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Charles Ives - Redding, Connecticut's Famous People  

Help me add to this section. Submit your ideas or articles to bcolley@snet.net

Other Famous Links:
Joel Barlow, Anna Huntington, Mark Twain
, Edward Steichen

Charles Ives: Musical Visionary
Cathy Laning, Katie Tkach

In August of 1912, Charles Ives and his wife Harmony came to West Redding and bought land on Umpawaug Hill, across the road from the site of General Putnam's headquarters in the Revolutionary War (corner of Umpawaug and Topstone Rd). They had the house and barn built, and moved in a year later. This was their country home for the rest of their lives. They would come out from New York City in the early spring, and stay until late in the fall. Ives commuted each morning by train to his insurance office in the city, and he did much of his music writing on this train.

For many years they had a horse named "Rocket" who was very much a member of the family. Ives would ride "Rocket" down the hill to Sanford General Store near the train station. They also had a Model T Ford. Umpawaug Road in those days was just a dirt country road, filled with "thank you ma'am's, as Ives's nephew Bigelow describes it. It wasn't paved until 1928, and when it was, Ives got quite upset. He was also outraged when the first airplanes began flying over, and whenever he heard one he would come out and shake his fist at it and shout "Get off my property!" He didn't want anything to disrupt the peaceful country world of Umpawaug Hill which he loved so much.

In our quest to capture the essence of Charles Ives- revered classical composer, interpreter of the American scene, and the man- we talked with John Kirkpatrick, Paul Winter and Luemily Ryder. The synthesis of their recollections provides a composite sketch of this muscian.

John Kirkpatrick is the curator of the Ives Collection at Yale. He is a well known Ives authority and has come to know Ives's music well.

In 1937 Kirkpatrick met Charles Ives. He had been corresponding with him for ten years, but had never met him.

"I can see him right there. I knew him during the last 17 years of his life, and I saw him a few times each year. In a way he was the most paradoxical man I've ever known. As a musician he was both traditional and experimental. You could describe his music best by saying there's no simple way to describe it. That's part of the paradoxical nature he had.

"When Ives first began to compose, his music was comparatively simple. Many of his early pieces were influenced greatly by the church, since he played the organ in church during his grammar school years. At fourteen he was a salaried organist, the youngest professional organist in the state.

"His father was a musical "jack-of-all-trades". He was even more versatile than his son.

"Ives received his earliest muscial training from his father and later from Horatio Parker at Yale. He attended Yale from 1894-1898. From this time through his twenties he used both styles, experimental and traditional, but he hardly ever showed his experiments to Parker. At that period the simpler traditional style was more acceptable than the complicated, experimental style. Ives's music was different from itself all the time. It could be very simple, or it could be very, very complex. There were pieces that could be read and played with no effort, they were the simple. And there were pieces that were so complicated they are challenging, even today.

"You know how you can look at a page of music and feel instinctively if there is somthing real there or not? Well, there's something real to Ives's music. There's always a core of something very direct. and no matter how complicated it is, it hangs together and communicates."

When Charles Ives reached the peak of his experimental period, he did not receive the recognition he deserved. The public did not like being put to the inconvenience of having to try hard to understand and play his music. "He knew exactly how good a composer he was, and he knew exactly how far ahead of his own time he was. It didn't bother him. Someone once asked him why he didn't write music that people would like, and he said 'I can't hear something else.' He anticipated all the tricks of modern music in the first part of the 20th century. Even though he was so far ahead of his time he still deeply admired some of the classical composers- Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. He also admired the popular composers of the Civil War Period. Although he enjoyed their styles, he had ideas and opinions of his own.

"It would be impossible to describe his music because it was so paradoxical. You could never put your finger on it. You could rarely get a definite answer to a question our of him. He usually used your question as a springboard to other thoughts. He was a genius. He was used to improvising and filling in; he was much more of a musician than anybody realized.

