Skip to main content
Select Source:

Ives, Charles (Edward)

Ives, Charles (Edward) (b Danbury, Conn., 1874; d NY, 1954). Amer. composer, one of the most extraordinary and individual figures in the history of Western music. In his works, many of the innovatory and radical procedures adopted by younger avant-garde composers are anticipated or foreshadowed in some degree. His father was a town bandmaster who experimented with tone clusters, polytonality, quartertones, and acoustics, inspiring similar interests in his son. What fascinated George Ives, and later his son, was the clash of rhythm and tone resulting from two bands playing different tunes at a parade, or from his wife whistling at her housework and a boy elsewhere practising the pf. He would make Charles sing in a key different from the acc. ‘to stretch our ears’.

At 14 Charles became organist at Danbury Baptist Church, composing in 1891 his Variations on ‘America’. He entered Yale Univ. in 1894, studying org. with Dudley Buck and comp. with Horatio Parker (with whose conventional outlook Ives soon grew weary). Ives wrote his first sym. while at Yale, played the org. at Centre Church on the Green, and tried out some of his comps. on the local th. orch. In 1898 he graduated and moved to NY as a clerk in an insurance co., taking up several organist posts. In 1907 he and a friend formed their own insurance agency, which became very successful. Ives divided his time between business and mus., working long hours and damaging his health. He worked on a 2nd Sym. from 1900 to 1902 and a 3rd from 1904–11. Mahler was interested in this latter work but died before he could conduct it. From 1910 to 1918 Ives was at his most prolific, working on several comps. simultaneously. In 1918 he was seriously ill, sustaining cardiac damage; he gradually reduced his business activities, retiring in 1930, and he comp. little new after 1917, devoting the rest of his life to revising his comps. and thereby contributing to the chaotic state of his MSS, which led to untold difficulties in perf. He planned a Universe Symphony in which several different orchs., with huge choirs, were to be stationed in valleys, and on top of mountains.

In 1919 Ives decided to publish some of his mus., without copyright or performing rights. The vast Concord Sonata and 114 songs were issued in this way. The first perf. in NY of orch. mus. by Ives was in Jan. 1927 when Eugene Goossens cond. the 2nd movt. of the 4th Sym. It was a failure. However, Ives's mus. was beginning to attract champions, among them the lecturer Henry Bellamann, the French pianist Robert Schmitz, and the composers and conds. Henry Cowell, Wallingford Riegger, Carl Ruggles, Nicolas Slonimsky and, later, Bernard Herrmann and Lou Harrison. Slonimsky bravely cond. perfs. of Three Places in New England in Boston, NY, and Los Angeles between 1930 and 1932 and later cond. Ives works in Europe. Slonimsky also made the first Ives recording (1934) and Herrmann cond. the first Ives broadcast (1933). The pianist John Kirkpatrick devoted nearly 10 years to mastering the complexities of the Concord Sonata in consultation with Ives and played it in NY and elsewhere in 1939, arousing considerable enthusiasm. (It was f.p. in New Orleans in 1920.) In 1947 the 3rd Sym., perf. in NY that year, won the Pulitzer Prize, to Ives's dismay (he gave the prize money away). The 4th Sym. was not heard in its entirety until 11 years after Ives's death, when Stokowski cond. it in NY on 26 Apr. 1965.

