Charles Ives is widely regarded as the first great American composer of classical music. But listening to his music is an adventure—hearing how a piece begins may not prepare you for what comes next, or how it ends. Knowing one Ives piece may not prepare you for another.
Award-winning music historian J. Peter Burkholder provides an introduction to the composer’s diverse musical output and unusual career to readers of any background, discussing about forty of the best and most characteristic pieces framed with biographical sketches. Burkholder shows how Ives mastered each tradition he encountered, from American popular music to classical European genres, from Protestant church music to his own unique experimental idiom, and then interwove elements from all these traditions in the astonishing works of his maturity. Listening to Charles Ives contains compelling walkthroughs of select pieces and ultimately reveals that there is an Ives piece for everyone.
J. Peter Burkholder is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Musicology at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. He is the author of the recent editions of A History of Western Music (2019, with Donald Jay Grout and Claude V. Palisca) and Norton Anthology of Western Music (2019, with Claude V. Palisca). He has served as president of the American Musicological Society and of the Charles Ives Society.
Despite the recognition Charles Ives has received in the last 50 years, many concertgoers still find listening to Ives a bewildering, even unpleasant experience. In this, his fifth book on the American composer, Ives authority J. Peter Burkholder hopes to change that. He examines 20 works in chronological order of composition and an equal number of Ives's songs to illustrate his evolution from a creator of works in conventional musical traditions and forms to ones of original conception, radical technique, and high spiritual striving. Burkholder uses biography to place each of these works within the context of Ives's life and intellectual experiences at the time of its composition; musical analysis to illustrate his compositional techniques, structural logic, and aesthetic/philosophical purposes; and performance history to trace the changing perception of his once-daunting creations. Burkholder also seeks to place Ives and his music in the mainstream of Western musical history rather than viewing him as an isolated and eccentric artist out of contact with the musical world around him. This book can be enjoyed at all levels, from those as yet unacquainted with Ives's wide-ranging output, to those who have been listening to him with wonder and pleasure for a lifetime. Highly recommended.
It is always a genuine pleasure to read a work from someone who not only knows intimately the subject matter about which he is writing, but is also a talented prose stylist, and even more so since the author claims on the first page that this is the sort of book, he “has always wanted to write.” The reader ends up being lucky on several other counts, but the most important is the depth of knowledge that J. Peter Burkholder so willingly, skillfully, and even joyfully shares with his readers… The book is, in every sense, an invitation to listen. Offering referenced recordings and encouraging the reader to listen, read, listen again, and perhaps even read along while listening, Burkholder opens the door and guides readers through what Ives hoped everyone would do in their heads as they heard his, or indeed any music. That was to create the listening experience for themselves.
Whether an experienced Ivesian or coming to the music for the first time, read, listen, and enjoy.
Part deejay, part docent, J. Peter Burkholder takes us on a tour of Charles Ives’s music, clearly laying out the markers of the composer’s expertly inventive and compassionate imagination.
Lucky Ives, to have an advocate as eloquent as Burkholder. No one knows Ives better, no one loves his music more, and no one communicates with greater verve its intensely affecting qualities.
It’s a delight when a leading expert explains his specialty in simple terms, as Burkholder does here with Charles Ives. He’s given non-musicians a thruway into Ives’s complex and colorful world.
This is an astute and inventive book, intended for people who love music of any kind but may not be able to read musical notation. Burkholder is perhaps the most prominent Ives authority living today, but he proves himself to be more than that: a patient and resourceful tour guide for people wondering what classical music (Western art music, or whatever one calls it) might have to offer.
6/21/2021: "Listening to Charles Ives" author J. Peter Burkholder was part of the panel with pianist Jeremy Denk, conductor & author Leonard Slatkin, soprano Susan Narucki, & pianist/Charles Ives Society president Donald Berman discuss the legendary Charles Ives.