Author Topic: "Charles Ives Reconsidered": A book review  (Read 18392 times)

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karlhenning

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Re: "Charles Ives Reconsidered": A book review
« Reply #40 on: January 06, 2009, 01:23:48 PM »
Britten, Shostakovich, Lutoslawski, Ligeti, Feldman, Messiaen...

Well, but you're talking to someone who won't believe that Le sacre du printemps is a work of genius, unless JS Bach appears to him in a vision and tells him so.

Offline Josquin des Prez

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Re: "Charles Ives Reconsidered": A book review
« Reply #41 on: January 06, 2009, 01:39:16 PM »
Britten, Shostakovich, Lutoslawski, Ligeti, Feldman, Messiaen...

Of which only Shostakovich may have approached a genius, and i'm not even sure of that. Try again.

Offline Guido

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Re: "Charles Ives Reconsidered": A book review
« Reply #42 on: January 06, 2009, 01:42:42 PM »
Well, but you're talking to someone who won't believe that Le sacre du printemps is a work of genius, unless JS Bach appears to him in a vision and tells him so.

Doesn't bother me too much though somehow. When the truly great musical minds of the twentieth century like Shostakovich and Rostropovich regard Britten as a genius, I am inclined to agree with them. Or rather it is somewhat comforting when people of that stature confirm ones own considered beliefs on an issue - somewhat lessens the impact (even more if that were possible) of someone on the internet saying the exact opposite, no matter how fervently they may do so!
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Offline Josquin des Prez

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Re: "Charles Ives Reconsidered": A book review
« Reply #43 on: January 06, 2009, 01:43:01 PM »
Well, but you're talking to someone who won't believe that Le sacre du printemps is a work of genius, unless JS Bach appears to him in a vision and tells him so.

Because claiming that the works of a Britten or a Messiaen are equal to those of Bach is a far more sensible position.

Offline Guido

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Re: "Charles Ives Reconsidered": A book review
« Reply #44 on: January 06, 2009, 01:53:12 PM »
Claiming anyone's works are equal to Bach's is probably a project doomed to failure.* But no one is doing that just because they say that Britten is a genius. In your mind perhaps, but not the people who say the words, nor the general community of scholars and the public that recieve them.


*note that this is not just because Bach is probably the greatest composer, but also because it's difficult to imagine how one might compare The Rite of Spring, The Goldberg Variations, Brahms' Fourth Symphony and Peter Grimes in terms of ranking them on some scale of genius - how could one even begin to do this meaningfully, in a way that could be universally agreed upon, other than by personal preference? For me the question of greatness is greater at what?


EDIT: this is going way way off topic now... maybe you should start a new thread?
« Last Edit: January 06, 2009, 02:04:03 PM by Guido »
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Offline Josquin des Prez

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Re: "Charles Ives Reconsidered": A book review
« Reply #45 on: January 06, 2009, 02:24:59 PM »
Claiming anyone's works are equal to Bach's is probably a project doomed to failure.* But no one is doing that just because they say that Britten is a genius.

What else could you possibly mean? What in the nine hells do you think being a genius means? Can we say that the music of Beethoven approaches that of Bach? Yes. Can we say the same for Mozart, Chopin or Wagner? Yes, yes and yes. Can we say the same for Britten?

Offline knight66

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Re: "Charles Ives Reconsidered": A book review
« Reply #46 on: January 06, 2009, 02:29:33 PM »
Josquin, Your obsession about what constitutes genius is becoming akin to spamming. Please do not distract this thread with yet another discussion on the qualities of, qualifications for, the levels of or the impossibility of genius in the works of various composers, non composers, women or for that matter white trash.

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Offline Josquin des Prez

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Re: "Charles Ives Reconsidered": A book review
« Reply #47 on: January 06, 2009, 02:46:14 PM »
Not sure what could there be that's more important then a quest for genius, but i wouldn't need to be this insistent if people would be willing to simply give me a straight answer any now and then. No matter, i have my own thread now, i'll leave this one alone.
« Last Edit: January 06, 2009, 02:48:03 PM by Josquin des Prez »

Offline knight66

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Re: "Charles Ives Reconsidered": A book review
« Reply #48 on: January 06, 2009, 02:47:22 PM »
Thank you very much.

