Charles Ives

Charles Ives

Charles Ives was one of the first internationally renowned American Composers. He was known for his experimentation with musical techniques such as tone clusters, quarter tones and polytonality.

Charles Edward Ives was born on October 20, 1874 in Danbury, Connecticut. His father served as a bandleader in the U.S. Army during the American Civil War. Ives drew much of his early musical influence from his father, who taught him music theory and techniques in polytonal harmonization. Through his father’s training, Ives became a church organist at age fourteen, and he wrote ‘Variations on America’ for his Church, which many distinguished Organists found extremely difficult to play. Ives was a multi-talented individual, he was admitted to Yale University in 1894, he was a member of the prestigious Delta Kappa Epsilon, the Wolf’s Head Society, and he was the chairman of the Ivy Committee. He also played on the varsity football team and his coach remarked that had he not spent so much time playing music, he would have become a champion sprinter. In 1918, he published a book called “Life Insurance with Relation to Inheritance Tax”, which was extremely well received by peers and experts.

Ives trained in music during his time at Yale University. He published his Symphony No.2 around 1900. It was known for its musical quotations of American Folk Themes, and of its highly adventurous eleven note chord at the end of the movement. In 1906, Ives composed the piece titled “Central Park in the Dark”. The work was seen as highly radical; it again quoted many sounds from other works, this time from Manhattan’s “Hello! Ma Baby” and “Washington Post March”. Many music critics noted that Ives pronounced his unique musical style in his work “The Unanswered Question”. He was also known for aligning his composition to his emotions, he regarded a motif in “The Unanswered Question” as a description of “The Perennial Question of Existence”. Some music critics noted the piece “Three Places in New England” to be Ives greatest work, as it was also one of the first American pieces to be played outside of America. He also completed “A Symphony: New England Holidays” in 1913. It aimed to induce a grown man’s recollection of his childhood holidays. Clayton Wilson Henderson was known to have said that the New England Holidays exhibited “multi-tonality in the reharmonization of borrowed music”.

Ives’s work heavily influenced future greats such as Elliot Carter. His music also gained considerable support from Aaron Copland and Henry Cowell. Another American Composer, Lou Harrison, greatly promoted and celebrated his work. Ives music gained much popularity towards the end of his career. He even received praise from the legendary Arnold Schoenberg, who was the pioneer of the twelve tone technique. Even Gustav Mahler talked about performing one of Ives pieces with the New York Philharmonic.

Charles Ives died on May 19, 1954 in New York City. He received widespread acclaim and attention after his death, as newfound research would go on to extract the true theoretical genius within Ives works.