On today’s date in 1931, a short notice appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, which began: “Music never before heard in San Francisco will make up the program of the New Music Society to be conducted by Nicolas Slonimsky of Boston tonight in the Community Playhouse.” In addition to new works by Stravinsky and Prokofiev, Slonimsky conducted pieces by three American composers, including the world premiere of “Washington’s Birthday,” by Charles Ives.
Ives had written “Washington’s Birthday” in 1909, and the following year had talked some theater musicians into giving the work a run-through. “They made an awful fuss about playing it,” Ives recalled, “and only after some of the parts that seemed to me to be the best and strongest were cut.” About 10 years later, he asked some players of the New York Symphony to give the score a private reading at his home. Again, the musicians complained it was just too difficult.
Slonimsky’s 1931 performance in San Francisco presented the score complete and as originally written. Ives, who lived on the East Coast, was not present for the San Francisco premiere, but was delighted to learn — as he put it: “Neither the audience nor the critics were disturbed to the point of cussing.
Music Played in Today's Program
Charles Ives (1874-1954)Washington's BirthdayChicago Symphony; Michael Tilson Thomas; cond.CBS/Sony 42381