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Ives: Musical Visionary
Cathy Laning, Katie Tkach
August of 1912, Charles Ives and his wife Harmony came to
West Redding and bought land on Umpawaug Hill, across the
road from the site of General Putnam's headquarters in the
Revolutionary War (corner of Umpawaug and Topstone Rd). They
had the house and barn built, and moved in a year later. This
was their country home for the rest of their lives. They would
come out from New York City in the early spring, and stay
until late in the fall. Ives commuted each morning by train
to his insurance office in the city, and he did much of his
music writing on this train.
many years they had a horse named "Rocket" who was
very much a member of the family. Ives would ride "Rocket"
down the hill to Sanford General Store near the train station.
They also had a Model T Ford. Umpawaug Road in those days
was just a dirt country road, filled with "thank you
ma'am's, as Ives's nephew Bigelow describes it. It wasn't
paved until 1928, and when it was, Ives got quite upset. He
was also outraged when the first airplanes began flying over,
and whenever he heard one he would come out and shake his
fist at it and shout "Get off my property!" He didn't
want anything to disrupt the peaceful country world of Umpawaug
Hill which he loved so much.
our quest to capture the essence of Charles Ives- revered
classical composer, interpreter of the American scene, and
the man- we talked with John Kirkpatrick, Paul Winter and
Luemily Ryder. The synthesis of their recollections provides
a composite sketch of this muscian.
Kirkpatrick is the curator of the Ives Collection at Yale.
He is a well known Ives authority and has come to know Ives's
1937 Kirkpatrick met Charles Ives. He had been corresponding
with him for ten years, but had never met him.
can see him right there. I knew him during the last 17 years
of his life, and I saw him a few times each year. In a way
he was the most paradoxical man I've ever known. As a musician
he was both traditional and experimental. You could describe
his music best by saying there's no simple way to describe
it. That's part of the paradoxical nature he had.
Ives first began to compose, his music was comparatively simple.
Many of his early pieces were influenced greatly by the church,
since he played the organ in church during his grammar school
years. At fourteen he was a salaried organist, the youngest
professional organist in the state.
father was a musical "jack-of-all-trades". He was
even more versatile than his son.
received his earliest muscial training from his father and
later from Horatio Parker at Yale. He attended Yale from 1894-1898.
From this time through his twenties he used both styles, experimental
and traditional, but he hardly ever showed his experiments
to Parker. At that period the simpler traditional style was
more acceptable than the complicated, experimental style.
Ives's music was different from itself all the time. It could
be very simple, or it could be very, very complex. There were
pieces that could be read and played with no effort, they
were the simple. And there were pieces that were so complicated
they are challenging, even today.
know how you can look at a page of music and feel instinctively
if there is somthing real there or not? Well, there's something
real to Ives's music. There's always a core of something very
direct. and no matter how complicated it is, it hangs together
Charles Ives reached the peak of his experimental period,
he did not receive the recognition he deserved. The public
did not like being put to the inconvenience of having to try
hard to understand and play his music. "He knew exactly
how good a composer he was, and he knew exactly how far ahead
of his own time he was. It didn't bother him. Someone once
asked him why he didn't write music that people would like,
and he said 'I can't hear something else.' He anticipated
all the tricks of modern music in the first part of the 20th
century. Even though he was so far ahead of his time he still
deeply admired some of the classical composers- Bach, Beethoven,
and Brahms. He also admired the popular composers of the Civil
War Period. Although he enjoyed their styles, he had ideas
and opinions of his own.
would be impossible to describe his music because it was so
paradoxical. You could never put your finger on it. You could
rarely get a definite answer to a question our of him. He
usually used your question as a springboard to other thoughts.
He was a genius. He was used to improvising and filling in;
he was much more of a musician than anybody realized.
