Charles Ives: Two Little Flowers

Written by Justine Aronson


In category: Song of the Day

Published May 9, 2017

I love a song that will always make me cry.

One of my most tried and true waterworks wranglers is Charles Ives’ simple ode to two little girls in his life, “Two little flowers (and dedicated to them)” (1921), performed here by the excellent Bill Sharp and our beloved Steve Blier.

Ives wrote the text himself with his wife, Harmony Twitchell, who wins the prize for name-I-most-wish-I-had. It’s a little poem inspired by the sight of their adopted daughter, Edith, play with her friend Susanna Minturn. It’s small and simple, like the girls themselves, and means so much more than its constituent parts:

On sunny days in our backyard,
two little flowers are seen,
One dressed, at times, in brightest pink 
and one in green.

The marigold is radiant,
the rose passing fair;
The violet is ever dear, 
the orchid, ever rare;

There’s lovliness in wild flow’rs
of field or wide savannah,
But fairest, rarest of them all 
are Edith and Susanna.

While one might wax poetic about the rose, violet, the orchid, the marigold (those art song heavy-hitters) – what is most fair and most rare is the purity and innocence of two little girls, acting like little girls in a backyard in New England in summertime. Sounds of high-pitched laughter, images of scraped knees or messy pigtails come to mind, and I am reminded of two important little girls in my own life, very dear second cousins who are wildly excited to be (very appropriately for this post) flower girls in my upcoming wedding. I’m an only child and the youngest of my first cousins, so playing with energetic, creative, boundlessly fair and rare little girls has been a beautiful and novel blessing of my early adulthood. Their curiosity, positivity, and imagination is inspirational.

Here are my fairest, rarest girls of all – Sabina and Olivia:


Ives, capable of early modernist sonorities of the head-spinning sort, spins a sweet melody over delicate broken chords, sometimes unexpected in their harmony. For me, it is the G minor chord that occurs on “but fairest, rarest of them all”…that always sets me off. It is magical, it is beyond sentimental, it is the small and lovely feeling of girlhood in summer.

Tomorrow: sleepless nights, knighthood, and the return of the repeat button

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Justine Aronson, soprano, lives at the intersection of Los Angeles, New York, the Midwest, and her own tender heart. She performs works written by living composers and by dead composers, and endeavors to find the nugget of divine humanity within all of it.


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