Putnam's Camp

Essay by MelisonairUniversity, Bachelor'sA, December 2004

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Ives's "Putnam's Camp" is a piece that flows like a dreamy poem, depicting a boy enjoying a Fourth of July picnic at a former Revolutionary War campground. It begins with a loud blast of a horn and continues with a vibrant and eccentric march theme. Bit and pieces of Sousa marches and patriotic tunes are incorporated to make up a splendid arrangement of different tones and melodies. Musical quotes intrude on the dissonant confusion and pull us out into different perspectives. He yanks us back and forth between the two bands and makes our minds wander in and out between places.

The whole concept of playing with our perception and sense of space is an entirely modern idea. Ives makes use of patriotic quotes like "Yankee Doodle" and puts them in a whole new context. It is also important to note that Ives wrote, not for a public, but for himself.

This was another modern approach to music. He was one of the innovators of his time who thought that music can exist merely as a piece written on paper.

The boy that is supposed to be the subject of Ives' poetical piece wanders off and falls asleep. He dreams of struggles of the soldiers of long ago. He imagines that he hears General Putnam coming over the hill to save the troops. At this point in the music, and there is a juxtaposition of two bands. One is a string and woodwind band and the other is composed of piano, drums, and trumpet. They approach the boy and pass each other, playing different tunes, in different keys, and in different meters. When the boy wakes up, he hears sounds of celebration, and meets his friends at the picnic. With a casual reference to "The Star Spangled Banner...