All About Charles Ives


Charles Ives was an American classical music composer who only achieved the fame he deserved after his death. He is widely regarded as the first American composer of significance in the international classical music arena. Most of Ives’ works were ignored and unperformed during his lifetime. Later on, classical music enthusiasts and experts discovered that his works were highly original and artistic and they began to regard him as one of the most innovative composers in the 20th century.

Charles Edward Ives was born on the 20th of October, 1874 in Danbury, Connecticut. His father, a bandmaster of the United States Army, taught him how to play music when he was very young. In 1894, he started attending Yale University where he learned music under a German-American composer called Horatio Parker. Before Ives graduated from Yale, he had already composed his “Symphony No. 1” and “String Quartet No. 1”.

After he left school, Ives did not pursue a career in music because he did not want his future family to suffer poverty. As such, he decided to become an insurance agent. In 1909, he formed the Ives and Myrick Insurance Agency with close friend Julian Myrick. He was a very creative businessman, and he published a pamphlet called “The Amount to Carry – Measuring the Prospect”, which became an important document in the field of estate planning. His agency was a big success and he became a wealthy man. Although Ives was not a professional musician, he continued to dedicate his free time to creating and playing music. He composed his “Symphony No. 2” in 1902 and “Thanksgiving” in 1904.

Ives married the daughter of a minister, Harmony Twichell, in 1908. Twichell’s deep appreciation for his music had tremendous influence on his compositions and the marriage marked the beginning of his maturity as a composer. Between 1908 and 1920, he created some of his best works, including “The Robert Browning Overture”, “Third Symphony”, “Fourth Symphony”, “Piano Sonata 1”, “Piano Sonata 2”, “Concord”, “Washington’s Birthday”, “Decoration Day”, “The Fourth of July”, “Orchestral Set No. 1”, “Orchestral Set No. 2”, “Violin Sonata 3”, “Violin Sonata 4”, “String Quartet No.2”, and many other songs. He created these songs in near isolation, during weekends, vacations, and in the mornings and evenings of weekdays. Usually, Ives would work on a few compositions at the same time and it would take quite a long time to complete them. He only heard his compositions performed in public on a few occasions and his encounters with professional musicians did not turn out well.

Ives suffered from a serious heart attack in 1918, but he would continue to live for many more years. His poor health resulted in an urgency to get two things accomplished in his life; the first was to make enough money to support his family and the second was to get the public to appreciate his music. He would stop composing music around the mid-1920s but he continued to revise his earlier works. Charles Ives passed away in May of 1954.

Before he died, Ives’ music was performed by several established musicians including Nicolas Slonimsky, John Kirkpatrick, Lou Harrison, and Leonard Bernstein who helped to gain considerable recognition for his compositions. He is regarded by classical music experts as a maverick because his influences are difficult to trace, but that does not change the fact that he is one of the greatest American composers of all time.

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