Charles Ives Essay, Research Paper
Charles Ives is known in our day as the “Father of American Music,” but in his day, he was known just like everyone else- an ordinary man living his life. He was born in Danbury, Connecticut on October 20, 1894 (Stanley 1) to his mother, Sarah Hotchkiss Wilcox Ives and father, George White Ives (A Life With Music, Swafford 4). His father was renowned for being the Union’s youngest bandmaster and having the best band in the Army (The Man His Life, Swafford 1). Little Charles was influenced early in his life by his father who had libertarian ideas about music (Stanley 1). Although Danbury prided itself as “the most musical town in Connecticut”, the people did not give the musical profession respect or understanding (The Man His Life, Swafford 1). One day, his father commented on a stonemason’s off-key singing by saying, “Look into his face and hear the music of the ages. Do not pay too much attention to the sounds—for if you do you may miss the music. You won’t get a wild, heroic ride to heaven on pretty little sounds” (The Man His Life, Swafford 2). Thus was young Charles’ introduction to music.
He began his musical career by banging on the piano with his dad’s drum parts using his fists. George interrupted him by saying “it’s all right if you do that Charles, if you know what you’re doing”, and sent him for drum lessons down the street (The Man His Life, Swafford 1). George Ives also taught his son to respect the strength of vernacular music. As a Civil War band leader he understood how sentimental tunes such as “Tenting Tonight on the Old Camp Ground,” “Aura Lee,” Stephen Foster songs, and marches and bugle calls were all apart of the experience of war and the memories of soldiers. Many of Ives’s innovations developed directly from ideas of his father’s even though George was no composer but rather something like a Yankee amateur in music. It came to be the son’s destiny to make artistic use of the father’s musical experiments. When Charles began composing at around the age of thirteen, he was writing the type of pieces that he heard around Danbury all of his life such as marches, church songs, and fiddle tunes (The Man His Life, Swafford 2). By the age of fourteen, Charlie had become the youngest salaried church organist in Connecticut. With this musically opportune job, Ives wrote a lot of choral and organ music George was hopeful that someday he might even make a living as a concert pianist, but Charles had other plans. Although he enjoyed his music, he resented its consumption of his life, so he started rebelling like all other teens do and started playing sports as an escape (The Man His Life, Swafford 1).
However, by his late teens he returned to his first love and was broadening his schedule to: composing for church, composing for his father’s bands, and writing studies in polychords and polytonality (Stanley 1). By the time Charles was leaving to prepare for college, he was a professional composer and had some works being published (The Man His Life, Swafford 2). He barely passed the Yale entrance exam but still ended up studying with one of the finest composer teachers in the United States (Stanley 1). His name was professor Horatio Parker, and he helped Ives all four years of Yale. Parker was an American who was trained in the German classical style that was very popular at that time (such as Bach, Beethoven, and Hyden) and did not always agree with Charles’ liberal views of music. In fact, he is known for asking Ives not to bring in any more such manifestations (A Life With Music, Swafford 6). Resentfully, Charles obeyed and later began combining his small-town musical background and the rigor of Parker’s instruction into a new technique. With his uniqueness, Ives unified the American people with the European classical forms and traditions, which up until now had never been successful (The Man His Life, Swafford 1).
Right after he started college, Charles’s dad died. It had a terrible effect upon him, and he even seemed to think he was writing his father’s music from that time until his death fifty years from then (The Man, His Life, Swafford 3). Lively, funny, talented, untiring, “Dasher” Ives became one of the best-liked people on campus. He spent those four years having fun in various clubs, playing intramural sports, frequenting variety show theaters and sitting in for the pianists, playing ragtime and his own pieces at parties, and composing–light pieces for bands and glee clubs and church services, assigned works for his classes, and experiments. Lesser known works from his college years include the sparkling March No. 6, with “Here’s to Good Old Yale” and his sentimental tune for the Glee Club, quite a hit at the time, The Bells of Yale (The Man, His Life, Swafford 5).
In 1906 Ives had a breakdown; a heart attack and associated depression. He also met the woman of his dreams, Harmony Twitchell, who was the daughter of the Hartford minister. Two years later, they were happily wed and had started their life together (Machlis 347). Eleven years later, they adopted a child and one year afterwards Charles had another collapse (The Man, His Life, Swafford 6). He and his work were both crippled for the rest of his life because of it. In fact, that was the year he quit composing (Machlis 339). He did not give up altogether though; he kept his optimistic, funny, outgoing personality and started spending great deals of time promoting his and other progressive music (A Life With Music, Swafford 10). During the 1920’s Charles started printing and giving away copies of his “114 Songs” and “Concord Sonata (Stanley 1).” Ives had four personal central interests: religion, nationalism, domestic life, and nature, which are all four depicted in his “Concord Sonata.” The four movements of the Sonata represent four literary figures who inspired Ives; Ralph Waldo Emerson and his essay, “Circles,” Nathaniel Hawthorne and his short story, “Feathertop,” Louisa May Alcott’s novel, Little Women, and Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” (Block 1). In 1947, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his Third Symphony (A Life With Music, Swafford 9).
During the first four years in New York City of the “Gay Nineties,” Ives held organist/choirmaster positions in two established churches, played recitals, and composed the church cantata The Celestial Country, melodic and basically Victorian. Though most of the more conventional works of this period are lost, from his church music Ives continued to develop new pieces, notably the four Violin Sonatas that together make up the most important American contribution to that genre (The Man, His Life, Swafford 6).
Apart from his musical career, Ives also worked at his insurance company, and music was a weekend job. He started with insurance when he was fresh out of Yale and began earning fifteen dollars a week as a clerk (A Life With Music, Swafford 3). In 1907, he had become so successful that he formed Ives & Co. with his partner Julian Myrick. Charles felt compelled to take on the Insurance business because he knew that he could not support a wife and children on a musician’s payroll (The Man, His Life, Swafford 6). As creative as he was, Charles soon became known in the industry for had become Ives & Myrick. The firm had made almost half a billion dollars in insurance business (A Life With Music, Swafford 4-5). He finally got his “wild, heroic ride to heaven” on May 19, 1954. Ives popularity came slowly, but a few important musicians started the trend and even devoted some of their lives to his work (The Man, His Life, Swafford 2). For a man who gave everything to music and was the trend setter for the American composing style, he more than anyone deserves the title of “The Father of American Music”.
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