Variations on "America"

(based on an organ composition by Charles Ives)

William Schuman

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Publisher: Merion Music, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

Charles Ives? "Variations on 'America' was composed for organ in 1891. I heard it for the first time at the dedicatory recital of the organ in Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center on December 15, 1962. Even while Mr. E. Power Biggs was performing this composition, I began imagining an orchestra. By the time the piece was over, I knew that I simply had to transcribe it. The idea of making the transcription was easier than obtaining the rights. The first step was to secure permission from the ?musical curator? of the Ives estate, and this was readily given. He turned out to be the American composer, Henry Cowell, who, curiously enough, happened to be sitting next to me at the dedicatory concert. Mr. Arthur A. Hauser, the patient past president of Theodore Presser Company, then spent endless hours apportioning the interests of the various parties to the contract; composers, publishers, performing rights organizations and, of course, lawyers. When finally I had the permission to proceed, I did so at once, and with the greatest enthusiasm.

My intention was to make as effective an orchestral piece as I could possibly devise, without changing any of the musical materials. Therefore, I have taken no liberties with the harmonies or the melodies; all remain exactly as they were in the original. No percussion parts existed for the Ives organ piece, and these I invented for the orchestral version. Since the organ registration was itself rather inexact, I felt complete freedom in choosing registers which would fit the orchestral timbres that I had selected, and which would also give the necessary contrast to the different variations, as well as dynamic markings which would reflect orchestral needs and opportunities.

I like to think that this version would have met with the approval of Charles Ives, and certainly I always had his aesthetic approach in mind.

My transcription of the Ives "Variations" is in honor of the 20th Anniversary of Broadcast Music, Incorporated, which organization commissioned the work.

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Additional Information

Commission Commission Information: BMI, for its 20th anniversary
Composition Date 1964
Duration 00:08:00
Orchestration 3 2 2 2 - 4 3 3 1; Timp. 3Perc. Str.
Premiere May 20, 1964, New York Philharmonic, Andre Kostelanetz, conductor