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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Saturday, February 22

Bernstein conducts Ives

Synopsis

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

Additional Information

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