Three Places in New England

Three Places in New England

The "Three Places in New England (Orchestral Set No. 1)" is a composition for orchestra by Charles Ives. It was composed across a long span of time (sketches date back from 1903, while the latest revisions were made in 1929), however the bulk was written between 1911 and 1914. The piece is famous for its use of musical quotation and paraphrasing, as explained later in this article. "Three Places" consists of three movements in Ives’ preferred slow-fast-slow movement order:

:I. "The "St. Gaudens" in Boston Common (Col. Shaw and his Colored Regiment)":II. "Putnam's Camp, Redding, Connecticut":III. "'The Housatonic at Stockbridge"

The three movements are ordered with the longest first and the shortest last, and a complete performance of the piece lasts eighteen or nineteen minutes.

The piece has become one of Ives' most commonly performed compositions. It showcases most of the signature traits of his style: layered textures, with multiple, simultaneous melodies, many of which are recognizable hymn and marching tunes; masses of sound, and tone clusters; and sudden, sharp textural contrasts.

Each of the three movements is named for a place in New England, USA. Each is carefully composed to make the listener feel as though he or she is at that very place, experiencing its unique atmosphere. Ives’ use of paraphrasing American folk tunes is particularly important in creating such an effect, as it provides the listener with some sort of tangible reference point from which to access the music. In this way, Ives makes the music accessible even though it makes heavy use of chromaticism which, at the time of its writing, was seen as an avant-garde trait.

For those unfamiliar with American patriotic music, "Three Places in New England" aims to paint a picture of American ideals, lifestyle and patriotism at the turn of the century.


"Three Places in New England" was composed between 1903 and 1929. The set was completed in 1914, but was later revised for performance in 1929. The second piece, "Putnam’s Camp, Redding, Connecticut" is responsible for the lower end of the composition dates – it was created from two short theater orchestra pieces composed by Ives in 1903. The pieces, "Country Band" March and Overture" & "March: “1776”" were completed successively in 1904. Lyman Brewster, Ives’ uncle, had asked him to compose the pieces for his play "Major John Andre" which, sadly, was never performed due to Brewster’s untimely death. It was not until the early fall of 1912 when Ives began tinkering with these compositions again. The satisfaction that Ives derived from working on the "Fourth of July", in which he used the trio section of "1776" may have been the catalyst for inspiring him to reuse these lost songs and create a longer piece. By October, 1912, Ives had a complete ink score-sketch of "Putnam’s Camp". The final version of the piece clearly resembles its source materials, as we shall see later in this article – however, many of the complex musical jokes that littered the originals had been ironed out and replaced with simpler alternatives.

"The Housatonic at Stockbridge", the third piece in the set, was composed in 1911 along with the opening piece, "The “St.-Gaudens” in Boston Common (Col. Shaw and his Colored Regiment)". By 1912, after finishing "Putnam’s Camp", Ives had settled on the form of a three-movement orchestral set, and had written the majority of it.

In 1929, Nicholas Slonimsky, then the conductor of the Boston Chamber Orchestra, contacted Ives about the possibility of performing "Three Places". Slonimsky had been pressured by Ives’ contemporary, American composer Henry Cowell, to perform an Ives piece for some time, and "Three Places" caught his attention.

The thorough reworking required to transform "Three Places" from an orchestral score to one that could be performed by a much smaller chamber orchestra renewed Ives' interest in the piece. Slonimsky required the piece be re-scored for: 1 flute, 1 oboe, 1 English horn, 1 clarinet, 1 bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 1 trombone, 1 percussionist, 1 piano, 7 violins, 2 violas, 2 celli and 1 bass – a significantly smaller orchestra than the original piece was written for. While Ives was obviously glad to have his piece played, it is interesting to note his comments on the re-scoring - on the full score of "The Housatonic at Stockbridge", Ives comments that “piano may be used for Bassoons throughout… a poor substitute…”

Three Places was first performed on February 16, 1930 by Slonimsky before the American Committee of the International Society for Contemporary Music, in New York City. Although the piece had only been rehearsed once, the Committee was sufficiently impressed to recommend the work to the International Committee who surprisingly turned it down for performance at their festival. The first public performance was scheduled for 10 January 1931. Ives himself was in attendance – in fact, he was funding the concert himself! The performance received mild applause and Ives congratulated the performers backstage – “Just like a town meeting – every man for himself. Wonderful how it came out!”

