We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

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

pdf iconDownload PDF (306.1 KB)
pp. i-viii


pdf iconDownload PDF (64.0 KB)
pp. ix-xii

read more

1 | Dissonance Is Like a Man

pdf iconDownload PDF (185.1 KB)
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,...

read more

2 | Down East Yankee Town

pdf iconDownload PDF (706.3 KB)
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....

read more

3 | Scenes from My Childhood

pdf iconDownload PDF (356.7 KB)
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...

read more

4 | Here’s to Good Old Yale

pdf iconDownload PDF (300.8 KB)
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...

read more

5 | Damn Rot and Worse

pdf iconDownload PDF (315.3 KB)
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 ...

read more

6 | Missionary Enterprise

pdf iconDownload PDF (254.2 KB)
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...

read more

7 | A Place in the Soul

pdf iconDownload PDF (351.3 KB)
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...

read more

8 | Hard Work

pdf iconDownload PDF (266.7 KB)
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 ...

read more

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

pdf iconDownload PDF (243.4 KB)
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...

read more

10 | Rigging Up a Concert

pdf iconDownload PDF (399.2 KB)
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 ...

read more

11 | Like Stones in a Field at Redding

pdf iconDownload PDF (355.4 KB)
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 ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (47.8 KB)
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 ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (48.5 KB)
pp. 257-258


pdf iconDownload PDF (315.8 KB)
pp. 259-286


pdf iconDownload PDF (125.4 KB)
pp. 287-296


pdf iconDownload PDF (126.0 KB)
pp. 297-306

Image Plates

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.5 MB)
pp. 307-322

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

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2014