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Jordan Lowrance

Western Music History III

Friday, September 27, 2019

Source Study on Charles Ives

Charles Ives was an American composer and insurance agent, primarily known in the

world of twentieth-century music for his early innovations in composition through the use of the

combination of atonal techniques and chromaticism. In the words of Igor Stravinsky, Ives “set

about devouring the contemporary cake before anyone else had even found a seat at the same

table,”1 and this can be seen in one of his most famous works, ‘The Unanswered Question,”

written as early as 1908. As a child, Ives played in the orchestra with his father, who studied

acoustics and taught piano, violin, and music theory. His father also influenced his

compositions, having written many experimental-type pieces himself.2 Ives’ works did not gain

recognition until much later in his life, when he was in his fifties and he was mostly done

composing in 1935, though once his works did begin to attract some attention, he was applauded

for his “extraordinary… inventiveness and originality.”3 When the third of his four symphonies

was performed at a concert dedicated to his music in 1946, he received the honor of the Pulitzer

Prize for his composition.4 His impact on western music was particularly on later American

composers, who describe Ives as “the archetypal ancestor of much that is peculiarly American in

the present-day American school of composers.”5

Isham, Howard. "The Musical Thinking of Charles Ives." The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 31,
no. 3 (1973): 395.
Isham, “The Musical Thinking of Charles Ives,” 396.
J. Peter Burkholder, “Ives, Charles” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed. (London:
Macmillan, 2001), 694.
Burkholder, “Ives, Charles” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 694.
Burkholder, “Ives, Charles” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 694.
This essay will be an examination of five articles and entries written about Charles Ives,

their quality, and usefulness as a source when it comes to him and his music. There will be a

general summary of what each piece attempts to accomplish, as well as what it does accomplish,

followed by an analysis of the target audience, the quality, and its strengths and weaknesses.

When examining a composer in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians,

there are a few things that are to be expected of any particular composer’s entry in this set of

compendiums, namely the brief, but well summarized entry for each composer, their reception,

and their general impact. In this regard, Ives’ entry in The New Grove Dictionary is par for the

course, containing a short introduction to his upbringing into music, which includes his

influences and training, and his career as a musician and composer. The entry also includes a

general analysis of his style as described by critics of the time, as well as an insight as to what

inspired his compositions. For example, Ives, talking about his second piano sonata titled

“Concord,” says the piece attempts “to present an impression of the spirit of the literature and the

philosophy of the men of Concord.”6 The article concludes with his impact on later American

composers, followed by a list of his works.

The New Grove entry for Charles Ives is brief and informative. By nature of the

encyclopedic format of the New Grove Dictionary, it is written for the purpose of having a

catalogue of composers and performers, likely targeted at music history scholars in particular, for

their all encompassing coverage of composers of the past. There is not a great amount of detail

in this entry, though each and every line in it has significant importance to Ives and his career as

Burkholder, “Ives, Charles” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 694.
a musician and composer, even making note of his profession as an insurance agent. The

addition of the list of works is a nice addition which is a well organized resource for seeing the

names and types of his compositions. While this article serves as a great crash course into the

music of Charles Ives, the detail is limited, and any information about him and his work will

have to be found elsewhere.

The Oxford Studies of Composers is a series of scholarly surveys written on composers

who did not have a major critical work written on them already, or whose music has aged in a

way that it needed re-evaluation. The focus of these studies is not on the biography of the

composer, but on their music and compositions. “Ives,” written by H. Wiley Hitchcock is a

musical critique and examination of the works of Charles Ives, being structured by the type of

work rather than time period. Hitchcock’s reasoning for this is that Ives’ music cannot simply be

placed into time periods the same way that composers such as Beethoven’s can, as he composed

in many styles over a period of time, rather than one particular style for a given period.7 This

provides an uncommon structure to the book not often seen in this field of study. True to the

claim of not being a biography, the book’s foreword serves a similar purpose to the New Grove

entry on Ives, though with more details on his personal life and upbringing, and greater focus on

his composition style. The rest of the book is structured into five chapters, each representing a

theater of music: Songs, Choral music, Keyboard Music, Chamber music, and Orchestral music.

Each section begins with a short intro on Ives’ beginnings in each theater, then seamlessly

transitions to analysis of the music.

