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FastNotes

  • A bronze statue on the edge of the Boston Common served as inspiration for the first movement from Three Places in New England. Colonel Robert Gould Shaw was a Union officer who died at Fort Wagner, and the statue itself is an image of heroism embossed onto a slab of sad fate.

  • Ives’ “St. Gaudens” movement conjures his impression of Shaw and his men walking into death. Ives evokes the dissipating echoes of two Civil War songs, “The Battle Cry of Freedom” and “Marching Through Georgia.”

  • In the second movement, “Putnam’s Camp, Redding, Connecticut,” Ives fuses his chamber piece, 1776 Overture and March with “Country Band March” to create a fictional story about a boy who falls asleep during a Fourth of July picnic and dreams about a battle waged at the camp.

  • There is no bloodshed in Ives’ third place, only bliss. “The Housatonic at Stockbridge” is a river where the composer shared a honeymoon walk with his new wife, Harmony, on a Sunday morning in the summer of 1908. He set the memory to music, and it nicely bookends this three-part ode to his beloved New England.


Composed: 1914; 1929
Length: c. 20 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes (3rd = piccolo), 2 oboes (2nd = English horn), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, gong), 2 harps, celesta (= piano), organ, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: December 29, 1932, Nicolas Slonimsky conducting

Light reflects off a bronze statue on the edge of the Boston Common, and into Charles Ives’ first movement from Three Places in New England. Colonel Robert Gould Shaw was a Union officer who marched a unit of black volunteer soldiers into a massacre at Fort Wagner near Charleston, South Carolina. The colonel’s parents commissioned sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens to commemorate their son, and he responded with an image of heroism embossed onto a slab of sad fate. Ives spent many childhood days in the Common near the relief, and his “St. Gaudens” movement conjures his impression of Shaw and his men walking into death. The composer’s penchant for interweaving familiar melodies is used here to evoke the dissipating echoes of two Civil War songs, “The Battle Cry of Freedom” and “Marching Through Georgia,” which he surrounds with battle smoke and confusion. A soldierly French horn occasionally pierces through the din, and there is a brief brass attempt at a rally, but all notes of courage are felled.

In the second movement, “Putnam’s Camp, Redding, Connecticut,” Ives visits another place of meaning to him – a few miles from where he was born – and the site of another American war. Partly in response to the death of his uncle, Lyman Brewster, who wanted Ives to compose an opera based on his play about Major John Andre (a traitorous British spy in the Revolutionary War), the composer wrote a chamber piece, 1776 Overture and March – a wild, modernist mashup of the revolutionary songs “Hail, Columbia,” “The Red White and Blue,” and “The British Grenadiers.” (The effect recalls his boyhood experience hearing marching bands in the town square, playing different tunes in surround sound.) He wrote “Country Band March” around the same time, and fused the two pieces to form the Putnam movement, creating a fictional story about a boy who falls asleep during a Fourth of July picnic and dreams about a battle waged at the camp.

There is no bloodshed in Ives’ third place, only bliss. “The Housatonic at Stockbridge” is a river where the composer shared a honeymoon walk with his new wife, Harmony, on a Sunday morning in the summer of 1908. “We walked in the meadows along the river, and heard the distant singing from the church across the river,” Ives recounted in his Memos. “The mist had not entirely left the river bed, and the colors, the running water, the banks and elm trees were some-thing one would always remember.” He set the memory to music, and it nicely bookends this three-part ode to his beloved New England with something of the same dreamy, gauzy quality as the Shaw remembrance... only of a much happier time.

— Tim Greiving