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Elliot Carter on Ives

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  • Frankie Camiola
    We touched on Ives a little bit earlier, could you tell me a little bit more about your relationship with Charles Ives? Charles Ives, I knew him when I was
    Message 1 of 4 , Sep 25 4:00 PM
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      We touched on Ives a little bit earlier, could you tell me a little bit more about your relationship with Charles Ives?

      Charles Ives, I knew him when I was young, when I was in high school - before 26, 1924 or 25 something like that. I saw a good deal of him, and he used to play me old scratchy records of his music that was performed by various people, but he was a very peculiar man in a certain sense that, when he had pieces played, and he was wealthy enough so that he paid performers to play his pieces, he would never go to the concert. He would only go to the rehearsal. I remember hearing that pieces from the 4th Symphony, and it was in a town hall by a conductor named Eugene Goossens, and he had had the percussion men to his house to teach them how to play the percussion, but he didn't go to the concert. He was a very excitable man, and very likable.

      I went to Harvard, and then I wrote music that interested me, but it was Paul Hindemath's music. I wrote some little pieces like that. I took those to Ives. This was just before I went to Paris to study. He didn't like them at all. He thought they were just awful, but he was very polite. I remember he played me part of the Concord Sonata and in the middle of it his wife made him stop, and he held a vein in his neck, and she gave him some milk and said, "Charlie, you better keep quiet now."

      They had this house up in Redding Connecticut. My family had owned a summerhouse in Westport Connecticut, so I used to go over to see him. He was not terribly fond of contemporary music because he thought it was too repetitious, he didn't like Stravinsky. He did like Scriabin because he was a very mystical man and he liked the mysticism of Scriabin I think, but all of it seemed to him very primitive. Scriabin always followed that same old chord and so forth. He was very critical of all that, but he did give money to various organizations. For a while after Henry Cowell quit I was running that magazine that printed music, New Music Edition or something like that. Ives continually gave a thousand dollars a year to that forever and ever until it stopped.

      You had a very strong reaction to the Concord sonata.

      Oh yes, it's wonderful - especially the first and last movements. The thing that bothers me all the time about Ives is, as far as I'm concerned, I don't like his quotations from other kinds of music because from my point of view if you want to express let's say something about America, you don't do it by quoting "Yankee Doodle". You do it by writing by what you feel about it. You don't take somebody else's music and stick it in there. Of coarse we have vast numbers of moving picture scores that do this all the time. This is something that when I was young, we all criticized composers who did this sort of thing, because it was just movie music. Bernard Hermann several times did things like that. He was talented as a composer.






      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • quartodeciman
      Carter apologized in his own way many times in writing after his 1939 negative reviews of the Concord. Since the unoriginal theme aspect is pretty strong in
      Message 2 of 4 , Sep 25 7:55 PM
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        Carter apologized in his own way many times in writing after his
        1939 negative reviews of the Concord. Since the "unoriginal" theme
        aspect is pretty strong in that work, he surprised everyone who knew
        him with his harsh statements. Carter had undergone personal
        transformation since leaving the company of Ives in the 1920s. At
        Harvard he studied with Piston, a cooler and solidly academically-
        centered teacher. He studied with Nadia Boulanger in France, who
        was an avid old music and Stravinsky devotee. Carter acquired a new
        esthetic of music. He returned to the US in the middle of the great
        depression, so he sought and obtained work as a music reviewer. He
        was easily the best informed reviewer of the Concord Sonata, when
        the whole work was premiered by Kirkpatrick.

        Yes, Carter had changed. He liked the cool efficiency of
        Stravinsky's work and that became his main style as a composer by
        1940. In the mid-1940s, Carter began to have regrets about his
        treatment of the composer who had encouraged him early. He
        volunteered to help repair some of the Ives instrumental works
        and get them into performance shape. But he found the work
        daunting. Ives was a habitual reviser of his work and he had
        something of a chaos of manuscripts and contradictory replacement
        pages. Carter had to give up this work after a while and get on
        with his own composing. By the late 1940s and early 1950s Carter
        was on his way to being a creator of very complex and demanding (on
        players and listeners alike) major compositions. Cool, neo-
        classical Carter was left behind.
      • Scott Mortensen
        Carter also said some not-so-complimentary things about Ives doctoring his work--adding dissonant elements--long after the work had been originally composed.
        Message 3 of 4 , Sep 26 6:54 AM
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          Carter also said some not-so-complimentary things about
          Ives "doctoring" his work--adding dissonant elements--long after the
          work had been originally composed. Carter's implication was that
          Ives wasn't as much of a pioneer/forerunner as people presumed.
          Carter claimed that Ives was just doing to it to make himself appear
          to be more modern than he actually was.

