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, “you’ve 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 father’s 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,
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, 1897–1901; composed From the Steeples and Mountains, 1901; composed Third Symphony, 1901–03; composed New England Holidays, 1904–13; 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, 1909–15; composed Fourth Symphony, 1910–16; 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.
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 composer’s “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 don’t 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 Washington’s Birthday, Decoration Day, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Day, and Forefather’s Day. 1907’s 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 piece’s 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 piece’s complicated rhythms—27 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, Mahler’s 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 couldn’t seem to compose any more—nothing went well—nothing 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 Bernstein’s 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.
First Symphony, 1895–98.
Second Symphony, 1900–02.
From the Steeples and the Mountains, 1901.
New England Holidays, 1903–14.
Three Places in New England, 1903–1914.
Third Symphony, The Camp Meeting, 1904.
Fourth Symphony, 1909–16.
Piano Sonata No. 2, Concord, 1909–15.
Central Park in the Dark, 1907.
The Unanswered Question, 1908.
114 Songs, 1922.
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.
“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
Ives, Charles (Edward)
Ives, Charles (Edward)
Ives, Charles (Edward), one of the most remarkable American composers, whose individual genius created music so original, so universal, and yet so deeply national in its sources of inspiration that it profoundly changed the direction of American music; b. Danbury, Conn., Oct. 20, 1874; d. N.Y., May 19, 1954. His father, George Ives, was a bandmaster of the 1st Conn. Heavy Artillery during the Civil War, and the early development of Ives was, according to his own testimony, deeply influenced by his father. At the age of 12, he played the drums in the band and also received from his father rudimentary musical training in piano and cornet playing. At the age of 13, he played organ at the Danbury Church; soon he began to improvise freely at the piano, without any dependence on school rules; as a result of his experimentation in melody and harmony, encouraged by his father, he began to combine several keys, partly as a spoof, but eventually as a legitimate alternative to traditional music; at 13, he also wrote the Holiday Quick Step, which was first performed in Danbury on Jan. 16, 1888; at 17, he composed his Variations on America for organ in a polytonal setting. In 1894 he entered Yale Univ., where he took regular academic courses and studied organ with Buck and composition with Parker; from Parker he received a fine classical training; while still in college, he composed 2 full-fledged syms., written in an entirely traditional manner demonstrating great skill in formal structure, fluent melodic development, and smooth harmonic modulations. After his graduation in 1898, Ives joined an insurance company; he also played organ at the Central Presbyterian Church in N.Y. (1899–1902). In 1907 he formed an insurance partnership with Julian Myrick of N.Y.; he proved himself to be an exceptionally able businessman; the firm of Ives & Myrick prospered, and Ives continued to compose music as an avocation. In 1908 he married Harmony Twichell. In 1918 he suffered a massive heart attack, complicated by a diabetic condition, and was compelled to curtail his work both in business and in music to a minimum because his illness made it difficult to handle a pen. He retired from business in 1930, and by that time had virtually stopped composing. In 1919 Ives publ. at his own expense his great masterpiece, the Concord Sonata, for piano, inspired by the writings of Emerson, Hawthorne, the Alcotts, and Thoreau. Although written early in the century, its idiom is so extraordinary, and its technical difficulties so formidable, that the work did not receive a performance in its entirety until John Kirkpatrick played it in N.Y. in 1939. In 1922 Ives brought out, also at his expense, a vol. of 114 Songs, written between 1888 and 1921 and marked by great diversity of style, ranging from lyrical Romanticism to powerful and dissonant modern invocations. Both the Concord Sonata and the 114 Songs were distributed gratis by Ives to anyone wishing to receive copies. His orch. masterpiece, 3 Places in New England, also had to wait nearly two decades before its first performance; of the monumental 4th Sym., only the second movement was performed in 1927, and its complete performance was given posthumously in 1965. In 1947 Ives received the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his 3rd Sym., written in 1911.
