Ives, Essays, and the ‘Strange Artist’

For those of you who follow Kyle Gann’s PostClassic blog, you will have found a real treat today in his entry, ‘Justifying the Strange Artist’, in which Gann looks at the work of Henry Cecil Sturt’s ‘Art and Personality’ essay. Charles Ives wrote his famous Essays before a Sonata, partly in response to Sturt’s essay. Here Gann reproduces a long passage from his upcoming book, giving us a good idea of what Sturt thought and why Ives wrote his response. Gann begins by stating how much the Essays influenced him as a teen, and how the reception of Ives’ writings have been increasingly seen as confused: ‘a jumble of pseudo-intellectual blovations’. There seems to be a trend toward a revision of Ives reception in recent years, with writers seeing him as homophobic and sexist, and returning to the early view of Ives as a kind of ‘outsider’ amateur, whose innovations come mainly from his inability to write music competently. Having spent a lot of time reading Ives (and Cage) from the age of thirteen and having my mind well and truly ‘blown’ by the ideas of these composers, I find the modern response to be curious. I can only imagine that the lack of understanding of the Essays and the condemnation of his ideas by modern writers to be a problem with their understanding of music and of history. Gann’s blog post is here: http://www.artsjournal.com/postclassic/2015/01/justifying-the-strange-artist.html . It’s well worth close reading.

Author: Virginia

Virginia Anderson is a writer who messes with the EMC Blog. She specialises in the study of experimental, minimalist, and free improvisatory music. She also plays clarinet, and has recorded on Zanja, Advance, and Rastascan Recordings, specialising in new works for Eb clarinet and free improvisation.

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