Charles Ives

To hear the music of composer Charles Ives is to hear a unique voice in American music, and indeed, in Western music as a whole. His work is at once iconoclastic and closely tied to his musical heritage; in its conception and form, both staggeringly complex and immediately accessible; and in its musical language, both universal and distinctly American.

Photo: Charles Ives [n.d.], Library of Congress

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    About

    In 1922 Charles Ives self-published a discreet, dark blue-wrappered volume that 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 that 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 Edward 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.

    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 graduation from Yale, Ives lived in New York City from 1898 to 1907, sharing with college friends a series of apartments collectively known as “Poverty Flat.” In New York 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’s 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’s creative journey is replete with miracles and mysteries. Though his Muse deserted him when he was only in his forties, he was still able to achieve an extraordinary degree of quality and originality in the three decades during which his creative faculties flourished. And while his bifurcated 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.

    Perhaps nowhere more so than in his songs can the myriad of Ives’s 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.

    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 that chronicle daily joys, sorrows, discoveries, and milestones.

    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. His 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 as 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–the 114 and the later ones–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.

    –Thomas Hampson and Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold, PBS I Hear America Singing

    Related Information

    Songs

    1, 2, 3

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    A Christmas Carol

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    A Night Thought

    Charles Ives

    A Night Song

    Charles Ives

    A Son of a Gambolier

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Song Collection: Five Street Songs

    A Song For Anything

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    An Old Flame

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Allegro

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Ann Street

    Charles Ives

    Maurice Morris

    At Sea

    Charles Ives

    Robert Underwood Johnson

    Autumn

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Berceuse

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Canon

    Charles Ives

    Charlie Rutlage

    Charles Ives

    Traditional

    Cradle Song

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Disclosure

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Down East

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Song Collection: Five Street Songs

    Duty

    Charles Ives

    Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Evidence

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Feldeinsamkeit

    Charles Ives

    Five Street Songs

    Song Collection

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    From "Lincoln, the Great Commoner"

    Charles Ives

    Edwin Markham

    From "Paracelsus"

    Charles Ives

    Robert Browning

    From "The Swimmers"

    Charles Ives

    Louis Untermeyer

    He Is There!

    Charles Ives

    John McCrae

    Song Collection: Three Songs of the War

    Immortality

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    In Flanders Fields

    Charles Ives

    John McCrae

    Song Collection: Three Songs of the War

    In the Alley

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Song Collection: Five Street Songs

    In the Mornin'

    Charles Ives

    Traditional

    Kären

    Charles Ives

    Love Song

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Luck and Work

    Charles Ives

    Robert Underwood Johnson

    Majority

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Maple Leaves

    Charles Ives

    Thomas Bailey Aldrich

    Memories

    Charles Wakefield Cadman

    Nelle Richmond Eberhart

    Mists

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    My Native Land

    Charles Ives

    Traditional

    Nature's Way

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Nov. 2. 1920

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Old Home Day

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Song Collection: Five Street Songs

    On Judges' Walk

    Charles Ives

    Arthur Symons

    On the Counter

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Premonitions

    Charles Ives

    Robert Underwood Johnson

    Religion

    Charles Ives

    Remembrance (A Sound of a Distant Horn)

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Resolution

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Serenity

    Charles Ives

    John Greenleaf Whittier

    Slow March

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Songs My Mother Taught Me

    Charles Ives

    Spring Song

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Tarrant Moss

    Charles Ives

    Rudyard Kipling

    The Cage

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    The Camp Meeting

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    The Children's Hour

    Charles Ives

    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    The Circus Band

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Song Collection: Five Street Songs

    The Collection

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    The Garden of Memory

    Charles Ives

    Justin Huntley McCarthy

    General William Booth Enters Into Heaven

    Charles Ives

    Vachel Lindsay

    The Greatest Man

    Charles Ives

    The Housatonic at Stockbridge

    Charles Ives

    Robert Underwood Johnson

    The Indians

    Charles Ives

    Charles Sprague

    The Innate

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    The Last Reader

    Charles Ives

    Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

    The Light That is Felt

    Charles Ives

    John Greenleaf Whittier

    The New River

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    The See'r

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    The Side Show

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    The South Wind

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    The Things Our Fathers Loved

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    There is a Lane

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Thoreau

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Those Evening Bells

    Charles Ives

    Three Songs of the War

    Song Collection

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    John McCrae

    To Edith

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Tolerance

    Charles Ives

    Rudyard Kipling

    Tom Sails Away

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Song Collection: Three Songs of the War

