In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Charles (Edward) Ives

  • Introduction
  • General Surveys
  • Biographies
  • Contemporary Accounts
  • Primary Sources
  • Health Issues
  • Transcendentalism
  • Politics
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Catalogues and Bibliographies
  • Style(s) and Influences
  • Ives as a 19th-Century Figure

Music Charles (Edward) Ives
Tom C. Owens
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0229


Charles Edward Ives (b. 1874–d. 1954) was among the most influential and original composers of the first half of the 20th century. The child of a town bandmaster, Ives was a professional organist for fourteen years, from 1888 to 1902. Ives’s music drew on a panoply of musical styles and forms, which were infused with his own aural memories and imagination. Grounded in the sonic world of Connecticut and New York in the 1880s through the 1920s, Ives’s music integrates the musical materials of his life—aural, experiential, and intellectual—into the discourse of European art music. Hymns, marches, college tunes, and the rhythmic drive of ragtime form the core of Ives’s musical identity. Unflinchingly eclectic, Ives drew on German Lieder, the symphonic tradition of Tchaikovsky and Dvorak, and the drive for developmental treatment of motivic material in Beethoven and Brahms. He grappled with the spirit of modernist experimentation by writing highly chromatic and dissonant music, but he also wrote passages of simple diatonic tonality. While Ives’s formal training in music at Yale University under Horatio Parker was conventional, the music he presented via the self-published Concord Sonata (1921) and 114 Songs (1922) often spoke a startlingly complex and strikingly original harmonic and rhythmic language. Ives’s place in the development of modernism is clouded by the obscurity of his music during the period of its composition. He wrote the vast majority of his works between 1898 and 1927, but it would be another twenty years until the musical establishment began to recognize his achievement with awards such as the Pulitzer Prize in 1947 for his Third Symphony (composed 1904–1911, premiered 1946). Further complicating Ives’s relationship with performers and audiences was his decision to pursue a career in life insurance and to resign from his position as an organist and choirmaster in 1902. The consequential separation from compositional and concert culture created the impression that Ives was an undisciplined amateur who lacked the critical and audience feedback necessary for full compositional development. His success as a life insurance executive allowed him not only to assure that his own family would not be forced to “starve on his dissonances” (Ives 1961a, cited under Primary Sources), but also to support the composition, publication, and performance of new music.

General Surveys

These sources examine Ives and his works from multiple angles and show the development of specific methods of analysis and areas of inquiry in reference to his music. Burkholder, et al. 2007–2017, in Grove Music Online, gives a concise, balanced, and comprehensive survey of Ives’s life and works. Taruskin 2010 gives Ives’s life and works substantial coverage, with particular interest in his music’s relationship with modernism. Hitchcock 1977 offers clear and accessible analyses from a founding figure in the study of American music. Lambert 1997 contains a variety of specialized approaches to Ives and a good survey of the field at the close of the 20th century. Burkholder 1996 offers primary source materials in context. Hitchcock and Perlis 1977 showcases the papers and panel discussions presented at the centennial of Ives’s birth. Finally, the website of the Charles Ives Society provides a variety of resources, including links to performances, new scholarship, and editions of the music.

  • Burkholder, J. Peter, ed. Charles Ives and his World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996.

    Collection of primary source materials—correspondence, reviews—and essays. Situates Ives in his musical and social context. Describes the four musical traditions from which Ives draws the elements of his style: American popular music, Protestant Church music, European classical music, and experimental music.

  • Burkholder, J. Peter, Gayle Sherwood Magee, and James B Sinclair. “Ives, Charles.” In Grove Music Online. Edited by Deane Root. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007–2017.

    Excellent and comprehensive survey of Ives’s life and works, with a selected bibliography and a full list of works. The standard reference for general use.

  • Charles Ives Society.

    The Charles Ives Society website includes a brief biographical essay, information on works and publishers, links to information on upcoming concerts, a link to Sinclair 1999 (cited under Catalogues and Bibliographies), a list of borrowed material used in Ives’s compositions, a selected bibliography, and a photo gallery.

  • Hitchcock, H. Wiley. Ives: A Survey of the Music. I.S.A.M. Monographs 19. Brooklyn, NY: Institute for Studies in American Music, 1977.

    Considers form, structure, and experimentation in Ives’s music, by genre, including songs, choral music, keyboard works, chamber works, and orchestral music. Hitchcock’s work is important particularly for its musical analyses.

  • Hitchcock, H. Wiley, and Vivian Perlis, eds. An Ives Celebration: Papers and Panels of the Charles Ives Centennial Festival-Conference. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977.

    An exploration of Ives’s music, life, and thought, featuring composers, theorists, editors, and historians. Includes transcriptions of questions and discussions after the text of the conference papers.

  • Lambert, Philip, ed. Ives Studies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

    Essays grouped around topics, including “Tradition, Revision and Chronology,” “Historical and Biographical Contexts,” and the Universe Symphony. The volume closes with a statement on the state of the field of Ives studies in the late 1990s by Burkholder.

  • Taruskin, Richard. Music in the Early Twentieth Century. Oxford History of Western Music 4. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    Links Ives with transcendentalism, presents him as a maximalist rather than a modernist composer, and places him in a group that includes Henry Cowell and Ruth Crawford Seeger. Substantial consideration of Ives’s cultural politics, his aesthetics, and his works, including the Second String Quartet, “From ‘Paracelsus,’” the Concord Sonata, Putnam’s Camp, the Universe Symphony, and Three Quarter-Tone Pieces for Piano. Also available online.

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