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Major American Writers: Wallace Stevens Charles Ives (1874-1954)

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Presentation on theme: "Major American Writers: Wallace Stevens Charles Ives (1874-1954)"— Presentation transcript:

1 Major American Writers: Wallace Stevens Charles Ives ( )

2 Major American Writers: Wallace Stevens Charles Ives

3 Major American Writers: Wallace Stevens Charles Ives Charles Ives Birthplace in Danbury, CT

4 Major American Writers: Wallace Stevens Charles Ives Charles and Harmony Ives Home in Redding, CT

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17 Major American Writers: Wallace Stevens Charles Ives Forty years ago, in 1934, l published an article in the magazine Modem Music on the music of Charles Ives, based on a rst acquaintance with the remarkable collection of his 114 Songs that he himself had published and had sent to me. The essay began: It will be a long time before we take the full measure of Charles Ives. In the intervening forty years, the music he produced in comparative obscurity has found a world audience, and the American musical community has discovered its rst composer of major significance.

18 Major American Writers: Wallace Stevens Charles Ives It is gratifying to realize that only America could have produced a Charles Ives. Or, to be more specific, only New England in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. In mid-nineteenth century, when our literature could boast such writers as Whitman and Thoreau, Emerson and Emily Dickinson, we had no comparable gure in the eld of serious music. As everyone knows, in its more cultivated forms, music is the last of the arts to develop. Not until the advent of this greatly gifted New Englander were we to point to a comparable gure in the world of symphonic literature. In listening to the music of Ives, I have sometimes puzzled over what it is that makes his work, at its best, so humanly moving. I am thinking, for example, of the extraordinary rst movement of his Harvest Home Chorales, written in 1897, and set for double chorus, organ, and brass instruments. In those few pages, Ives reects a richness of human experience rarely met with in music of that or any other period.

19 Major American Writers: Wallace Stevens Charles Ives Ives, when he composed, was incredibly daring: no one before him had ever ventured so close to setting down on paper sheer musical chaos The marvel is that he got away with it. I well remember showing pages to musiciansgood musiciansmost of whom thought it very remarkable, but complained that it was so confusedif only he could clean it up a bit. Its ironical to think that it is this very confusion that now makes for the special excitement in Ivess music. Even some very broad-minded and forward- looking musicians who had every reason to be interested in music that was new and different had the same response. Serge Koussevitzky, at that time conductor of the Boston Symphony, was definitely intrigued, but I got that same reaction from him. You cant play it; its too confused. Cant he straighten it out.

20 Major American Writers: Wallace Stevens Charles Ives As the full musical stature of Ives the composer became apparent, the basic tragedy of his situation came to preoccupy my mind. How, I wondered does a man of such gifts manage to go on creating in a vacuum, with no audience at all. As I look back, I was really concerned not so much with Ives alone, but with the thought of the many American composers who were writing their music without sufficient contact with an audience, I thought of Ives as the prime example. It began with a preoccupation my own: how does one get an audience, and what happens to a composer who does not have an audience? In that respect, Ives is a very American phenomenon. One can hardly imagine such a man in Europe. To write all that music and not hear it one would have to have the courage of a lion.

21 Major American Writers: Wallace Stevens Charles Ives It is never easy for a writer to pin down the essence of a composers work. This is particularly true for the music of Ives, so many-faceted, so rich in textures, and so various in content, from the simplest to the most complex pages. This becomes all the more remarkable when one realizes that he rarely, if ever, heard adequate performances of his more ambitious during the period of his active creative life. The upsurge of interest in the music of Ives in recent years, both at home and abroad, has greatly enhanced the position of the American composer on both sides of the Atlantic. This is especially true of the international musical scene, where our serious composers have been particularly slow to make their mark. The Ives centennial year (1974) is certain to increase the worldwide interest in his work.

22 Major American Writers: Wallace Stevens Charles Ives I append to this brief foreword a letter Ives sent me in Perhaps I should explain that it was written after a premiere performance of seven of his songs at the first Yaddo Festival in Saratoga Springs, New York, on May 1, 1932 [see p. 164]. The festival was followed by a symposium on music critics and criticism, to which the second paragraph of his letter refers: [Aaron Copland] Low-Wood Windermere July 21, 1932

23 Major American Writers: Wallace Stevens Charles Ives Dear Mr. Copland: I want to write you, if just a line, to tell you that I appreciated greatly your playing some of my songs. If they went well, it was due to the way you and Mr. Linscott handled them. I am grateful to you both. Please thank Mr. Linscott for me. But the way you stood up in congress, and had your say from within out gave added substance to the whole festival. Not exactly all critics are lily pads"-but too many are. With appreciation and best wishes Yours sincerely, Charles E. Ives When we get back we are looking forward to the pleasure of you personallyand I hope then to be able to be of some help in the work in any way I can.

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34 Major American Writers: Wallace Stevens Charles Ives In these pieces, for all their wide-ranging explorations, Ives never abandoned the foundations of his experience. mainly his Danbury childhood. Much of his music is a texture of quotes of familiar marches, hymns, and national songs; nearly every piece is a picture of a remembered scene. In Danbury he had heard thousands of voices singing hymns at camp meetings, bands pas sing one another in parades, taps played over the graves of war heroes, his father's cornet soaring over church congregations, the bells and bands and fireworks of holidays, old men singing war songs and weeping. Bach and Beethoven played on parlor pianos and wheezy church organs. These cherished memories of the music of ordinary people became the substance of his art, not for their own sake, but for what they represented. Danbury was a community where people did what people dogather to worship, to celebrate, to memorialize the dead, all companied by music. Danbury was anyplace and everyplace. For Ives, music was never an abstraction but rather an embodiment universal human experience. "Music," he once wrote in a letter to Harmony. does not represent life, it is life."

35 Major American Writers: Wallace Stevens Charles Ives For twenty years he worked in the ofce, composed at home, was father to their adopted daughter and, when World War I came, did volunteer work on top of it all. But the irony was that while blessed with extraordinary talent and energy, Ives did not have the constitution to sustain them. In October 1918 he suffered a devastating heart attack. Recovering to some degree, he returned to business and to music. But though he wrote some important songs in the twenties and reworked a good deal of previous material, he never again conceived and completed a major piece. His last work, the elegiac song "Sunrise," dates from Physically and creatively. something had gone out of him that he never recovered.

36 Major American Writers: Wallace Stevens Charles Ives His health declined steadily. By 1930, when he retired from business, Ives was spending long stretches helpless in bed. Through the ensuing invalid years his spirit and personality never dimmed; he remained vivacious, unpredictable, playful, sometimes cantankerous but unfailingly generous and kind. He and Harmony spent much of the year at their country home in West Redding, Connecticut, just over the hills from Danbury. The riches he had earned in business flowed into musical and charitable causes around the world, the number of musicians and friends and relatives and causes he helped will never be fully known.


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