"Charles Ives knew that the kind of music he wanted to compose would have no relation to his own times. Ives knew he would never be able to support a family on it, so he deliberately financed his composing through his insurance business. Many people regard him as an insurance man doing music on the side. However, he was a composer first and foremost, financing his non-conformist composing through insurance, and showing the same genius in both. There was a constant pressure living two lives a once. Most people who come home from business want to relax. If a composer finishes a symphony he naturally wants to relax and perhaps celebrate. When Ives finished a symphony, most likely late at night, he probably had time for only a little sleep, before going downtown the next day for business. When he got home from a day's business he would roll up his shirt sleeves and start right into composing where he had left off the previous night.

"Charles Ives literally lived a double life. He was an insurance man by day and a composer by night, on weekends, and during vacations. Many of his business associates had no idea that he was even interested in music. His musical friends never saw any trace of his business life. He kept to himself a great deal, partly because he treasured the time he wasn't actually engaged in business, so he could compose. But he was both gregarious and shy; like his music, Ives himself was a paradox."

At Home with the Iveses
Luemily Ryder became a close friend of Charles Ives during his years in Redding. She and her husband, Bill, lived next door to Ives on Umpawaug Hill.

"Well he was, shall I say, gentle, first; he was also a rebel and he could be quite explosive. I think he was a religious person and I think he was very understanding and considerate of the downtrodden and the outcast. He was a great person.

"The Iveses were people who often showed their kindness and generosity. They were always doing something for other people. One family's house was burned down and they offered their cottage. Here the family stayed until a new house could be built.

"The Iveses often lent their cottage out to poor people from the city. It was similar to the Fresh-Air Organization (Branchville, CT) that brings city children into the country for a vacation. One summer the Iveses lent their cottage to the Osborne family. the youngest Osborne child, Edith, was very ill. Mrs. Ives graciously offered to take care of her. Edith gradually improved in health under Mrs. Ives's care. The Ives grew immensely fond of her and near the end of Edith's stay they approached the Osbornes about adopting Edith. After much thought the Osbornes consented.

"Children loved Charles Ives. He would come out with his cane and shake it in their facesm or he'd grab a child around the neck with it and pull him toward him. The children would either be so scared or so tickled that they'd giggle all over.

"Mrs. Ives was just as loving as her husband. When she came down to visit you could hear he whistling all the way down the driveway.

"We visited them in NYC many times and after dinner at their house we would go into the living room. Mr. Ives would stretch out on the couch. The room was dimly lit to rest his eyes so Mrs. Ives would sit directly under the light to read the classics. He liked that so much, just to listen to her read. That's one of the nicest things I remember about them."

Mrs. Ryder, herself a pianist and organist, went on to say, "His music is beautiful. I really love it, even though it would clash. I know he had all these sounds in his head that he kept hearing and he would just bring them all together in a composition. At first people did not accept it. There were only a few that would play it. Most said it couldn't be played because it was so difficult. That would make him mad because he was so sure it could be played...

If you are in Connecticut, I suggest a trip to New Haven to view the Ives Collection at Yale University.

Ives outside his West Redding home in 1946

Short Bio:

Charles Ives (1874 - 1954) was an American composer of classical music. He is regarded as possibly the first American classical composer of international significance. Ives was born on October 20, 1874 in Danbury, Connecticut, the son of a US Army bandmaster. He was given music lessons by his father at an early age, and later studied under Horatio Parker at Yale University. After graduating, however, he decided to pursue a non-musical career, believing that he would be forced to compromise his musical ideals if he made a living from music. He therefore followed a career in life insurance- While on vacation for health concerns in 1906, Ives and his friend and colleague Julius Myrick decided to form their own agency, Ives & Co. (later to become Ives & Myrick). In a few years they had a volume of business in insurance training that led the country and would make Ives a very wealthy man. He composed music in his spare time. Ives composed a number of works inspired by nature and transcendentalism, including the Concord piano sonata (c. 1916-1919) and the First Orchestral Set: Three Places in New England (c. 1912-1921). Charles Ives was buried in Wooster Cemetery in Danbury, Ct.