Hitchcock, H Wiley. “Ives” Oxford Studies of Composers, (London: Oxford University Press, 1977), 6.
The content of this book is most certainly directed towards those with a solid background

in composition and theory, as the amount of detail provided in the musical analysis is nothing

that one with passing interest in Ives or music in general would understand. Musical staves are

placed throughout discussion to accompany the thorough musical analysis of Hitchcock, which is

a great dissection of the part writing and composition of Ives pieces. The study as a whole is a

wet dream for music theorists and analysts interested in the works of Ives, as not only does it

provide in depth musical analysis of specific passages of Ives, but provides context for the

techniques in the scope of Ives’ complete catalogue of works. Included are analyses of rhythms,

partwriting, the unique role of noteworthy notes, structure, inspiration, and even takes note of

unique instructions, as mentioned in Ives scherzo “Over the Pavements,” on which Hitchcock

points out “the cadenza at the centre of the piece need not be played: the manuscript reads, ‘To

play or not to play? If played, to be played as not a nice one - but EVENLY, precise and

unmusical as possible!’”8. When it comes to analysis of Ives’ music and of his style of

composition, “Ives” in the Oxford Studies of Composers series is unmatched in detail and scope.

The writing is well fit for the theorists that it was written for, though if interest lies outside of the

theory of his compositions, this study will not provide much other than a brief biography and a

few peeks into Ives’ personality.

One of the most defining characteristics of Ives career was his early innovations in what

would eventually become the American composition style of later 20th century. This attribute is

exactly what Nachum Schoffman set to prove in his journal article Serialism in the Works of

Hitchcock, H Wiley. “Ives”, 75.
Charles Ives, where he discusses and describes Ives’ innovation of serialism, an abstract method

of composition. Schoffman considers the following as evidence when appearing in any of Ives’

works that he examined:

1. There are 12 consecutive notes constituting all 12 pitch-classes, without repetitions or


2. The order of values represents a clear arithmetical progression.

3. The order of values is a palindrome9

Through these criteria and several examples in Ives’ compositions, Schoffman aims to prove

Ives’ reputation as an innovator in serialization and American composition.

This article is aimed at interested theorists who also have some passing knowledge of

Ives’ and his works, and is explicitly focused on the proof of Ives’ early use of serialism. The

writing reflects this, as it uses many terms and concepts unique to music theory and analysis,

often describing chords and atonal pitch groupings and their usage in the work they are sampled

from. Similarly to the previously examined source, there is an in depth analysis of specific

usages of the aforementioned criteria in Ives’ works, accompanied by intricately labeled musical

staves, shaping diagrams, and polyrhythm diagrams. The razor-sharp focus of the article is on

Ives’ use of serialism and related techniques, examining little outside the scope of its subject,

Schoffman stating that his discussion is “necessarily limited to the serial aspects of several

sections of Ives’s works. Complete analyses, while of great interest, would inflate this essay out

of all proportion.”10 I believe that this works to the advantage of the article to maintain

Schoffman, Nachum, and Charles Ives. "Serialism in the Works of Charles Ives." Tempo, no. 138 (1981):1.
Schoffman, Nachum, "Serialism in the Works of Charles Ives." 2.
coherence, and to capitalize on its unique insight on what exactly made Ives’ compositions so

influential and successful.

Carol K. Brown approaches a rather unusual subject when it comes to Charles Ives in her

journal article Efforts on Behalf of Democracy by Charles Ives and His Family: Their Religious

Contexts, where she discusses Ives’ and his family’s political beliefs and the influence of religion

on those beliefs. She was inspired to begin researching the topic after discovering periodicals

and newspaper clippings in Ives’ study, which implied that he was invested in politics and the

national and international affairs of America up to September 1953, less than a year before his

death.11 Included in the article is information such as the basis of Ives’ beliefs in

nineteenth-century liberal protestantism12, to Ives’ opinions on the distribution of wealth and

power in American society, and the effect that it had on his workplace when the owners were

found guilty of embezzlement, excessive executive salaries, among other transgressions.13 In

summary, Bacon presents a great deal of information on an important aspect of Ives’ life that is

frequently overlooked in favor of his musical career, with great detail of the numerous political

and religious influences on Ives’ own ideas.