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ZauberdrachenNr.7

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Re: "Charles Ives Reconsidered": A book review
« Reply #49 on: August 03, 2014, 04:44:34 AM »
Two New Books on Ives, reviewed in this weekend's WSJ, page C5+: Mad Music by Stephen Budiansky; Charles Ives in the Mirror by David C. Paul.  "It may not have the detail and scope of Swafford's admirable 1996 biography...or the scholarly and analytic scope of J. Peter Burkholder's '95 study...but Budiansky lures the reader into the mystery of Ives's life, and the eccentric power of his music, in prose free from jargon and pretense.. 'His music was American and modern' Budiansky writes, 'but it was at the same time so intensely entwined with his own nostalgic exploration of the memory of music making in a world gone by as to be his and his alone, then and forever...'" Leon Botstein, music director of the ASO wrote these reviews.

Offline Scion7

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Re: "Charles Ives Reconsidered": A book review
« Reply #50 on: August 03, 2014, 05:18:29 AM »
I sometimes wonder if Ives had not been an American composer, if there would have been quite so much written on him?  There are so many others where there is a dearth of biographical writing or analysis going on that IMHO might be better served by the efforts.  I will add that I enjoy much of Ives' music - but I don't hold him anywhere near, say, Barber, or even Copland.
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Offline Cato

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Re: "Charles Ives Reconsidered": A book review
« Reply #51 on: August 03, 2014, 05:52:32 AM »
Two New Books on Ives, reviewed in this weekend's WSJ, page C5+: Mad Music by Stephen Budiansky; Charles Ives in the Mirror by David C. Paul.  "It may not have the detail and scope of Swafford's admirable 1996 biography...or the scholarly and analytic scope of J. Peter Burkholder's '95 study...but Budiansky lures the reader into the mystery of Ives's life, and the eccentric power of his music, in prose free from jargon and pretense.. 'His music was American and modern' Budiansky writes, 'but it was at the same time so intensely entwined with his own nostalgic exploration of the memory of music making in a world gone by as to be his and his alone, then and forever...'" Leon Botstein, music director of the ASO wrote these reviews.

Many thanks for this!

Before he begins his reviews, Leon Botstein writes this:

Quote
Ives stands apart and above in the history of American music. He is America's Mahler —like Mahler, he integrated snatches of popular tunes into his compositions and challenged smug expectations of continuity and beauty in music. But Ives is also this country's Schoenberg —an enfant terrible with new ideas, who marked the beginning of a distinctive American modernism. Yet despite periods of advocacy and enthusiasm for his music, little of it has become truly popular or canonical. Even though he was America's first truly original and important composer of classical music—and everyone agrees that there is something uniquely American about Ives—the music seems not to speak for itself but to demand explanation.

Now there is a topic for debate!  Is Charles Ives "America's Mahler" AND "America's Schoenberg" ?

And of interest:

Quote
It was only in the 1920s that Ives's music began to attract attention, but he seems to have mostly stopped composing around the same time....Ives's early decline has been subject to psychobiographical probing....But Mr. Budiansky makes a persuasive case for a more mundane, though no less traumatic, explanation: Charles Ives suffered from diabetes before the discovery of insulin...Mr. Budiansky's novel contribution is to argue that diabetes alone can explain almost all his behavior, without any need for psychological diagnosis...Mr. Budiansky's simple, beautiful insight demolishes a plethora of ugly and tortured hypotheses about Ives's character and life.

My emphasis above.

See:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/book-review-mad-music-by-stephen-budiansky-charles-ives-in-the-mirror-by-david-c-paul-1406927119?cb=logged0.6040716980945218
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ZauberdrachenNr.7

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Re: "Charles Ives Reconsidered": A book review
« Reply #52 on: August 03, 2014, 06:02:08 AM »
I sometimes wonder if Ives had not been an American composer, if there would have been quite so much written on him?  There are so many others where there is a dearth of biographical writing or analysis going on that IMHO might be better served by the efforts.  I will add that I enjoy much of Ives' music - but I don't hold him anywhere near, say, Barber, or even Copland.

I don't think it's that (being American, that is).  Rather it's his individuality, if not eccentricity - musical and personal - that assures his continued interest to biographers and musicologists.  Plenty of American composers languish in near - and undeserved - anonymity, Irving Fine among 'em.

Ken B

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Re: "Charles Ives Reconsidered": A book review
« Reply #53 on: August 03, 2014, 07:05:50 AM »
I don't think it's that (being American, that is).  Rather it's his individuality, if not eccentricity - musical and personal - that assures his continued interest to biographers and musicologists.  Plenty of American composers languish in near - and undeserved - anonymity, Irving Fine among 'em.
Inspired by my sig are we Z7?  :)

Ives gets hyped because he's an American who did much of what avant garde did before they did it. For those who value that sort of thing above musical substance, that matters. So Stamitz, inventor of the Mannheim Rocket, towers over Bach and Haydn. This was the dominant opinion of music intellectuals in the middle of the last century, and remains a common attitude amongst them now. If you see the past as nothing but preparation for you, you laud those who led to you.

There being only so much room for American composers available, it would be better if Ives got less of it. Not none, less.

Ken B

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Re: "Charles Ives Reconsidered": A book review
« Reply #54 on: August 03, 2014, 07:22:05 AM »
Unsettling portrait of an American not-so-original

Charles Ives Reconsidered by Gayle Sherwood Magee. U. of Illinois Press, 2008. 238 pp. $35.

I can think of no composer who has been damaged by musicologists in the past few years as much as Charles Ives, and I was waiting eagerly for Gayle Sherwood Magee's new book, Charles Ives Reconsidered, to set the record straight. At last, I thought, someone was going to speak up for him with the weight of scholarship behind her.

Ives's stock crashed in 1987, when Maynard Solomon published a paper in The Journal of the American Musicological Society, titled "Charles Ives: Some Questions of Veracity," in which he charged that Ives deliberately backdated his scores to appear more of a musical innovator than he actually was. Solomon took as his starting point Elliott Carter's notorious, damning review of the Concord Sonata, which suggested that Ives might not be a true prophet.

"The fuss that critics make about Ives's innovations is, I think, exaggerated," Carter wrote, "for he has rewritten his works so many times, adding dissonances and polyrhythms, that it is probably impossible to tell just at what date the works assumed the surprising form we know now. The accepted dates of publication are most likely those of the compositions in their final state."

In later interviews, Carter recalled visiting Ives in his home in the late 1920s and watching him revise his scores to, in his phrase, jack up the level of dissonance. But Carter never accused Ives of dishonesty. In his review of the Concord, he specifically faults critics. It was up to Solomon to take the next step. He accused Ives of a "systematic pattern of falsification," backdating his scores and lying about just when certain of his were written.

The cry of protest from Ives specialists was immediate and loud, but like the truth about Sarah Palin and the bridge to nowhere, it could not stamp out the growing narrative. Almost every CD of Ives's music released in the decade after Solomon's article appeared contained, in its program notes, a reference to the chronology scandal, inevitably followed by a lame comment that is really didn't matter. (Carter made the same point in his review, but that part of the controversy seemed to disappear, and in any event, saying that the chronology doesn't matter is just a polite was of admitting that Solomon was right. If he was wrong, we wouldn't need irrelevance as a fallback position.)

Scholars such as Peter Burkholder and Philip Lambert defended Ives's integrity and originality, but only Gayle Sherwood Magee, a doctoral candidate at Yale (now teaching at the University of Illinois), answered Solomon's challenge directly. Focusing on his choral music, she dated the paper he used, analyzed his handwriting, and found, according to Ives's biographer Jan Swafford, that Ives's own dates were more accurate than not, and indeed, some pieces were written later than Ives's dates indicates. Solomon's systematic pattern of falsification, Swafford wrote, was neither systematic, or a pattern, nor false.

