Below you'll find a list of recommended books relating to Charles Ives, containing summaries, publishing information, and relevant links, listed in chronological order.
Charles Ives and His Music
In Charles Ives and His Music (1955), Henry and Sidney Cowell write a compelling account of Charles Ives’s life and creative ideals. Overall, the Cowells illustrate the principles underlying Ives’s music, and its progress toward public and critical acceptance. The second half of the book offers detailed discussions of Ives’s compositional style, examining his approach to musical elements such as polyphony, harmony, melody, and rhythm.
This was the first biography written about Charles Ives, published one year after his death. The book draws on Ives’s autobiographical manuscripts, as well as his published essays. The authors’ perspective reflects their friendship with Ives, presenting a personal understanding of his family life, career as an insurance executive, and pursuits as a composer.
Cowell refers to Ives as the “father of American music”1 because he was the first composer who questioned the value of European culture for American composition. In this way, Ives set the precedent for “the grammar of a new symphonic speech.”2 By the 1950s, the influence of his musical style could be heard not only in the concert hall, but also in music for film and Broadway.
Ives’s musical innovations were rooted in both the popular folk music of his youth and the high-minded ideals of Transcendentalist thinkers such as Emerson and Thoreau. While Ives’s influences, ideas, and musical language may at first seem contradictory, Cowell explains the meaning of such paradoxes: “he believes that full expression of the opposing aspects of any idea whatever is a necessary step on the way to perfect truth.”3
The composer carried his philosophical ideals over into the business of life insurance. In Ives’s manual The Amount to Carry — Measuring the Prospect, Cowell includes quotations that encourage salesman to appeal to the “strength of the average mind”4 and contribute to the “progress of the greater life values.”5 Such passages parallel Ives’s exploration of new musical possibilities in his composition.
The biography covers in detail the musical influence of his father, George, Ives’s studies at Yale, and the challenges he faced because of his experimental and highly original compositions. Later on in his life, Ives’s declining health led him to retire from the insurance business and stop composing. Cowell also highlights fascinating early performances that initiated the success of Ives’s music. These include the 1920 premiere of the Concord Sonata in New Orleans, the first European performances of Three Places in New England in the early 1930s, for which Anton Webern conducted the Vienna premiere, and the 1951 performance of the Second Symphony with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.
Charles Ives did not attend the performance of his Second Symphony in 1951, for fear that he would be upset by the way it would be performed. He did, however, listen to the radio broadcast, and Cowell describes that “Ives did venture downstairs to listen to it on the maid’s little radio in the kitchen… he emerged from the kitchen doing an awkward little jig of pleasure and vindication.”6
Charles Ives was an early visionary of American music. The Cowell biography not only demonstrates the thoughtful individual behind this vision, but also the journey of these compositions into the world.
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Charles E. Ives: Memos
The Memos are a collection of Ives’s previously unpublished writings from the early 1930s onward, compiled and annotated by John Kirkpatrick. Published in 1972, the compilation is organized into three parts: “Pretext,” “Scrapbook,” and “Memories.” Kirkpatrick also includes twenty-one appendices, which range in content from Ives’s responses to Kirkpatrick’s questions on the Concord Sonata, to plans for an operatic libretto in collaboration with his wife, Harmony.
Initially, Charles Ives did not intend these writings for publication, but rather as a way “to answer questions from people who were curious about his music.”1 Kirkpatrick also describes that the Memos were a way for the composer “to get things off his chest in a private way.”2
The Memos began with an imaginary open letter in response to critics’ reviews of the 1931 European performances of his orchestral work, Three Places in New England. The critics commented that Ives’s music was influenced by composers such as Schoenberg and Hindemith. Primarily, Ives wanted to clarify that he had never heard the music of Schoenberg, and that all of his music was written before Hindemith started composing.
