Polish National Radio Orchestra; William Strickland, conductor
Beginning in 1907, not long before his marriage to Harmony Twichell, Charles Ives projected a series of Men of Literature overtures; but Robert Browning was the only one of the planned four that reached a workable degree of completion as originally conceived. What was to be the “Emerson” reached one stage of crystallization in the aforementioned first movement of the Concord Sonata’s second movement. Parts also found their way into the materials in the form of what he called Four Transcriptions from Emerson. It was in connection with this material that Ives noted: “This is as far as I know the only piece which every time I play it or turn to it seems unfinished . . . Some of the passages now played have not been written out, and I do not know if I shall ever write them out as it may take away the daily pleasure of playing this music and seeing it grow and feeling that it is not finished and the hope that it never will be—I may always have the pleasure of not finishing it.”
When it was decided to attempt preparation of the Robert Browning Overture manuscript for actual performance, Ives had long since stopped composing and was handicapped too much by chronic illness to take on any further intensive work on his scores, even with the help of such devoted disciples as Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison. As Cowell tells us: “Four pages of his manuscript were missing and had to be ‘recomposed’ by Lou Harrison or HC; many places were nearly indecipherable and decisions had to be worked out with the copyist Carl Pagano by the editors—a major detective enterprise which Ives has never since been well enough to confirm except in a general way.”
Jack Beeson (b 1921, Muncie, Indiana) achieved chief public renown through his operas, Hello Out There (1953) to William Saroyan’s libretto; The Sweet Bye and Bye (1957); and Lizzie Borden (1965). There is an earlier opera, Jonah, composed to Paul Goodman’s play. But as Beeson himself has put it: “I don’t want to be type-cast as an exclusively operatic composer, inasmuch as seventy-eight out of my eighty-six works are, after all, non-operatic!”
Mr. Beeson’s Symphony in A represents a volte-face from the serious American symphony with a capital S. Like such works in the form as Virgil Thomson’s Symphony on a Hymn Tune or Shostakovich’s Ninth, it embraces in its three movements a fundamental sense of assurance, skillful craft, and sense of humor, as to give it immediate appeal to laymen and fellow-professionals alike.
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