Ives's mus. is sometimes called primitive but is in fact highly sophisticated. It is, like it or not, entirely honest mus., the outpouring of its stubborn and unusual creator, who delighted in pointing out that he had written most of his works before those by Stravinsky and Hindemith which some critics claimed had influenced him. The juxtaposition of incongruous elements, derived from the Danbury bands, occurs even in his earliest works. His Psalm 67 of 1893 is in 2 keys throughout. Even in the Dvořákian 1st Sym. the use of tonality is remarkably free and unconventional. Jazz is drawn upon in his first pf. sonata; in the psalm settings for choir of 1896–1900 occur whole-tone scales, a 12-note row, tone clusters, polytonality, and polyrhythms. Aleatory procedures are anticipated in The Unanswered Question where the cond. is told to cue in various parts at will. In several of the orch. works the memory of the 2 bands playing different marches in different keys and tempi is vividly re-created. He ‘borrowed’ consistently from popular sources such as songs and hymns, or from other composers—over 170 such sources have been positively identified by scholars. Prin. works:ORCH.: sym., No.1 in D minor (1895–8), No.2 (1900–2, some sketches earlier), No.3 (The Camp Meeting) (1904–11), No.4 (1910–16, with ch. in finale); Variations on ‘America’ (orch. arr. by W. Schuman) (dates of comp. of the syms. are approximate, since Ives himself said he was not sure when he wrote them); New England Holidays (sometimes called Holidays Symphony): 1. Washington's Birthday. 2. Decoration Day. 3. Fourth of July. 4. Thanksgiving and/or Forefathers' Day (with ch.) (1904–13); The Unanswered Question (1906, rev. c.1932); Over the Pavements (1906); Central Park in the Dark in the Good Old Summertime (1906); Set for th. or chamber orch. (1906–11); Robert Browning Overture (1908–12); Orchestral Set No.1 (Three Places in New England) (1908–14); Orchestral Set No.2 (1909–15); The Gong on the Hook and Ladder (or Firemen's Parade on Main Street) (1911); Tone Roads No.1 (1911), No.3 (1915); Universe Symphony (incomplete, 1911–16); Rainbow (1914, as song 1921); Hymn (arr. for orch. 1921); Orchestral Set. No.3 (1919–27); Largo Cantabile (1921).CHORAL: Easter Carol, ch., orch. (1892); The Circus Band, bass, ch., orch. (1894); Psalm 54 (c.1896), Psalm 150, unacc. ch., orch., and org. or orch. (1896), Psalm 90, sop., ten., ch., orch. (1896–1901, 1923–4); Psalm 14 (c.1897), Psalm 25 (c.1897), Psalm 67 (1898), Psalm 100 (c.1898), Psalm 135 (c.1899), 3 Harvest Home Chorales, ch., orch. or ch., brass, org. (c.1898–1912); The Celestial Country, cantata (1899); On The Antipodes (1904), ch., orch. 1915, v., pf. 1923; Serenity, ch., orch. (1909), v., pf. (1919); The New River, ch., orch. (1911, rev. 1913 and ?1921); Duty, ch., orch. (c.1912); Lincoln The Great Commoner, ch., orch. (1912), v., pf. (1914); Vita, ch., orch. or org. (1912), v., pf. (1921); December, ch., orch. (1912–13); Walt Whitman, ch., orch. (1913), v., pf. (1921); General William Booth Enters Into Heaven, bass, ch., orch. (also v., pf.) (1914); Majority, ch., orch. (1914–15), v., pf. (1921); An Election, or Nov.2, 1920, male vv. or unison ch., orch. (1920), v., pf. (1921).CHAMBER MUSIC (incl. v. and chamber ens.): Song for Harvest Season, mez., brass quintet (c.1893); str. qt. No.1 (A Revival Service) (1896), No.2 (1907–13); The Children's Hour, mez., ch., orch. (1901); From the Steeples and the Mountains, brass quintet (1901); Largo, vn., cl., pf. (1901); vn. sonata No.1 (1903–8), No.2 (1903–10), No.3 (1902–14), No.4 (1892–1906, 1914–15); pf. trio (1904–11); Chromatimelodtune, brass qt., pf. (1909, 1913, 1919); The Indians, mez., chamber orch. (1912), v., pf. (1921).PIANO: over 20 Studies for pf., incl. Nos. 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 (The Anti-Abolitionist Riots), Nos. 15, 18, 20, 21 (Some South-Paw Pitching), No.22 (Twenty-Two), and No.23 (Baseball Take-off) (1907–9); 5 Take-Offs (Seen and Unseen, Rough and Ready, Song without (good) Words, Scene Episode, Bad Resolutions and Good) (1906–7); sonata No.1 (1901–9), No.2 (Concord, Mass. 1840–1860) with solos for va. and fl. (1911–15); 3-Page Sonata (1905); 6 Protests (Varied Air and Variations) (1916); 3 Quarter-Tone Piano Pieces for 2 pf. (1923–4); Celestial Railroad, arr. from 2nd movt. of 4th Sym. (c.1924).ORGAN: Variations on a National Hymn, ‘America’ (c.1891, also arr. for orch. by W. Schuman); Prelude, Adeste Fideles (1897).SONGS: pubd. in the following colls.: 3 Songs; 4 Songs; 7 Songs; 9 Songs; 10 Songs; 11 Songs and 2 Harmonizations; 12 Songs; 13 Songs; 14 Songs; 19 Songs; 34 Songs; Sacred Songs.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Ives, Charles (Edward)." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Ives, Charles (Edward)." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/ives-charles-edward