The Scrapbook section contains specific information pertaining to dozens of his compositions, including the violin sonatas, symphonies, and works for solo piano. Ives also describes his experience studying music with Horatio Parker at Yale, and his views on the flexible nature of the “fundamental laws”3 of composition that were prescribed in his college courses. With regard to his professor, Ives says, “I had and have great respect and admiration for Parker and most of his music. (It was seldom trivial—his choral works have a dignity and depth that many of [his] contemporaries… did not have).”4
Throughout the Memos, Ives offers invaluable accounts of his father as musical mentor, describing that “what my father did for me was not only in his teaching, on the technical side, etc., but in his influence, his personality, character, open-mindedness, and his remarkable understanding of the ways of a boy’s heart and mind.”5 In particular, he describes the importance of his father’s musical exercises given when he was a boy. One such example: playing and singing folk songs in two different keys at once. In addition, Ives describes his forthright views on musical aesthetics, claiming that it would have been impossible for him to write music for money and maintain his artistic ideals of innovation.
In collecting Ives’s Memos and related writings, Kirkpatrick also included Ives’s own lists of his works, the first of which he wrote on the back of an Ives & Myrick life insurance calendar. These lists are annotated, include various alternate titles, and reveal that many of his church anthems have been lost. As well, the chapter “Chronological Index of Dates” serves as a significant resource for Ives’s positions as a church organist and the performances of his compositions. These examples represent just a few of the wide-ranging primary source materials offered in this book, providing insights into the first-hand perspectives of Charles Ives.
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Charles Ives Remembered: An Oral History
Vivian Perlis’s Charles Ives Remembered: An Oral History offers first-hand accounts of the composer through interviews with his family, friends, and musical collaborators. Published in 1974, this primary source book was the first oral history of an American composer. These interviews present insights into topics including Ives’s childhood, musical attitudes, personality, and early performances of his music.
Perlis relates how “the way a composer translates his experience into the work created is elusive, and the relationships between Ives’s life and his music are intricate, subtle, and complex. The interviews exhibited in this book, with those who knew and worked with Charles Ives, cannot explain his music. They can, however, give a clearer picture of this extraordinary man and bring into focus the place and time in which he lived.”1
Ives’s extensive correspondences, friendships, and relations to family members throughout his lifetime provide rich material for Perlis’s oral history. The book is divided into four sections that cover the arc of his life: “Youth and Yale Years,” “Insurance,” “Family, Friends, and Neighbors,” and “Music.”
There are countless musical perspectives that are meaningful for the Ives performer, scholar, and listener. Ives’s nephew, Bigelow, recollects that his uncle wrote the song He Is There! in response to World War I: “He tried to get me to sing it, and if I didn’t sing with enough spirit or gusto, he would land both fists on the piano… There was one little passage which called for a real shout, but I shouted very timidly and he nearly hit the roof. ‘Can’t you shout better than that? That’s the trouble with his country—people are afraid to shout!’”2
The discussions of Ives’s work as an insurance executive reveal a great deal about his role as a mentor to employees. George Hoffman was interviewed in 1969, and discusses how Ives set up educational classes for insurance agents in the 1910s. Hoffman, a supervisor for these classes, described that “Charlie was a humanitarian from the bottom of his heart to his head, and I came away from the first meeting feeling that he was a great philosopher and moralist.”3 Other interviews demonstrate Ives’s generosity to those who worked for him, as well as to his musical collaborators, family members, and charities.
In the early 1940s Charles Ives made several private recordings in New York because he would get letters from performers asking how they should interpret his music. The recording engineer was Mary Howard, and in her interview, she describes these memorable recording sessions. Howard comments that “he knew exactly what he wanted and he got it.”4
There are also interviews with many of the most significant early Ives performers, including conductors Nicolas Slominsky and Bernard Herrmann, pianist John Kirkpatrick, and soprano Mary Bell. Given Ives’s friendships with numerous composers, the book also includes notable interviews with Elliot Carter, Carl Ruggles, and Darius Milhaud, among others.
In addition to the interviews, Vivian Perlis includes countless pictures, ranging from photos of Ives’s birthplace to advertisements from Ives’s insurance company to copies of concert programs and reviews. Through the variety of stories, accounts, and recollections, Charles Ives Remembered gives the reader access to the full scope of the composer’s life.
