Charles Ives, classical music composer

Charles Ives image

Charles Ives


Despite his music being largely ignored during his lifetime, Charles Ives eventually gained a growing reputation across the world. He was among the first composers to experiment with techniques such as polytonality, polyrhythm, tone clusters, aleatoric elements, and quarter tones. His music was a combination of the American popular and church-music traditions he grew up with and the learned styles of European art music. His reputation slowly grew in his final years and he eventually came to be seen as a distinctly American composer.

Charles Ives was born in Danbury, Connecticut on October 20, 1874, the son of George Ives, a U.S. Army bandleader in the Civil War. He received his early musical instruction from his father, who would ultimately be the greatest influence on him. George Ives took a particularly liberal approach to teaching Charles music theory, encouraging him to experiment with bitonal and polytonal harmonizations. His father's experiments of having two marching bands march towards each other playing different songs in different keys was also influential on his son's musical development. Charles began playing drums in his father's band, but later took up the piano and organ as his primary instruments. He secured a position as a church organist at the age of fourteen and proceeded to build a reputation as skilled performer on the instrument.

Ives's formal music education was at Yale University, beginning in 1894, where he studied with Horatio Parker. Parker's style adhered considerably more to the traditions of Europe than Ives's own inclinations, but the young composer nevertheless composed, to a degree, in imitation of his professor. Ives's Symphony No. 1, composed as his senior thesis, shows an ample understanding of the traditional symphonic forms, no doubt the result of Parker's teachings, but also an individual harmonic language.

Ives continued to work as a church organist and compose when in 1899 he began employment at the insurance agency of Charles H. Raymond & Co. The company failed in 1906 and the following year, Ives, with his friend Julian Myrick, formed their own insurance agency. Ives's company was quite successful. He was respected within the insurance industry and his methods became the foundation of the modern practice of estate planning. The same year, he also suffered a so-called "heart attack," though it is possible it was brought on by psychological reasons rather than physical ones. Nonetheless, it sparked an immensely creative period in the composer's life. He maintained a prolific rate of composition until another attack struck in 1918, which effectively marked the end of his compositional career. He composed very little afterwards, producing his last piece, "Sunrise," in 1926.

Despite the waning and eventually end of Ives's compositional activities, he nonetheless remained active in the musical world and with his own music. He continued to revise his own works, and with growing support from others, oversaw premieres of his music. He retired from the insurance business in 1930, and though still unable to compose any new music, he began to receive some public recognition as a composer. By the 1940s, the active promotion of his music by Lou Harrison won him the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1947 for his Symphony No. 3, Camp Meeting, composed forty-three years earlier. On May 19, 1954, Ives died of a stroke in New York City.

Composer Title Date Action
Charles Ives The Housatonic at Stockbridge 06/09/2009 Play Add to playlist
Charles Ives “Some South-Paw Pitching” 09/03/2009 Play Add to playlist
Charles Ives Song Without (Good) Words 09/03/2009 Play Add to playlist
Charles Ives Tom Sails Away 03/05/2013 Play Add to playlist
Charles Ives Ann Street 03/05/2013 Play Add to playlist
Charles Ives Autumn 03/05/2013 Play Add to playlist
Charles Ives "Emerson," from Concord Sonata 10/18/2015 Play Add to playlist
Charles Ives "Hawthorne," from Concord Sonata 10/18/2015 Play Add to playlist
Charles Ives "The Alcotts," from Concord Sonata 10/18/2015 Play Add to playlist
Charles Ives "Thoreau," from Concord Sonata 10/18/2015 Play Add to playlist