Charles Ives, “Memories”

 

 

 

 

The American composer Charles Ives (1874-1954) wrote approximately 175 songs among his ample and varied output.

Posted here is the song “Memories,” which Ives composed when he was a student at Yale College.

Written while still a student at Yale, the song “Memories” reflects the breadth of Ives’s personal approach to music even at an early age.

As befits the smaller, more intimate scale of chamber music, Ives brings to his songs a distillation of the same style and compositional methods evident in his large scale works.

“Memories” is comprised of two highly contrasting sections, so distinct from each other, in fact, as to constitute nearly independent songs. (The date “1897” appears at the beginning of both sections, supporting the idea of their separate origins within the same year.)

The first section (“Very Pleasant”) is a faithful evocation of the breathless anticipation of waiting for a stage performance to begin. The section is full of whimsical touches such as whistling and even rapidly declaimed tongue-twisters (“expectancy and ecstasy”). This excitement reaches a sudden halt (“Curtain!”), and we immediately move into the featured act: the performance of a slow, nostalgic melody (marked “Rather Sad”) in the style of a Victorian parlor song, the lyrics of which (in typical Ives fashion), are curious in that they do not quite make sense, but are nonetheless highly evocative of the touching and somewhat nostalgic sentiments associated with songs of this genre.

“Memories” clearly demonstrates the scope of Ives’s creative genius even when composing in the most conventional of styles.

— Library of Congress

http://www.songofamerica.net/song/memories

 

 

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LYRICS

“Memories”

by Charles Ives

 

A. Very Pleasant

We’re sitting in the opera house;
We’re waiting for the curtain to arise
With wonders for our eyes;
We’re feeling pretty gay,
And well we may,
“O, Jimmy, look!” I say,
“The band is tuning up
And soon will start to play.”
We whistle and we hum,
Beat time with the drum.

We’re sitting in the opera house;
We’re waiting for the curtain to arise
With wonders for our eyes,
A feeling of expectancy,
A certain kind of ecstasy,
Expectancy and ecstasy… Sh’s’s’s. “Curtain!”

B. Rather Sad

From the street a strain on my ear doth fall,
A tune as threadbare as that “old red shawl,”
It is tattered, it is torn,
It shows signs of being worn,
It’s the tune my Uncle hummed from early morn,
‘Twas a common little thing and kind ‘a sweet,
But ’twas sad and seemed to slow up both his feet;
I can see him shuffling down
To the barn or to the town,
A humming.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 2018

About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; classical music; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. Besides (1) rogersgleanings.com, a personal site, he also hosts websites devoted to (2) the author Theodore Dreiser and (3) to the sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin.
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