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Charles Ives: The Ideas Behind the Music
In Charles Ives: The Ideas Behind the Music, J. Peter Burkholder presents a detailed overview of the philosophical concepts underlying Ives’s compositions. The author demonstrates how Ives’s artistic purposes evolved over the course of his lifetime, culminating in his mature period of work. Furthermore, the book examines Ives’s prose work Essays Before a Sonata as a way of charting the development of the composer’s ideas throughout his career. Through this approach, Burkholder explains that “the diversity between and within Ives’s compositions and the radical changes in style and method at different stages of his career suddenly begin to make sense.”1
The author provides an aesthetic analysis of Ives’s Essays Before a Sonata, outlining its ideas into three major foundations: “(1) a dualistic approach to issues, (2) a personal and social idealism, and (3) a reliance on personal intuition and experience rather than external authority.”2 Ives presents these ideas mainly in the context of 19th century Transcendentalist thinkers, such as Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne. At the same time, however, Burkholder shows how many of these ideas were supported by other influences in his life, such as his family and education at Yale.
Ives’s father, George, played an important role in shaping the composer’s musical experimentalism and philosophy. As Charles’s music teacher, George combined disciplined compositional technique with new explorations of musical sounds. Here, the young composer learned to rely on his own intuition, which “contributed immeasurably to his later self-reliance”3 as a musician. In addition, Burkholder describes how the Ives family had a generations-long tradition of social justice and religious ethics, which likely shaped Charles’s sense of philosophical idealism. With these notions, the young Ives wrote pieces with a direct purpose for the community, whether they were songs and choral works for church, or marches for the Danbury town band.
The composer’s studies at Yale served as a major turning point in his artistic life. Through formal studies with Horatio Parker, Ives was able to distance himself from the musical traditions of his upbringing. Yale provided greater contact with the European tradition of classical music, allowing the composer to cultivate an individualistic identity that combined various musical styles. After college, Ives turned away from writing music for the public, enabling the artistic freedom to explore new compositional ideas without the scrutiny of an audience. Ives began to write new kinds of “concert pieces that are “about” vernacular styles and vernacular performance, quoting tunes, using familiar ragtime rhythms, and evoking the spirit and atmosphere of performances by amateur musicians.”4
Ives continued to forge an original musical vision through his marriage to Harmony Twitchell. Through Harmony’s complete belief in his musical work, along with his separation from the professional music world, Ives could be confident in the importance of his unorthodox ideas. Burkholder describes that Harmony’s artistic inspiration led to a number of foundational ideas that would influence Charles Ives’s “largest, greatest, and most characteristic compositions.”5 These ideas included: the musical representation of emotional experiences, the expression of nostalgia, the inclusion of literary subjects in compositions, the development of an American musical identity, and a bolstering of Charles’s philosophical idealism.
Over the course of the book, Burkholder explains the evolution of Ives’s ideas across his lifetime, and how the ideas were realized in his compositions. The author also demonstrates how these musical and philosophical concepts came about from the many influences in Ives’s life. Such an examination presents the music in its full context, allowing listeners, scholars, and performers to further engage with the numerous expressive aims of Charles Ives.
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Charles Ives: “My Father’s Song”
Charles Ives: “My Father’s Song” is a psychoanalytic biography by Stuart Feder, who was a psychiatrist and music scholar. Feder first encountered the music of Charles Ives in 1950 through Ives collaborator Henry Cowell, who was Feder’s professor at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. The author probes the mental life of Charles Ives to understand the meaning of his music. Throughout the book, Feder details aspects of Ives’s family, upbringing, business life, and marriage to uncover how his relationships shaped his psychology, and ultimately his compositions.
Feder describes that, “Ives’s concept of the reality of music lay somewhere between the animate and the inanimate world, stemming from… his own early development… Music never completely lost this quality, much to the benefit of the imaginative content of his work.”1
In Ives’s early development, his father George played a significant role in Charles’s musical and psychological formation. Given the significance of George’s influence on Charles, the first section of the book is devoted to reconstructing a biography of George Ives in 19th century America. To his son Charlie, George was larger than life, fostering innovation, instilling discipline, and providing mentorship throughout his childhood.
Feder’s psychoanalytic approach to the relationship between Charles and George offers distinct insights into Charles’s life as a composer. Given the close relationship between father and son, Feder discusses the impact of George’s death on Charles, who was 20 years old at the time. Through psychoanalytic evaluation, the author articulates that “Charlie never quite recovered”2 from his father’s passing. When Charles was older, his self-imposed isolation as a composer served as a “prolonged period of mourning,”3 recreating the private musical partnership he experienced with his father during childhood. Later on, Feder proposes that Charles Ives idealized his father as a way of memorializing him, as seen in Ives’s autobiographical Memos.
