Charles Ives

Omens and Oracles, song for voice & piano, S. 317 (K. 6B35)

    Description by Joseph Stevenson

    Omens and Oracles is such a quintessentially Ivesian title that one might be disappointed that this is a harmonically conventional song, a pretty song, that Ives relegated to the group of eight songs in his volume of 114 Songs that he designated dismissively as "Sentimental Ballads."

    Ives did not remember the source of the words, and credited them to "author unknown to composer" and likewise dated it only approximately to "about 1900."

    It is a nice song, being sort of love poetry with an ironic twist: The poet gets conflicting advice: "Phantoms of the future" and "spectres of the past" advise him to flee the feeling of love that is stealing over him; if he must love, "at least this fatal love forebear!"

    Then after short fast section depicting sunrise the sunbeams, flower buds, and birds advise him, "Love her, for she loves thee."

    In the end the poor man can only complain, "And I know not which to heed."

    The advice from both the spirits and from the daylight voices is accompanied by a rustling murmur in the mid-range of the piano. The harmonies tend to be consonant and static, picking up a bit of speed when the advice becomes definite.

    In the end indecisive chromatic (though conventional) harmonies sag indecisively to a fade out at the bottom of the piano's range.

    In terms of what Ives set out to accomplish in this work written when he was about 25 and perhaps still imagining that he could have a regular career as a composer/organize or composer/teacher, the song is successful. It is, of course, very different from the radical music that made Ives (eventually) famous.

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2008
    Various Artists
    Naxos
    8 559272
    2008
    Hyperion
    67644
    2005
    Endeavour
    1012
    1997
    Koch International Classics
    7392
    1995
    Albany Music Distribution
    078