Coming to Redding:

In 1912, Ives and his wife bought part of a farm in West Redding, Connecticut, dividing their time between the farm and New York City. The next few years produced such works as the Fourth Symphony (c. 1912-1925) and the World War I-inspired songs In Flanders Fields, He is there!, and Tom Sails Away (all 1917).

Following a serious heart attack in 1918, his health and productivity declined; his last new pieces date from the mid-1920s. He lived his last decades as an invalid in New York City and West Redding, Conn., promoting his music as best he could and revising pieces; meanwhile, various enthusiasts gradually spread his music into the world.

Ives Centennial Celebration Concert:

Some 2,000 people attended Redding's Ives Centennial Committee's Aug. 18 1974 musical town meeting in a natural amphitheater on property once owned by composer Charles Ives and heard Paul Winter and his Consort. Jim Sinclair and Ken Singleton were also involved in the Ives centennial celebration concert.

Organizing the Barn:

Ives's project, commencing in October 1934, to put his music in some order in a huge built-in cabinet, newly constructed for him in a former horse stall in the barn of his country house at West Redding, Connecticut. But Ives's "system" for Quality Photoprint Studio deteriorated into a state of chronic confusion, probably because no one there could read music. Ray Green, the new executive secretary of the American Music Center, reported to Harmony Ives on 25 May 1950 that "the master sheets [photostats] of Mr. Ives' works are in an extremely chaotic condition. As a matter of fact, a careful and thorough job of indexing needs to be done by a competent, reliable and trained musician and researcher." Immediately following Ives's death, John Kirkpatrick and the composer Henry Cowell began jointly to bring all the manuscripts into one place (drawing on their own holdings and on Ives's in his New York apartment and the West Redding music room and its barn).

Alas, Ives's filing system, even with supplementary file cabinets, had become woefully jumbled. In his catalogue, Kirkpatrick describes the disorder he found in June 1954: "Evidently he was used to rummaging for things, pulling out whole fistfuls from underneath which then became the top layer, so that each drawer had been shuffled many times." Some identifications of manuscripts were made quickly by the two men, but a huge task lay ahead. A struggle for control of the collection ensued. It was destined for the Library of Congress before Kirkpatrick stepped in and convinced Mrs. Ives in January 1955 that Yale University was the more appropriate repository (partly because it was near Kirkpatrick's summer home in Georgetown, Connecticut, and because Yale agreed to devote a separate "Ives Room" to the storage of the manuscripts). However, the mass of nearly seven thousand pages was moved temporarily to Edith Ives's apartment in New York. There, Dr. Joseph Braunstein of the New York Public Library staff began sorting and listing. Evidence of his rudimentary system can be found written at the top of a few manuscript pages. Sidney Cowell, Henry Cowell's wife, presided over a general photostating of those pages that she believed were not covered by the Quality photostat holdings (which resulted in significant duplications). At Yale, over the following years, the extant photostat negatives were stamped on the back with a sequential numbering, and the photostating continued as Kirkpatrick identified pages that had been missed.

In the summer of 1955, Kirkpatrick took control of the project from the Cowells and Braunstein. As he politely puts it in his catalogue (p. v), "I gratefully took advantage of all that Dr. Braunstein had done, and gradually coordinated everything into a First List." An inveterate organizer with a pathological love for jigsaw puzzles, Kirkpatrick trusted no one else's work but his own. He started over with his own notes, rejoined portions of manuscripts that had been torn apart, and began building the most extraordinary catalogue that has ever honored an American composer's work.

Nearly all of Ives's manuscripts are safely collected in one place, the Charles Ives Papers (MSS 14) in the Music Library of the Yale University School of Music, New Haven, Connecticut. (For years after their arrival at Yale University in September 1955, these manuscripts were known as the "Ives Collection.")

Charles Ives and His World
by J. Peter Burkholder (Editor)

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