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<<  -- 4 --  Jennifer Paull    IVES AND THE ESTABLISHMENT

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It had been when he was admitted to Yale in 1894 that Ives' first battles with convention had begun. He had barely succeeded his non-music courses and was constantly torturing his famous and ultra-conservative teacher, Horatio Parker. He would insert folk tunes into his exercises or submit pieces with free rhythms, quarter-tones and multilayered textures.

Parker railed at his stubborn student until Ives decided to do his interesting composition in secret, and pacify his professor. He earned his degree with a well-behaved and unthreatening Symphony No 1. His diploma in hand, Ives swore off well-behaved music for ever !

'It may be possible', Charles Ives wrote in one of his essays, 'that a day in a Kansas wheat field will do more good for an American composer than three years in Rome'. Although born far from those wheat fields, he maintained a lifelong separation from the conservatoires of Vienna, Leipzig, Paris, and many other European centres where most composers (including Americans) sought their musical muses and seals of approval.

Ives was not a realist in the obvious sense of the word, but he did weave these scenes, characters, thoughts, and sounds into his music in a highly original way. He ventured into the realm of supercomplex harmonies and rhythms and confounded his modernist contemporaries by jumping from the most 'advanced' music effects to the simplest melodies.

This caused him to be accused of inconsistency in style, but these shiftings are his own style. The wildness, humour, simplicity, chaos, anger, or melancholy that are to be found juxtaposed in his works are all parts of his experience, all part of the world in which he lived.

Ives totally mistrusted the cosmopolitan musical circles with their classic-worshipping conductors, snobbish patrons, and pontifical music critics.

Upon his graduation, he made it very clear that he was well aware his music would not be recognised by those circles and he that he would seek neither their approval nor their benediction.

That meant he had to find another way of making a living because he was not prepared to compromise his art in order to seek out popularity and mass acceptance.

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Copyright © 8 March 2001 Jennifer Paull, Iowa, USA

 

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