The biography also discusses Ives’s mother, and the potential significance that there are minimal extant writings about her. In reconstructing Charles’s infancy, Feder describes that she provided a source of stability during this non-verbal stage of development. Feder later goes on to examine how these non-verbal memories translated into musical representation through songs such as The Old Mother and Songs My Mother Taught Me.
Charles’s wife, Harmony, served a fundamental role in the musical and mental life of the composer. Feder explores the relationship between Harmony and her father, Reverend Joseph Twitchell, explaining that “the young girl who had served as a companion on the minister’s speaking engagements had grown up to pursue in fantasy what amounted to a holy collaboration.”4 Harmony viewed her partnership with Charles as linked to the creation of his music, and Feder relates the first decade of their marriage as Ives’s most creatively prolific years.
Feder dedicates much of the final chapters to the 114 Songs and Memos, which he explains are both autobiographies, the former expressing his inner-universe through music, and the latter expressing his ideas about the world through prose. Both of these works convey Ives’s own view of his upbringing, college years, and musical collaborations. Furthermore, Feder explains the psychological reasons for Ives’s perspectives and opinions, which include topics such as music, philosophy, politics, and culture. In this way, the biography connects the full range of the composer’s life and work through the distinctive inner and outer worlds of Charles Ives.
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A Union of Diversities: Style in the Music of Charles Ives
In A Union of Diversities: Style in the Music of Charles Ives, Larry Starr writes a listener’s guide to Ives’s music, focusing on the composer’s distinctive use of numerous styles. The book presents accessible discussions that focus mainly on the songs for voice and piano. Starr provides score inserts for the reader to follow along with his narrative-style explanations, which include technical approaches to Ives’s use of harmony, melody, text-setting, and formal structures.
In the beginning of the book, Starr explains that Ives’s music is characterized by the combination of many styles into one piece. In particular, Ives freely incorporates music from folk traditions, the classical canon, church hymns, and his father’s dissonant musical experimentations. The composer brought these styles together in ways that led to a new musical aesthetic, which is readily apparent in his song literature.
In “The Things Our Fathers Loved,” for instance, Starr points out that Ives combines traditional musical styles of 19th century America with ‘modern’ leaning compositional experimentations. He describes that the opening melody begins in a tonal, folk-like manner, while the piano accompaniment introduces dissonances that clash with the singer. Soon enough, Ives also incorporates elements of chromaticism into the vocal line, which contrast with the folk-style beginning of the melody.
Other notable examples of analysis include his examination of “Psalm 90.” Here, Starr proposes that Ives uses a given musical style as a form of motivic material. Just as a melody can be developed into extended musical passages, Ives develops the various musical styles that he presents in the opening of Psalm 90 into later parts of the piece. The author also analyzes “Decoration Day,” providing a detailed chart that divides the piece into its distinctly styled sections. Throughout the book, Starr provides repeated explanations for how Ives creates continuity across the different styles: to this end, Ives introduces creative associations across motivic developments, pitch relationships, and moving pitch centers.
The author proposes that one does not need to know the historical and cultural references of Ives’s music to develop an appreciation for his aesthetic. As demonstrated throughout A Union of Diversities, Ives’s compositions have musical qualities that are engaging in their own right, and approachable for anyone who would like to listen.
Charles Ives: A Life with Music
Jan Swafford’s biography, Charles Ives: A Life with Music, offers a detailed account of the composer’s life, philosophical perspectives, and musical development. The author’s approach encourages the reader to understand how the numerous aspects of Ives’s life are interconnected with his music. Along these lines, Swafford explains that “this biography tries to be less like a book and more like life; while it does not lack structure, it unfolds like life and at times resembles an improvisation.”1
Through this “improvisation,” the biography covers themes such as the history of the Ives family in New England, the expansion of Ives’s hometown, Danbury, and father George Ives’s role as a military band leader in the Civil War. Swafford then demonstrates how these factors fostered several aspects of Charles Ives’s childhood. These include his development as an organ prodigy, enthusiasm for musical experimentation, and formation of the philosophical ideals that would later influence his life and music.