Ives knew that the kind of music he wanted to compose would
have no relation to his own times. Ives knew he would never
be able to support a family on it, so he deliberately financed
his composing through his insurance business. Many people
regard him as an insurance man doing music on the side. However,
he was a composer first and foremost, financing his non-conformist
composing through insurance, and showing the same genius in
both. There was a constant pressure living two lives a once.
Most people who come home from business want to relax. If
a composer finishes a symphony he naturally wants to relax
and perhaps celebrate. When Ives finished a symphony, most
likely late at night, he probably had time for only a little
sleep, before going downtown the next day for business. When
he got home from a day's business he would roll up his shirt
sleeves and start right into composing where he had left off
the previous night.
Ives literally lived a double life. He was an insurance man
by day and a composer by night, on weekends, and during vacations.
Many of his business associates had no idea that he was even
interested in music. His musical friends never saw any trace
of his business life. He kept to himself a great deal, partly
because he treasured the time he wasn't actually engaged in
business, so he could compose. But he was both gregarious
and shy; like his music, Ives himself was a paradox."
Home with the Iveses
Luemily Ryder became a close friend of Charles Ives during
his years in Redding. She and her husband, Bill, lived next
door to Ives on Umpawaug Hill.
he was, shall I say, gentle, first; he was also a rebel and
he could be quite explosive. I think he was a religious person
and I think he was very understanding and considerate of the
downtrodden and the outcast. He was a great person.
Iveses were people who often showed their kindness and generosity.
They were always doing something for other people. One family's
house was burned down and they offered their cottage. Here
the family stayed until a new house could be built.
Iveses often lent their cottage out to poor people from the
city. It was similar to the Fresh-Air Organization (Branchville,
CT) that brings city children into the country for a vacation.
One summer the Iveses lent their cottage to the Osborne family.
the youngest Osborne child, Edith, was very ill. Mrs. Ives
graciously offered to take care of her. Edith gradually improved
in health under Mrs. Ives's care. The Ives grew immensely
fond of her and near the end of Edith's stay they approached
the Osbornes about adopting Edith. After much thought the
loved Charles Ives. He would come out with his cane and shake
it in their facesm or he'd grab a child around the neck with
it and pull him toward him. The children would either be so
scared or so tickled that they'd giggle all over.
Ives was just as loving as her husband. When she came down
to visit you could hear he whistling all the way down the
visited them in NYC many times and after dinner at their house
we would go into the living room. Mr. Ives would stretch out
on the couch. The room was dimly lit to rest his eyes so Mrs.
Ives would sit directly under the light to read the classics.
He liked that so much, just to listen to her read. That's
one of the nicest things I remember about them."
Ryder, herself a pianist and organist, went on to say, "His
music is beautiful. I really love it, even though it would
clash. I know he had all these sounds in his head that he
kept hearing and he would just bring them all together in
a composition. At first people did not accept it. There were
only a few that would play it. Most said it couldn't be played
because it was so difficult. That would make him mad because
he was so sure it could be played...
you are in Connecticut, I suggest a trip to New Haven to view
the Ives Collection at Yale University.
Ives outside his
West Redding home in 1946
Ives (1874 - 1954) was an American composer of classical music.
He is regarded as possibly the first American classical composer
of international significance. Ives was born on October 20,
1874 in Danbury, Connecticut, the son of a US Army bandmaster.
He was given music lessons by his father at an early age,
and later studied under Horatio Parker at Yale University.
After graduating, however, he decided to pursue a non-musical
career, believing that he would be forced to compromise his
musical ideals if he made a living from music. He therefore
followed a career in life insurance- While on vacation for
health concerns in 1906, Ives and his friend and colleague
Julius Myrick decided to form their own agency, Ives & Co.
(later to become Ives & Myrick). In a few years they had a
volume of business in insurance training that led the country
and would make Ives a very wealthy man. He composed music
in his spare time. Ives composed a number of works inspired
by nature and transcendentalism, including the Concord piano
sonata (c. 1916-1919) and the First Orchestral Set: Three
Places in New England (c. 1912-1921). Charles Ives was buried
in Wooster Cemetery in Danbury, Ct.
