Charles Ives The Alcotts Score

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Oboe, Bb Clarinet, Saxophone, Bassoon, Bass Clarinet
6′

The Piano Sonata No. 2, Concord, Mass., 1840–60 (commonly known as the Concord Sonata) is a piano sonata by Charles Ives. It is one of the composer’s best-known and most highly regarded pieces. The sonata’s four movements represent figures associated with transcendentalism, and the third movement “The Alcotts” was written after Bronson Alcott and Louisa May Alcott.

The Alcotts is by far the shortest and simplest movement. It is mostly serene and based on the Human Faith theme, but there are some tense conflicts and outbursts of Beethoven’s Fifth. For me, the interesting thing here is that the movement portrays both Louisa May and her father. You might think that the soft sections portray Louisa May and her books for children, and the loud passages Bronson’s fearsome philosophical pronouncements, but I’m not so sure. Bronson Alcott was famously talkative but also serene, mild-mannered, and ineffective, while Louisa May struggled with her hot temper and worked heroically at her books to pull her family up out of poverty. The middle section of the movement clearly represents Beth in Little Women playing Scottish folk songs on the piano, but otherwise I imagine the gender roles are rather reversed in this movement from what one might assume. In fact, Ives specified that the calm opening was Bronson Alcott talking to Sam Staples, the Concord sherriff who once had to lock Thoreau up in jail.

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