    Two Little Flowers

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Walking

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Walt Whitman

    Charles Ives

    Walt Whitman

    Waltz

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    The World's Highway

    Charles Ives

    Charles Ives

    Videos

    Recordings

    Lineage

    (Samuel Barber, Elliott Carter and Charles Ives)

    2017

    A Song - For Anything

    (Charles Ives)

    2016

    The Side Show: Songs of Charles Ives

    (Charles Ives)

    2012

    Something to Sing About

    (Samuel Barber, William Bolcom, Aaron Copland, John Corigliano, John Harbison, Charles Ives and Ned Rorem)

    2011

    Abraham Lincoln Portraits

    (Ernst Bacon, Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, Charles Ives and George Frederick McKay)

    2008

    The Light That is Felt

    (Charles Ives)

    2008

    Ives: Songs Vol. 1

    (Charles Ives)

    2008

    All My Heart

    (Amy Marcy Beach, Charles Ives, Leonard Bernstein, Ben Moore and Charles Griffes)

    2005

    Ives - An American Journey

    (Charles Ives)

    2002

    American Masters - Songs of Charles Ives & Ernst Bacon

    (Ernst Bacon and Charles Ives)

    2001

    American Anthem: From Ragtime to Art Song

    (Samuel Barber, Lee Hoiby, Charles Ives, John Musto, John Jacob Niles, Ned Rorem, Traditional, Aaron Copland and William Bolcom)

    1998

    American Songs (Jennifer Larmore)

    (Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland, John Woods Duke, Jake Heggie, Lee Hoiby, Charles Ives, Charles Naginski and John Jacob Niles)

    1997

    American Songbook - The American Music Collection, Vol. 3

    (Amy Marcy Beach, Leonard Bernstein, Marc Blitzstein, William Bolcom, Aaron Copland, Charles Ives, Betty Jackson King, Libby Larsen and Kurt Weill)

    1996

    Ives: Songs | Crumb: Apparition

    (George Crumb and Charles Ives)

    1993

    Ives: Songs

    (Charles Ives)

    1992

    Songs of America

    (William Bolcom, Charles Wakefield Cadman, Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Stephen Foster, Charles Ives, Carrie Jacobs-Bond, Sergius Kagen, Theodore Roethke, Ned Rorem, Carl Sandburg, William Jay Smith and Gertrude Stein)

    1988

    Paul Sperry Sings Songs of an Innocent Age

    (Amy Marcy Beach, Charles Wakefield Cadman, John Alden Carpenter, George Whitefield Chadwick, Arthur Foote, Henry F. Gilbert, Charles Griffes, Charles Ives, Edward MacDowell and Ethelbert Nevin)

    1990

    Songs by 20th Century American Composers (Vol. I & II)

    (Ernst Bacon, Samuel Barber, Paul Bowles, John Alden Carpenter, Theodore Chanler, Aaron Copland, Charles Griffes, Charles Ives, Otto Luening, Edward MacDowell, Virgil Thomson and Ned Rorem)

    1962

    Books

    Charles Ives & His America

    By Frank R. Rossiter

    Charles Ives & His Music

    By Henry Cowell & Sidney Cowell

    Charles Ives: A Life With Music

    By Jan Swafford

    Charles Ives: My Father’s Song

    By Stuart Feder

    Charles E. Ives: Memos

    By John Kirkpatrick

    Modern Music-Makers: Contemporary American Composers

    By Madeleine Goss

    Published in 1952, this volume is dated but does contain a thorough biography, chronology, and catalog for many important song composers, including Charles Ives, John Alden Carpenter, Marion Bauer, William Grant Still, Virgil Thomson, Aaron Copland, Lousie Talma, Samuel Barber, William Schuman, and Leonard Bernstein.

    Composers’ Voices from Ives to Ellington: An Oral History of American Music

    By Composers’ Voices from Ives to Ellington: An Oral History of American Music

    Sheet Music

    114 Songs

    Composer(s): Charles Ives

    Free via IMSLP

    40 Earlier Songs of Ives

    Composer(s): Charles Ives

    Buy via Sheet Music Plus

    Eleven Songs and Two Harmonizations

    Composer(s): Charles Ives

    Find at your Local Library

    Nineteen Songs

    Composer(s): Charles Ives

    Buy via Theodore Presser Company

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