August 1, 2007


New England's Joyous Composer (BENJAMIN IVRY, August 1, 2007, NY Sun)

Ives's letters delightfully illustrate how a spiky musical modernist, whose roughly clotted and often unfinished works are the despair of some listeners and every music editor, could also be a cracker-barrel philosopher and refined man of culture. Ives was frightening to some kids; even grownups such as the composer Lou Harrison confessed they were scared by Ives's habit of wildly swinging his cane to greet a visitor. The CD "Ives Plays Ives — The Composer at the Piano" is a joyous affirmation that a major loon can also be a major artist, with Ives playing the piano and roaring out his songs with abandon. Many of Ives's most beloved works are like three Grandma Moses paintings superimposed on top of each another, with the expected sensory overload as a result.

The "Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives" underlines how important sports — especially baseball — were to Ives, and not just during his youth, when his school friends called him "Dasher." In "Variations on ‘America,'" a work for organ composed around 1892, the organist's legs stretch for the pedals like a base runner sliding into home plate. As late as 1948, Ives states in a letter that performing the organ "Variations" gave him "almost as much fun as playing baseball." In 1938, after his friend the composer Carl Ruggles falls ill, Ives proposes to conduct Ruggles' music at a memorial service by waving a baseball bat on the podium.

In his letters, Ives clearly contrasts this vigorous All-American sporting view of music with "ladybird prima donna conductors, Greek or Latin."

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 1, 2007 6:09 PM

The 20 longest minutes of my life was listening to an Ives piece...

Posted by: Rick T. at August 2, 2007 8:28 AM