Ives sums up his intentions with the Concord Sonata in the preface to his Essays Before a Sonata:
"The whole is an attempt to present (one person’s) impression of the spirit of transcendentalism that is associated in the minds of many with Concord, Mass., of over a half century ago. This is undertaken in impressionistic pictures of Emerson and Thoreau, a sketch of the Alcotts, and a scherzo supposed to reflect a lighter quality which is often found in the fantastic side of Hawthorne. The first and last movements do not aim to give any programs of the life or of any particular work of either Emerson or Thoreau, but, rather, composite pictures or impressions" (Ives xxv).
Much like Berlioz, Ives wrote his own program for the piece, mainly created out of material taken from his book (Block 66). Geoffrey Block in Ives: Concord Sonata states that Ives believed Emerson to be a great man who deserved to have a composition dedicated to him that could properly express this greatness (Block 69). Block notes that the “Emerson” movement attempts to musically represent Ives’s idealistic impression of Emerson, “…and to achieve a parallel between Emerson’s frequently difficult literary style and Ives’s comparably difficult musical modernism” (Block 69). In a sense, the “Emerson” movement can be seen as a set of “…variations on lecture themes (albeit untitled), interspersed and intertwined with passages of Emerson’s verse” (Block 69).
Block suggests that in the “Emerson” movement Ives is attempting to musically imitate the style of Emerson’s essays, noting that in Ives’s writing on this movement “…provides some tangible evidence that Ives is making an analogy between Emerson’s oratorical lecture style and his own musical rhetoric” (Block 69). In the first edition of the piece, Ives gave several sections tags of either “verse” or “prose,” with the prose sections tending to be more dissonant and less lyrical or metered. These same prose sections then in turn make up the larger verse passages, filled with longer lyric lines, including the main “Emerson” theme (Block 70-71). Blocks notes that, “In another parallel between the musical and the literary it might be noted that just as Emerson bases his poetry on the philosophical ideas of his prose, so does Ives create verse material out of his musical prose” (Block 71).