So, when I learned Sherwood Magee was writing a book on Ives, I was excited. Here, at last, would be the definitive story of Ives's career, grounded on the indisputable, revised chronology of his music developed both by Sherwood Magee herself and by James Sinclair at Yale University. It would be a vindication. Well, it's a vindication all right -- mostly of of Solomon and Carter.

While Sherwood Magee does not believe that Ives backdated his scores, as Solomon contends, she does acknowledge that many of his major works evolved over a period of years, even decades, and, in the end, he usually gave the years in which he began a piece as the date of composition. Echoing Carter's epistemological doubt, she concludes on the last page of her text that "many of his most important works cut across the arc of his compositional life in complex and probably unknowable ways."

Of course, if the claims for Ives's precedence had never been made, the debunking would not have been necessary, and his honesty would never have been questioned. In Sherwood Magee's telling, the source of the claim -- and of all the subsequent trouble -- is Henry Cowell. It was Cowell who, in his early writing about Ives in the 1930s, concocted what Ives's biographer Frank Rossiter called the Ives Legend, which described a visionary working in isolation, indifferent to success, inventing the language of modernism years ahead of his European contemporaries. Cowell had an agenda, Sherwood Magee writes: he wanted to establish American precedence in 20th century music, and he found a patriarchal figure in Charles Ives. To cleanse the stain of European influence from Ives' résumé, Cowell made George Ives into the central influence of young Charlie's life and expunged from the record the indispensable lessons Ives learned from of Horatio Parker, his genial, German-trained music professor at Yale.

Ives seemed happy to go along with the charade. According to Sherwood Magee, he sensed that throwing in his lot with the up-and-coming modernists would lead to recognition and acceptance in the larger community of musicians, and he fashioned his autobiographical Memos of the early 1930s to suit Cowell's purposes. First, he gives the earliest possible dates to his major compositions. Second, he denigrates Parker's contribution to his development and even concocts a homey little parable to praise his father's open-minded experimentalism at the expense of his professor's myopic conservatism: Parker told him that he there was no excuse for an unresolved dissonance at the end of one of his songs, Ives recalled, and when he related the comment to his father, George replied that not every dissonance has to resolve, any more than every horse should have its tale bobbed in response to the prevailing  fashion.

As Sherwood Magee points out, Ives did not begin taking classes with Parker until two years after his father died. The story is impossible.

Ives thus comes off as an ingrate, an opportunist, and yes, a prevaricator. He also appears as a hypochondriac, a misogynist, a xenophobe (though largely by association), and oddly passive. In a concise 180 pages, Sherwood Magee succeeds better than any other writer I know in re-creating the musical and social atmosphere that Ives breathed, but the composer himself almost disappears under the pressure of his influences. Everything he does seems to be a reaction to something else. One can understand it in the early chapters, when, as a young musician trying to find his place in the world, Ives finds his heroes and tries on a succession of professional hats, but his extraordinary burst of creativity in the decade after 1907 remains unaccounted for. During these years, Ives was free to compose the music he wanted. He had given up the life of a professional organist for the security of the insurance business, and he did not have to write for the American market. No younger composers like Henry Cowell were recasting him in their own image.
And yet Sherwood Magee says only that this new phase, which she dubs "nationalist-militarist," was at some level a questioning of the European romantic tradition, and that his renewed interest in quoting hymn tunes might have grown from his wife's religiosity. (Ives married Harmony Twichell in 1908.) Both theories draw a positive musical progression out of a negative space.

