- John Kirkpatrick, American Music and the Printed Page by Drew Massey
Drew Massey’s John Kirkpatrick, American Music and the Printed Page is an engrossing, thought-provoking, and unusual book about a most unusual man. In this delectable smorgasbord of biography, cultural and reception history, and philological review, Massey explores the life, achievement, and legacy of an editor who not only championed but challenged and critiqued his editorial subjects, in particular the American musical icon Charles Ives, the ‘rugged individualist’ Charles Ruggles, and less remembered composers such as Hunter Johnson, Ross Lee Finney, and Robert Palmer. It is a difficult to think of another editor of American music who would warrant such a book-length study.
Of course Kirkpatrick (1905–1991) did more than edit, and to his credit Massey does not neglect Kirkpatrick’s monumental works in Ives scholarship. The first of these, A Temporary Mimeographed Catalogue of the Music Manuscripts and Related Materials of Charles Edward Ives (1960) remained ‘temporary’ for nearly forty years. His expansive edition of Ives’s unpublished writings, Memos (New York, 1970) which includes no fewer than twenty-one valuable appendices and a detailed ‘Chronological Index of Dates’ in the life of the composer, remains an indispensable tool for serious Ives study. Massey also devotes a chapter to Kirkpatrick’s influential role as executive editor of the Charles Ives Society in the 1970s and 1980s.
Despite his achievements as an editor and an Ives scholar, however, Kirkpatrick probably remains best known today as the pianist who presented the public premiere of Ives’s Concord Sonata on 20 January 1939 at New York’s Town Hall, the concert that prompted the influential American critic Lawrence Gilman to proclaim Ives’s sonata ‘the greatest music composed by an American’ (New York Herald, 21 Jan. 1939, p. 9). Not only was this performance a major event in the history of Ives reception, as Massey writes, ‘This concert has gone on to acquire the glow of a watershed moment, both for Kirkpatrick and for American concert music at large’ (p. 26).
In the wake of this triumph, Kirkpatrick’s unquestioned familiarity with the sonata, his significant editorial experience, and the recognized need for a second edition of the work, the logical next step was that Kirkpatrick would edit it. Why this did not happen provides the focus for Massey’s chapter, ‘Performance: Ives’s Concord Sonatas’, and perhaps epitomizes Kirkpatrick’s complex historical position as an editor. The basic problem was that Kirkpatrick wanted to base the new [End Page 135] edition on the first edition, while Ives wanted to incorporate material from the offshoot of the ‘Emerson’ movement, the Four Transcriptions from Emerson, among other changes.
What was especially problematic for Kirkpatrick was that the proposed changes resulted in a thicker and more dissonant texture, which he found distasteful. Kirkpatrick did not explicitly equate Ives’s ex post facto dissonances with the kind of ‘self-indulgence’ he associated with homosexual composers. Massey’s treatment of Kirkpatrick’s sexuality and sexual attitudes—most explicitly revealed in an unsent draft of a 1953 letter to the pianist Rosalyn Tureck—and their possible impact on his aesthetic positions, while brief, is insightful. It would be ironic if Kirkpatrick equated Ives’s dissonance with sexual ‘perversity’ rather than normative manliness, since Ives may have expressed exactly inverse views, as in his alleged outburst at a performance of Ruggles’s Men and Mountains. When the piece met with boos, Ives reportedly demanded that the audience ‘stand up before fine strong music like this and use your ears like a man!’ Massey does not imply that sexual politics might explain Kirkpatrick’s response to Ives’s added dissonance, but it is tempting to read between the lines on this issue.
In the end it was George F. Roberts, not Kirkpatrick, who edited the published second edition. Although publication was delayed until 1947, Massey notes that ‘Ives was approaching a fixed state of...