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Ives Studies.

Ives Studies. Edited by Philip Lambert. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. [xi, 300 p. ISBN 0-521-58277-6. $64.95.]

One immediately questions the need for a collection of essays on Charles Ives published within a year of similar volumes, especially when so many of the same contributors reappear. Yet Philip Lambert's Ives Studies provides a forum for some new voices to be heard, and some of the older ones are worth listening to over and over. Lambert is wise to begin with the contribution of Robert P. Morgan--without question, one of the most thoughtful current writers on music. In 'The Things Our Fathers Loved': Charles Ives and the European Tradition," Morgan portrays Ives as an original voice "deeply grounded in tradition" (p. 4). Drawing on decades of research, he contrasts Ives with Gustav Mahler and finds Ives, unlike Mahler, "frequently becom[ing] in some definite sense 'atonal'" (p. 6). Briefly comparing Ives and Arnold Schoenberg, Morgan distinguishes between the notion of tonality evolving and tonality becoming a "phenomenon of the past" (ibid.). But he saves his most profound insights for his analysis of Ives's song "The Things Our Fathers Loved." With an acutely sensitive exploration of how text, tonality, tempo, individual motives, and large-scale formal features unify the brief song, Morgan makes his case that Ives was both of the tradition and beyond it. Morgan's observations are always welcome, not only because of their balanced perspective and crystalline clarity, but also because of the unmatched elegance of his prose.

In "Remembrances of Dissonances Past: The Two Published Editions of Ives's Concord Sonata," Geoffrey Block makes a solid, broadly considered, and convincing argument for assessing Ives's revisions of the Concord Sonata as restorations of earlier ideas and not as evidence that the composer added dissonances in order to appear more modern. Block discusses a number of differences between the first and second editions but focuses especially on the ubiquitous Beethoven motive (the opening four notes of the Fifth Symphony). His careful research is persuasive, but his most illuminating work occurs when he broadens his scope from tracking motivic sightings to considering their implications, and asks how Ives's changes affect the way listeners hear the piece and "perceive Beethoven's presence" (p. 34). One could enjoy an entire essay on this topic alone.

With little fanfare, Wiley Hitchcock argues the need for a critical edition of Ives's songs. Using "The Cage," "Tolerance," and "Like a Sick Eagle" as case studies, he offers a primer on how to create a critical edition. Beyond the mechanical questions are ones that involve Ives's intentions and how they may or may not be manifested in his notational unorthodoxies. Like Block, Hitchcock interprets his findings as self-evident refutations of Elliott Carter's and Maynard Solomon's charges that Ives's revisions to his pieces were motivated by a desire to appear more modern. Hitchcock asks, "In revised versions of songs such as 'Tolerance' and 'Like a Sick Eagle' are we confronting an Ives 'tinkering' with an earlier piece? Yes. 'Jacking up the dissonance' in it? Yes. 'Silently modernizing' his music? Not at all: we are confronting a composer who is restoring in the 1930s details of his original scores of the 1900s, having decided that his arrangements of them in the 1920s had unnecessarily simplified and weaken ed them" (p. 76), Hitchcock concludes, "It seems to me that the answers to these questions reveal a case, not of mendacity, but precisely one of 'veracity'" (ibid.). Enough said.

Gayle Sherwood's essay is cast, in part, as yet another rebuttal to Solomon's "dating challenge." In "Redating Ives's Choral Sources," Sherwood offers a more reliable method--one based on paper types and paleographic analysis--than that used by John Kirkpatrick, which depended on Ives's own comments as found in lists, marginalia, and his autobiographical Memos (ed. John Kirkpatrick [New York: W. W. Norton, 1972]). Sherwood reports two significant findings: "First, although the alterations to the established chronology are extensive, the general ordering of works by Kirkpatrick is supported. Second, the revised chronology supports Ives's reputation as a compositional innovator" (p. 95). Sherwood's plainspoken, dispassionate style lends a degree of credibility to her case, although her findings do not seem focused primarily on Solomon's particular concern. Perhaps the more important issue raised by the essay is in the penultimate paragraph. Here Sherwood questions the accuracy of our view of Ives's creative ou tput, since "most of Ives's conservative choral works remain unpublished, unrecorded, and unperformed, unlike the exclusively experimental choral works that postdate his graduation from Yale" (ibid.).