After the mild success of "Three Places debut performance, Slonimsky and Ives were inspired to take the piece abroad. In fact, Ives is one of the first American composers to have been ‘taken abroad’ (played outside of America). Slonimsky performed Three Places in Paris on June 6, at a concert he described as “absolutely extraordinary” because of the attendance of many important composers and critics of the time. Their first experience of Ives left them impressed; Ives’ music was not just interesting because it was composed by an American – it fascinated them because the music described America. Unbeknownst to the listeners, Ives was calling attention to American ideals, issues, experiences and perspectives. For instance, in The St. Gaudens’"', Ives paraphrases ragtime, Slave plantation songs such as "Old Black Joe" and even patriotic American Civil War tunes such as "Marching through Georgia". The combination of such songs elicits images of the fight for freedom in America, and America’s strong morals on that subject. International recognition solidified the image of Ives as an American composer (especially strengthened by his use of borrowing from typically American sounding pieces).

"Three Places in New England" became the first work of Ives’ to be commercially published. Slonimsky had been in touch with C.C. Birchard (a publisher from Boston) on Ives’ behalf and, by 1935, the two had negotiated a deal. Ives and Slonimsky both checked the score through, note by note, to make sure the engravings were correct. It was painstaking work, but well worth it when, in 1935, Ives held his first work in his hands. In his typical manner, however, Ives requested that the binding bear his name in as small a font as possible, as to not make him look egotistical.

Despite publication, very little interest in performance was aroused. Ives’ masterpiece thus went unappreciated for many years. Following the curtailment of Slonimsky’s conducting career, the piece lay dormant until 1948, when Richard Burgin programmed "Three Places" on a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert. The practice of performing Ives’ chamber scores as full orchestral pieces was thus established, and has continued to this day.

In the 1970s, interest in "Three Places in New England" was piqued once again. This time it was regarding the differences between the 1914 scoring, much of which was lost, and the 1929 score, which had been rewritten for Slonimsky’s chamber orchestra. Much research was undertaken by James Sinclair at Yale University. It was concluded that the 1914 version could not be reproduced in its entirety, as only 35% of the second movement survived Ives’ cutting for the 1929 version. Sinclair managed to create what is currently believed to be the closest replication of the 1914 score for full orchestra by using what scraps, sketches and notes of Ives’ he could find.

The Three Places

"I. The "St.-Gaudens" in Boston Common (Col. Shaw and his Colored Regiment)"

Composed between ca. 1913 and ca. 1923, revised in 1929. It is possible that initial sketches of this piece were penned as far back as May 1911, when Ives moved to Hartsdale, New York. The distinguishing characteristic of the movement is a very sophisticated handling of harmonic progressions (which are technically atonal) but still managing to support a diatonic related melody, the interval of a minor third dominating.

The place and its history

The first movement of "Three Places in New England", "St.-Gaudens"", is a tribute to an American Civil War monument of the same title on the corner of Beacon and Park Streets in Boston, MA. The monument took over fourteen years of work by the world-renowned artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens in honor of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment - the first all-Black regiment to serve in the Union Army during the American Civil War. The official name of the monument is the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial. Colonel Robert Shaw was the white commander who led the Regiment in their fateful assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina. Of the six hundred men who stormed the fort, two hundred and seventy, including Shaw, were killed. However, they fought with courage and valor, and were duly recognized.

The piece itself and the imagery it evokes

Ives himself referred to the piece as a brooding 'Black March'; the imagery being inspired by a reflective experience at the monument. The piece elicits images of a long, slow march South to battle by the 54th. It achieves this with the use of minor 3rd ostinatos in the bass. Ives uses chromaticism, placed distantly below the themes of the piece, to keep it sounding like a vague recollection of the events that occurred, rather than a vivid depiction.

The piece builds to a dynamic high before rapidly receding, perhaps to signify the fate of the regiment at Fort Wagner. From a full, rich C-major chord at m. 63 (rehearsal H), the piece falls into minor disarray and, for the last two and a half minutes, it can be heard as a solemn memorial to those lost, or the crushed hopes of hundreds of Black soldiers who came to fight for the freedom of other Blacks.