          More recently, Maynard Solomon took up this idea and wrote an article
          about it. Several folks have written rebuttals, which are largely
          convincing to me. But I haven't delved too deeply into the
          controversy. The whole dating issue will probably never be completely
          resolved when it comes to Ives' works.

          Ultimately, I guess it doesn't matter to me. If we concentrate
          on "who came first"--or focus on aspects of Ives' style or method,
          then the dating issue is relevant, I guess, "for the record," for
          historical reasons. But if we listen to the music, as music, it is
          clear that Ives is a composer who wrote great, richly inventive, and
          powerful music. All of his methods--what Ives call the "manner" of a
          composition--are secondary to the the impact--the "substance" of his
          works.

          Scott




          --- In charlesives@yahoogroups.com, "quartodeciman"
          <quartodeciman@h...> wrote:
          > Carter apologized in his own way many times in writing after his
          > 1939 negative reviews of the Concord. Since the "unoriginal" theme
          > aspect is pretty strong in that work, he surprised everyone who
          knew
          > him with his harsh statements. Carter had undergone personal
          > transformation since leaving the company of Ives in the 1920s. At
          > Harvard he studied with Piston, a cooler and solidly academically-
          > centered teacher. He studied with Nadia Boulanger in France, who
          > was an avid old music and Stravinsky devotee. Carter acquired a
          new
          > esthetic of music. He returned to the US in the middle of the
          great
          > depression, so he sought and obtained work as a music reviewer. He
          > was easily the best informed reviewer of the Concord Sonata, when
          > the whole work was premiered by Kirkpatrick.
          >
          > Yes, Carter had changed. He liked the cool efficiency of
          > Stravinsky's work and that became his main style as a composer by
          > 1940. In the mid-1940s, Carter began to have regrets about his
          > treatment of the composer who had encouraged him early. He
          > volunteered to help repair some of the Ives instrumental works
          > and get them into performance shape. But he found the work
          > daunting. Ives was a habitual reviser of his work and he had
          > something of a chaos of manuscripts and contradictory replacement
          > pages. Carter had to give up this work after a while and get on
          > with his own composing. By the late 1940s and early 1950s Carter
          > was on his way to being a creator of very complex and demanding (on
          > players and listeners alike) major compositions. Cool, neo-
          > classical Carter was left behind.
        • mhberest
          Forgive me for responding to this so late after the original post. No, it doesn t matter when the dissonances were added, but I believe Carter exaggerated
          Message 4 of 4 , Jun 11, 2005
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            Forgive me for responding to this so late after the original post.

            No, it doesn't matter when the dissonances were added, but I believe
            Carter exaggerated Ives's revisions of "Three Places."

            I think Ives represents an uncomfortable notion for composers in the
            generation or two after him. Gottschalk was too little known and
            not revolutionary enough to become the "Washington, Jefferson, and
            Lincoln of American Music," as Leonard Bernstein once flamboyantly
            described Ives. This puts Ives as the earliest American composer to
            follow along the lines of Stravinsky and Schoenberg in creating a
            totally new kind of classical music, and music relative to his
            country.

            Ives, however, wasn't really discovered until Copland was fairly
            well established if not yet the "dean of American composers."
            Copland and others, I would guess, were a bit aghast at Ives's
            arrival. They initially viewed him as a kind of musical Grandma
            Moses, writing music without really knowing how to, but I think
            there was at least a subconscious understanding that Ives's music
            would soon blow their anemic, watered-down Stravinskian pieces out
            of the water.

            This, I think, charged up Carter's appraisal of Ives at the time of
            the Concord Sonata, and years after Ives had died. But I remember
            one Carter quote on Ives that particularly irked me. He talked
            about how he listened to "The Fourth of July" to figure out what
            _not_ to do in writing a polyrhythmic work. He made some comment
            that the many lines of "Fourth" only produced a "blur" of sound,
            rather than a clear texture.