It is difficult to determine who exactly this article was written for, as its focus is on a

subject largely unrelated to what most people are likely looking for when they think of Charles

Ives, though if an assumption is to be made, I would guess that it would be of value to those with

great interest in the man Charles Ives and his life, rather than the American composer Charles

Baron, Carol K. "Efforts on Behalf of Democracy by Charles Ives and His Family: Their Religious Contexts." The
Musical Quarterly 87, no. 1 (2004): 6.
Baron, Carol K. "Efforts on Behalf of Democracy by Charles Ives and His Family: Their Religious Contexts." 7.
Baron, Carol K. "Efforts on Behalf of Democracy by Charles Ives and His Family: Their Religious Contexts."
Ives. While there is a great amount of detail in this writing, the organization and structure can

make the information difficult to parse. The seven sections of the work are untitled, and though

they seem to loosely be based on the chronological order of Ives’ political development, there are

many pieces of information from widely varying periods of time sprinkled throughout each

section. The intent of the author seems to be to compare political beliefs of the past to those with

the present, and provide context for those beliefs, though this does not really support the title of

the piece, which implies that it is about Ives’ political efforts in the benefit of democracy and the

effects of religion on those efforts. Sections V and VI even largely omit any mention of religious

context in favor of a history lesson in the politics of times surrounding World War II. Reading

through this article was all of confusing, misleading, and a volley among Ives’ religious

influences, political views, and the history of the times.

Charles Ives Remembered aims to provide a clear representation of the person that he was

by way of an oral history project, interviewing people who knew him personally, rather than

analyzing his musical career. The author, Vivian Perlis even states: “I daresay, if Ives were here

himself he would not know the hows and whys of his compositions. He did not want to be

categorized, dissected, pigeonholed.”14 The book is divided into four sections: “Youth and Yale

Years,” “Insurance,” “Family, Friends, and Neighbors,” and Music, each itself containing several

interviews from people in said walk of Ives’ life. Each interviewee recounts their personal

experiences with and impressions of Charles Ives, for a total of fifty-seven perspectives on the

Perlis, Vivian. “Charles Ives Remembered”, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1974. xv.
composer. Also provided are illustrations, containing photos of Ives, his home, acquaintances,

and scores.

This book was written for those with an interest in Charles Ives that wish to take their

knowledge beyond his music and into the man himself. The oral history model for the book

creates an especially uncommon and interesting form of biography, where the compiled

interviews give an impression of what Ives was like in person. For an example of the unique

viewpoint of these accounts, here is an excerpt from the interview of Anthony J. “Babe” Lapine,

a barber.

Charlie, (I called him Charlie) never dressed up in street clothes as long as I

knew him, He used to wear overalls with the bib and straps, a big brown hat,

and farmer shoes. He walked very fast, but he stooped. And I never took him

for a musician.

One time I was trimming his beard, and he was looking in the mirror and says,

“You know, Babe, your work reminds me of mine.” I says, “Gee whiz, Charlie.

How does my work remind you of yours?” He says, “The way you’re trimming

My beard; you’re shading it. That goes into my work.”15

As a result of the nature of the book, the writing quality varies by interview, as is in the above

example the language is more common speech of the time, and the short description of the

interviewees before each interview is scholarly and precise. As a further consequence of the

Perlis, Vivian. “Charles Ives Remembered”, 112.
writing, the quality of the information varies greatly, though I believe that the number of

interviews and varied backgrounds of the interviewees makes up for this. Overall, this book has

an interesting method of writing about the life of Charles Ives that I think works to its advantage.

While it hardly has any coverage on his music, it does reveal some influences on his music

through interview with his contemporaries and those that performed his music, such as John

Kirkpatrick, who was more or less credited with bringing Ives’ works to light with his

performance of the “Concord Sonata.”16 When it comes to the biography of Charles Ives, this

book would make an excellent source due to its numerous perspectives of Ives, and first-hand

accounts of interactions with and thoughts on him while he was alive.

In my evaluation of these five sources about Charles Ives, I have found two of them to be

of high enough interest and quality to recommend. For analysis and thorough examination of his

music, “Ives” from The Oxford Studies of Composers serves as a great resource that gives insight

into the overall composition style and techniques of Ives, while not going into extended detail on

any one aspect or genre, giving a good sense of the characteristic Ives-isms of his music. For

information on the composer himself, Charles Ives Remembered is a unique form of biography

that compiles accounts of those personally familiar with Ives that likely has details on his

personality and other traits that may be more difficult to find elsewhere.

Perlis, Vivian. “Charles Ives Remembered”, 213-214.

Baron, Carol K. "Efforts on Behalf of Democracy by Charles Ives and His Family: Their

Religious Contexts." The Musical Quarterly 87, no. 1 (2004): 6-43.

Burkholder, J. Peter. “Ives, Charles” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed.

London: Macmillan, 2001.

Hitchcock, H Wiley. “Ives” Oxford Studies of Composers, London: Oxford University Press,


Perlis, Vivian. “Charles Ives Remembered”, New Haven and London, Yale University Press,


Schoffman, Nachum, and Charles Ives. "Serialism in the Works of Charles Ives." Tempo, no. 138

(1981): 21-32.