Biography of American Composer Charles Ives Part 2

About the famous American composer Charles Ives, biography and history of his music.


Charles Ives (1874-1954)

As an insurance man, Ives prospered. Yet he continued to save much of his energy for his composing. He turned out music in great quantities--chamber pieces, songs, and symphonies--piling his manuscripts carelessly in closets and drawers and in the barn of his Redding, Conn., home.

In 1918, following a lengthy illness, Ives decided to stop composing. He was 44 years old. During the remaining 36 years of his life, he continued his efforts to bring his music to the attention of the public, though he refused to turn his hand to any new compositions. The long years of neglect and abuse had managed to break his spirit.

In 1947, when Ives was 73, he finally began to win limited recognition as a composer. His Third Symphony was performed by the New York Little Symphony on May 5, and the work won the Pulitzer Prize in music for that year. In 1951, the young Leonard Bernstein "discovered" Ives and conducted his Second Symphony. By the time Ives died in 1954, his work had at last attracted considerable attention from musicians and critics.

In 1965 Ives's First and Fourth Symphonies had their world premiers (nearly 50 years after the composition of the Fourth and 67 years after the composition of the First). Recordings of Ives's music became classical best-sellers, and in 1967 a Charles Ives Society was founded for the advancement and study of his music.

Today Ives is recognized as one of the great musical pioneers of the 20th century. His use of polytonality--technique of writing in two or more keys simultaneously--anticipated the innovations of well-known European composers who followed him 20 years later. Ives also invented the "tone cluster," where the pianist uses either his forearm or a block of wood to sound simultaneously whole groups of notes. Bartok, Stravinsky, and others later adopted this technique.

In some respects, Ives may be described as a "pop artist" ahead of his time, using ragtime, patriotic anthems, and American folk songs in an unexpected symphonic context that creates a comic tension with our memory of the original "model." Yet Ives's music is something more than a college of familiar elements; it is always unsettling, infused with his own energy and the tough, hard-bitten fiber of his personality. Ives once said, "Beauty in music is too often confused with something that lets the ears lie back in an easy chair."

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