It’s Charles Ives’ birthday Oct. 20. No, not the guy from 19th century printmaker Currier & Ives. Born in 1874, he is one of America’s greatest classical music composers. Ives combined adventurous experiments in music with his love for the music of the common American of his day: church hymns, marches, folk songs, ragtime.
Charles Ives’ music grabbed me from the first time I heard it–quite different from the music I usually make! Its unconventional harmonies, complex rhythms and layering of melodies make for compelling–if sometimes challenging–listening, and his writings reflect this same bold, no-holds-barred attitude. One of my favorite Ives quotations is as pertinent today as it was when written in the 1930’s:
“Men (that is, women and men) are so constituted that they are at first more inclined to buy the easy to hear and look [at] it than the difficult. Toward art in general, especially music, they are like the five year old boy who comes down to breakfast. He sees two tables in the dining room: (1) nice lollypops, (2) oatmeal. He goes to #1, if he has his way. But most of them don’t always have their own way…For that reason most boys go to #2, and they grow up strong, more or less. But towards music…the majority still go to table #1 (lollypops etc.), because the president, the directors, and stockholders of the…companies are weak sisters, and not strong fathers and mothers—for there is more money in selling #1 because it’s easier to sell.”
Happy Birthday, Charlie! May your visionary music never cease to amaze and inspire its listeners.