Ives believed that composers were able to redeem, remake, and benefit the world through their music. This optimistic perspective, Swafford points out, in part stems from the Romantic-era ideals that he encountered in his studies with Horatio Parker at Yale. Ives described Parker as a decidedly conservative musician who had little influence on him. Nevertheless, the biography conveys that Parker served a crucial role as Ives’s teacher, especially with regard to techniques for symphonic writing. Swafford also discusses in detail Parker’s career as one of the foremost American composers of his era and as a founding faculty member of the Yale School of Music.
Progressing through Ives’s life, the author provides a brief history of the Gilded Age in New York, setting the backdrop for the composer’s entrance into the insurance business. Following his adventurous spirit in music, Ives came up with novel ideas about life insurance practices that would lead to his success as an executive. With regard to his personal life, Swafford includes many excerpts from the personal diary of Ives and his wife, Harmony Twitchell Ives. The author discusses Harmony in great detail: before marrying Ives, she pursued a career as a nurse and held a personal ideology of dedicated service to others. Throughout their lives, Harmony and Charles Ives regularly took in impoverished families, which led to their adoption of daughter Edith Ives.
The biography also examines the reception of Ives’s music and the evolution of its support from performers, audiences, and critics. Swafford notes that the piano music and songs were first to gain a significant following, which happened in the 1920s. The early audiences for Ives’s music included mystics, Marxists, Bohemians, and other related groups. The author comments that “a significant thing about most of these Ivesians was that aside from his own music, Ives had little in common with them.”2 In the early 1930s, Ives had successful collaborations with conductor Nicolas Slominsky, who premiered orchestral works such as Three Places in New England, Fourth of July, and Washington’s Birthday. The author also mentions that Aaron Copland was particularly interested in the American folk elements of Ives’s music, perhaps influencing Copland’s later compositions.
In the concluding chapters, “Postlude” and “Editing Ives,” Swafford discusses his own viewpoints on the post-humous performances of Ives’s music and the developments that have been made in performing editions. He also discusses the ideological relevance of Ives in the late 20th century. In his concluding remarks, Swafford identifies this relevance as the following: “In his music and his life he embodied a genuine pluralism, a wholeness beneath diversity, that in itself is a beacon for democracy and its art… In spirit he handed us a baton and calls on us to carry it further.”3
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A Descriptive Catalogue of the Music of Charles Ives
Electronic Publication by the Yale University Music Library, 2012
James B. Sinclair’s A Descriptive Catalogue of The Music of Charles Ives is an invaluable resource that systematically presents the complete works of the composer. The full catalogue of compositions is organized into 12 genres, and for each work, information such as the instrumentation, time duration, incipit, premiere performance, and musical borrowings are given. This resource also includes pertinent supplementary information, such as a chronology of significant events in the composer’s life and a list of sound recordings made by Ives.
The publication was released in 1999 by the Yale University Press, and updated in 2012 for electronic publication by the Yale University Music Library. The catalogue allows performers, scholars, and listeners to easily and thoroughly examine the full scope of Ives’s output. As well, Sinclair frequently makes reference to the original manuscripts, letters, and other writings of the composer, which are part of the Charles Ives Papers, held at the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, Yale University.
In the preface, Sinclair highlights the numerous stages that were required “to make sense out of notorious chaos of his music manuscripts,”1 which took place over many decades. The works in the catalogue are numbered sequentially from 1 through 728, and the works are listed alphanumerically by genre, which include the following: “Works for Orchestra,” “Works for Band,” “Works for Chamber Ensemble,” “Works for Piano,” “Works for Organ,” “Works for Choral Ensemble,” “Works for Stage,” “Songs,” “Exercises,” “Arrangements of Works by Other Composers,” “Unidentified Fragments,” and “Lost or Projected Works.”
Under each piece, Sinclair also includes a “Comment” section, where he includes descriptions of the music, discussions of manuscript source materials, and quotations from the writings of Ives and his contemporaries, as well as other details. Other sections of A Descriptive Catalogue include Ives’s original lists of works, a chronological presentation of the song collections by manuscript and published groupings, and a letter by John Kirkpatrick describing the funeral of Charles Ives, which Sinclair describes as “deeply moving and insightful in its sensitive writing.”2
In the conclusion of the “Acknowledgments” section, Sinclair playfully reminds the reader of Ives’s own perspective on organizing his music:
“After all this collective effort, we might note that Ives pokes fun (typically) at such pursuits…
‘After [this] has been put in order, will it be in order to have it in order - Rollo?’
