CHARLES IVES AND HIS AMERICA by Frank R. Rossiter

CHARLES IVES AND HIS AMERICA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Ives' life (1874-1954) is as simple in outline as his music is wildly complex, lurching and, some think, indigestible. Stravinsky's Firebird and Rites of Spring are no match for the mad Pan spirit of Ives at full tilt. Nor are his milder pieces much more accessible on first hearing. And yet there is something so distinguished, inventive and transcendentally American in his work that he is widely regarded as our leading composer, despite a life of Stygian obscurity during his most productive years. Rossiter suggests that the fragments of old American folk tunes worked into Ives' pieces someday may be lost from collective memory and so shrivel in interest. He makes a striking comparison of Ives with Soviet composers who bowed down to Socialist strictures and diminished their work. Ives was a victim of the middle class--Yale educated, a top life-insurance executive, and a family man who hid his compositions from nearly everyone. People he worked with for decades had no idea that he even played the piano, much less that he had written four symphonies. What's more, Rossiter says, he suffered from the popular sexual misconception that an artist is necessarily foppish and art music ""effete, unmanly, and undemocratic."" Ives was committed to a genteel bourgeois way of life and his radical music was not intended to threaten it. Meanwhile he scorned American composers clinging to European traditions, but thought his own art would cut him off from the common man (his would have). He burned out in 1921, then spent 30 years as a prisoner of prevailing American attitudes. A convincing portrait of a great musical talent unreconciled to his own art.

Pub Date: Nov. 17th, 1975
Publisher: Norton