Charles Ives, song text?

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    Mar 13, 2009 4:39 PM GMT
    I'm doing this project that's due pretty soon. The musical structure is already done, planned out, and thought through. The problem is me interpreting the text of the music.


    The Cage

    A leopard went around his cage
    from one side back to the other side;
    he stopped only when the keeper came around with meat;
    A boy who had been there three hours
    began to wonder, "Is life anything like that?"

    Apparently there is an underlying philosophical context from Ives. He was after all an insurance broker in New York who spent all of his free time composing. Many of his works were never heard during his life, but he is now considered a true father of American Music.

    So can anyone give me any ideas on the text?


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    Mar 13, 2009 6:34 PM GMT
    Isn't it obvious? The leopard in the cage represents the artist trapped in his mundane routine at Prudential Insurance. The meat represents the intermittent sustenance given by his creative imagination.. Then it's back to pacing around the actuarial tables.
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    Mar 13, 2009 7:01 PM GMT
    That's actually pretty good. I don't think there's any theorist out there that related Ives's music to his occupation.

    I'm trying to relate the text to the music. The music itself has no tonal center (well it's bitonal in two whole tone series).
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    Mar 13, 2009 7:11 PM GMT
    jprichva said
    debussy81 saidThe music itself has no tonal center (well it's bitonal in two whole tone series).

    I thought that sort of thing died out about 1975.


    Ives himself died out decades before that.

    Have you actually sat down and read your life or homeowners' insurance policies all the way through, including the exceptions and reservations? "Lacking a tonal center" barely begins to describe it.
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    Mar 13, 2009 9:03 PM GMT
    Since Ives spent his musical life in obscurity in CT, he experimented with all sorts of musical ideas, never settling on one or even really developing one. He did like polytonality, but his use of it was contrived and predictable. Given his life out here in the boonies, it's likely that the text was from some unknown local poet.







    Then again, maybe he had a pet leopard.
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    Mar 13, 2009 11:05 PM GMT
    Here are a couple of things to think about (I don't have a score, so this is just based on my dim remembrance of the song):

    *How would you describe the contour of the vocal line? Is it goal-directed or does it seem stuck in one place? Why does it seem that way? Is there a recurring pattern? If so, where does it break and why? Are there any examples of word-painting?

    *How would you describe the rhythm of the vocal line? Is there a lot of variety or is it mainly a monotonous series of equal durations? How are the rhythm and meter related? Are there syncopations or does it pretty much plod along in step with the beat? What might the relationship between rhythm and meter communicate about the text?

    *Where do the rhythmic patterns break? If there are syncopations, where are they placed and why do you think the composer put them there, on those particular words?

    *What happens to the tune when the point of view shifts in the text, when it goes from narration to quoted speech? Why would a storyteller/narrator sing a tune in this way? And when we hear the quotation, is it being reported by the narrator or are we supposed to be hearing the little boy? (That, obviously, is your call...but think about what it might be and why).

    *What's the relationship between the vocal line and the accompaniment? Do they move together? Do they seem to move independently? Is there more or less syncopation in the accompaniment (compared to the voice part)? Does that create a sense of tension in the song? Is the accompaniment representing one thing, say the movement of the animal, and the narrator giving us her impression of its experience in the cage? Could it be the other way around?

    *The title of the poem, and of the song, is "The Cage", not "The Leopard". Is the music a description of the movement of the animal's movement, of the animal's experience of monotonous captivity, of both?

    *Could Ives be making fun of pretentious, soul-searching poetry? (What boy hangs around a leopard's cage for three hours and then asks an existential question?)

    Forget Ives's philosophy unless you were specifically asked to write about it. Hell is reading "The Majority". Besides, I'm guessing the prof is more interested in your interpretation. There's plenty in the music and text for you to chomp on. Just be sure to make a good argument for the positions you take.

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    Mar 13, 2009 11:29 PM GMT
    MikeOnMain. Thank you.

    You've got some really good ideas on this one. I've already sat down to decipher most of the details. I'm asking about this particular project because I usually always avoid vocal works for the sake of text.
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    Mar 13, 2009 11:39 PM GMT
    Good for you! Ives is really great, he's one of those lost composers that people rarely get to enjoy.
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    Mar 14, 2009 12:46 AM GMT
    You're welcome Debussy81

    jprichva saidFunny that this comes up today. I just ripped a number of Ives' songs to my hard drive this afternoon


    Ives must be in the air. Last night the Boston Symphony performed the Fourth Symphony. Here's an old clip from a passage that's so complicated it takes two conductors to keep things on track.
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    May 31, 2009 9:10 PM GMT
    I saw the NY Phil do Ives 4 maybe ten years ago... it's been a wonderful memory ever since.. What a great piece.