The slow realization of the greatness of Ives and the belated triumphant recognition of his music were phenomena with little precedence in music history. Because of his chronic ailment, and also on account of his personal disposition, Ives lived as a recluse, away from the mainstream of American musical life; he never went to concerts and did not own a record player or a radio; while he was well versed in the musical classics, and studied the scores of Beethoven, Schumann, and Brahms, he took little interest in sanctioned works of modern composers; yet he anticipated many technical innovations, such as polytonality, atonality, and even 12-tone formations, as well as polymetric and poly-rhythmic configurations, which were prophetic for his time. In the second movement of the Concord Sonata, he specified the application of a strip of wood on the white and the black keys of the piano to produce an echo-like sonority; in his unfinished Universe Symphony he planned an antiphonal representation of the heavens in chordal counterpoint and the earth in contrasting orch. groups. He also composed pieces of quarter-tone piano music. A unique quality of his music was the combination of simple motifs, often derived from American church hymns and popular ballads, with an extremely complex dissonant counterpoint which formed the supporting network for the melodic lines. A curious idiosyncrasy is the frequent quotation of the “fate motive” of Beethoven’s 5th Sym. in many of his works. Materials of his instrumental and vocal works often overlap, and the titles are often changed during the process of composition. In his orchestrations, he often indicated interchangeable and optional parts, as in the last movement of the Concord Sonata, which has a part for flute obbligato; thus he reworked the original score for large orch. of his 3 Places in New England for a smaller ensemble to fit the requirements of Slonimsky’s Chamber Orch. of Boston, which gave its first performance, and it was in this version that the work was first publ. and widely performed until the restoration of the large score was made in 1974.
Ives also possessed an uncommon gift for literary expression; his annotations to his works are both trenchant and humorous; he publ. in 1920 Essays before a Sonata as a literary companion vol. to the Concord Sonata; his Memos in the form of a diary, publ. after his death, reveal an extraordinary power of aphoristic utterance. He was acutely conscious of his civic duties as an American, and once circulated a proposal to have federal laws enacted by popular referendum. His centennial in 1974 was celebrated by a series of conferences at his alma mater, Yale Univ.; in N.Y., Miami, and many other American cities; and in Europe, including Russia. While during his lifetime he and a small group of devoted friends and admirers had great difficulties in having his works performed, recorded, or publ., a veritable Ives cult emerged after his death; eminent conductors gave repeated performances of his orch. works, and modern pianists were willing to cope with the forbidding difficulties of his works. The influence of his music on the new generation of composers reached a high mark, so that the adjective “Ivesian” became common in music criticism to describe certain acoustical and coloristic effects characteristic of his music. All of the Ives MSS and his correspondence were deposited by his widow at Yale Univ., forming a basic Ives archive. The Charles Ives Soc., in N.Y., promotes research and publications. Letters from Ives to N. Slonimsky are reproduced in the latter’s book Music Since 1900 (5th ed., N.Y., 1993). The film A Good Dissonance Like a Man (1977) depicts the life of Ives with fine dramatic impact.
From 1974 to 1993 Larry Austin reworked Ives’s incomplete Universe Symphony (1911-28, with occasional additions to 1951), in which Ives’s “universe of tones” ranges from fully scored to fragmentary measures on 36 manuscript pages, and “completed” the work with a scoring that includes tape and digital synthesizer in 3 sections requiring 7 orchs. of varying sizes led by 5 conductors. Dubbed Sym. No. 5, Universe Symphony, it was premiered at the Univ. of Cincinnati Coll.- Cons. of Music on Jan. 28, 1994. In 1986 microtonal composer Johnny Reinhard (b. 1956) had independently come across score fragments to the Universe Symphony. He assembled his own “completion” using only music composed by Ives. His version is nearly twice as long as Austin’s, and was premiered by 71 musicians at the American Festival of Microtonal Music at N.Y.’s Lincoln Center on June 4, 1996. The Ives editor and scholar, David Port, took Ives’s uncompleted sketches for an “overture-concerto” meant as an Emerson portrait, of which some of the material found its way into Ives’s Concord Sonata, and produced a “practical” reconstruction he dubbed the Emerson Concerto for Piano and Orch. (1996–98). It was premiered by the Cleveland Orch. on Oct. 1, 1998, with Alan Feinstein as soloist.