"Ives, Charles (Edward)." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved July 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/ives-charles-edward

Ives, Charles

Charles Ives (īvz), 1874–1954, American composer and organist, b. Danbury, Conn., grad. Yale, 1898; pupil of Dudley Buck and Horatio Parker. He was an organist (1893–1904) in churches in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. In the insurance business from 1898 to 1930, Ives was concurrently composing music that was extremely original, iconoclastic, and advanced in style, anticipating some of the innovations of Schoenberg and Stravinsky, but not influencing musical trends because most of his works were not published as they were written. They were little known until 1939, when performance of his second piano sonata, Concord (1911–15), won him wide recognition. In 1947 his Third Symphony was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Ives's compositions include four numbered symphonies, orchestral suites, sonatas, organ pieces, choral works, a great deal of chamber music, and about 150 songs. His works are frequently dissonant, harmonically dense, and lushly scored with complexly layered themes, textures, and rhythms. In addition, he often uses vernacular American music, e.g., folk music, hymns and spirituals, marches, dances, rags, blues, and parlor songs, in his compositions, evoking the spirit of such aspects of American life as revival meetings and brass-band parades.

See his Essays before a Sonata (new ed. 1962) and his Memos, ed. by J. E. Kirkpatrick (1972); biographies by H. and S. Cowell (rev. ed. 1969) and S. Budiansky (2014); V. Perlis, Charles Ives Remembered (1974); R. S. Perry, Charles Ives and the American Mind (1974); H. W. Hitchcock, Ives (1977).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Ives, Charles." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Ives, Charles." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ives-charles

"Ives, Charles." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved July 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ives-charles

Ives, Charles

Ives, Charles (1874–1954) US composer. He often used American folk music as his thematic basis, as in Variations on America for organ (1891) and the Symphony No. 2 (1902). His works vary greatly in style, some are atonal, some quote from hymns or band music and some are quite conventional. He wrote four symphonies, chamber music and many songs. He received the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for music.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Ives, Charles." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Ives, Charles." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ives-charles

"Ives, Charles." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved July 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ives-charles

Ives, Charles

Charles Ives

Composer

For The Record

Selected works

Sources

Charles Ives was arguably the first and greatest American composer. Although aware of the work of European composers such as Schubert, Brahms, and Schumann, Ives broke with their traditional style. He instead used distinctively American materials in his works. He utilized New England hymns, folk tunes, military marches and popular songs of the day to evoke places in the United States, such as Central Park and Concord, Massachusetts, and typical American holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Decoration Day and the Fourth of July. Far from writing comfortable, homespun music, however, Ives work ranks among the most advanced and experimental of the twentieth century, anticipating by years innovations eventually introduced by giants like Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Debussy, and Darius Milhaud.

Charles Ives began his musical education at an early age. His father, George E. Ives, was also a musician. He was the youngest bandmaster to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War, and General Grant reportedly told President Abraham Lincoln that Ives band was also the best in the Army. When Charles was five years old, George started a comprehensive musical instruction that ranged from piano, organ, and cornet, to theory, ear training, composition, orchestration, and sight reading. George Ives, like his son later, was also interested in experimenting with music, for example using more than one key or more than one rhythm simultaneously. He encouraged these interests in Charles. He had his son play a melody in one key while he accompanied it in a completely different one; similarly he had Charles play two melodies in different keys on the piano simultaneously. According to Composers Since 1900, the elder Ives told his son, youve got to learn to stretch your ears.

