CHARLES EDWARD IVES
In 1922 Charles Edward Ives self-published a discreet, dark blue-wrappered volume which contained a very
personal testament. None of the 114 SONGS (as the edition was titled), which Ives had selected, edited, and
ordered with great care, had ever before been issued. In the Afterword to the collection, the composer defended
this sally into print after years of public silence as an opportunity to evade a question somewhat embarrassing
to answer: "Why do you write so much which no one ever sees?"
Throughout the thirty years of a creative life which left a legacy of highly original orchestral, piano, choral,
and chamber works as well, Charles Ives continued to compose songs--some 150 by the time he abandoned composition
altogether in early 1920's. Publishing them, Ives quipped, was an act of cleaning house--an ambivalent effort,
both apologetic and proud, to lay before a public he distrusted the autobiographical leaves of his soul.
Born in Danbury, Connecticut in 1874 to a prominent and respected New England family (generations of Iveses and
Brewsters had distinguished themselves in commerce, law, and civic affairs), Charles E. Ives inherited his love of
music from his father George, who had been the youngest Union bandmaster in the Civil War and who had passed his
later years organizing Danbury's musical life. The sounds of the cornet George played and the brass bands he led,
the unorthodox harmonic exercises he practiced at home, the tunes of Stephen Foster,
and the revivalist hymns of 19th
century camp meetings--these were the father's gift to the son for whom he dreamed of an illustrious creative career.
Yale & Marriage
Following a family tradition, "Charlie" matriculated at Yale where he earned income as a church organist, studied
composition with Horatio Parker, and immersed himself for a time in the sensibilities of European Romanticism. Upon his
being graduated from Yale, Ives passed 1888-1907 in New York City, sharing with college friends a series of apartments
collectively known as "Poverty Flat." There he continued to work as an organist and to compose in earnest, while he also
began to court Harmony Twichell, the sister of his Yale classmate David. Harmony, whom he married in 1908, inaugurated
a new phase in Ives' life. She shared with her husband a passion for poetry and an abiding faith in the
Transcendentalist tradition, and she protected a place in their life for Ives, the composer, throughout the long years
during which he led the double life of an insurance executive and a musician. Besides the serenity and nurturing
love she brought Ives, Harmony Twichell sparked his creative genius and nursed its flame for as long as he was
able to sustain its force.
Ives' creative journey is replete with miracles and mysteries. Though his Muse deserted him when he was only in his
forties, Ives was, neverthless, able to achieve an extraordinary degree of quality and originality in the three decades
during which his creative faculties flourished.
And while his bifurcate life may have isolated him from the mainstream
of musical America, the material success his business brought gave him the freedom to forge from his musical, poetic,
intellectual, and spiritual roots a ruggedly individual, sometimes quirky, always startlingly fresh voice that places
his art at the summit of American music.
The Housatonic River at Stockbridge,MA.
Perhaps nowhere more so than in his songs can the myriad of Ives' inspirations be heard--from German, French, and
English Romanticism to the secular and religious Yankee tunes to Anglo-American ballads and parlor songs. Layering these
subliminal sources together with flights of unprecedented melodic and harmonic originality, the composer managed to
create an eclectic personal and communal American diary.
Listen to "Circus Band" in the Songbook
Song for Ives served as a medium of creative dialogue--not only
in the literal sense of narrative and lyrical communication between performer and audience, but also in the figurative
one of a composer's conversation with the Self. The immediacy and relative brevity of the song form permitted Ives to
remove his usual mask of well-bred reserve and to liberate a litany of uninhibited emotions in miniature carols which
chronicle daily joys, sorrows, discoveries, and milestones.
Listen to "The Housatonic at Stockbridge" in the Songbook
That Ives saw his edition of the 114 SONGS as a consciously ordered progression of musical and poetic thoughts is clear
from the care which he took to arrange the works. Ives' choice to open with one of his last completed songs, EVENING, and
to close with his first known composition, SLOW MARCH, reflects the composer's desire to embark on an autobiographical
journey. Between these bookends Ives creates a multi-layered arrangement of melodies that reads simultaneously in linear
and cyclical fashion. The songs march progressively through recollection, reality and anticipation--through past,
present, and future, as it were--at the same time that they meander cyclically from later life back to the childhood of
memory. More than becoming a sequential chronicle, however, Ives has, in fact, created, as his biographer Stuart Feder
observed, a Book of Hours. The songs-114 and beyond--are a series of episodic moments linked by the tenuous threads
of memory. Taken together they chart an existential voyage which begins in temporal sensations and events and segues
to the greater metaphysical passage.