Charles Ives: A Life with Music

Jan Swafford, Author W. W. Norton & Company $30 (0p) ISBN 978-0-393-03893-4
Charles Ives (1874-1954) was the first great composer of American serious music (though he would have hated that phrase) and also, paradoxically, a pioneer in the nascent life insurance industry around the turn of the century, whose approaches are still known and followed. Inspired by his bandmaster father, he sought always to hear more acutely and to render a music at once popular and profound; and in his experiments with atonality and polyrhythms, he long anticipated the discoveries for which European masters like Schoenberg and Stravinsky are renowned. In his later years, as his own creative gifts faded, he lavished much of his considerable wealth on the promotion of his own, and others', music--as long as it wasn't ""sissy"" music, by which he meant anything too soothing to the ear. The perceived performance difficulty of much of his work, and its very different sound from what audiences were accustomed to, meant that his life was almost over before he began to be appreciated as a master, a profoundly American original. Swafford, himself a composer as well as a superb writer, has worked brilliantly on Ives's behalf: the depth of his research, his insights and his constant empathy have brought the old curmudgeon (and to many modern eyes, Ives must seem an absurdly anachronistic figure) to vivid life, at once a comic and a tragic figure--and in terms of his significance in American artistic life, on the level of Twain or Whitman. Photos not seen by PW. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
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Paperback - 544 pages - 978-0-393-31719-0
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