With the Help of a Few Extra Players and a Piano, by Charles Ives

“The Hyperion Theater, located just across the Yale campus on Chapel Street, was another place where Ives found the freedom to try out some of his more adventuresome pieces. The Hyperion was the largest theater in the city, with twenty-five hundred seats, and it was a definite cut above Poli’s vaudeville house in the shows it brought in, featuring many serious plays, lectures and musical performances; it had its own theatre orchestra, directed by Franz Fichtl, who for many years had led the Second Connecticut Regimental Band. Ives noted on his manuscripts that several movements of his First Symphony were read through by the Hyperion Theater orchestra (‘with the help of a few extra players and a piano’) in 1897 and that the second and fifth movements of the Second Symphony were ‘originally written as overtures for Hyperion Theater Orchestra New Haven.’ The affection Ives always felt for the no-nonsense musical adaptability of the players in theater orchestras, as well as his own natural flexibility in reconceiving pieces for different instrumental combinations – a natural outgrowth, too, of being an organist, with the organ’s rich literature of transcriptions – would shape his thinking as an orchestral composer ever after. A remarkable number of his orchestral pieces allow for optional instrumentation, depending on what players are available, and several explicitly call for a ‘theater’ orchestra. ‘He really wrote everything for that New Haven theater, and he always liked the theater-sized orchestra,’ Bernard Herrmann would observe of Ives’s symphonic compositions. ‘I never found that he cared really for the full symphony orchestra.'”
-Excerpt courtesy of, “Mad Music: Charles Ives, the Nostalgic Rebel,” by Stephen Budiansky, 2014. (top) Image courtesy of Yale Music Library’s Charles Ives Papers, Ives at graduation, 1898

“Yale University.” -Image courtesy of the Connecticut Digital Archive, the Graphics Collection of the Connecticut Historical Society, 1890

“He ended his freshman year with the equivalent of a C+ in English and German, D’s in Latin and Greek, an F in math, and being tapped for the sophomore secret society H BOYAH or Hé Boulé, which admitted just seventeen members each year, out of Ives’s class of three hundred. (Election to one of the three sophomore societies had become such a near-guarantee that a man would subsequently be tapped for one of the three senior societies that the faculty abolished them a few years later, as inimical to ‘Yale democracy.’) There was nothing terribly secret about who was chosen for the ‘secret’ societies – by the 1890’s their elections were even reported in newspaper wire stories – and Hé Boulé was conspicuous for filling its ranks from wealthy and socially prominent Yale families. In Ives’s Class of ’98 these included Payne Whitney (who would a few years later inherit $100 million from his father and uncle and would leave Yale a huge bequest to build the Gothic cathedral-like gymnasium that still bears his name) and John M. Woolsey (who would become a distinguished federal judge, best known for his 1933 ruling that James Joyce’s Ulysses was not obscene). Ives’s roommate, Mandeville Mullally, was also a member.

“Charles Ives and Mandeville Mullally.” -Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery, ink on paper, by Raymond Moreau Crosby, 1890

The antics of Hé Boulé could have been the inspiration for the word sophomoric. The society met regularly on Friday evenings at, ‘The Spot,’ a rooftop garden atop the F. M. Brown dry goods store on Chapel Street, which it rented out for its carryings-on. The bacchanalian menu for the Hé Boulé initiation dinner held on May 31, 1895, for the inductees from the Class of ’98 perfectly captures the picture of a group of college boys trying to strike a sophisticated pose while getting plastered: seven courses accompanied by a succession of sherry, sauterne, and champagne, with a break in the middle – between the roast beef with mushroom sauce and the native broiled spring chicken with lettuce mayonnaise – for ‘Roman Punch and cigarettes,’ all topped off with Neapolitan ice cream, strawberries, and cigars. Ives would delight his daughter decades later by regaling her with the story of one of his Yale secret society initiation ceremonies (it was probably Hé Boulé’s), which involved being locked in a dark room and being forced to eat what he was told were cold entrails (it turned out to be macaroni). A joking mention of Ives in the program for a Hé Boulé show put on by the following year’s class refers to what was apparently his habitual, high-spirited practice of leading the group off on a vigorous two-mile hike to catch the sunrise at the top of East Rock after an all-night session at The Spot:

For Commutation
Tickets to East Rock,
Apply to Ives and
Car Leaves the Spot
at 3:30 A. M.'”
-Excerpt courtesy of, “Mad Music: Charles Ives, the Nostalgic Rebel,” by Stephen Budiansky, 2014

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