Orchestral Set No. 2
Composed between 1915 and 1919, it represents musical reminiscences of the composer. Like its predecessor, the First Orchestral Set, Three Places in New England, it was not conceived as a single entity but rather assembled into its three-movement form from separate compositions.
The opening movement, An Elegy to Our Forefathers, is the most esoteric of the recollections. Ives had originally entitled it as an elegy to Stephen Foster, but its fleeting, indistinct nature - it fades in and out of view (like a passing parade) perhaps suggested to Ives something less specific than a named individual. As Ives biographer Jan Swafford puts it, it "is like a memory of Stephen Foster tunes".
The second movement is more lively. Entitled The Rockstrewn Hills Join in the People’s Outdoor Meeting, it is instantly recognisable as Ives, recalling the camp-revival meetings he knew as a boy. This movement contains particularly demanding passages for piano, and Ives himself referred to it as "almost a piano concerto."
The final movement From Hanover Square North, At the End of a Tragic Day, The Voice of the People Again Arose, recalls Ives' experience of the 7th May 1915, the day that the news broke oft the sinking of the RMS Lusitania, preceding the United States' entry into the First World War. Ives' focus, however, as Clayton Henderson notes, is not about the sinking per se, but rather "the reaction of a group of commuters". According to his own memoirs, the crowd waiting on the platform of New York's Hanover Square Train Station spontaneously broke into the gospel hymn In the Sweet By and By - a tune that was being played on a barrel organ on the street below. He stated:
Some workmen sitting on the side of the tracks began to whistle the tune, and others began to sing or hum the refrain. A workman with a shovel over his shoulder came on to the platform and joined in the chorus, and the next man, a Wall Street banker with white spats and a cane, joined in it, finally it seemed to me that everybody was singing this tune, and they didn't seem to be singing it in fun, but as a natural outlet for what their feelings had been going through all day long.
The movement begins with an offstage chorus singing an extract from the Te Deum in English (“We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord”). From there the music develops with melodies overlaying one another, including Foster's Massa's in the Cold Ground and My Old Kentucky Home. These fade in and out of view, with In the Sweet By and By circulating around the music, never explicitly quoted. Only at the climax, when Ives depicts the crowd's impromptu singing, does the orchestra unequivocally state the hymn - or rather a representation of it in the unrehearsed, completely sincere form Ives recollected from that day.
A typical performance lasts around seventeen minutes. Recordings have been made by several ensembles, including the Concertgebouw Orchestra under Michael Tilson Thomas, the Cleveland Orchestra under Christoph von Dohnanyi and more recently as part of a series of critical edition performances by the Malmo Symphony Orchestra under Ives scholar James Sinclair.