Ives' use of borrowing in the piece

Ives makes great use of musical borrowing in this piece. Of particular significance is the main melody, which is made up of a patchwork of motives from old plantation tunes such as "Massa’s in de Cold Ground" and "Old Black Joe", and the patriotic Civil War songs "Marching Through Georgia" and "The Battle Cry of Freedom". The paraphrasing of these pieces is especially clear in the opening bars of the piece, where motives from the three main sources interweave to create a sort of ‘American’ sounding pentatonic melody, typical of the 19th century American song.

Throughout the opening of the piece, ostinatos based upon minor third intervals are heard in the bass instruments. These are intended to evoke images of a solemn trudge down to battle. What is really interesting about these is that they, too, are derived from the same four source materials as the main melody in the piece. Throughout the four ("Marching Through Georgia", "Old Black Joe", "The Battle Cry of Freedom" and "Massa’s in de Cold Ground") we see minor third intervals playing a huge role.

Ives chose these source materials because of their musical similarities and the possibility of creating fresh, seamless motives from them. Furthermore, the pieces have strong extra-musical associations which Ives takes full advantage of in order to create his solemn 'Black March'. Mixing patriotic Civil War songs with old Slave plantation songs creates a vivid image, and works to honor those who fell fighting for the emancipation of Blacks during the Civil War.

List of known source pieces

*"Old Black Joe"
*"Massa’s in de Cold Ground"
*"Marching Through Georgia"
*"The Battle Cry of Freedom"
*"Deep River"

"II. Putnam’s Camp, Redding, Connecticut"

Composed from two earlier pieces, "“Country Band March”" and "Overture & March: “1776,”" both [1904] , "Putnam’s Camp" was finished in 1912. It is thought that Ives' work on "Fourth of July" was the impetus for this work, since he had just recently used the trio section of "1776" in "Fourth of July". The distinguishing characteristic of this movement is the combining of multiple divisions of the orchestra playing against each other while occasionally throwing in asymmetrical phrases and/or wild dissonances.

The place and its history

Putnam’s Camp, near Redding, Connecticut, was established as a historic landmark by the Connecticut legislature in 1887 and named in honor of the American Revolutionary War General Israel Putnam. Putnam had set up a camp in the area during the winter of 1778-79. This site has been preserved as a historic treasure because of Putnam’s important role in the Revolutionary War – especially the battle of Bunker Hill. 4 July celebrations are often held at the site due to its historic significance.

The piece itself and the imagery which it evokes

It is easier to tell what sorts of imagery Ives aimed to evoke with this piece, since he wrote out a program describing the story being told and included it with the score:

“Once upon a '4 July,' some time ago, so the story goes, a child went here on a picnic, held under the auspices of the first Church and the Village Cornet Band. Wandering away from the rest of the children past the camp ground into the woods, he hopes to catch a glimpse of some of the old soldiers. As he rests on the hillside of laurels and hickories the tunes of the band and the songs of the children grow fainter and fainter; --when-"mirabile dictu"--over the trees on the crest of the hill he sees a tall woman standing. She reminds him of a picture he has of the Goddess Liberty, --but the face is sorrowful--she is pleading with the soldiers not to forget their "cause" and the great sacrifices they have made for it. But they march out of camp with fife and drum to a popular tune of the day. Suddenly, a new national note is heard. Putnam is coming over the hills from the center,-the soldiers turn back and cheer. --The little boy awakes, he hears the children's songs and runs down past the monument to "listen to the band" and join in the games and dances.” – Ives, "Three Places In New England" Score.

James Sinclair, who was responsible for the work done in the [1970] s to recreate the original score of "Three Places", correlated many of the measures in the score for "Putnam’s Camp" with the program as described by Ives. A picture has since been generated which shows the measures of the piece along with their programmatic significance.

Ives' use of borrowing in the piece

Ives heavily borrows American patriotic tunes for this work in order to create the imagery of franticly patriotic 4 July celebrations. Another thing that he wants to get across is the fact that this is a community music making effort. The opening measures are typical Ives – he uses heavy chromaticism and varying time signatures (4/4 battles with 9/8) to create the image of a community marching band. What is created is a touchingly realistic interpretation, which resolves shortly after the start of the piece into a Bb march. However, chromaticism and disarray is never far from breaking through, which gives the impression that the musicians are not professional.

Ives also experimented with quoting famous musical excerpts in different keys from the main theme. The idea of this was brought about when Ives had been listening to a marching band, and could still hear one band marching away while the other marched towards him, thus sounding two keys simultaneously. This gives an idea of the festivities of the day and the aforementioned touch of frantic patriotism.

