From colonial times to the present, U.S. composers have lived on the fringes of society and defined themselves in large part as outsiders. This tradition of maverick composers illuminates U.S. tensions between individualism and community.
Three notably unconventional composers—William Billings in the eighteenth century, Anthony Philip Heinrich in the nineteenth, and Charles Ives in the twentieth—all had unusual lives, wrote music that many considered incomprehensible, and are now recognized as key figures in the development of U.S. music. Eccentric individualism proliferates in all types of U.S. music—classical, popular, and jazz—and it has come to dominate the image of diverse creative artists from John Cage to Frank Zappa.
This according to Mavericks and other traditions in American music by Michael Broyles (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004).
Above, a portrait of Heinrich, nowadays the lesser-known of the three composers; below, “Victory of the condor” from The ornithological combat of kings, or, the condor of the Andes (1847), which remained his favorite work throughout his life.
Baseball played an important part in Charles Ives’s life, music, and writings; it was a place where he proved himself as a man, and it provided a framework within which he could build new musical ideas. Ives’s identity as a U.S. composer links him to this game, and a brief chronology of baseball history demonstrates significant changes in the game over the course of his lifetime (1874–1954).
Baseball provided Ives with a vehicle to establish his masculine identity, counterbalancing societal and self views of his musical participation as feminine. His pieces and unfinished sketches about baseball provided a vehicle for him to invent new musical ideas in reference to specific baseball situations that he could use as part of his basic musical language in later pieces.
Analyses of Ives’s baseball-related completed pieces (All the way around and back, Some southpaw pitching, Old home day, The fourth of July) and unfinished sketches (Take-off #3: Rube trying to walk 2 to 3!!, Take-off #7: Mike Donlin–Johnny Evers, and Take-off #8: Willy Keeler at the bat), compared with passages from later works, reveal these associations.
This according to Baseball and the music of Charles Ives: A proving ground by Timothy A. Johnson (Lanham: Scarecrow, 2004).
Today is Ives’s 140th birthday! Above, the Danbury Alerts, ca. 1890; a young Charles Ives is the first seated player from the left. Below, James Sykes plays Study no. 21: Some southpaw pitching.
The Charles Ives Society maintains an online resource that includes a biography by Jan Swafford; a list of tunes borrowed by Ives from other composers, with sound files; a catalogue of Ives’s published works ordered by medium, also with sound files; a descriptive catalogue by James Sinclair ordered by genre, with incipits, performance data, and other listings; and a programming guide that suggests relationships between Ives’s works and specific holidays, months, seasons, topics, and anniversaries.
Above, a rare performance of one of Ives’s pieces for two pianos tuned a quarter-tone apart, played by the Paratore brothers. Today is the composer’s 136th birthday.