Ives’ Fifth

by Diamanda la Berge Dramm

This is a project around Charles Ives’ Fifth Violin Sonata.

Charles Ives (1874-1954) was a maverick American composer. His experimental music foreshadowed many musical innovations that would become prevalent in the 20th century. During his life time, Ives’ music was largely ignored and underperformed. Later he came to be regarded as an “American original,” and one of the leading composers of his time. Ives’ music melds European classical traditions with the sounds of small town life in New England. It incorporates hymn tunes, traditional songs, town band melodies from the holiday parade, fiddle dance tunes, and parlor ballads into a music that projects an optimistic and fiercely democratic view on life.

The project unfolds in three parts:

This website functions as a real-time analysis of the Holiday Sonata, with the score as a landscape. Detours are made to show Ives’ source material. The Sonata was recorded by Aaron Likness and Diamanda La Berge Dramm. The additional hymns and tunes were recorded by Marco Mlynek and Diamanda, and edited by Marco. It was designed by Studio Harris Blondman.

The CD contains the Fifth Violin Sonata and the Piano Trio. The Piano Trio has Maya Fridman on cello. The final track is a reworking of the Shining Shore by Marco Mlynek.

The live show tours the Netherlands in February 2020 with material from both the CD and the website. This concert features Diamanda, Aaron, and Maya, with Sam Amidon as special guest.

In 2008 I left Amsterdam to study at the New England Conservatory in Boston. At 16, I mostly saw the U.S. as the home country of my parents. It took a while before it became a place of mine, not just as a daughter of ex-pats but as a true second home. Besides social connections, my deepest connections were musical. One of the most important entrances into American culture for me was the music of Charles Ives, a through and through New Englander. The grandfather of American experimentalism, he chopped and twisted old folk songs and hymns into a music that is simultaneously transcendental, funny, simple and complex: a realistic portrait of his outlook on life, and a vision of democracy in action. While studying Ives’ music, somehow the part of me which is American fell into place. It also introduced me to some of these specific old folk songs and hymns that I grew to love.

Early on in his career, Charles Ives started a Violin Sonata that he soon abandoned. Later he used the sketch material for “A Symphony: New England Holidays”. Eventually, he worked more on the Sonata but in the end left it unfinished. This is not unusual for Ives, many of his pieces were edited and completed by John Kirkpatrick after his death. This Fifth Sonata is as of yet unpublished.

In 2011, pianist Aaron Likness and I played the Boston premiere of the Sonata. We were lucky to be coached by John Heiss, a renowned Ives expert and member of the Charles Ives Society. Aaron and I visited Prof. Heiss weekly in his 19th century home in the village of Auburndale, Mass.; tucked away on a wooded street across from a gleaming white 19th century Methodist chapel, quintessentially New England. When we played through the piece for him he would stop us frequently, pointing out the source material Ives drew from by humming the tunes from his armchair. I’m still grateful for such a personal and intimate introduction to Ives’ world, and cherish the memory of these sessions. After my studies at New England Conservatory I made a hard cut in 2013 to pick up my life back in Amsterdam. For this project I’m revisiting the place that shaped me and my ears: the unique and deep musical roots of New England.

I met Marco Mlynek in 2016 when we were both playing solo sets at the Dutch Cross-Linx festival. Though our backgrounds are quite different - his jazz/pop, mine contemporary classical - there was a click and we found common ground in our love for playing folk covers (mostly at parties, weddings, and on family albums). This project was born from the combination of a long-cherished dream to record Ives with Aaron and a new energy from my musical connection with Marco.


Violin Sonata No. 5 “Holiday Sonata” by Charles Ives

  1. Washington’s Birthday (1909-1913)
  2. Decoration Day (1912-1913)
  3. Thanksgiving (1904)

Violin: Diamanda La Berge Dramm
Piano: Aaron Likness

Recorded at Muziekgebouw Eindhoven by Jurriaan Sielcken in July 2018. Mixed and mastered by Jurriaan Sielcken. All hymns and tunes played and recorded by Marco Mlynek and Diamanda La Berge Dramm in Splendor Amsterdam in August 2019. Edited, mixed and mastered by Marco Mlynek in Cologne.


Website by Studio Harris Blondman

Notes on the Sonata by Aaron Likness

Washington’s Birthday

A cryptic heading above Ives’ violin-piano arrangement of Decoration Day (“Sonata #5 ‘N[ew] E[ngland] Holidays’”) led pianist and editor John Kirkpatrick to believe that the entirety of Ives’ Symphony: “New England Holidays” originated as a sonata for violin and piano, the sources of which are now lost. Aiming to “reconstruct” this lost sonata, Kirkpatrick assembled an arrangement of the symphony’s first movement, Washington’s Birthday, relying on early pencil scores he thought revealing enough to restore the theoretical violin-piano original “with fair certainty.” Although he assumed that Fourth of July could not have lasted long before growing into orchestral proportions, Kirkpatrick added an arrangement of the “Sabbath theme” from Thanksgiving and Forefathers’ Day, a brief meditation on the hymn “The Shining Shore,” to complete a sonata in three movements.

