A Psychoanalytic Biography
Email this review


 Traditional writing on Charles Ives, beginning with Henry and Sidney Cowell's slight 1955 biography, offers a sunny, straightforward view of the composer's creative legacy from his eccentric bandmaster father. More recently, Maynard Solomon (Beethoven's psycho-biographer) has suggested that the father/son relationship was, at least unconsciously, a fiercely rivalrous, darkly Oedipal one. Feder, a psychoanalyst with musical training, now presents a biography devoted to the more complex proposition that ``much of Ives's career in music was the result of an ongoing intrapsychic collaboration with his father.'' The slightly black sheep of a wealthy Danbury, Connecticut, family, George Ives served in the Civil War and aspired to a musical career, but settled for work in the family business, using his free time for community bands and musical ``experiments.'' First son Charles, born with perfect pitch, responded acutely to George's music-making, saw his father as a hero, learned at his side. The result? ``An unrestricted, creative superego.'' But when Charles's gifts soon surpassed George's, his ambivalent feelings (shame, anger, guilt) led him to idealize his father--who died prematurely--and to forsake a full-time music career. Instead, Charles became a successful insurance executive, composing in his spare time. And his music, packed with nostalgic references to childhood and an idealized father, became a form of nonstop ``mourning''--until his own premature creative death (brought on, Feder argues, by internal conflict as much as by physical illnesses). Feder's analysis is marred by thickets of jargon, Freudian excess (e.g., the ear as substitute vagina or phallus), and numbing repetition. But his research is impressive; the work-by-work interpretations contain valuable insights; and, if Feder's thesis ultimately seems overstated and incomplete (Ives's mother remains a cipher), Ives specialists and psycho-biography enthusiasts will nonetheless want to slog through this dense, sporadically rewarding study. (Sixteen illustrations--not seen.)

Pub Date: July 15th, 1992
ISBN: 0-300-05481-5
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1992