Charles Ives certainly did not spring from the head of his father as a fully formed innovator. It is now clear his deepest, most effective work grew from years of searching and revision. The composer absorbed many influences along the way. Sherwood Magee names them all as they go by, but none of them wrote the Concord Sonata, and one of them could have. The essence the Ives phenomenon remains a mystery. Perhaps it must: no biography I have read successfully accounts for the genius of Mozart are Brahms. They are just there, virtuosos by age ten, polished composers in their early twenties. Such a rapid blossoming of talent defies social and psychological explanation.

At the end of this short but depressing ride, Sherwood Magee gives us a carnival psychic's cold-reading of Ives's character. He was, she says, "a flawed, brilliant, naïve, shrewd, insecure, compassionate, ambitious, deceitful, trusting human being" In short, a mess, but really not that much difference from any one of the rest of us.  The challenge of Ives studies in the future, she says, will be to appreciate the composers from this "unvarnished perspective."

She can count me out. After years of keeping up with the revisionism, I'm too exhausted to do much more than put on a CD of the Second String Quartet and wonder, yet again, at the miracle of the sound.

Wow. I knew none of this. I lost interest in Ives very quickly after a first burst of enthusiasm and until this month have not heard any Ives at all except once since 1982. So I REALLY enjoyed this piece. Albeit for the reasons that pained you writing it. Many thanks!

Offline Scion7

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Re: "Charles Ives Reconsidered": A book review
« Reply #55 on: August 03, 2014, 07:53:43 AM »
For example, I like Griffes much more than Ives - yet - he's barely known, even by "us" Americans.  :-)
The Germans, who make doctrines out of everything, deal with music learnedly; the Italians, being voluptuous, seek in it lively, though fleeting, sensations; the French, more vain than perceptive, manage to speak of it wittily; and the English pay for it . . . - Stendhal

Offline springrite

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Re: "Charles Ives Reconsidered": A book review
« Reply #56 on: August 03, 2014, 07:56:54 AM »
For example, I like Griffes much more than Ives - yet - he's barely known, even by "us" Americans.  :-)
One of my favourite American composers indeed!
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Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: "Charles Ives Reconsidered": A book review
« Reply #57 on: August 03, 2014, 08:50:32 AM »
Well, bad form to contribute to a thread about one composer with "what's the big deal about him? I prefer this other composer."

Since the question was raised, I much prefer Ives to what I have heard of Griffes (and what I have heard of Griffes has not made me wish to hear more).

Ken, I had seen Joe's post, and while I agree that the matter is unsettling, my feeling is that one thinks well of the music, or not.  If I like this or that piece by Ives, because of the romance of "See! Yankee ingenuity got there before then Europeans!," I think one's affection for the music is flawed.  I am interested in reading further about it, yes, but the question of whether I like the music or not does not hang in the balance.
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Ken B

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Re: "Charles Ives Reconsidered": A book review
« Reply #58 on: August 03, 2014, 09:23:34 AM »
Well, bad form to contribute to a thread about one composer with "what's the big deal about him? I prefer this other composer."

Since the question was raised, I much prefer Ives to what I have heard of Griffes (and what I have heard of Griffes has not made me wish to hear more).

Ken, I had seen Joe's post, and while I agree that the matter is unsettling, my feeling is that one thinks well of the music, or not.  If I like this or that piece by Ives, because of the romance of "See! Yankee ingenuity got there before then Europeans!," I think one's affection for the music is flawed.  I am interested in reading further about it, yes, but the question of whether I like the music or not does not hang in the balance.

Karl, I think we are agreeing. As I said, I came to the conclusion in my sig line long before I knew he was possibly a fake, and before indeed 1987. I listened to him again recently as part of revisting some pre-minimalist American composers, many of whom are very fine (Piston, Thomson, Mennin, Rochberg, Diamond seem to be the standouts).

Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: "Charles Ives Reconsidered": A book review
« Reply #59 on: August 03, 2014, 09:52:47 AM »
Bene.
Karl Henning, Ph.D.
Composer & Clarinetist
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http://www.karlhenning.com/
[Matisse] was interested neither in fending off opposition,
nor in competing for the favor of wayward friends.
His only competition was with himself. — Françoise Gilot