- A Charles Ives Omnibus
James Mack Burk’s A Charles Ives Omnibus, the eighteenth volume in the College Music Society’s Monographs and Bibliographies in American Music, is an almost overwhelming book. Presenting a vast range of sources related in varying degrees to the music and prose of Ives, the book has the feel of a personal collection, a lifetime’s work by a scholar particularly devoted to all things Ivesian. Its somewhat quirky charm should not, however, obscure the depth and reach of its research and significance. Burk has compiled a mountain of information and presented it in an accessible format. The five categories of annotated references include “Ives as Author”; a “Bibliography of Articles, Books, Papers and Conferences”; “Compositions,” including editions, reviews, and significant performances; an annotated “Discography”; and “Et Alia,” which truly lives up to its name by including, in part, awards named in honor of Ives, films about him and/or those using his music in their soundtracks, appearances by Ives in fiction and cartoons, dances choreographed to his music, information on Jacob Abbott’s Rollo books, sculptures of Ives, and even a “miscellaneous” section that contains references too diverse to fit into any of the many other categories.
In the first four sections of the book, Burk presents his material chronologically. “Ives as Author” includes his insurance writings and covers the period from 1910’s “Life Insurance: The Amount to Cary, and How to Carry It” to the publication of Memos in 1965. Understandably, Burk refers to very little of Ives’s correspondence in his presentation of Ives’s prose, even though he does feature other unpublished manuscript material, such as drafts for “A People’s World Nation” and a few letters, including Ives’s correspondence with his fellow insurance man Darby A. Day, which was later reprinted in Boatwright’s edition of Essays Before a Sonata and Other Writings (1961). The omission of the correspondence makes Ives’s prose output in the 1930s and 1940s seem small, when, in fact, this was one of his busiest times as a writer, during which he helped shape his image as a composer and cultural figure.
The “Bibliography” runs from the announcement of Ives’s birth in the Danbury Evening News on October 28, 1874, through 2008. This section particularly highlights the personal nature of the book: important early sources by Henry Bellamann, Henry Cowell, Nicolas Slonimsky, and Paul Rosenfeld appear, often with brief excerpts of the articles. Provocatively, at times, Burk questions these sources themselves. For instance, he notes that Henry Bellamann’s 1934 article in Commonweal, “How Bad Is American Music?” laments that America has no composer to match Albert Pinkham Ryder in painting, no Bach, no Mozart, no Beethoven. But Burk interjects, “Bellamann’s comments are somewhat surprising, since he knew Ives and his music well and thought highly of him. One would think that perhaps he would name Ives as a ‘great American composer’” (24). Especially intriguing are references to and descriptions of harder-to-find sources including records of Ives-related conference papers, doctoral dissertations, and graduate and undergraduate theses. Important larger-scale works, such as Henry and Sidney Cowell’s 1955 biography of Ives appear along with [End Page 385] multiple, often annotated, citations of reviews. This detailed coverage seems to wane for the most recent material cited in the book: substantial works from 2007 and 2008 are listed with minimal annotation and no reviews.
The earliest material in “Compositions” concerns Ives’s Holiday Quickstep, which Burk assigns to the year 1886. The dates of compositions, often such a vexing issue with Ives, here seem somewhat idiosyncratic, as Burk chooses freely between the dates given in John Kirkpatrick’s (1960) and Jim Sinclair’s (1999) catalogues. So for Turn Ye, Turn Ye, he indicates a date of 1890 as opposed to Gayle Sherwood Magee’s assessment of 1896, yet for Crossing the Bar, he cites 1894 in...