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Charles Ives: The Concord Sonata

Charles Ives' "Concord Sonata" is a musical portrait of four famous authors who all lived in Concord, Massachusetts some 150 years ago. The first movement depicts Ralph Waldo Emerson, the second Nathaniel Hawthorne, the third Louisa May Alcott and the Alcott family, and the fourth Henry David Thoreau.

Pianist Michael Arnowitt will present this landmark American composition in a novel fashion: he will read literary excerpts from each of the four authors prior to the movement that is their musical portrait. This alternation of words and music will help illuminate Ives' far-ranging and fascinating score, and the audience will be able to hear some of the great writing that inspired Ives -- excerpts from Emerson's essay "Circles," Hawthorne's short story "Feathertop," the novel "Little Women" by Alcott, and Thoreau's "Walden."

The four movements reflect Ives' four central interests: religion, nationalism, domestic life, and nature. The music, written around 1910-1915, is Ives' most wide-ranging and ambitious score, combining the refined with the popular, Beethovenian development (the opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is a recurring theme which unites all four movements) with adventuresome, contemporary explosions of sound. You'll hear four-part hymn writing, bits of ragtime, the sound of trains, impressionist writing of great beauty, brass bands, and more in this remarkable piece, the Concord Sonata.

Michael Arnowitt's literary readings makes Ives' complex music far more comprehensible and helps evoke the unique atmosphere of Concord, Massachusetts in 1850. Many audience members have commented on how important these readings are to their greater understanding of the piece. In addition to these interspersed readings, Michael Arnowitt offers a brief (ten-minute) pre-concert talk about Ives and the Concord Sonata.

The Concord Sonata is generally acknowledged to be one of the greatest American compositions ever, yet because of its difficulty is seldom heard "live" in concert. This program is a wonderful opportunity for your audience to hear an unusual and intriguing major work, plus the outstanding literature that inspired it.

    "Your performance was wonderful. I heard from many attendees that their appreciation of the Ives was greatly enhanced by the introduction and the readings. I was proud the library could bring a performer of your caliber to the community."

      -- Nancy Crowell, Scarborough Public Library, Maine

"His presentation had our audience of staff and students riveted, entertained, and educated. Michael's humorous anecdotes about Ives and the Transcendentalists truly made that era come alive for us."

      -- Jim Higgins, Johnson State College, Vermont

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