Essays by Stuart Feder, Judith Tick, and Wolfgang Rathert consider biographical and historical contexts. In "Charles Ives and Henry David Thoreau: 'A Transcendental Tune of Concord,"' Feder focuses on Ives's idealization and identification of his father and Thoreau and on the "presence" of both men in a number of works. Provocative connections abound. Feder's deeply respectful, even reverential, attitude toward the composer is a humbling reminder of Ives's essential humanity. Judith Tick's "Charles Ives and the Politics of Direct Democracy" enlarges the sphere from the purely personal to the political. Acknowledging that the protean meanings of words cloud and confuse the ideas they attempt to convey, Tick aspires "to contribute historical nuance to our understanding of Ives's political discourse"-- especially as it reflects his ideas concerning direct democracy--"and to lend intellectual credibility to the ideas themselves" (p. 137). She achieves her goals with power and grace by connecting Ives's rhetoric with his music, thereby demonstrating his participation in the popular ideas of his era. At the same time, she emphasizes Ives's unique artistic response to these ideas. For Tick, Ives was no isolated spirit: both his music and his prose show him fully engaged in the national direct-democracy debate that dominated the press in the early 1910s. Her tightly organized, carefully argued essay provides the "intellectual empathy" she rightly assumes modern-day readers lack. Another substantial essay in this collection is Wolfgang Rathert's "The Idea of Potentiality in the Music of Charles Ives." Rathert turns to the philosophy of English historian Leon Vivante to illuminate the intentionally tentative, unstable, and open forms that characterize many of Ives's most profound works. On the way, Rathert discusses the normative assumptions of tradition, Ives's paradoxical embrace of and resistance to tradition, antagonism as an artistic value and focus, and the aesthetic dilemmas faced by American composers at the turn of the century who "were confronting both an insufficiently developed nationalist identity and an overbearing European tradition" (p. 106). Rathert challenges J. Peter Burkholder's assumptions regarding "a universal musical aesthetic" (p. 116) and his placement of Ives "squarely within the mainstream of the nineteenth-century European tradition" (p. 108). By interpreting "the discrepancies in Ives's style not as a deviation or extension of a universally valid aesthetic, but as an intrinsic characteristic of his music" (p. 110), Rathert revalues that which is most unique in Ives's music and thought. This is an essay that rewards multiple readings. In considering the music of Charles Ives, Rathert raises issues that concern the entire twentieth century.

In "The Realization and First Complete Performances of Ives's Universe Symphony," Larry Austin explains extant source material and his "musical and even spiritual collaboration" (p. 216) with the composer as he worked on his version of Ives's magnum opus. His survey allows readers to understand--if not always agree with--his interpretations. But such is the nature and design of Ives's cosmological effort; its unfinished condition invites continuing participation and reconsideration, and perhaps even additional "personal commissions." Editor Philip Lambert's poetic exploration of the musical sublime in "Ives's Universe" creates its own prose universe. Ives sought "knowledge, understanding, enlightenment, and immortality" (p. 258) in his Universe Symphony; Lambert seeks the same. While I might take issue with his claim that there are "structural metaphors that are easily, perhaps exclusively, associated with universal themes" or that there are "musical metaphor[s] whose meaning is more confined to a particular cosmic image" (p. 245), Lambert's associations of gestures and meanings are never so confining as to challenge credibility. Lambert is most stimulating in his discussion of other "spiritual journey" pieces, especially Alexander Skryabin's Mysterium and Arnold Schoenberg's Die jakobsleiter Ives's cosmic opus belongs to a moment in history when such artistic quests were not unusual. That we continue to be intrigued by them at the end of the century suggests that we still seek such enlightenment.

J. Peter Burkholder's essay "Ives Today," which closes the collection, is both a useful survey of five decades of evolving Ives scholarship and a curious position statement on what Burkholder considers the correct approach to Ives and his music--one that "insists on [Ives's] close ties with the European tradition" (p. 277). This theme's recurrence in the essay leads the reader to wonder if the "gentleman doth protest too much." After discussing Larry Starr's "great insight to realize that Ives made ... stylistic heterogeneity a key element," Burkholder summarizes Starr's work as important "because it places Ives solidly in the great tradition of classical music and of the great European music of his time, though Starr tries to emphasize Ives's uniqueness" (p. 268; italics mine). One must keep in mind that Starr, in a significant body of work on Ives, has regularly (and successfully) emphasized the composer's unique American voice--a voice unlike any heard before, inside or outside the tradition of "great Eur opean music of his time." Burkholder likewise adjusts the intentions of Rathert's essay in this collection. Clearly, Rathert and Burkholder have differences. But Burkholder's insistence that Rathert, who usefully contrasts Ives's musical concept with that of his European counterparts, should be read instead as providing additional proof of "how central to [Ives's] music are ideas he absorbed from European Romantic aesthetics" (p. 278) seems an attempt to override the very point Rathert is making. Burkholder finds it "striking that Rathert, the most important Continental Ives scholar, continues to stress how different [Ives's] music is from European music of the period, while American scholars have recently been emphasizing the opposite" (ibid., n. 32). That a Continental scholar hears Ives outside European tradition is something American scholars need to consider carefully, especially when arguing affinity with that tradition. Surely there is room in Ives scholarship (if there is room anywhere) for a pluralit y of approaches and interpretations that, taken together, offer a fuller understanding of the man, his milieu, and his music. This collection of essays is a testament that such is the case.
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Title Annotation:Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1999
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