Letters

Charles Ives Not a Reactionary

An RTH reader offers a different perspective on Charles Ives.

By Letter to the Editor
Published September 09, 2007

Mark Fenton wrote an interesting article on Charles Ives' Fourth Symphony, surely the pinnacle of his art, and one of the wonders of 20th century music.

I would just like to point out some things with regards to the last two paragraphs:

Ives incidentally worked at an insurance agency all of his adult life. He went to Church every Sunday. He lived through both world wars (although he'd pretty much given up composing by 1916) and thought young men who didn't support the war effort were "pussies," to use his favourite expression of disdain. He was a teetotaler. He thought homosexuals should be put in jail.

I suspect that if he were alive today, he'd have voted for W. both times. Greatness strikes where it pleases.

Ives owned the insurance agency jointly.

His religion was very non-traditional and progressive; he just chose to express it in conventional terms. It's far too complex to go into detail here but for instance, he thought that God was imminent, had gnostic-esque views, was interested in the mystical part of faith, thought that Jesus' life was in some respects metaphorical, or at least illusrative of mankinds' potential and goals, and there are doubts whether he believed in the literal ressurection etc. - I greatly recommend Jan Swafford's biography, Charles Ives: A Life With Music, on the man and his music.

His homophobia was very characteristic of 19th century thinking, especially growing up in a small Yankie town like Danbury (in the 1870s and '80s). He was also very insecure as being interested in music might have seemed 'sissy' to his peers - he never quite shed this anxiety, and his pronouncements about 'sissies', 'pussies', 'old aunts' of both sexes and the like became more frequent with age.

On other issues he was very liberal and egalitarian - he supported women's suffrage, was profoundly unracist and was a great philanthropist.

He almost certainly would not have voted for W. as he was sympathetic with socialist and even some communist ideals - he campaigned for a while for direct government - but he was far too free-thinking and inividual ever to join a group or 'ism'. He was actually very frustrated with the American political system.

But otherwise, thank you for bringing this great music to wider attention. I only wanted to bring this to your attention for the sake of your own information, and for the readers who might be put off by what you wrote at the end.

Best Wishes,

Guido Martin-Brandis

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