Ives Concord Symphony | Copland Organ Symphony

San Francisco Symphony - Ives Concord Symphony | Copland Organ Symphony - Cover Image

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Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
Paul Jacobs, organ

A Concord Symphony recorded live at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, February 3-6, 2010.
Organ Symphony recorded live at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, September 22-25, 2010.

Producer: Jack Vad
Engineering Media Manager: Edie Cheng
Engineering Support: Mark Donahue, Dirk Sobotka, Roni Jules, Uwe Willenbacher
Post-Production Support: Marie Ebbing, Jonathon Stevens
Art Direction and Design: Alan Trugman
Cover photo: Davies Symphony Hall, Ruffatti Organ, by Jeanette Yu

The Concord Sonata by Charles Ives (1874-1954), a towering classic of piano literature, emerged into being over many decades. Its first sketches date to 1904 and its final revision to 1947, but mostly Ives concentrated on it from 1916 to 1919. When he first committed it to publication, in 1920, he described it as “an attempt to present [an] impression of the spirit of transcendentalism that is associated in the minds of many with Concord, Mass., of over a half century ago.” He continued, “This is undertaken in impressionistic pictures of Emerson and Thoreau, a sketch of the Alcotts, and a scherzo supposed to reflect a lighter quality which is often found in the fantastic side of Hawthorne.”

The Canadian-born composer Henry Brant (1913-2008) was inspired by Ives’s ideas, and by the 1950s had grown so obsessed with the Concord Sonata that he began transcribing it for full orchestra. He reported: “From 1958 until 1994 I worked on A Concord Symphony in odds and ends of spare time in between teaching, commercial orchestration and my own experimental composing. In undertaking this project, my intention was not to achieve a characteristically complex Ives orchestral texture (which in any case, only he could produce), but rather to create a symphonic idiom which would ride in the orchestra with athletic surefootedness and present Ives‘s astounding music in clear, vivid, and intense sonorities.”

Following its premiere the work became widely hailed as an important statement of Modernism, and Copland’s name was linked to those of Henry Cowell, Carl Ruggles, and Edgard Varèse as an influential new voice in music. The nicest compliment of all came from the composer Virgil Thomson, who succeeded Copland as a student of Boulanger’s in France. Years later he would say, “The piece that opened the whole door to me was that Organ Symphony of Aaron’s. I thought that it was the voice of America in our generation.” But when the piece was new, Copland was delighted by the following exchange between Boulanger and Thomson: “When she asked Virgil Thomson his opinion of the Organ Symphony, he said, ‘I wept when I heard it.’ Nadia asked, ‘But why did you weep?’ Virgil replied, ‘Because I had not written it myself!’”

—James M. Keller, excerpt from liner notes