to the bizarrities outside his Paris action and spoken word is meant as something
ing performance studio. The earth shaking analogy of humans to beyond itself, something which is intrinsic to the
animals (in the pejoritive sense) gives the play meaning of the plays. In this Albee is the master.
bum includes an its title and inanity. This inanity is furthered Witwer, a buffoon.
Hold Out," plus by J. B.'s attraction to tits, honey bears, Chinese The acting and staging did nothing to bolster
's guru, an he egg rolls, cookies, debasing women, and to pass- even the "finer points" of the play. Portrayals
ing as many snide remarks in one line as possi- continually were trite, with the actors showing
some e ble. All of these are supposed to be significant little motivation and emotional realism for even
The combinati to the play's understanding. They are nOt- commonplace incidences as smiling or as trau-
he calls "quiet Eventually, the play does end with the crush- matic events as the death of a friend. The entire
ing of the Commune. I say eventually because cast was guilty of this lack of feeling for roles,
there is no plot. Just a constant flux of charac- although performances by Ken Steinman as
ters on and off the stage, each trying to give his
waiting for. But own twisted view of life and attempting to prove Pierre and Thom Van Aken as old Lemonde, did
Vhich is why he the animalistic nature of man. Most of them measure up to professional standards.
get shot-except for Jean-Baptiste, the most like- Even granting that a crazy script, such as
But artistically, ly candidate for the honor. "Better ., .It Zoos," is unmanageable, I would
eparate pieces of The play is Intended to be serious. The author, Bste r nainaaeaylt,:I wo-
d the Dominoes, Andrew Witwer, tries crowding as many of hi still pres for a renaming of the play to: "Pee
views in 2% hours as possible, succeeding only in e Are Better Off Not Cosing ..."
--VIki Bankey championing at least one cause for each member The play runs to Aug. 24.

r-

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