ORCH.: March No. 2 (1892); March No. 3 (1892); Postlude (1895); Overture (1895?); 4 numbered syms.: No. 1 (1896-98; Washington, D.C., April 26, 1953, R. Bales conducting), No. 2 (1900-02; N.Y., Feb. 22, 1951, Bernstein conducting), No. 3, The Camp Meeting (1904; N.Y., April 5, 1946, L. Harrison conducting), and No. 4 (1909-16; first complete perf., N.Y., April 26, 1965, Stokowski conducting); Universe Symphony (1911-28; unfinished; Los Angeles, Dec. 13, 1984); Fugue in 4 Keys, on The Shining Shore for Flute, Cornet, and Strings (1897); Yale- Princeton Football Game (1898?); Cartoons (Take-offs) for Small Orch. (1898?-1916); Ragtime Dances Nos. 1-4 for Small Orch. (1902-04; unfinished); Overture and March “1776” for Small Orch. (1903); Country Band March for Small Orch. (1903); The General Slocum (1904; unfinished); Thanksgiving and/or Forefathers’ Day (1904; N.Y., April 9, 1954, Dorati conducting); Autumn Landscapes from Pine Mountains for Small Orch. (1904; not extant); The Pond for Small Orch. (1906); [2 Contemplations]: The Unanswered Question and Central Park in the Dark for Small Orch. (1906); Set for Theatre or Chamber Orch. (1906-11; Danbury, Conn., Feb. 1932); Over the Pavements for Small Orch. (1906–13); Emerson Overture (1907; unfinished; also as a Piano Concerto); Set No. 1 (1907–11), No. 2 (1911–12), and No. 3 (1912?-18; N.Y., Dec. 6, 1962, Schuller conducting) for Small Orch.; Robert Browning Overture (1908-12; N.Y., Oct. 1963, Stokowski conducting); First Orchestral Set (A New England Symphony or 3 Places in New England) (1908-14?; N.Y., Jan. 10, 1931, Slonimsky conducting); Second Orchestral Set (1909–15); Third Orchestral Set for Small Orch. (1919–26); Washington’s Birthday for Small Orch. (1909; San Francisco, Sept. 3, 1931, Slonimsky conducting); The Gong on the Hook and Ladder or Firemen’s Parade on Main Street for Small Orch. (1911?; N.Y., Jan. 21, 1967, Bernstein conducting); The Fourth of July (1911-13; Paris, Feb. 21, 1932, Slonimsky conducting); Tone Roads (1911–15); Decoration Day (1912; Havana, Dec. 27, 1931, A. Roldán conducting); Matthew Arnold Overture (1912; unfinished); Holidays (1912?; Minneapolis, April 9, 1954, Dorati conducting); Quarter-tone Chorale for Strings (1913-14; not extant); The Rainbow or So May It Be! for Small Orch. (1914); Chrômatimelôdtune for Small Orch. (1919?; arranged by Schuller; N.Y., Dec. 6, 1962, Schuller conducting). Band: Intercollegiate March (1892); March (1896); Runaway Horse on Main Street (1905?; unfinished). CHAMBER: Holiday Quickstep for Piccolo, 2 Cornets, 2 Violins, and Piano (1887); 2 string quartets: No. 1, From the Salvation Army (1896; N.Y., April 24, 1957) and No. 2 (1907-13; Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Sept. 15, 1946); Pre-First Violin Sonata (1899-1903?); From the Steeples and the Mountains for Trumpet, Trombone, and 4 Sets of Bells (1901-02?); 4 violin sonatas: No. 1 (1902-08; N.Y., March 31, 1946), No. 2 (1907-10; N.Y., March 18, 1924), No. 3 (1913-14?; Los Angeles, March 16, 1942), and No. 4, Children’s Day at the Camp Meeting (1906-16?; N.Y., Jan. 14, 1940); Largo for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano (1902?); Trio for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano (1902-03?; Berea, Ohio, May 24, 1948); An Old Song Deranged for Clarinet or English Horn, Harp, and String Quartet (1903?); A Set of 3 Short Pieces: 1, Hymn for String Quartet and Double Bass (1904), 2, Holding Your