When Charles was 13 years old he took a job as the organist at St. Thomas Church in Danbury, Connecticut. Not long after, he composed his first piece, Holiday Quick Step, which was performed by his fathers band. He was a seemingly talented football and baseball player while in high school, but he gave up athletics when he entered Yale University because his father realized his grades would suffer otherwise. Ives nonetheless graduated from college in 1898 with barely passing grades, presumably because he had devoted himself so single-mindedly to music. While at Yale, he composed some 80 pieces, including work for organ, songs, and a string quartet. He continued to study composition and organ at the same time. Ives compositions were not warmly received by his teachers at Yale, though. They criticized his already widespread use of unresolved dissonance.

After graduating from college, Ives was faced with the question how he should support himself. His father had believed Charles had such great talent he could become a famous pianist. His near pathological shyness prevented him from taking up a life of public performance,

For The Record

Born on October 20, 1874, in Danbury, CT; died on May 19, 1954, in New York City, NY; married Harmony Twichell. Education: Yale University, bachelor of arts degree.

Accepted job as organist at St. Thomas Church, Danbury, CT, 1887; composed first piece, Holiday Quick Step, 1888; composed first song, Slow March, 1888; composed first choral composition, Psalm 67, 1898; composed Second Symphony, 18971901; composed From the Steeples and Mountains, 1901; composed Third Symphony, 190103; composed New England Holidays, 190413; co-founded his own insurance company, Ives and Company, 1906; composed Central Park in the Dark, 1907; composed The Unanswered Question, 1908; Ives and Company became Ives and Myrick, 1909; composed Piano Sonata No.2, Concord, 190915; composed Fourth Symphony, 191016; performed Third Symphony for the first time, 1946; published Piano Sonata No.2 himself, 1919; published 114 Songs, 1922; gave first performance of Second Symphony, 1951; gave debut performance of both From the Steeples and Mountains and Fourth Symphony, 1965.

Awards: Pulitzer Prize in music for Third Symphony, 1947.

however. Instead, he moved to New York City with friends and took a job clerking at an insurance company while continuing to play organ at the Central Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.

In 1901 he composed From the Steeples and Mountains, his most radical piece yet. It used two groups of bells, four trumpets and four trombones. The bells, tuned in different keys, were meant to suggest bells tolling from different church towers. The effect was discordant, polytonal, and eerie. The work would not be premiered until the New York Philharmonic played it in July of 1965, more than eleven years after Ives death. Also in 1901 Ives finally completed his Second Symphony which he had been working on for more than four years. Composers Since 1900 called Ives Second Symphony the composers first significant attempt to make use of authentic American materials. It quotes a number of tunes popular at the time, including Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean, America the Beautiful, and the Stephen Foster songs Old Black Joe, and Camptown Races. The symphony was not performed until 1951.

Ives left the Mutual Insurance Company in 1906 to form his own insurance firm, Ives and Company, which three years later became Ives and Myrick. The company did very well, eventually growing into one of the largest agencies of its kind in the country. Ives was senior partner of the firm and was quite proud of his business success, feeling that experience contributed something important to the music he was composing. My business experience revealed life to me in many aspects that I otherwise might have missed, he is quoted in Composers Since 1900. I have experienced a great fullness of life in business. The fabric of existence weaves itself whole.

In June of 1908, he married Harmony Twichell, and they eventually adopted a daughter. The family settled in New York, and Ives spent weekdays working in his insurance company, and evenings, weekends and holidays composing. Mrs. Ives, quoted in Composers Since 1900, said He could hardly wait for dinner to be over, and he was at the piano. Often he went to bed at 2 or 3 a.m. Music was everything in his life. He never owned a radio or a phonograph. He did not read newspapers. He did not attend concerts, not even the few dedicated to his own music. He avoided most social functions. Fortunately, his wife supported him completely. Mrs. Ives, he is quoted in American Composers, never once said or suggested or looked or thought that there must be something wrong with me. She never said, Now why dont you write something nice, the way they like it? Never. She urged me on my way to be myself and gave me her confidence.

Ives wrote his greatest works between 1904 and 1920. Three Places in New England, Ives first orchestral piece to be performed, made its debut in 1931 in a version for chamber orchestra, though its original scoring for full orchestra was not heard until 1974. New England Holidays, completed between 1904 and 1913, is a kind of musical memoir by Ives, intended to conjure up, through snatches of familiar melodies, his boyhood in New England on holidays like the Washingtons Birthday, Decoration Day, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Day, and Forefathers Day. 1907s Central Park in the Dark is a picture of sounds of nature and happenings that men would hear when sitting on a bench in Central Park on a hot summer night, Ives is quoted in American Composers. Again, the instrumentation and collage of melodies suggested the sounds surrounding a visitor in the park.

