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Charles Ives: Victorian Gentleman or American Folk Hero? Vivian Perils THERE IS AN AIR OF MYSTERY about Charles Ives, an unsolved riddle, an enigma.This is surprising, considering Ives was a contemporary figure—he lived until 1954, and there are still people alive who remember him and who worked directly with him. Ives's life, his music, and his place in twentiethcentury history have been closely examined in several substantial books and articles; he has been the subject of an extensive oral history project1 and a documentary television drama.2 Yet it is almost more difficult to describe Ives than Mozart or Beethoven. A look at the Ives picture reveals not a precise portrait, but a Picasso-like duality which can be both frustrating and fascinatingfor biographers and historians. The causes behind this out-of-focus picture have to do with paradoxes and inconsistencies in Ives's life and music. Ironically, it is one consistent trait in IvesHiis overwhelming respect and desire for personal privacy—that contributes in great part to the aura of secrecy surrounding him. While the theme of artistic isolation is not a new one in the arts, it is less acceptable in our media-dominated society where culture idols are expected to be open and accessible—one thinks, for example, of Norman Mailer and Leonard Bernstein. However, one of the paradoxes in Ives is that he could be both ultra-modern and terribly old-fashioned, way ahead of his time and far be141 142 MYTHS AND H E R O E S hind it. Loneliness, solitariness, and hard work were virtues to Ives, and what could be acquired, perceived, or understood easily was suspect. It is doubtful that Ives made a conscious attempt to be difficult and evasive to historians, ashe did to photographers in his lifetime, but it is safe to assume that he would not have wanted to be neatly pinned down and categorized . And so, despite the documentation, including Ives's own voluminous writings and correspondence,3 the questions persist. How could this financially successful insurance executive be the most innovative American composer of the century ? How was it that the great idealist with such advanced ideas of social and political reform lived as he did—with a city and country home, cars, and servants? WasCharles Ives arevolutionary or a patriot? Millionaire or socialist? Amateur musician or avant-garde leader? Gentleman or folk hero? lues, Victorian Gentleman William Ives, captain of the ship Truelove, was the first American ancestor of Charles Ives. He brought settlers from England to Boston in 1635, and then to NewHaven in 1638. According to a cousin of Ives, Amelia Van Wyck, "The Ives family was one of the oldest and best in New England."4 Charles was the first-born of Mary Parmelee and George Ives, bandmaster of Danbury, Connecticut. Young Charlie learned music from his father. He grew up on Bach and Beethoven, studied organ, and became the youngest professional organist in the state at agethirteen. That same year, Iveswrote his first piece, Holiday Quickstep. At sixteen, Ives composed a set of variations on America—today, in an orchestral arrangement by William Schuman, the most often performed work by any American composer. Ives attended Danbury Academy, Danbury High School, and Hopkins Preparatory. Far better known as an athlete than a musician, young Ives achieved fame as captain of the football team that beat Yale's freshman squad. When Ives entered Yale in 1894, he washandsome, fun-loving, athletic, and only passably good at his courses. In short, he Charles Ives: Victorian Gentleman or American Folk Hero? 143 was a typical turn-of-the-century Yalie. Before long he joined a fraternity and was tapped for a secret society. Ives was not political. Ives was not radical. Ives made no trouble of any kind. When Professor Horatio Parker, the highly respected conservative composer advised Ives "not to hog all the keys at one meal," Charlie quietly kept his more adventurous music out of the classroom, and when Parker requested that he change the ending of the first movement of the First Symphony , Ives did so in order to complete his graduation requirements . The symphony is a big romantic work without innovations. As expected of a Yale man after graduation, Ives decided to go into business. Hejoined several other graduates in a sprawling New York apartment called "Poverty Flat" and took a job as actuarial clerk in an insurance company. In a short time Ives with his partner, Julian...


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