US composer. He experimented with atonality, quarter tones, and clashing time signatures, decades before the avant-garde movement. Most of his music uses (simultaneous) quotations from popular tunes, military marches, patriotic songs, and hymns of the time. He wrote four symphonies, including the Dvorakian Symphony No. 1 (1895–98); chamber music, including the Concord Sonata (piano sonata no. 2, 1909–15); and the orchestral works Three Places in New England (1903–14), New England Holidays (1904–13), and The Unanswered Question (1908).
Much of Ives's music is in a polytonal style, and occasionally employs microtones (intervals smaller than a semitone). In addition, he experimented with conflicting rhythms, dissonant harmony and counterpoint, chord clusters, and the spatial presentation of music. He also made frequent use of hymn and folk tunes. He composed alone, without much thought for the ease of performer or publisher, earning his living very successfully from his own insurance company. He stopped composing around 1920, but it was only after his death that his music was widely played and appreciated. He was a child prodigy on the piano and organ, and worked as an organist well into his adult life.
Born in Danbury, Connecticut, Ives studied at Yale University under Horatio Parker and Dudley Buck, and wrote his first symphony there in 1895–98 (the Dvorakian Symphony No. 1. His father was something of an inventor and eccentric, and encouraged Ives in his experiments. For example, he gave him early ear training by playing in one key while singing in another. He was already impatient with tradition and from an early age he was interested in different sounds occurring together; the occasion when he heard two bands playing different tunes made a lasting impression. He moved to New York in 1898, working as an insurance agent and setting up his own agency in 1907. A second symphony (1896–1902) was written in his spare time, and the third, The Camp Meeting (1904–11) impressed Gustav Mahler, who was then conductor at the New York Metropolitan Opera.
Much of his music was written from 1910, but by 1918 his health was suffering. He gradually retired from business and took to revising earlier works rather than writing new ones. The huge Concord Sonata was published in 1919, but not performed until 1939. Its first performance (by John Kirkpatrick) was well received, in spite of its complexities. His orchestral music was taken up first by Eugene Goossens at New York in 1927, then by Nicolas Slonimsky. The third symphony was premiered at New York under Lou Harrison in 1946 but the fourth was not performed until 11 years after Ives's death, under Leopold Stokowski. Leonard Bernstein was also a successful champion of the symphonies.
WorksOrchestral four symphonies: no. 1 in D minor (the Dvorakian Symphony, 1895–98), no. 2 (1896–1902), no. 3 (1904–11, for chamber orchestra, The Camp Meeting), and no. 4 (1910–16); other orchestral works New England Holidays (Washington's Birthday, Decoration Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving; 1904–13); Three Places in New England/Orchestral Set no. 1: The St Gaudens in Boston Common, Putnam's Camp, Redding, Connecticut, and The Housatonic at Stockridge (1903–14); Orchestral Set no. 2: An Elegy to our Forefathers, The Rockstrewn Hills Join in the People's Outdoor Meeting, and From Hanover Square North at the end of a Tragic Day (1909–15); Central Park in the Dark (1898–1907); The Unanswered Question (1908).
ChoralThree Harvest Home Chorales for chorus, brass, double bass, and organ (1898–1912), General William Booth Enters into Heaven for bass, chorus, and orchestra (1914); ten Psalm settings, including Psalm 90 (1924).
Chamber string quartet no. 2 (1907–13); four sonatas for violin and piano (1902–15); From the Steeples and the Mountains for brass quintet (1901); Concord Sonata (piano sonata no. 2: Concord, Massachusetts, 1840–1860: Emerson, Hawthorne, The Alcots, Thoreau; 1909–15).
Other organ music; 114 songs (1884–1921).
Ives, Charles Edward
An early experimenter with polyrhythms, polytonality, quarter tones, and the superimposition of disparate musical styles, he...
1874-1954 US composer who used American folk music as a basis, as in Variations on America for organ (1891). His works vary greatly in style,...