We hope so.”3
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Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives
Edited by Tom C. Owens, Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives includes letters to and from the composer, dating from 1881 until after his death in 1954. Ives wrote and received hundreds of letters throughout his lifetime, which are preserved in the Charles Ives Papers in the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library of Yale University. Owens systematically presents these primary source materials, with numerous annotations that give context and offer insights into Ives’s relationships and life experiences.
Owens selected a range of letters that “document the composition and editing of his music, that show his friendships and philanthropy, that illustrate the state of his health, and that reveal his integral role in the new music community from the late 1920s until his death.”1 Furthermore, letters with musical collaborators such as John Kirkpatrick, Nicolas Slominsky, Aaron Copland, and Radiana Pazmor, to name a few, discuss specific details of Ives’s music with regard to editing processes and preparation for performance. These also include his correspondence with Lou Harrison about the editing of Ives’s Third Symphony, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947.
The book divides the selected letters into eight chapters: “Childhood, Hopkins, and Yale (1881-1903),” “Courtship and Marriage (1907-1908),” “Call and Response (1911-1936),” “Health (1907-1954),” “Collaborators and Champions (1923-1933),” “Travel (1930-1938),” “Editors and Performers (1933-1944),” and “Final Years (1945-1954).”
Following 1930, Ives not only received an increasing amount of mail, but also faced the deterioration of his handwriting due to a hand tremor. In this way, he would sketch drafts of his letters so that his wife or daughter could write the final copy. Owens explains that the letter sketches “show us Ives unfiltered and give a glimpse into the process of his thinking, especially in his multiple revisions and drafts for a single letter.”2
Childhood letters reveal Charles’s admiration for his father, George. In college, his correspondences with family express the development of an independent identity. Letters from his wife, Harmony, during their period of courtship, reveal her passionate personality and ardent love for Charles. Nearly a half century later, Harmony received many letters following Charles’s death from friends around the country, expressing grief and condolences.
Other letters reveal Ives’s sense of humor and generosity, as well as offer details about little-known occurrences in his life. In one letter to Ives, conductor Nicolas Slominsky describes having to beat two rhythms at once to clearly show the orchestra how to play one of his works. Later in the letter, Slominsky describes interpreting a lecture into English for Arnold Schoenberg during his visit Boston. In Ives’s reply to Slominsky, he jokingly asks, “Do you beat 2 rhythms when interpreting a lecture?”3
Another anecdote involves letters between John Cage and Charles Ives following the nervous breakdown of Ives champion Lou Harrison. Here, we see Ives’s generosity in providing Harrison financial support to help cover his hospital bills. An additional correspondence refers to George Gershwin’s admiration for Ives, and Gershwin’s effort to meet Ives in New York City. While this meeting was never actualized, Gershwin’s interest in Ives’s music is fascinating and not well-known.
Owens describes that “one of the primary purposes for this collection of letters is to show the complex personality and character of the man who wrote both the letters and the music.”4 Through this portrayal, Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives enables the reader to engage with Ives’s compositions by way of their inspiration, creation, and place in the composer’s life.
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Charles Ives Reconsidered
Gayle Sherwood Magee’s Charles Ives Reconsidered presents a comprehensive biography that offers new perspectives on the composer, incorporating significant Ives scholarship of the late 20th century. Published in 2008, Magee references Ives research from the mid-1970s onwards that proposed alternate understandings of the composer’s creative output.
In particular, Magee examines a revised approach to the chronology of Ives’s music, re-assessing his compositional activities of the 1920s. “What emerges from this study is a clearer sense of Ives as a composer, not just a reviser, during the latter decades of his life… This shift requires acknowledging that Ives continued to grow and change as a composer well after 1918, during a time when he was exposed to other musical influences.”1 In this way, Magee discusses how Ives combined later ideas into his earlier works, reflecting his continual development as a musician.
The book includes perspectives that emphasize the formative influence of Horatio Parker, who was Ives’s teacher at Yale. Furthermore, Magee explores the influence of various intellectual and musical trends from Ives’s lifetime on his compositions.
