Slippedisc daily comfort zone (69): Not your everyday Fourth of July

Slippedisc daily comfort zone (69): Not your everyday Fourth of July

Daily Comfort Zone

norman lebrecht

July 04, 2021

This is Charles Ives’s whimsical, dissonant and distinctly disapproving take on an all-American holiday, conducted by an equally sceptical Leonard Bernstein.



  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Dear American SD readers,

    I wish you n inspiring and happy July 4th!

    A very patriotic song, also by Ives:

    … or, if the words are offensive or you are in a hurry, check this instead:

    🙂 Pff

  • John Borstlap says:

    This is ‘The Fourth of July’, as far as I know.

    Ives always offered what he wanted to say in a literal way, without working it through in a work of art. His approach was always materialistic, literal, concrete, like conceptual art that offers the object without aesthetics. Therefore the aesthetic / musical qualities of Ives’ work are practical nil.

    • Jan Kaznowski says:

      ==the aesthetic / musical qualities of Ives’ work are practical nil.

      I think his works don’t travel well. Non-US ears which don’t recognise the campfiire songs and all those things seem to miss a lot. Apart from Unanswered Question with those wonderful strings chords, I always find Ives a bit thin

      • John Borstlap says:

        It’s not about the material, but about the way it has not been processed, but merely ‘given’.

        Compare that with how street noises material is processed in Stravinsky’s Petrushka or Spanish folk tunes in Debussy’s Iberia.

  • Baffled in Buffalo says:

    I don’t know how one comes to the conclusion that the Fourth of July from Ives’ Holidays Symphony is “distinctly disapproving”, unless one imagines dissonance always signals alienation. In this work of art, I would say, it signals exhiliration.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The point is: does one listen to this as a piece of music? Or as a piece of conceptual art?As the latter, it may be great fun, as the former it is an awful, primitive flop. Make your pick.

  • Baffled in Buffalo says:

    Now if you want to know of an American who was alienated from the Fourth of July, you may read what Mark Twain said of the day’s “odious pandemonium”.

    But what is “Hell-fire Night”? Twain says that Americans don’t realize that on July 4th they are copying this British celebration. I googled hell-fire night, and couldn’t find anything. I’m glad to be asking this on a British site.

  • Tom Varley says:

    Sorry, Norman. I disagree that Ives’ piece is a “disapproving view” of July 4th.

    As Ives says in his “Memos”, “It’s a boy’s 4th – no historical orations – no patriotic grandiloquences by ‘grownups’…festivities start in the quiet of the midnight before, and grow raucous with the sun” and continue of, course, well after dark until the big fireworks explosion. It’s a piece drenched in nostalgia, as are the other movements of the “Holidays” Symphony. Ives isn’t taking a position on anything political, just reliving fond memories (true or not) of his childhood.