CHARLES IVES: The Ideas Behind the Music by J. Peter Burkholder

CHARLES IVES: The Ideas Behind the Music

Email this review


A musicological analysis of the thoughts and essays of Charles Ives, the quintessential American composer of serious music. Burkholder doesn't disguise his high regard for Ives' compositions. In fact, this is the first of two books he is doing on Ives--a companion volume will explore Ives' musical methods. So what we may be looking at here is Charles Ives' Robert Craft. Heaven knows, Ives needs one. He is not an easy composer to make sense of. To start with, he is the only major composer whose compositions came to light in reverse chronological order. Then, his music has, up until now, been viewed through the lens of his own writings--his Essays Before a Sonata, for instance, which accompanied his famous ""Concord"" Sonata. But Burkholder adds to public understanding here, and will, hopefully, in the future bring even more of Ives' methods and aims to light. This is necessary, as it seems to be the norm that modern composers require more musicological treatment than those of the past. As Thomas Wolfe satirizes modern artists in The Painted Word as dependent upon the explanation more than on the experience, so, too, with the modern composer. Burkholder's biggest coup is in demonstrating that the common perception of Ives as a Transcendental composer is incomplete. The author argues cogently that Ives was never strictly a Transcendentalist, that his most important ideas emanated from outside the Transcendental tradition, and that Ives' passion for Emerson and Thoreau was of late origin. Burkholder's love of Ives is sure to bring us more important expositions in the future, as he leads us through Ives' rare blend of the cultivated and the vernacular. In sum, a good start on that path to musical enlightenment.

Pub Date: Nov. 20th, 1985
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press