Ives wrote his Piano Sonata No. 2, Concord, between 1909 and 1915. Like many other Ives pieces, the sonata is both deeply philosophical in nature and intended to conjure his native New England. The four movements are entitled Hawthorne, Emerson, The Alcotts, and Thoreau, all writers from Concord, Massachusetts. The piece includes some of Ives boldest technical experiments, such as a portion of Hawthorne that calls for the pianist to play a cluster of notes using a wooden ruler. Lawrence Gilman, writing in the New York Herald Tribune at the time of the pieces debut in 1939, called the sonata the greatest music composed by an American, and the most deeply and essentially American in pulse and implication.

Ives final symphony, the Fourth Symphony, was completed in 1916 but did not premiere until Leopold Stokowski conducted a performance by the American Symphony Orchestra in 1965. Part of the reason was the pieces complicated rhythms27 different rhythms are heard at the same time in one section. Another is the size of the ensemble called for by Ives. Besides a greatly expanded orchestra, the symphony is written for a huge percussion section, a chorus, and a brass band. Between the sheer size of the group of musicians and the technical demands placed on them, three conductors are called for. Afterward Stokowski called the Fourth Symphony the most difficult piece of music he had ever played.

Few of Ives compositions were performed during his own lifetime, in part because he made no effort to have them published. Once a work was complete, he seemed satisfied to file it away and move on to the next one. He published the Piano Sonata No. 2 Concord, himself in 1919, distributing it among friends, and in 1922 paid for the publication of an anthology of his songs, entitled 114 Songs. As a consequence, he remained largely unknown, except among a group of younger composers interested in the innovations he pioneered. In a tantalizing what if, Gustav Mahler was said to have discovered a score of Ives Fourth Symphony which he copied out and was taking back to Vienna where he planned to perform it. Unfortunately, Mahlers death put an end to the plan.

In 1918 Ives suffered a heart attack. By 1928 diabetes and nervous trembling in his hands which made transcription impossible, ended his composing. He attempted some pieces in the mid-1920s, but by 1926 his confidence was unalterably shaken. His wife, quoted in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, related he came downstairs one day with tears in his eyes and said he couldnt seem to compose any morenothing went wellnothing sounded right. He never composed again. After that, his music slowly attracted more and more attention, championed by composers such as Henry Cowell and Aaron Copland. Copland and Hubert Linscott gave a performance of Ives songs in 1932 that attracted a good deal of attention and helped make Ives name known among young composers. In 1947 Ives was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his Third Symphony. In 1951 Leonard Bernstein gave the premier performance of the Second Symphony.

But the shy Ives did not emerge from his home to hear his music or to accept the honors he was given. He even declined Bernsteins offer of a private performance by the New York Philharmonic. On May 19, 1954, while recovering from a minor operation, Ives suffered a stroke and died.

Selected works

First Symphony, 189598.

Second Symphony, 190002.

From the Steeples and the Mountains, 1901.

New England Holidays, 190314.

Three Places in New England, 19031914.

Third Symphony, The Camp Meeting, 1904.

Fourth Symphony, 190916.

Piano Sonata No. 2, Concord, 190915.

Central Park in the Dark, 1907.

The Unanswered Question, 1908.

114 Songs, 1922.

Sources

Books

Ewen, David, American Composers, 1982.

Ewen, David, Composers Since 1900, 1969.

Stadie, Stanley, New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 1980.

Staines, Joe and Jonathan Buckley, editors, Classical Music: The Rough Guide.

Online

Charles Ives, All Classical Guide, http://allclassical.com/cg/x.dll?UID=10:28:32ǀ&p=acg&sql=1:7494~D[ǀ7]257#WORKS (June 27, 2000).

Gerald E. Brennan

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Ives, Charles." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Ives, Charles." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/ives-charles

"Ives, Charles." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved July 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/ives-charles