American Mavericks

Charles Ives

(b. Danbury, Connecticut, October 20 1874; d. New York City, May 19 1954)

Charles Ives’s formal education was at Yale, where he studied with Horatio Parker, but the most profound musical influence on his life came from his father, George Ives, a bandmaster bent on exploring music’s expressive possibilities, with little regard for accepted notions of what made for good music.

Charles played the organ and composed, but by the late 1890s he took a job at an insurance firm, and it was in the insurance business that he would make a fortune. He continued as a weekend composer, and among the large body of works he left are four symphonies – five, if you count the four-movement New England Holidays – as well as songs, choral works, and chamber music.

Eventually it became clear that audiences were not ready for his musical experiments, and by the 1920s he stopped composing, though he continued to encourage a new generation of composers in their work, including Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison. He maintained his stance of contempt toward entrenched sensibilities even after the musical establishment began to discover and celebrate his worth.