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Zobel, Mark Alan

"Music Close to the Soil and Deeply Felt": The Use of American Hymn Tunes in Charles Ives's Third Symphony

Ph.D. University of Colorado at Boulder, 2005
(mark@markzobel.com)

Of the many ingenious features of Charles Ives's music, the quotation and paraphrase of preexisting tunes stand among the most striking. Indeed, discussions of musical borrowing have been central to the musicological literature on Ives for the past half century, often in terms of the composer's reification of memory within his own music. Principal to these discussions is the idea that the significance of Ives's musical borrowing lies not only in the imagery evoked by the tunes themselves, but also in the ways they are used. This dissertation examines tune-usage in Ives's Third Symphony with a view towards explaining how Ives's compositional procedures convey extramusical meanings, whether they be aspects of the composer's personal memories, or parallels with Christian symbolism -- parallels which Ives may not have intended, but which amplify the symphony's overall religious theme.

Completed in 1904 and first performed in 1946, the Third Symphony originated from three organ works Ives composed during his tenure as organist at Central Presbyterian Church in New York City. Borrowing from such hymns as "O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing", "What a Friend We Have in Jesus", and "Just as I Am", Ives recreated his childhood memories of outdoor camp meeting revivals in three musical vignettes. These memories are described in his Memos and, on one level, the symphony may be read in autobiographical terms. As this dissertation argues, however, the symphony is also capable of signification beyond Ives's prose writings. Its three movements, "Old Folks Gatherin'", "Children's Day", and "Communion", illustrate a narrative in which the camp meeting worshipers of Ives's program move from being "old folks" broken down by life, to a childlike state of innocence, towards ultimate communion with God. This narrative parallels that of the Gospels where Jesus admonishes his followers to abandon their worldly concerns and become like little children in faith in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. This parallel is not the result of a mere correlation between the Gospels and Ives's suggestive movement titles, but is observable in melodic and formalistic structures immanent to the work itself.

Note: A complete hypertext edition is available at http://www.markzobel.com/diss.htm.