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Charles Ives and the Classical Tradition Hardcover – 5 Jul 1996


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  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (5 July 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300061773
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300061772
  • Product Dimensions: 24.2 x 16.2 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,931,641 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Format: Hardcover
Igor Stravinsky, late in life, and in an unusually rare moment of candor for him, conceded that Charles Ives had been "The Great Anticipator." Unfortunately for Ives, this bout of candor came eight years after he died. And, upon Arnold Schoenberg's death In 1953 (six months before Ives did), his widow came upon a remarkable statement by her husband, written nearly a decade earlier: [quote]
There is a great Man living in this Country—a composer.
He has solved the problem of how to preserve one's self-esteem.
He responds to negligence by contempt.
He is not forced to accept praise or blame.
His name is Ives. [unquote]
That these two composers, contemporaries of Ives, took so long to pay proper tribute is as much a result of Ives having chosen to be a "private" composer over the two important decades of his composing life (1902 - 1922) as it was their own agendas and efforts. Before 1922, nothing of significance that Ives had written saw public performance subsequent to his 1902 cantata, "The Celestial Country." And nothing of significance came from his pen after those two decades; he spent the balance of his life editing his works and supporting the efforts of other American composers.
However, beginning in the 1930s, Ives's works slowly began to see public performance, and the pace of performance did pick up in the years remaining to him. And what concert-goers, and fellow composers, began to hear was a bewildering variety of musics, at least some of which reminded them of works not only by Schoenberg and Stravinsky but by Debussy, Bartók, Scriabin, Copland and a host of other "moderns.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 1 review
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Charles Ives: The Great Anticipator. 11 May 2004
By Bob Zeidler - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Igor Stravinsky, late in life, and in an unusually rare moment of candor for him, conceded that Charles Ives had been "The Great Anticipator." Unfortunately for Ives, this bout of candor came eight years after he died. And, upon Arnold Schoenberg's death In 1953 (six months before Ives did), his widow came upon a remarkable statement by her husband, written nearly a decade earlier: [quote]

There is a great Man living in this Country - a composer.
He has solved the problem of how to preserve one's self-esteem.
He responds to negligence by contempt.
He is not forced to accept praise or blame.
His name is Ives. [unquote]

That these two composers, contemporaries of Ives, took so long to pay proper tribute is as much a result of Ives having chosen to be a "private" composer over the two important decades of his composing life (1902 - 1922) as it was their own agendas and efforts. Before 1922, nothing of significance that Ives had written saw public performance subsequent to his 1902 cantata, "The Celestial Country." And nothing of significance came from his pen after those two decades; he spent the balance of his life editing his works and supporting the efforts of other American composers.

However, beginning in the 1930s, Ives's works slowly began to see public performance, and the pace of performance did pick up in the years remaining to him. And what concert-goers, and fellow composers, began to hear was a bewildering variety of musics, at least some of which reminded them of works not only by Schoenberg and Stravinsky but by Debussy, Bartók, Scriabin, Copland and a host of other "moderns." And on his death in 1954, at which time Harmony Ives placed his works in public trust, with John Kirkpatrick as the executor, the floodgates began to open on what it was that Ives had accomplished, not least of which was to anticipate virtually every significant stylistic movement in 20th-century music.

With the 50th anniversary of Ives's death just days away (May 19, 2004) as I write this, we now have a much better picture of "Ives the anticipator." And, as well, "Ives the protean American extender of the classical tradition." And this book, edited by two of the most knowledgeable Ives scholars, is as fine an effort as I've seen at putting Ives in proper historical perspective. It is the benchmark for the comparative study of Ives's compositional aesthetic, and I don't expect that it will be soon surpassed in this respect.

The book is in two unequal parts (following an introduction by J. Peter Burkholder). The first third of the book, entitled "Predecessors," describes Ives's early musical education, by both his father and Horatio Parker. The three essays in this section cover his background in, and familiarity with, the music of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Franck, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky and Reger, as well as those who, like Parker, made up the preceding "New England School": George Chadwick, Frederick Shepherd Converse, Daniel Gregory Mason and John Knowles Paine. Sandwiched between the European and New England School essays is a superb one by Geoffrey Block (co-editor along with Burkholder) entitled "The 'Sounds That Beethoven Didn't Have'," showing how Ives both borrowed from and built upon Beethoven in writing his culminating keyboard masterpiece, the "Concord" Sonata. This essay cannot but help those who are befuddled by this thorny work.

The balance of the book is given over to comparisons of Ives with his European contemporaries. The first is a reprint of Robert P. Morgan's groundbreaking 1978 essay, "Ives and Mahler: Mutual Responses at the End of an Era." While this essay is available on the internet in Adobe pdf form, its inclusion here is most welcome and appropriate. There is so much commonality in the compositional aesthetics of these two (incorporation of "vernacular" music, use of polyrhythms, providing for "near" and "far" sound fields) that it is surprising that matters took as long as they did to reach this stage (although Elliott Carter, some years earlier, had pointed the way, seemingly the first to do so).

"Ives, Schoenberg, and the Musical Ideal" sets out not only the similarities between Ives's usage of the terms "manner and substance" and Schoenberg's of "style and idea" (and their commonality in philosophical thought traceable back to Kant), but also their shared admiration of Brahms. That Ives wrote atonally and experimented with tone rows in advance of Schoenberg is an interesting aside, but the "substance" (or "idea"), if you will, is that both developed new aesthetics of some similarity in expression and much commonality in background.

"Ives and Stravinsky: Two Angles on 'the German Stem'" is, for me, the most fascinating essay in the book. Ives wrote in bitonality some years before "Petroushka" and had been accused of "borrowing" ideas from "The Rite of Spring" well before the true facts emerged. But ultimately more interesting are the parallels between the two in terms of their musical educations and usage of source materials, and their inveterate editing of existing works. Of course, their motivations for doing so differed: While Ives was editing largely to achieve performance, Stravinsky was forever "scrubbing his works clean" of earlier influences.

When study began on Ives's manuscripts (now complete, thanks to James Sinclair's "A Descriptive Catalog of the Music of Charles Ives"), a treasure trove of "anticipations" - atonality, tone rows, bitonality, polyrhythms, collage, impressionism, minimalism, aleatorism and virtually every other "ism" - was found. While this book does not cover everything, the essays on Ives and Schoenberg and Ives and Stravinsky are worth the price of admission. But I do wish that the editors had included contributions on Ives and Debussy and Ives and Bartók (despite Burkholder's apology for not having done so in the Introduction). A very minor cavil for an otherwise remarkable collection of essays.

Bob Zeidler
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