            I think if you had to pick _anyone_ who was a true influence on
            Ives, it would not be a composer, but the poet Walt Whitman,
            something I am far from the first person to ever aver. It is still
            an apt statement, simply because Ives picked up on Whitman's idea of
            turning an art form inside out to reflect something that had never
            existed before: sprawling, complex, often incomprehensibly chaotic
            America.

            Two quotes that come to mind are Ives's ("you can't do a fugue in C
            to describe a football game") and Strauss's on his opera, Electra
            ("when you're writing about a boy killing his mother, you don't
            write a violin concerto.") The climax of "July" perfectly expresses
            the euphoria that holiday provokes. Make it any "easier to
            understand" and you ruin it.

            "July" also does not have to be dissed in order to allege that its
            rhythmic construction may not have been the only option for
            heterophony. In this same light, Mozart's approach to the symphony
            doesn't mean no one can compose a symphony in a different way. Yet
            Mozart is still considered a genius, and despite comments like
            Carter's, Ives is, too.


            --- In charlesives@yahoogroups.com, "Scott Mortensen"
            <Scottkmort@h...> wrote:
            > Carter also said some not-so-complimentary things about
            > Ives "doctoring" his work--adding dissonant elements--long after
            the
            > work had been originally composed. Carter's implication was that
            > Ives wasn't as much of a pioneer/forerunner as people presumed.
            > Carter claimed that Ives was just doing to it to make himself
            appear
            > to be more modern than he actually was.
            >
            > More recently, Maynard Solomon took up this idea and wrote an
            article
            > about it. Several folks have written rebuttals, which are largely
            > convincing to me. But I haven't delved too deeply into the
            > controversy. The whole dating issue will probably never be
            completely
            > resolved when it comes to Ives' works.
            >
            > Ultimately, I guess it doesn't matter to me. If we concentrate
            > on "who came first"--or focus on aspects of Ives' style or method,
            > then the dating issue is relevant, I guess, "for the record," for
            > historical reasons. But if we listen to the music, as music, it is
            > clear that Ives is a composer who wrote great, richly inventive,
            and
            > powerful music. All of his methods--what Ives call the "manner"
            of a
            > composition--are secondary to the the impact--the "substance" of
            his
            > works.
            >
            > Scott
            >
            >
            >
            >
            > --- In charlesives@yahoogroups.com, "quartodeciman"
            > <quartodeciman@h...> wrote:
            > > Carter apologized in his own way many times in writing after his
            > > 1939 negative reviews of the Concord. Since the "unoriginal"
            theme
            > > aspect is pretty strong in that work, he surprised everyone who
            > knew
            > > him with his harsh statements. Carter had undergone personal
            > > transformation since leaving the company of Ives in the 1920s.
            At
            > > Harvard he studied with Piston, a cooler and solidly
            academically-
            > > centered teacher. He studied with Nadia Boulanger in France,
            who
            > > was an avid old music and Stravinsky devotee. Carter acquired a
            > new
            > > esthetic of music. He returned to the US in the middle of the
            > great
            > > depression, so he sought and obtained work as a music reviewer.
            He
            > > was easily the best informed reviewer of the Concord Sonata,
            when
            > > the whole work was premiered by Kirkpatrick.
            > >
            > > Yes, Carter had changed. He liked the cool efficiency of
            > > Stravinsky's work and that became his main style as a composer
            by
            > > 1940. In the mid-1940s, Carter began to have regrets about his
            > > treatment of the composer who had encouraged him early. He
            > > volunteered to help repair some of the Ives instrumental works
            > > and get them into performance shape. But he found the work
            > > daunting. Ives was a habitual reviser of his work and he had
            > > something of a chaos of manuscripts and contradictory
            replacement
            > > pages. Carter had to give up this work after a while and get on
            > > with his own composing. By the late 1940s and early 1950s
            Carter
            > > was on his way to being a creator of very complex and demanding
            (on
            > > players and listeners alike) major compositions. Cool, neo-
            > > classical Carter was left behind.
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