One of my favorite pieces of twentieth-century music is the Concord Symphony, Henry Brant’s orchestral arrangement of Charles Ives’s Concord Sonata. Brant spent over twenty years bringing the work for solo piano to the orchestra, and it is so persuasive – so fully articulate and rich – it’s hard to believe that it wasn’t initially conceived on such a large scale. But that’s Ives for you – he expresses a symphony’s worth of ideas on a piano.
Listening to it today, I fell into the awareness that the development of musical ideas has such an evident developmental logic, it feels like a mirror of the way my thoughts arrange themselves as I’m ruminating on an interesting diversion or daydream. It’s a fascinating thing to encounter something like the form of abstraction expressed musically, with all the emotional echoes and resonances of an interior monolog, but with no explicit content.
I especially like the periodic appearance of the first four notes of Beethoven’s fifth, and the elaboration and development of that theme, like a ghost haunting the history of music. It reminds me of the parody masses of the Renaissance which build enormous polyphonic works as elaborations on a single melody, often derived from popular songs.
All credit to Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony for promoting this wonderful piece.