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.

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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

Photo: [Charles Ives], [n.d.].

Related Information

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

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

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

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

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

Audio

Track:

    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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