Own for String Quartet (1903–14), and 3, The Innate for String Quartet, Double Bass, and Piano (1908); Pre-Second String Quartet (1904-05; not extant); Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano (1904–11); Take-off No. 3, “Rube Trying to Walk 2 to 3!!” for Clarinet, Bassoon, Trumpet, and Piano (1906); Hallowe’en for String Quartet and Piano (1906; San Francisco, May 28, 1934); Largo risoluto No. 1, “as to the Law of Diminishing Returns” (1906; N.Y., Feb. 19, 1965) and No. 2, “a shadow made—a silhouette” (1906) for String Quartet and Piano; All the Way Around and Back for Clarinet, Bugle, Violin, Bells, and Piano (1906); Decoration Day for Violin and Piano (1912); In re con moto et al for String Quartet and Piano (1913).Piano: 7 marches (c. 1890-97); 2 sonatas: No. 1 (1901-09; N.Y, Feb. 17, 1949, Masselos pianist) and No. 2, Concord, Mass., 1840-60 (1910-15; N.Y., Jan. 20, 1939, J. Kirkpatrick pianist); Ragtime Dances (1902–04); 3-page Sonata (1905); 5 Take-offs (1906–07); Studies (1907–08); Waltz-Rondo (1911); 4 Transcriptions from Emerson (c. 1917-22); Varied Air and Variations (1923?); 3 Quarter-tone Pieces for 2 Pianos (1923–24); The Celestial Railroad (c. 1924); 3 Improvisations (n.d.). VOCAL: Choral pieces; part songs; numerous solo songs.
H. and S. Cowell, C. I. and His Music (N.Y., 1955; reprinted with additional material, 1969); J. Kirkpatrick, A Temporary Mimeographed Catalogue of the Music Manuscripts and Related Materials of C.E. I.. (New Haven, 1960); J. Bernlef and R. de Leeuw, C. I. (Amsterdam, 1969); D.-R. de Lerma, C.E. I., 1874-1954: A Bibliography of His Music (Kent, Ohio, 1970); V. Perlis, C. I. Remembered: An Oral History (New Haven, 1974); R. Perry, C. I. and the American Mind (Kent, Ohio, 1974); D. Wooldridge, From the Steeples and Mountains: A Study of C. I. (N.Y., 1974); F. Rossiter, C. I. and His America (N.Y., 1975); H. Wiley Hitchcock, C. I. (London, 1977); H. Wiley Hitchcock and V. Perlis, An I. Celebration: Papers and Panels of the C. I. Centennial Festival- Conference (Urbana, III., 1977); H. Sive, Music’s Connecticut Yankee (N.Y., 1977); B. Chmaj, Sonata for American Studies: Perspectives on C. I. (Sacramento, 1978); H. Wiley Hitchcock, I.: A Survey of the Music (N.Y., 1983); J. Burkholder, C. I.: The Ideas behind the Music (New Haven, 1985); G. Block, C. I.: A Bio-Bibliography (Westport, Conn., 1988); M. Alexander, The Evolving Keyboard Style of C. I. (N.Y., 1989); W. Rathert, C. I. (Darmstadt, 1989); C. Henderson, The C. I. Tunebook (Warren, Mich., 1990); K. Niemöller, ed., Internationale Symposion “C. I. und die amerikanische Musiktradition bis zur Gegenwart” (1988: Cologne, Germany) (Regensburg, 1990); W. Rathert, The Seen and the Unseen: Studien zum Werk von C. I. (Munich, 1991); S. Feder, C. I., “My Father’s Song: “A Psychoanalytic Biography (New Haven, Conn., 1992); L. Starr, A Union of Diversities: Style in the Music of C. I. (N.Y., 1992); J. Burkholder, All Made of Tunes: C. I. and the Uses of Musical Borrowing (New Haven, 1995); G. Block, I., Concord Sonata: Piano Sonata No. 2 (“Concord, Mass., 1840-1860”) (Cambridge, 1996); J. Burkholder, ed., C. I. and His World (Princeton, 1996); J. Swafford, C. I: A Life With Music (N.Y., 1996); P. Lambert, ed., I. Studies (Cambridge, 1997); idem, The Music of C. I. (New Haven, 1997).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire
Ives, Charles (Edward)
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.