Three New England triptyches

November 27 2014

Why have Ives’s, Schuman’s and Piston’s New England triptyches never been put onto one LP or CD?

Or can somebody prove to me that they have? It’s nearly as strange as the fact that no record company has ever managed to issue a complete set of Cowell’s eighteen works called Hymn and Fuguing Tune, even though Americana sells and the pieces are historically important and enjoyable (unless you are depressed by Cowell).

Here are the triptyches.

Charles Ives composed Three Places in New England (or Orchestral Set no 1; two more would follow) mainly between 1911 and ’14, but elements in it go back to 1903-04. In 1929 he rescored it for a smaller orchestra so that it could be performed. James Sinclair has tried to reconstruct the 1914 version. The recording here has him conducting the Orchestra of New England in the later version.

I  The “St.-Gaudens” in Boston Common (Col. Shaw and his Colored Regiment):

The St.-Gaudens is a monument on the corner of Beacon and Park Streets in Boston created by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in honour of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the first all-black regiment to serve in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Officially it is the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial. Shaw was the white commander who led the regiment in its assault on Fort Wagner, SC. Of the six hundred men who stormed the fort, 270, including Shaw, were killed.

Ives alludes to Stephen Foster’s parlour songs Massa’s in the Cold Ground and Old Black Joe (were they also slave plantation songs?); to Marching through Georgia and The Battle Cry of Freedom, patriotic American Civil War tunes; and to ReveilleDeep River and ragtime.

II  Putnam’s Camp, Redding, Connecticut:

The Connecticut legislature established Putnam’s Camp as a historic site in 1887 in honour of General Israel Putnam, who set up a camp at Redding during the winter of 1778-79. Fourth of July celebrations are held there. Putnam had fought the British at the Battle of Bunker Hill, a British Pyrrhic victory.

Ives alludes to The British Grenadiers; Marching through Georgia; The Girl I Left Behind; The Arkansas Traveler; Massa’s in the Cold Ground; The Battle Cry of Freedom; Yankee Doodle; Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean; Hail, Columbia; Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! and The Star-Spangled Banner.

Most these tunes had not been written in 1778.

III  The Housatonic at Stockbridge:

Commemorating a walk Ives took with his wife by the Housatonic River near Stockbridge, MA in June 1908.

He paraphrases Isaac B Woodbury’s hymn tune Dorrance and perhaps also Charles Zeuners Missionary Chant, and alludes to the opening motto of Beethoven’s Fifth, but does not quote folk tunes.

In 1921 he arranged the section as a song to lines from Robert Underwood Johnson’s poem To the Housatonic at Stockbridge, but the final section of Three Places in New England is purely orchestral.


William Schuman based an orchestral New England Triptych (1956) on hymn tunes by William Billings. He prefaced his score with a note.

“William Billings (1746-1800) is a major figure in the history of American music. His works capture the spirit of sinewy ruggedness, deep religiosity, and patriotic fervor that we associate with the Revolutionary period in American history. I am not alone among American composers who feel a sense of identity with Billings, which accounts for my use of his music as a departure point. These three pieces are not a ‘fantasy’ nor ‘variations’ on themes of Billings, but rather a fusion of styles and musical language.”

The score prints the pertinent lines from three hymns.

Schuman had withdrawn a William Billings Overture composed in 1943.

Recording by Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Max Rudolf.

I  Be Glad Then, America:

“Yea, the Lord will answer
And say unto his people – behold
I will send you corn and wine and oil
And ye shall be satisfied therewith.

Be glad then, America,
Shout and rejoice.
Fear not O land,
Be glad and rejoice.

Many of Billings’s texts come from the poetry of Isaac Watts, but these are lines from the Book of Joel adapted by Billings (for example, Zion becomes America).

II  When Jesus Wept:

“When Jesus wept, the falling tear
In mercy flowed beyond all bound;
When Jesus mourned, a trembling fear
Seized all the guilty world around.”

Quotes a phrase from John 11:35. Rest by Billings.

III  Chester:

“Let tyrants shake their iron rod,
And slavery clank her galling chains,
We fear them not, we trust in God,
New England’s God forever reigns.
The foe comes on with haughty stride,
Our troops advance with martial noise,
Their vet’rans flee before our youth,
And gen’rals yield to beardless boys.”

Billings himself seems to have written the words. It was originally a church hymn, but was adopted by the Continental Army as a marching song. The name Chester is just an example of the convention of arbitrarily assigning place-names to hymn tunes.


Walter Piston composed his Three New England Sketches in 1959. The movement titles

“were the subjects that prompted me to compose. I did not intend to openly suggest the subject matter, but a man came up to me, following the premiere, and said, ‘I hope you don’t mind my saying that I smelled clams during the first movement.’ I said, ‘No, that is quite all right. They are your clams.’ Each individual is free to interpret as he wishes.”

Walter Piston, Can Music Be Nationalistic?, Music Journal 19, no 7, October 1961, pp 25 and 86, via Wikipedia.

University of Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Barbara Schubert.

I  Seaside (Adagio)

II  Summer Evening (Delicato)

III  Mountains (Maestoso; risoluto) (Brahmsian opening, immediately followed by Vaughan Williams 9):

Piston was a dignified, even academic, figure who didn’t chase the ratings. Nor did Schuman or the highly unacademic Ives. Yet, curiously enough, since there are no borrowed tunes, this, of the three, is likely to be the crowd-pleaser.

Did the later composers state explicitly that they were paying homage to Ives?

Thanksgiving (old post).

3 Responses to “Three New England triptyches”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Date: 28 November 2014 02:22:12 GMT+3
    Subject: Re: New England triptyches
    From: Alex Ross
    To: David Derrick

    Thanks — an excellent point!
    All best,
    Alex Ross

    On Thu, Nov 27, 2014 at 3:11 PM, David Derrick wrote:

    Happy Thanksgiving. I just blogged:

    “Why have Ives’s, Schuman’s and Piston’s New England triptyches never been put onto one LP or CD?

    Or can somebody prove to me that they have? It’s nearly as strange as the fact that no record company has ever managed to issue a complete set of Cowell’s eighteen works called Hymn and Fuguing Tune, even though Americana sells and the pieces are historically important and enjoyable (unless you are depressed by Cowell).”

    No answer expected unless you want to prove me wrong on either point.

    David Derrick (a reader)

  2. davidderrick Says:

    Putnam’s Camp derives from two earlier pieces: Country Band March and Overture & March: 1776. It might be dangerous merely to list the sources for those two works as the sources for Putnam’s Camp – if that is what Wikipedia is doing.

  3. davidderrick Says:

    Nor has even Naxos (or CPO) done a cycle of the Cowell symphonies, of which there are twenty-one. This may the strangest omission in the whole catalogue of recorded American music.

    I probably need to read Joel Sachs:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s