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Mad Music

Charles Ives, the Nostalgic Rebel

Stephen Budiansky

Publication Year: 2014

Mad Music is the story of Charles Edward Ives (1874-1954), the innovative American composer who achieved international recognition, but only after he'd stopped making music. While many of his best works received little attention in his lifetime, Ives is now appreciated as perhaps the most important American composer of the twentieth century and father of the diverse lines of Aaron Copland and John Cage. Ives was also a famously wealthy crank who made millions in the insurance business and tried hard to establish a reputation as a crusty New Englander. To Stephen Budiansky, Ives's life story is a personification of America emerging as a world power: confident and successful, yet unsure of the role of art and culture in a modernizing nation. Though Ives steadfastly remained an outsider in many ways, his life and times inform us of subjects beyond music, including the mystic movement, progressive anticapitalism, and the initial hesitancy of turn-of-the-century-America modernist intellectuals. Deeply researched and elegantly written, this accessible biography tells a uniquely American story of a hidden genius, disparaged as a dilettante, who would shape the history of music in a profound way.

Making use of newly published letters--and previously undiscovered archival sources bearing on the longstanding mystery of Ives's health and creative decline--this absorbing volume provides a definitive look at the life and times of a true American original.

Published by: University Press of New England

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-viii

Contents

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pp. ix-xii

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1 | Dissonance Is Like a Man

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pp. 1-16

Even after the diabetes that came on at age forty-three reduced Charles Ives to a frail one hundred pounds and viciously terminated his madly productive years as a composer and businessman, “in his mind he was always on fire,” said the conductor Nicolas Slonimsky, who knew him as well as anyone in the 1930s. Ives’s characteristic pose, Slonimsky recalled,...

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2 | Down East Yankee Town

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pp. 17-37

The rural Connecticut town of his boyhood that would haunt Charles Ives’s memories and musical vision was not a romantic invention; it really did exist. But by the 1870s it existed alongside a grittier and unsettling place, one that would be the shadowy counterpoint to the yearning nostalgia he carried with him throughout his life....

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3 | Scenes from My Childhood

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pp. 38-62

Sometime around 1840 George W. Ives dutifully purchased a square piano for the front parlor of the Main Street house to provide his children with a proper musical education. Neither Charles’s free-spirited Uncle Joe and Uncle Ike nor his strong-willed Aunt Amelia proved to have the necessary discipline or talent, and having wasted his money on piano...

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4 | Here’s to Good Old Yale

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pp. 63-89

If Ives had only a hazy notion about what music classes he might be able to take at Yale, it was in part because Yale itself was in a considerable state of flux on the matter of elective courses and how it meant to integrate professional training in fields like music with undergraduate education and with the university as a whole. One did not “major” in...

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5 | Damn Rot and Worse

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pp. 90-108

Sometime in the summer of 1898 Ives moved in with a group of Yale men, most of them from the classes of ’97 and ’98, who had rented two apartments on opposite sides of the fourth floor of 317 West 58th Street. About half were studying medicine at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons; the rest were starting out in law or business. Until his ...

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6 | Missionary Enterprise

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pp. 109-130

At the end of the summer of 1903, Ives and a friend from Poverty Flat, George Lewis, dragged some lumber up Pine Mountain, a property the Brewster family owned in Ridgefield, Connecticut, and built a small shanty for a rustic camp. “But did it unbeknownst to Aunt Amelia fearing adverse suggestions,” Ives reported to his friend Dave Twichell. “It...

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7 | A Place in the Soul

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pp. 131-152

The Twichells of Hartford occupied a different social stratum than the Iveses of Danbury. Harmony Twichell’s Congregationalist minister father, the Reverend Joseph Hopkins Twichell, had for forty years been pastor of a church built and attended by some of the wealthiest families of Hartford; Mark Twain, who settled in the neighborhood and became...

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8 | Hard Work

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pp. 153-176

Ives’s starting salary of $2,500 a year as a manager for Mutual Life was one-hundredth what the owners of the Raymond agency had been making for doing the same job, but it was still a considerable income, placing him in the top few percent of wage earners in the country. Within ten years he would be earning more than $35,000 a year. This ...

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9 | A Man’s Death Is More or Less a Personal Matter

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pp. 177-198

Harmony’s ideas about health and medicine, like everything else, were rooted in the nineteenth century, and after their wearing time that fall she decided that a change of scene in a restful spot with fresh air was what they both needed to get back on their feet. Her sister Sally, who would suffer from mental breakdowns throughout her life, was under a...

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10 | Rigging Up a Concert

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pp. 199-226

The year 1927 would bring Ives into contact for the first time with the two men who more than any would be responsible for getting the music world, and the world at large, to pay attention to Charles Ives. That October, John Kirkpatrick wrote asking for a copy of the Concord Sonata, which he had seen in Paris that spring on Katherine Heyman’s piano: “I ...

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11 | Like Stones in a Field at Redding

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pp. 227-254

Aaron Copland’s article on Ives’s 114 Songs appeared in the January 1934 issue of Modern Music, offering a balanced but largely positive appraisal and noting their significance as a milestone in the development of an indigenous American art music. Copland had written Ives beforehand for details about the history of their composition and asking ...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 255-256

My research on the life of Charles Ives was supported by a 2011 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship.
I am extraordinarily grateful to the many musical scholars and performers who took the time to talk with me, share their ideas, and help me sort through mine. I owe a special thanks to Tom C. Owens, George Mason ...

Abbreviations

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pp. 257-258

Notes

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pp. 259-286

References

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pp. 287-296

Index

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pp. 297-306

Image Plates

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pp. 307-322


E-ISBN-13: 9781611685145
E-ISBN-10: 1611685141
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611683998

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2014

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Subject Headings

  • Ives, Charles, 1874-1954.
  • Composers -- United States -- Biography.
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