Magee takes a unique approach to understanding Ives’s life and work in the early 1900s, highlighting the influence of recurring health conditions on his compositional output. In 1906, Ives experienced what was historically referred to as a heart attack. The author explains that the precise medical description of his condition was cardio neurasthenia, which was a severe nervousness affecting the heart. The common treatment in Ives’s time was to go on a rest cure, which included six to twelve weeks of full or partial bed rest in a new environment. Magee then explains how Ives’s rest cure of 1906 served as an important turning point in multiple areas of his life: soon after the rest cure, he co-founded his insurance agency, married Harmony, and entered his most prolific period as a composer.
Later on, Ives’s publishing of his Concord Sonata (1920) and 114 Songs (1922) marked “yet another transformation in his compositional style… Most of his new compositions would be written in an aggressively modernist style.”2 Magee links the publishing of these editions to his emergence as a leader and collaborator with other contemporary musicians of the time, including pianist and conductor E. Robert Schmitz, violinist Jerome Goldstein, and composers Henry Cowell and Aaron Copland. While previous scholarship considered the 1920s not to be a creatively productive period, Magee considers Ives’s extensive collaborations, editing, and re-working of his music for performance as significant parts of his compositional activity.
Toward the end of the book, Magee presents a revised chronology of Ives’s works in order to provide “a clearer understanding of how he approached composition at various times in his life”3. Magee’s chronology includes three main periods, with accompanying works and overarching musical aims for each period. At the same time, the author asserts that it is important to accept that Ives’s “most important works cut across the arc of his compositional life in complex and probably unknowable ways.”4 Throughout Charles Ives Reconsidered, Magee offers clear frameworks that embrace the composer’s complex life, music, and artistic processes. Moreover, the book demonstrates how all of these factors led to Ives’s remarkable compositional output.
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John Kirkpatrick, American Music, and the Printed Page
In John Kirkpatrick, American Music, and the Printed Page, Drew Massey examines one of the primary advocates of Charles Ives’s music. Throughout his lifetime, John Kirkpatrick championed Ives’s compositions in work as a performer, editor, writer, and archivist. Massey takes an in-depth look at Kirkpatrick’s editing processes and priorities in dealing with the complexity of Ives’s manuscripts. Along the way, the author also discusses Kirkpatrick’s editorial work with American composers such as Carl Ruggles, Hunter Johnson, and Elliott Carter. With regard to Ives, the author explains the interpretive lens with which Kirkpatrick made his editions, which ultimately had a significant impact on the public’s reception of Ives’s music.
Among his many activities, Kirkpatrick gave the premiere performance and recording of the Concord Sonata, compiled the first major catalogue of Ives’s manuscripts, edited and published Ives’s autobiographical Memos, and was the executive editor of the Charles Ives Society from 1973 to 1985. Over the course of his career, Kirkpatrick’s editorial practices involved not only the musical opinion of the composer, but also that of Kirkpatrick himself. Rather than accepting Ives’s final revisions for the published edition, Kirkpatrick sought to present what he thought were the best revisions for a particular piece. To this end, Kirkpatrick often combined Ives’s different versions for a composition in order to produce the final published edition.
In order to understand the aesthetic priorities that led to Kirkpatrick’s musical decisions, Massey draws on resources including Kirkpatrick’s letters, biographical background, and working copies of Ives editions. The author also gives an account of Kirkpatrick’s first encounter with one of Ives’s works, which was the Concord Sonata. Kirkpatrick came across the sonata while studying in Paris during the late 1920s. Soon after, Kirkpatrick wrote a letter to Ives asking for a copy of the piece, which eventually led to further correspondences with regard to Concord and its related manuscripts. In these letters, Ives expressed sentiments that pointed to the compositional fluidity of the Concord Sonata. Through these communications, “Kirkpatrick began to confront one of the primary questions confronting a performer of the Concord: Does realizing Ives’s intention mean following Ives’s notated score or following through with the license Ives granted in prose?”1
From Kirkpatrick’s perspective, it was his responsibility as an editor to compensate for Ives’s “blind spot in failing to grant his masterpieces certain rights of their own.”2 Kirkpatrick felt that in many cases, Ives’s compositional revisions from the final decades of his life were efforts to update his works for the increasingly modern tastes of the music world. In consequence, Kirkpatrick described that his editions aimed to represent Ives’s compositions from the “point of view of eternity.”3 Massey emphasizes that the musical realizations of this unique editorial approach are best understood on a case-by-case basis, and the book discusses Kirkpatrick’s editorial work for the Concord Sonata, Psalm 54, Forty Earlier Songs, Tone Roads, and Three-Page Sonata, among others.
