Today we are looking at the American composer Charles Ives. Bridging the Romantic and 20th century music period dates, Ives’ music falls solidly into the 20th century category in technique.
Ives was born in Danbury, Connecticut, in 1874. His father was a bandmaster (having been the youngest bandmaster of the Civil War). Ives was taught music first by his father, who allowed him to experiment and taught him theory and harmony and counterpoint. His father allowed him to follow his ideas in music, which led to him pursuing them freely and with ambition.
At age 14, Ives became the youngest paid organist in Connecticut. By the age of 20, he had published a number of compositions. He continued his education at Yale and was enthusiastic in his pursuit of music, sports, and academics. He graduated from Yale in 1898. He continued as a church organist for several more years.
In 1899, Ives began working as an actuary for an insurance company. This became something he pursued, also. In 1907, he joined with another to form his own insurance company. He headed that company from 1916 until he retired in 1930. He was highly successful. One of his creations in insurance is widely known and used still today – estate planning. Ives is credited with this strategy of planning. He was incredibly successful as a businessman.
Ives as a business man by day and a composer by night. He wrote many pieces. Most of these were not well known during his lifetime but in his later years, when he struggled to compose new pieces, he worked on revising older pieces and premiering some of them.
As a composer, Ives experimented with music. He took inspiration from everything around him, considering that any sound could be considered music. He quoted folk songs (think Stephen Foster), gospel music, and symphonies (Beethoven) in his works. He utilized sounds from nature as inspiration (flutes trilling like birds). He took inspiration from poets and writers (Thoreau, Alcott, Hawthorne, Emerson). He added his own observations (two bands passing around the town square) and his knowledge of music. He created something quite new and different. And very American.
His techniques included bitonal (two tonal centers at once) and polytonal (3 or more tonal centers at once) music. He used tone clusters (thick groups of notes that are dissonant and harmonic at the same time). He utilized quarter tones (pitch changes smaller than a half step) and polyrhythms (two different time signatures at once). He experimented with aleatory elements (unregulated in rhythm, tempo, or some other aspect). Even with all of these new and unique and quite different ideas, Ives is considered an truly American composer. Some say his work truly represents America – free and yet still within some constraints.
Some of his music for you to listen to:
Variations on “America” – A piece I enjoyed playing, when it was arranged for concert band, though it was originally for organ. It has also been arranged for a number of different instrumentations. This is perhaps his earliest known composition.
The Unanswered Question – A chamber piece that was originally for a string quartet, a flute quartet, and a solo trumpet. It is quite a different piece but quite interesting to listen to.
The Circus Band March – Marches always have an exciting energy to them and Ives’ composition is no different. It is said to have been inspired by two different bands marching in a parade on different sides of a town square. Who knows, since it doesn’t appear that Ives commented on that, but it is a fun idea.
Resources for Charles Ives:
Lori, At Home.
Thank you for joining me this week for Composer ABCs. Please visit the hosts to find the linky and other participants.
Desiree @ Our Homeschool Notebook (Ironman Legos this week!) and
Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses (Instagram Home educators to follow this week).
Featured from Week 4 all things ‘H’
- H is for Harry Potter over at Our Homeschool Notebook
- H is for Harpers Ferry over at A Mom’s Quest to Teach.
- Discovering h Rabbits of the World over at At Home Pets
- 10 Fantastic Ways to Learn History over at A Net in Time
- Homeschooling Tips from A to Z: the Letter H over at Homeschooling Highway