December 07, 2009

I get the sense he might not like it

Hey, Robert Evett, what do you think about Charles Ives? I mean, seeing as how it's 1954 and he's just died and all.
Ives never developed a style, indigenous, American or otherwise. He spent at least half of his creative life writing in a bastardized romantic idiom which was little more than a caricature of Schumann, Franz, Brahms and the the others.... Later, he dressed this music up with a number of singularly ugly or impractical elements, but these elements were never fused into anything consistent enough to be called a style.
[T]here is no reason to doubt that Ives meant to give music—at least his own music—its freedom. Perhaps Ives had the imagination he would have needed for bringing this about, but he didn't have the technique.... In his effort to get free of convention, Ives was usually reduced to a kind of mindless banging around which disguised sometimes the poverty of his materials.
Charles Ives will surely merit a case history by some future musicologist as an example of the 20th Century composer whoring after novelty.
All American artists are unfortunate in that the first of us who enjoyed any particular international vogue was Mr. Whitman, and that it is his work which has become, like Betty Crocker's recipes, a touchstone for things American.... For musicians it is worse. We had nothing to offer before Ives, and he smelled like Whitman's armpits.

—Robert Evett, "Music Letter: A Post-Mortem for Mr. Ives,"
The Kenyon Review, vol. 16, no. 4 (Autumn 1954)

Whitman's armpits? But that's an aroma finer than prayer!


Lisa Hirsch said...

Wow. Wondering if Robert Evett ever changed his mind about Ives.

Sator Arepo said...

Wow, indeed. Sort of sobering to think that the Soviets weren't the only ones complaining about "noise instead of music" and so forth.