Late Night Recital
The second piano sonata, entitled “Concord, Mass., 1840–60”, was composed as a work in progress over several decades. It is one of Charles Ives’ main works, imposing huge demands on the pianist. Concord, a small town in Massachusetts, was the centre of the American transcendentalist movement in the 19th century.
The progressive, liberal ideas of this group of writers, teachers and philosophers has been decisive for the American way of thinking right up to the present day. The transcendentalists demanded an end to slavery, promoted the rights of women and provided the first formulations of arguments for the protection of nature.
The four movements of the Concord Sonata can be seen as suggestive figure portraits. In his Essays before a Sonata, Ives said the work was an “impression of the spirit of transcendentalism that is associated in the minds of many with Concord, Massachusetts of over a half century ago”. The opening movement, with the title Emerson, is a tribute to the philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was the leader of the transcendentalists and his thinking greatly influenced American literature. Writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, portrayed in the second movement, represented the American strain of romanticism, with his novels’ and short stories’ emphasis on dark fantasy. The third movement, The Alcotts, offers a musical sketch of Amos Bronson Alcott, a progressive reformer and teacher, his wife Abigail May Alcott, who fought for the abolition of slavery, and their daughter Louisa May Alcott, a writer who became widely known for her youth novels. The final movement of the Concord Sonata is entitled Thoreau and concerns the thinking of David Henry Thoreau, who as the expression of social criticism in the form of self-experiment, for a period lived a radically simple life in the woods, in harmony with nature.
With his work “Concord, Mass., 1840–60”, Ives created one of the milestones of piano repertoire. Ives expands harmony, operating boldly with quotes from Beethoven to Stravinsky.
Pierre-Laurent Aimard, renowned as much as a performer of modern and contemporary music as for his immersion in the works of Bach and the classical-romantic repertoire, is regarded as one of the foremost performers of Ives’ Concord Sonata. Last year he thrilled the Musikfest audience with his Liszt recital.
Charles Ives [1874-1954]
Piano Sonata No. 2 ‘Concord, Mass., 1840-60’ [1904-15]