1912, Ives and his wife bought part of a farm in West Redding,
Connecticut, dividing their time between the farm and
New York City. The next few years produced such works as the
Fourth Symphony (c. 1912-1925) and the World War I-inspired
songs In Flanders Fields, He is there!, and Tom Sails Away
a serious heart attack in 1918, his health and productivity
declined; his last new pieces date from the mid-1920s. He
lived his last decades as an invalid in New York City and
West Redding, Conn., promoting his music as best he
could and revising pieces; meanwhile, various enthusiasts
gradually spread his music into the world.
Centennial Celebration Concert:
2,000 people attended Redding's Ives Centennial Committee's
Aug. 18 1974 musical town meeting in a natural amphitheater
on property once owned by composer Charles Ives and heard
Paul Winter and his Consort. Jim Sinclair and Ken Singleton
were also involved in the Ives centennial celebration concert.
project, commencing in October 1934, to put his music in some
order in a huge built-in cabinet, newly constructed for him
in a former horse stall in the barn of his country house at
West Redding, Connecticut. But Ives's "system" for
Quality Photoprint Studio deteriorated into a state of chronic
confusion, probably because no one there could read music.
Ray Green, the new executive secretary of the American Music
Center, reported to Harmony Ives on 25 May 1950 that "the
master sheets [photostats] of Mr. Ives' works are in an extremely
chaotic condition. As a matter of fact, a careful and thorough
job of indexing needs to be done by a competent, reliable
and trained musician and researcher." Immediately following
Ives's death, John Kirkpatrick and the composer Henry Cowell
began jointly to bring all the manuscripts into one place
(drawing on their own holdings and on Ives's in his New York
apartment and the West Redding music room and its barn).
Ives's filing system, even with supplementary file cabinets,
had become woefully jumbled. In his catalogue, Kirkpatrick
describes the disorder he found in June 1954: "Evidently he
was used to rummaging for things, pulling out whole fistfuls
from underneath which then became the top layer, so that each
drawer had been shuffled many times." Some identifications
of manuscripts were made quickly by the two men, but a huge
task lay ahead. A struggle for control of the collection ensued.
It was destined for the Library of Congress before Kirkpatrick
stepped in and convinced Mrs. Ives in January 1955 that Yale
University was the more appropriate repository (partly because
it was near Kirkpatrick's summer home in Georgetown, Connecticut,
and because Yale agreed to devote a separate "Ives Room" to
the storage of the manuscripts). However, the mass of nearly
seven thousand pages was moved temporarily to Edith Ives's
apartment in New York. There, Dr. Joseph Braunstein of the
New York Public Library staff began sorting and listing. Evidence
of his rudimentary system can be found written at the top
of a few manuscript pages. Sidney Cowell, Henry Cowell's wife,
presided over a general photostating of those pages that she
believed were not covered by the Quality photostat holdings
(which resulted in significant duplications). At Yale, over
the following years, the extant photostat negatives were stamped
on the back with a sequential numbering, and the photostating
continued as Kirkpatrick identified pages that had been missed.
the summer of 1955, Kirkpatrick took control of the project
from the Cowells and Braunstein. As he politely puts it in
his catalogue (p. v), "I gratefully took advantage of all
that Dr. Braunstein had done, and gradually coordinated everything
into a First List." An inveterate organizer with a pathological
love for jigsaw puzzles, Kirkpatrick trusted no one else's
work but his own. He started over with his own notes, rejoined
portions of manuscripts that had been torn apart, and began
building the most extraordinary catalogue that has ever honored
an American composer's work.
all of Ives's manuscripts are safely collected in one place,
the Charles Ives Papers (MSS 14) in the Music Library of the
Yale University School of Music, New Haven, Connecticut. (For
years after their arrival at Yale University in September
1955, these manuscripts were known as the "Ives Collection.")
Ives and His World
by J. Peter Burkholder (Editor)
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