THE UNIVERSE SYMPHONY|
by Charles E. Ives
When we were in Keene Valley, on the plateau, staying in the fall of 1915 with Sue and Grossie and with Edie (and Edie's second mother) -- I started something that I'd had in mind for some time (and of which some sketches were made a few years before) trying out a parallel way of listening to music, suggested by looking at a view (1) with the eyes toward the sky or tops of the trees, taking in the earth or foreground subjectively that is, not focussing the eye on it. (2) then looking at the earth and land, and seeing the sky and the top of the foreground subjectively. In other words, giving a musical piece in two parts, but played at the same time -- the lower parts (the basses, cellos, tubas, trombones, bassoons, etc.) working out something representing the earth, and listening to that primarily -- and then the upper parts (strings, upper woodwind, piano, bells, etc.) reflecting the skies and the Heavens -- and that this piece be played twice, first when the listener focusses his ears on the lower or earth music, and the next time on the upper or Heaven music.
This was suggested by a few pages of a sketch or general plan for a Universe Symphony or "Universe, Past, Present, and Future" in tones.
I. [Section A] (Past) Formation of the waters and mountains.
I had this fairly well sketched out, but not completed -- in fact I haven't worked on this since that time, but hope to finish it out completely this summer. The earth part is represented by lines starting at different points and at different intervals -- a kind of uneven and overlapping counterpoint sometimes reaching nine or ten different lines -- representing the ledges, rocks, woods, and land formations lines of trees and forest, meadows, roads, rivers, etc. -- and undulating lines of mountains in the distance that you catch in a wide landscape.
And with this counterpoint, a few of the same kind of instruments as above playing the melodic lines are put into a group playing masses of chords built around various sets of intervals, in each line. This is to represent the body of the earth, from whence the rocks, trees and mountains rise. (From 5 to 14 groups of instruments or separate orchestras, each to know its own part before coming together in conclave, the various lines of counterpoint having one primary and two secondary voices. Each "continent" has its own wide chord of intervals. Some perfectly tuned correct scales, some well tempered little scales, a scale of overtones with the divisions as near as determinable by acousticon, scales of smaller division than a semitone, scales of uneven division greater than a whole tone, scales with no octave, some of them with no octave for several octaves, -- but all with their root in a fixed tone, 32 foot, began from pedal A, 5th octave below. The pulse of the universe's life beat was by the percussion orchestra, who play their movement first, all through, before any of the other orchestras play.)
Between the lower and the upper, there is a vacant space of four whole tones between B natural and E natural. (think this was not kept, except in a general way.) The part of the orchestra representing the Heavens has its own chord system, but its counterpoint is choral. There are 4 to 5 groups in some places divided each into four or five. On the lower corner of the 2nd page of the sketch, this chordal counterpoint is broken by longs chords, but stays this way for only a short time. These two main groups come into relation harmonically only in cycles that is, they go around their own orbit, and come to meet each other only where their circles eclipse. (Written on the sketch and first page of score was -- "The wide valleys and the clouds are of one accord, and the horizon of distant hills (their roots from the earth are as the clouds (their roots in the Heavens) the soaring lines of mountains, cliffs, and pinnacles sent from the moving veins of rocks.")
The sketch of this is not complete, and I may extend it into a larger piece than I had originally intended (or put it into the Universe Symphony, to which it is related). But the themes and general plan are quite clearly indicated in the sketch. I want to work this out completely this summer. I think it advisable staying on this job another year if possible.
I am just referring to the above because, in case I don't get to finishing this, somebody might like to try to work out the idea, and the sketch that I've already done would make more sense to anybody looking at it with this explanation.
Charles E. Ives, Memos ,