Many American patriotic tunes, such as "Yankee Doodle" are quoted during the piece. A fascinating quotation can be heard in the last two measures of the piece, with the national anthem resolving to a completely unexpected, dissonant chord at the very end.

List of known source pieces

Ives used patriotic tunes to paint his image of a 4 July celebration at a historic camp site. This explains why there are so many borrowed parts:
*"The British Grenadiers"
*"Marching Through Georgia"
*"The Girl I Left Behind"
*"Arkansas Traveler"
*"Massa’s in de Cold Ground"
*"The Battle Cry of Freedom"
*"Yankee Doodle"
*"Columbia, Gem of the Ocean"
*"Hail, Columbia"
*"Tramp, Tramp, Tramp"

"III. The Housatonic at Stockbridge"

First drafts were written primarily in the summer of 1908. The version was reworked in 1911, and then again in 1913, extending the atmospheric ‘mists’ and ‘running water’ sounds far longer than the original two measures allocated. The final scoring was completed in 1914. It was arranged for song in 1921 to lines excerpted from Robert Underwood Johnson’s poem "To the Housatonic at Stockbridge", but appears in orchestral form when played as a part of "Three Places in New England". The final movement features a good deal of strident polyrhythmic activity in the strings coupled with a hymn-like tune (borrowing from Beethoven's Fifth motif) with some altered chords thrown into the mix.

The place and its history

This piece was inspired by a walk that Ives took with his newly-married wife, Harmony, in June 1908. Their honeymoon had been a hiking trip in western Massachusetts and Connecticut. They enjoyed the experience so much that they chose to go back to the Berkshires the very next weekend. Whilst there they took a walk by the Housatonic River near Stockbridge, MA. Ives recalled:

“We walked in the meadows along the river, and heard the distant singing from the church across the river. The mist had not entirely left the river bed, and the colors, the running water, the banks and elm trees were something that one would always remember.”

The piece itself and the imagery which it evokes

Two days later, on 30 June 1908, Ives sketched some ideas which aimed to capture the atmosphere of the experience. He used irregular ostinatos in the upper strings to create the image of mist and fog rolling over swirling waters, and English horns and violas to mimic the sound of singing from a church across the river.

Ives' use of borrowing in the piece

Unlike the other pieces in this set, this piece is not important for its use of musical quotation, as there are no quotes of American folk music in it. Instead, this piece exemplifies Ives' use of paraphrase. Indeed, the entire melody is paraphrased from Isaac B. Woodbury’s hymn tune "Dorrnance". The paraphrase uses the following methods:
*Rhythmic alteration (mm. 7-9, 11-12).
*Omission (mm. 9-10, 12-13)
*Repetition (mm. 17-19)
*Transposition (third, fourth verses)
*Elision (a single note in Ives’ melody takes the place of two notes in the source)
*Interpolation of new materials
*Variation of previously paraphrased materials (mm. 35-36, 37-38 vary material paraphrased for m. 23)

The piece is thus classed as an extended paraphrase melody.

List of known source pieces

*"Missionary Chant" (possibly – it begins in the same way as "Dorrnance" except for an added note, which occasionally Ives adds to his paraphrased melody, suggesting "Missionary Chant" as a source piece)


* John Kirkpatrick, "Charles Ives", in "The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians", ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1-56159-174-2
* J. Peter Burckholder, James B. Sinclair and Gayle Sherwood: "Charles Ives," Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed May 5, 2005, [ (subscription access)]
* Program notes by Eric Salzman to CD Deutsche Grammophon CD 423243-2, "Three Places in New England" by Charles Ives, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Michael Tilson Thomas conducting.
*Burkholder, “All Made of Tunes”, New Haven, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-05642-7
*Hitchcock, “Ives: A Survey of the Music”, London, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-914678-21-3
*Morgan, “Twentieth-Century Music: A History of Musical Style in Modern Europe and America (Norton Introduction to Music History)”, W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-95272-X
*Cooney, D. Von Glahn, “A Sense of Place: Charles Ives and “Putnam’s Camp, Redding Connecticut” in "American Music", Vol. 14, No. 3. (Autumn 1996), pp.276-312.
*Ives, Three Places in New England, ed. James B. Sinclair (Score), Bryn Mawr, Mercury Music/ Theodore Presser.

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