As well, the author includes chapters on Kirkpatrick’s editing of Carl Ruggles’s Evocations and Mood. Massey also contrasts Kirkpatrick’s approach with the methodology of other Ives editors. Overall, the book elucidates the “imagination and adaptability”4 of John Kirkpatrick’s musicianship, demonstrating his wide-reaching impact on the music of Ives, and moreover, on 20th century American music.
1 p. 81
2 p. 2
3 p. 121
4 p. 156
Charles Ives in the Mirror: American Histories of an Iconic Composer
David C. Paul’s Charles Ives in the Mirror: American Histories of an Iconic Composer examines the ways in which scholars, critics, performers, and the public have understood Charles Ives. Published in 2013, the author discusses the development of ideas about Ives, from the composer’s lifetime through the beginning of the 21st century. In this way, Paul explores the many viewpoints of Ives that have come from a diverse group of communities, ranging from “the bohemian enclaves of the Bay Area to the most prestigious concert halls of the United States, from the makeshift offices of a New Orleans arts magazine to the lecture halls and libraries of Ivy League universities.”1
Paul emphasizes that Ives’s life and music are deeply connected to American identity. Nevertheless, the composer has evoked wide-ranging narratives about what it means to be American. “Already by the late fifties, Ives had been variously portrayed as an American pioneer of musical modernism, an ethnographically inclined composer who had discovered the richness of American folk music, and a symbol of American freedom.”2
Moreover, Paul describes that studying Ives is not only significant for the history of American music, but also for American history: “The history of Ives’s reception is not simply a series of portraits of an unusual composer, it is also a series of mirrors that reflect the way Americans have viewed themselves. It is the restive, fractured story of nation in miniature.”3
The first chapter considers the early reception of Ives, from 1921 to 1934. In 1921, Ives mailed his self-published Concord Sonata, with its accompanying prose work Essays Before a Sonata, to hundreds of households. The composer intended to foster an audience for his music, integrating the philosophies of Emerson, Thoreau, and other Transcendentalist thinkers with his music. In turn, Paul discusses how these transcendentalist writings formed key points of reference in debates “about the nature and direction of American Society”4 during the 1910s. In consequence, the author shows how Ivesians of the 1920s appreciated the composer’s music as part of a larger social context: Emerson and Thoreau served as a link between Ives’s music and American culture at large.
Paul goes on to analyze the historical context surrounding Ives’s rise in popularity over the course of the 20th century. This includes the role of composer Henry Cowell as an Ives advocate, the changing image of Ives’s music during the Cold War, and the expansion of Ives scholarship in American universities. The author also discusses John Kirkpatrick’s cataloging of Charles Ives’s manuscripts in the 1950s, which formed the Ives archives at Yale University. As well, Paul discusses the advent of “New Musicology,” which fostered a highly interdisciplinary approach to academic research on Ives in the second half of the twentieth century.
Another interesting discussion covers how champions of Ives’s major symphonic works emphasized different aspects of his music. In the late 1950s, Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic toured Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. In the context of the Cold War, Bernstein described Ives’s music to journalists as representative of “American freedom of expression in art.”5 In 1965, Leopold Stokowski premiered Ives’s Fourth Symphony in New York. Here, the conductor highlighted Ives’s role as a revolutionary through the use of innovative musical techniques. In this discourse, Paul demonstrates how the early performances of these major works were influenced by factors such as politics, the media, and the concert-going public.
Charles Ives in the Mirror demonstrates how the many interpretations of Ives – from musical, to cultural, to scholarly – have arisen over the course of the 20th and early 21st centuries. These numerous viewpoints are connected to the fact that Ives’s work has interested, and continues to interest, a diverse array of musical communities. Through this book, Paul expresses how those musical communities serve as the link between the richness of Ives’s reception and the richness of Ives’s music.
1 p. 5
2 p. 2
3 p. 2
4 p. 17
5 p. 103