The paradox of Charles Ives
Myth-making and myth-bashing have defined the “monstrous ambiguity” of Ives’s cultural status, and in Charles Ives in the Mirror: American histories of an iconic composer, David C. Paul unpacks shifting perceptions of the composer and his music. Paul has crafted an ambitious intellectual history, putting Ives at the centre of diverse forces, including the history of twentieth-century composition, the legacy of transcendentalism, the cultural marketing of the Cold War and the rise of American Studies and American musicology. This is not a book about Ives’s music or his life, but rather a meta-history that focuses on the composer’s advocates, critics and chroniclers. Essentially, it probes the complex ways in which a gifted creative artist achieves broad-based fame and then, in a sense, becomes public property – a figure to be adored or reviled or forgotten as time marches on. In examining these broad-ranging questions about Ives, Paul confronts the postcolonial biases of American high culture – an attitude in which European art and music, especially of the past, are assumed to be superior to all else – and he charts the impact of this intolerance not only on Ives and his music but also on his supporters and chroniclers. Paul’s book explores the ambivalence of Americans towards their own creative artists, and it examines the impressive body of writing that has sprung up around Ives in recent decades.
Read more at the Times Literary Supplement.