According to Ives’ postface to the orchestral score, Washington’s Birthday begins with a depiction of the “cold and solitude” of a New England winter’s evening. After this icy introduction comes a raucous barn dance in the village center, the town band playing medleys of popular songs and reels—sometimes more than one at the same time. The party ends at midnight with a Fosteresque sentimental tune sung “half in fun, half seriously” (this one apparently an original tune by Ives himself) and an “adieu to the ladies,” before all return into the snowy night. Washington’s Birthday encapsulates a great deal of Ives’ musical creativity, and Ives seems to have regarded it highly himself; he played through it hoping to impress an unsympathetic Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, attempted a read-through with a local theater orchestra in New York around 1914, arranged for an official premiere conducted by Nicolas Slonimsky in 1931, and had the score published in Henry Cowell’s New Music edition in 1936. (Though Kirkpatrick’s arrangement is effective on its own, we have been known to augment performances with the occasional jaw harp or shadow violin, borrowed from the orchestra score.)

Decoration Day

Decoration Day depicts young Charlie’s hometown, Danbury, Conn., at its annual commemoration of soldiers lost during the Civil War. Ives’ postface establishes the program: In the early morning the gardens and woods about the village are the meeting places of those who, with tender memories and devoted hands, gather the flowers for the Day’s Memorial. During the forenoon as the people join each other on the Green, there is felt, at times, a fervency and intensity—a shadow perhaps of the fanatical harshness—reflecting old Abolitionist days. It is a day as Thoreau suggests, when there is a pervading consciousness of “Nature’s kinship with the lower order—man.”

After the Town Hall is filled with the Spring’s harvest of lilacs, daisies, and peonies, the parade is slowly formed on Main Street. First come the three Marshals on plough horses (going sideways), then the Warden and Burgesses “in carriages,” the Village Cornet Band, the G.A.R., two by two, the Militia (Company G.), while the volunteer Fire Brigade, drawing the decorated horse-cart, with its jangling bells, brings up the rear—the inevitable swarm of small boys following. The march to Wooster Cemetery is a thing a boy never forgets. The roll of muffled drums and “Adeste Fideles” answer for the dirge. A little girl on the fencepost waves to her father and wonders if he looked like that at Gettysburg.

After the last grave is decorated, “Taps” sounds out through the pines and hickories, while a last hymn is sung. Then the ranks are formed again and “we all march back to town” to a Yankee stimulant—Reeves’ inspiring “Second Regiment Quickstep”—though, to many a soldier, the somber thoughts of the day underline the tunes of the band. The march stops—and in the silence the shadow of the early morning flower-song rises over the Town, and the sunset behind West Mountain breathes its benediction upon the Day.

Ives had a lifelong affection for D.W. Reeves’ stirring Second Regiment, one of the great American marches. Charlotte Ruggles (singer and wife of Carles Ruggles) recalled a time around 1950 when Ives was so aroused by his enthusiasm for the Second Regiment that he stood up and began marching around the dinner table, stomping and vigorously shouting the tune. In Decoration Day the second half of the march is quoted in full, practically without embellishment, as the band marches back to town. In another recollection of his boyhood years, Ives described the march’s emotional effect:

... as the strains of Reeves’ majestic Second Regiment March come nearer and nearer—[the boy] seems of a sudden translated—a moment of vivid power comes, a consciousness of material nobility—an exultant something gleaming with the possibilities of this life—an assurance that nothing is impossible, and that the whole world lies at his feet. The perfection of Ives’ arrangement of Decoration Day for violin and piano could easily support Kirkpatrick’s idea that this could have been the music’s original form—even with its layered effects, fanfares, tremolos and drumrolls, the music is tremendously successful for the instruments as a duo.


Thanksgiving and Forefathers’ Day originated in organ works Ives composed around 1897 for Center Church in New Haven; the meditation on George F. Root’s hymn “The Shining Shore,” from which Kirkpatrick arranged this movement of the sonata, was probably a prelude or offertory for a Thanksgiving service. A window of calm in the midst of a large, complex movement for full orchestra and chorus, this passage features two relatively unadorned verses of the hymn accompanied by rolling accompaniment and wispy bell tones, framing a more lively “stomp” or barn dance in the middle.



Washington’s Birthday
Decoration Day
Washington’s Birthday

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