- Realizing Ives's Universe Symphony:An Interview with Johnny Reinhard
Perhaps you could begin by describing your work before getting involved with the Universe Symphony.
My work as director and founder of the American Festival of Microtonal Music led me to discover microtonal compositions for performances. As a bassoonist, conductor, composer, and scholar, I have explored all manner of styles, eras, and geographies. Additionally, I had already demonstrated an affinity for working with musical pieces that needed a nudge in order to be premiered, for example, Mordecai Sandberg's Psalm 51, Edgard Varèse's Graphs and Time, Lou Harrison's Simfony in Free Style, and La Monte Young's Vision. After my master's from Manhattan School of Music in bassoon, I spent four additional years at Columbia University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences on a fellowship, studying ethnomusicology, historical musicology, and theory. I had the opportunity to make a modern performance edition, and subsequent performance, of a work by the elder Gabrieli. [End Page 459]
What got you started on this project in the first place? Why Ives? Why the Universe Symphony?
I merely found myself one fine, inspired day poking around Lou Harrison's bookshelves at his home in Aptos, California. Lou had given me license to rummage around and discover. We found we thought alike about many issues relating to tuning.
At the bottom of one bookshelf, at the very bottom—and quite dusty—there was a folded over 11" × 17" photocopy of the John Mauceri recopy of Charles Ives's Universe Symphony sketches. Lou told me I would have to contact Peer Music to gain any sort of rights to the piece for any possible performance. Little did I know then of what was to involve so much of my adult life.
I like to tell people that the Universe Symphony will make you smarter than Mozart … although that theory fell through, by the way. Later studies have shown that Mozart doesn't make you any smarter.
Anyway, for me, this is just another piece to finish. It came with a lot of different baggage. I always have to deal with this issue of heirs anytime I do an early work. I can tell you that after twenty-five or twenty-six years of doing the American Festival of Microtonal Music, we've done most all. And this was one of them that had to be done. That's all.
How did you start your realization? Could you please give me a rough timeline of the process?
The basic idea was to separate individual patches of music from manuscript sketch pages, and to put them in a loose-leaf folder in chronological order. Once the music made sense based on the cues given by Ives, a choice of basic unit assignment was given (where every two compound measures of the Earth Orchestra would be equivalent to one basic unit of sixteen seconds).
Simultaneously, the ten cycles of the Pulse of the Cosmos have to be developed. They must align with the Heavens and Earth Orchestras. It was about two years of work on the full score (as full time as I could make it), and one year in order to make the parts. My book gives a more exact timeline.
How long in total did it take to complete your realization?
Three years for score and parts. One year to perform a world premiere. Three years further to record and edit the commercial release by the Stereo Society and Mike Thorne. And there were years in between doing all manner of things.
What were your biggest frustrations and triumphs with this project?
Conducting in Lincoln Center is certainly a head rush, but the responsibility of directing the first-ever performance of Ives's Universe Symphony trumps the actual buzz. The biggest frustration, then, was the [End Page 460] second conductor standing too soon to begin the Heaven's fragment, but almost comically refusing to sit back down. Also, a percussionist, off on his own for an inexplicable reason, was frustrating. There were none of...