Charles Ives - Biography

Ives himself provides a perfect introduction to a recital of his songs: “Some of the songs…cannot be sung…as they are, - that is, ‘in the leaf.’ An excuse for their existence, which suggests itself at this point, is that a song has a few rights the same as other ordinary citizens. If it feels like walking along the left hand side of the street – passing the door of physiology or sitting on the curb, why not let it? If it feels like kicking over an ash can, a poet’s castle, or the prosodic law, will you stop it? Must it always be a polite triad, a ‘breve gaudium,’ a ribbon to match the voice? Should it not be free at times from the dominion of the thorax, the diaphragm, the ear and other points of interest? If it wants to beat around in the valley, to throw stones up the pyramids, or to sleep in the park, should it not have some immunity from a Nemesis, a Rameses, or a policeman? Should it not have a chance to sing to itself, if it can sing? – to enjoy itself, without making a bow, without having to swallow ‘hook and bait’ or being sunk by an operatic greyhound? If it happens to feel like trying to fly where humans cannot fly, - to sing what cannot be sung – to walk in a cave, on all fours, - or to tighten up its girth in blind hope and faith, and try to scale the mountains that are not – Who shall stop it!

-In short, must a song
always be a song!”

Born on October 20, 1874 in Danbury, Connecticut Charles Edward Ives received his early musical training from his father, George E. Ives, the town bandmaster, and later from Horatio W. Parker at Yale University (1894-1898). A talented athlete, church organist, and sagacious young composer, Charles tasted his first bitter samplings of rejection and ridicule early in life as many of his innovative musical compositions and ideas were assessed incompatible with the musical establishment.

After graduation from Yale, Ives pursued a career in insurance (a fledgling industry at that time), so that his family would not have to “starve on his dissonances.” He married Harmony Twitchell (a niece of Mark Twain) in 1908. He composed in the evenings, on weekends and on holidays. This period of his life is most remarkable as one considers the degree of artistic isolation to which he was subjected.

A heart attack in 1918 called a halt to his leading a double life of businessman and prolific composer. He was an unacknowledged musical prophet – indeed, without honor in his own country – until after he had ceased composing in the early 1920’s. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947 for his Third Symphony, a work he completed almost forty years previously. He did not attend the awards ceremony. He said, “Prizes are for boys. I’m a man.” And gave the money to charity.

After the death of Arnold Schoenberg in 1951, his widow mailed to Mr. and Mrs. Ives a sheet she found among his papers on which he had written the following:

“There is a great Man in this Country – a composer. He has solved the problem how to preserve one’s self and to learn. He responds to negligence with contempt. He is not forced to accept praise or blame. His name is Ives.”

Charles Ives died on May 19, 1954.

His music incorporates bits and snatches of ragtime and popular hits, hymns and revival tunes, patriotic melodies and marches that reflect nineteenth century America with its ideals of passionate individualism and indomitable self-reliance, rooted in a vigorous, primarily Protestant heritage of sober, deeply committed spirituality.

"-In short, must a song
always be a song!”



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  Created By: Frunder Studios
Funded By: Lamb Foundation