What to listen out for in Ives' Second Symphony

Like much of Charles Ives' music, the Second Symphony is scattered with references and allusions to familiar tunes from the American songbook. Ahead of its performance this Sunday, here are just few things to listen out for …

This Sunday, Sir Mark Elder conducts Charles Ives Symphony No 2. One of America’s first composers of international renown, Ives drew a great deal of inspiriation from American popular and church-music traditions as well as the European Western classical tradition. The second symphony is no exception, quoting or heavily alluding to all of the following:

Camptown Races

First published in February 1850, this minstrel song was written by American songwriter Stephen Foster after he visited the town of Camptown in northeast Pennsylvania. Its most familiar use in popular culture comes from the Looney Tunes cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn who frequently hums the tune to himself.


Turkey in the Staw

This well-known folk song dates from the early 19th century. Its catchy melody is thought to derive from the Irish ballad The Old Rose Tree. It was first popularised in the late 1820s and 30s.


Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean

This popular patriotic song was composed in 1843 and was used as one of several unofficial national anthems for the United States. The melody is similar to the patriotic song Britannia, the Pride of the Ocean and there is some controversy surrounding which was adapted from the other..


Long, Long Ago

This simple tune was written in 1933 by English composer Thomas Haynes Bayly, and first published posthumously in a Philadelphia magazine, quickly becoming one of the most popular songs in the US. It went on to serve as the basis for Glenn Miller’s 1942 hit, Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me).


America the Beautiful

One of the most popular American patriotic songs, the lyrics to this tune were written by Katharine Lee Bates. It features the first musical setting of the phrase ‘From sea to shining sea’, originally used in the Charters of North American colonies.


 A rather strange final note ...

Ives' symphony also contains references to Beethoven’s Fifth and Brahms’ First Symphonies, Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and JS Bach’s Three Part Interventions. But, its most striking moment is saved for the very final note …


And there's many more to discover. Hear the Second Symphony in full conducted by Sir Mark Elder this Sunday 14 April. Click here to find out more and book tickets.




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