A Letter to Charles Ives
- November 7, 2005
I have wanted to write you for some time. You will never actually
read this letter; it's about fifty-one years too late for that. If
you were still alive, though, I'd write this letter to you, so why
should this letter not be written at all?
I have listened to your music for thirty years. My ears have been
stretched quite a bit in the process. It might surprise you to know
I've heard the "Universe Symphony." A fellow named Johnny Reinhard
finally was the one to take the trouble to do what you asked for in
Memo #38. You would like how it sounds. You would like Johnny, too.
He obviously had to have liked you a lot to do what everyone else had
said was impossible. (By the way, they can beat rhythms of 31 or 37
against 41 or 43, now!)
Anyway, I've heard most of what you've written. I came to the violin
sonatas and songs late. I love the third sonata, and there are too
many songs to pick out a favorite one, but I have one favorite
performance. It is you singing, "They Are There!" You and I have
sung more "duets" together than I can number.
Aside from "Universe," there are so many of your works I love, it's
hard to pick a favorite one there, as well. "Central Park in the
Dark," "The Unanswered Question," "Hanover Square North," the "Fourth
Symphony," "Decoration Day" and "The Fourth of July." I know you
weren't thrilled with the "Robert Browning Overture," but it still
works for me. The second piano sonata is something I revere. I was
listening to the "Alcotts" this evening, but make no mistake, I listen
to "Emerson," too.
I'm sorry you couldn't compose after a certain point, and that you had
to endure so much ignorance about your music. How did you deal with
that? Gustav Mahler, who they say you are supposed to have met, once
said, "My time will come." Is that the idea that kept you going? I
know you may have thought that it would only be in a thousand years
when the mailman would be whistling quarter-tone melodies that your
work would be appreciated. I'm hoping it's sooner than that. After
all, I can whistle quarter tones and if I join the U.S. Postal Service
your prophecy will be realized 900 years ahead of schedule.
It would please you, I think, to know that I understand much of what
you were trying to do, break the bonds of European musical thought to
create a truly American music, to try to express the "non-C Major-ish"
happenings of the world in things as far removed from C Major as you
can get. To try to not just innovate harmonically or rhythmically,
but every part of the music, down to the dynamics, form, and texture.
I also understand that there's a limit as to how much I should
understand. I know you spoke of Emerson's "Rhodora" (one of my
mother's favorite poems, incidentally) in the "Essays Before a
Sonata," and how it was futile to try to trace how and why music was
influenced by an inspiration. I know, ultimately, it makes no sense
to try to figure out in the technical sense exactly what you were
doing. That, too, is a European thing to try to do.
I'm sorry I never had the chance to meet you and talk about these
things in person. I've heard you were a wonderful person. I know the
story about how you gave the $50 bill to one of your agents because no
one can do well with an empty wallet. Do you know that agent said to
someone after you did this, "that is a great man"?
You would likely not like how the insurance industry and business in
general has gone. They have not adopted your attitude that wealth
means greater social responsibility and greater need for philanthropy.
They do not support the people. I hope someday they will. I don't
know if you meant the words to "They are There!" tongue in cheek or
not, but I'm hoping someday we do build a people's world nation.
I considered going into insurance about a year ago, but when I did
some looking into how the firm operated, I deferred. I have a strong
feeling Ives & Myrick was different. I'm different, too. I have a
strong feeling if I had been an agent of yours you would have had
someone to talk about your music with. I wish I could have done that.
I know too well what loneliness, what having no one to understand
you, feels like. No one deserves that, especially when they cared
about others as much as you did. This is not brown nosing. I mean it
most sincerely. Few people ever say things like that to people. It
should be said more often.
I thought I would go on pages more, but, surprisingly, I think I've
already hit all the topics I wanted to. Sometimes in correspondence,
less is more. Before I ended I wanted to say how very glad I am you
were around on this planet for almost eighty years. You've given me
enjoyment I don't believe any other composer has given me. I wish
your life had been happier than it was. I wish you had gotten all the
recognition you deserved, and the respect you deserved.
But, if it makes any difference, you definitely get that recognition
and respect from me.