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Charles Ives in the Mirror

Charles Ives in the Mirror: American Histories of an Iconic Composer

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Charles Ives in the Mirror
    Book Description:

    American composer Charles Ives (1874 - 1954) has gone from being a virtual unknown to become one of the most respected and lauded composers in American music. In this sweeping survey of intellectual and musical history, David C. Paul tells the new story of how Ives's music was shaped by shifting conceptions of American identity within and outside of musical culture, charting the changes in the reception of Ives across the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century. Paul focuses on the critics, composers, performers, and scholars whose contributions were most influential in shaping the critical discourse on Ives, many of them marquee names of American musical culture themselves, including Henry Cowell, Aaron Copland, Elliott Carter, and Leonard Bernstein. Paul explores both how Ives strategically positioned his music amid changing philosophical and aesthetic currents and how others interpreted his contributions to the idea, character, and functions of American music. Although Ives's initial efforts at making his music known to the public in the early twenties were unsuccessful, the resurgence of interest in the American literary past during the thirties helped secure an important place in American concert culture for his Concord Sonata, a work dedicated to nineteenth-century transcendentalist writers. Paul also charts the deployment of Ives as an icon of self-made independence and American freedom during the early Cold War period and the more recent instigation of Ives at the head of a line of so-called American maverick composers. By embedding Ives' reception within the changing developments of a wide range of fields including intellectual history, American studies, literature, musicology, and American politics and society in general, Charles Ives in the Mirror: American Histories of an Iconic Composer greatly advances our understanding of Ives and his influence on nearly a century of American culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09469-9
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Charles Edward Ives is a stolid New England name. For those who know it, it is likely to conjure up images of a man in old age, bearded, clutching a cane, perhaps his bald pate exposed, but more likely hidden beneath a dilapidated old hat. In photographs, when he looks at the camera directly, there is mischief in his eyes that belies his years; more typically, though, he stares off into some middle-distance, lost in thought. The name might also prompt recollections of a life lived unusually. Of a wealthy executive in the insurance industry who pursued composition as an...

  5. 1 Conservative Transcendentalist or Modernist Firebrand? Ives and His First Publics, 1921–1934
    (pp. 7-36)

    Early in 1921, several hundred Americans were puzzled to discover an unsolicited package in their mail that contained a pair of books.¹ The larger of the two was bound in dark red cloth, and on the cover, framed by horizontal double lines, gilt lettering with a curlicued “M” and “E” lent a modest decorative touch. Roughly twelve inches in height, its size was typical for a volume of music, which the title, “Second Pianoforte Sonata,” declared it to be. There was also a subtitle, “Concord, Mass., 1840–60,” and for it the largest lettering on the sparse front cover had...

  6. 2 Songs of Our Fathers: The Advocacy of Henry Cowell and the Appeal of the American Past, 1927–1947
    (pp. 37-71)

    Contemporary photographs show a young man dressed in an oversized tailcoat and pinstripe pants, his hair slightly longer than fashionable, earnestly pounding away at a grand piano with his fists and forearms or clawing with equal aplomb at the instrument’s innards. This was Henry Cowell at the zenith of his musical celebrity during the 1920s (Figure 2.1). Throughout the decade and into the early thirties, Cowell conducted a highly visible career as a concert pianist who performed his own works, attracting headlines around the world for the unusual way—brutal, in the estimation of some critics—in which he coaxed...

  7. 3 Winning Hearts and Minds: Ives as Cold War Icon, 1947–1965
    (pp. 72-106)

    In 1950, sociologists David Riesman, Reuel Denney, and Nathan Glazer published a study of American culture with an enigmatic title: The Lonely Crowd. Though unflattering, depicting Americans as obsessed with the opinions of their neighbors, colleagues, and friends, the study resonated with the very people that it anatomized. Much to the surprise of its authors, The Lonely Crowd became one of those rarities of the publishing world: a best seller under a university press imprint. Accordingly, historians of the 1950s have treated the book as an important primary source, a snapshot of middle class culture and, at the same time,...

  8. 4 The Prison of Culture: Ives, American Studies, and Intellectual History, 1965–1985
    (pp. 107-147)

    On the evening of Sunday October 20, 1974, the 100th birthday of Charles E. Ives, a concert took place in honor of the composer at his alma mater, Yale University. As the members of the audience filed into Woolsey Hall, they were met by the sight of two enormous banners strung from the proscenium arch, framing the central bank of pipes of the fabled Newberry Memorial organ and draped such that their ends hung just a few feet above where the performers would stand or sit. The twin ionic colonnades running parallel along the length of the hall’s side balconies,...

  9. 5 Musicology Makes Its Mark: Ives and the History of Style, 1965–1985
    (pp. 148-185)

    Two Californian stalwart supporters of Charles Ives were among the celebrants who descended on New York in October 1974 for the Charles Ives Centennial Festival-Conference. Peter Yates had been one of Ives’s earliest devotees, a mystical modernist enraptured by the transcendentalist overtones of the later works in the output of the composer. Well before the name Ives became familiar in American musical circles, Yates had promoted the composer’s music in Los Angeles, organizing performances as part of his legendary Evenings on the Roof concert series. Lou Harrison made his acquaintance with Ives’s music slightly later, but was no less devoted....

  10. 6 Ives at Century’s Turn
    (pp. 186-222)

    “Is an icon becoming a has-been?”¹ This was the question New York Times critic Donal Henahan posed in April 1987, after Leonard Bernstein decided to cancel a scheduled performance of Ives’s Fourth Symphony. Indeed there was evidence that a certain amount of ennui had set in with respect to Ives. A few weeks earlier, in a Times survey of high-profile musicians, several participants had nominated him “most over-rated composer.”² On the other side of the country, Los Angeles critic Herbert Glass observed that there had been a “general decline in Ives’s stock since the overexposure attending the 1974 centenary,” and,...

  11. Postscript: “So What Do You Think about Ives?”
    (pp. 223-228)

    It was a Sunday morning, the last session of a sleepy meeting of the Pacific-Southwest chapter of the American Musicological Society, and perilously close to lunchtime. A handful of stalwarts were scattered sparsely around the lecture hall as I stepped to the podium to read my paper. Many of the attendees of the two-day meeting had already slipped out in order to make their journey home, cognizant of the unpredictability of California traffic. After mine, there was one more paper to go, and the meeting’s supply of goodwill and enthusiasm was near exhausted. At most, I thought to myself, I’ll...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 229-254)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 255-276)
  14. Index
    (pp. 277-288)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 289-299)