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Charles Ives/Johnny Reinhard The Universe Symphony

1. Fragment: Earth Alone 2:33
2. Prelude: Pulse of the Cosmos 3:32
3. Section A: Wide Valleys and Clouds 1:18
4. Prelude # 2: Birth of the Oceans 4:34
5. Section B: Earth and the Firmament 10:50
6. Prelude # 3: And Lo, Now it is Night 29:38
7. Section C: Earth is of the Heavens

The Stereo Society 2006

Charles Ives and controversy were never far apart. His Universe Symphony, not quite completed, was left in a form which the composer wished to be brought to publication and performance, and Johnny Reinhard [conducting Universe Symphony live, L in tuxedo] achieved this for him posthumously as the "curator" Ives had hoped would emerge.

First there was a fraught performance* at Lincoln Centre, New York in 1996 and finally a ground breaking studio recording which utilised the very latest techniques, with synchronised video and audio formats, adding parts in 120 layered tracks combined in a blended stereo mix.

If all that boggles the mind, it does so no less than the enormity of Ives' own creation of a work for some 74 musicians and needing three conductors to cope with its unparalleled rhythmic complexity. Reinhard's account of the process is summarised in his fascinating CD notes, expanded into a book The Ives Universe - a Symphonic Odyssey © 2004, which I have enjoyed reading; it includes examples of Ives' score in his own hand-writing, leaving no doubt as to the mammoth task reinhard undertook and saw right through.

Reinhard was the right man for the job because of his deep involvement for many years with the American Festival of Microtonal Music and its Orchestra, all of whose members have achieved a commfortable familiarity with extended tunings, which left far behind the relatively short lived dominance of equal temperament, its use tied very much to the piano.

In this recording Ives and Reinhard have met Ives notation for extended Pythagorian tuning, with 21 distinct pitches for the octave.

As if that were not enough, the Universe Symphony is equally radical in its rhythmic complexity, particularly in his large percussion section, each member of which is tied to a unique division of a 16-second basic unit...

This was all too much for the musicians in Ives own lifetime and it was probably not feasible to realise his grandiose concept until the develoments of modern technology and interest in international scalic and rhythmic complexities from other cultures.

The new century and Johnny Reinhard was what the Universe Symphony needed, and unsurprisingly it has not yet been widely performed in international concerts. That should not allow for the present achievement to be sidelined.

This short review should be supplemented by following the links to others provided. The work is divided into sections, seven regions each defined by cosmic statements. Pulse of the Cosmos develops Ives' metrical notions on percussion alone for half an hour. Not immediately easy to follow from the score supplied with the disc, but taken with an open mind and Reihard's annotations its structure is far from incomprehensible. And it provides an unique and inspiring listening experience.

Aside from the Universe Symphony itself, Reinhard offers a very personal history of Symphonic Tradition as it relates to the Universe Symphony, a fascinating discourse with many a striking concept thrown in to make you think widely and deeply: an important essay in its own right, taking in music from the world's far flung continents and in time forwards from the baroque period, that having been the first to accommodate manipulation of music independent of text. There are many such bon mots to make you pause and consider their implications, with examples from Stamitz through to Ives, who in tackling this last frontier included no outside musical references or even any to his own earlier works; he makes you hear "melody" in 'changing relationships of the percussion's pulsing in different time subdivisions, coming in and out or focus and co-incidence', a completely new auditory experience.

The effect of Ives' 2nd String Quartet, even upon musical amateurs unschooled in the extended temperaments and lacking a developed sense of absolute pitch, has a dramaticallty increased powerful impact on listners played by members of his American Festival of Microtonal Music (the Flux Quartet)), released for the first time commercially on Pitch P-200203 together with works by Lou Harrison, Scelsi, Xenakis etc'

Peter Grahame Woolf

* - - the most comically crisis-laden performance within memory. Reinhard kept having to cancel out performers who threatened to enter too early, and you could track the drama unfolding onstage by the puzzled looks of the two assistant conductors - - Reinhard’s American Festival of Microtonal Music Orchestra couldn’t afford as many full rehearsals as a smooth performance would have required - - at the mystical end, an almost full Alice Tully Hall rose at once for a standing ovation: a fitting tribute for Reinhard’s relentless sleuth work on Ives’s sketches and his 14 years of unidedication in providing New York’s most finely tuned musical offerings. [Village Voice June 25 1996]

For further reading, there are many links to Universe Symphony to find on Google. PGW