Composers Datebook®

Bernstein conducts Ives

Composers Datebook for February 22, 2017


On today's date in 1951, Leonard Bernstein conducted the New York Philharmonic in the premiere performance of the Symphony No. 2 by Charles Ives. Ives was then 76 and living in Connecticut. Heart disease and diabetes left him far too weak to attend the Carnegie Hall premiere. Nicholas Slonimsky recalls once asking the thin and pale Ives how he was feeling, to which Ives replied he felt so weak that (quote): "I can't even spit into the fireplace."

Ives didn't own a radio, so he visited his neighbors, the Ryders, to hear Bernstein conduct the Sunday afternoon broadcast performance of music he had composed some 50 years earlier.

"There's not much to say about the Symphony," Ives said at the time. "I express the musical feelings of the Connecticut country in the 1890's. It's full of the tunes they sang and played then, and I thought it would be a sort of a joke to have some of these tunes in counterpoint with some Bach-like tunes."

Ives' neighbor, Mrs. Ryder, recalled how he reacted to the radio broadcast: "Mr. Ives sat in the front room and listened as quietly as could be, and I sat way back behind him, because I didn't want him to think I was looking at him. After it was over, I'm sure he was very much moved. He stood up, walked over the fireplace, and spat! And then he walked out into the kitchen and said not a word."

Music Played in Today's Program

Charles Ives (1874 - 1954) Symphony No. 2 New York Philharmonic; Leonard Bernstein, cond. DG 429 220

On This Day


  • 1810 - Polish composer and pianist Frederic Chopin, in Zelazowa Wola (This is the date contained in the composer's baptismal certificate; Chopin himself gave March 1, 1810, as his birthdate);

  • 1817 - Danish composer Niels W. Gade, in Copenhagen;

  • 1961 - American composer Lowell Liebermann, in New York City;


  • 1903 - Austrian composer Hugo Wolf, age 42, in Vienna;


  • 1878 - Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4, in Moscow, with Nikolai Rubinstein conducting (Julian date: Feb. 10);

  • 1881 - Bruch: "Scottish Fantasy," Op. 46, in Liverpool, with the composer conducting and Joseph Joachim as soloist;

  • 1890 - Brahms: Piano Trio No. 1 in Bb, Op. 8 (revised version), in Vienna, at one of the Rosé Chamber Concerts, with the composer at the piano; The first version of this Trio, composed in 1854, received one of its first public performances ever in New York City on November 27, 1855;

  • 1907 - Ravel: "Introduction and Allegro," in Paris;

  • 1938 - Kabalesvky: opera "Colas Breugnon," in Leningrad;

  • 1941 - Paul Creston: Symphony No. 1, in New York City;

  • 1941 - Morton Gould: "Latin American Symphonette," in Brooklyn, N.Y.;

  • 1945 - Virgil Thomson: "Symphony on a Hymn Tune," in New York City, with the composer conducting;

  • 1962 - Benjamin Lees: "Concerto for Orchestra" No. 1, in Rochester, N.Y.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®