Charles Ives—the one who started it all—is the next composer featured in our series showcasing the American Mavericks exhibit at the Rose Museum at Carnegie Hall.
"If a composer has a nice wife and some nice children, how can he let the children starve on his dissonances?"
Charles Ives (1874–1954) was born in Danbury, Connecticut. His musical studies began with his father, a trumpet player and bandmaster who served General Ulysses S. Grant. The young Ives was one of the finest organists of his day. The hymns he learned (combined with his father's unconventional explorations of musical sound, such as having two bands passing each other while performing different works), set him on a compositional path that led him to submit Fugue in Four Keys—four keys simultaneously, that is—for entrance to Yale University. He composed hundreds of works, yet heard very few of them performed during his lifetime (apart from concerts he arranged and paid for himself). He encouraged other composers, such as Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison, and they in turn extoled his genius—a genius that included not only music, but also the insurance business. His company allowed him the means to compose freely and to give generously to other composers.
Towards the end of his life, certain pieces were being discovered and praised. In 1939, the "Concord" Sonata received a rave review in The New York Times; in 1947, his Third Symphony won the Pulitzer Prize after Lou Harrison conducted the premiere at the Carnegie Chamber Music Hall (today's Weill Recital Hall); and from his radio at home in 1951, Ives heard Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic perform the premiere of his Symphony No. 2 at Carnegie Hall, nearly 50 years after he composed it.
Photo of Charles Ives at Battery Park, 1913. Courtesy Charles Ives Papers, Irving S. Gilmore Music Library of Yale University.
Photo of the Ives and Myrick Insurance Firm, 1908. Courtesy Charles Ives Papers, Irving S. Gilmore Music Library of Yale University
Related:Rose Museum at Carnegie HallAmerican MavericksMarch 28, San Francisco SymphonyBreak the Rules