Charles Ives wrote his second piano sonata in the years surrounding World War I, but it was not performed publicly until years later, in 1939.
This was a common fate for the music of Ives, who often wrote “for the drawer”—that is, to fulfill his musical curiosity with little hope for publishing or performance.
In this sonata, Ives summed up his attachment to American Transcendentalism, with each section inspired by a literary light of this philosophical movement. Ives went so far as to write an entire book to accompany the sonata.
This work, Essays before a Sonata, explains much about his musical beliefs. The movement we just heard was inspired by the writings of Henry David Thoreau, especially his philosophical memoir “Walden.”