Crossing the bar: compositional process in the choral works of Charles Ives

Peter King


In particular, this project concentrates upon the compositional process with which Ives composed five particular choral works, each chosen due to their representative nature. Crossing the Bar (1891) represents Ives's earliest experiments with imitations of styles he was exposed to (protestant hymns, band music, patriotic tunes, etc.); his father, George, was the town bandleader and choirmaster. and was constantly trying to open young Charlie's mind to unorthodox sonorities and techniques. This influence is apparent in his more radical works, Psalm 54 (1894) and Psalm 67 (1894). With these chorales set for a cappella soprano, tenor, alto, and bass, Ives began to question the norms of textbook composition, exploring polytonal fugues in Psalm 54 and bitonality in Psalm 67. While studying at Yale University under the conservative and European-trained Horatio Parker, Ives composed The Celestial Country (1898-9), a conservative cantata for choir, soloists, and chamber orchestra. This piece was included in this study due to its representation of Parker's influence on Ives's style.