Critical Consensus

I’m very happy to see Richard Taruskin in the Times today saying that Charles Ives was a great composer not only because of his innovations, but because of the depth of feeling of even his so-called “conservative” music. As he puts it,

Thus was Ives effectively plugged into a powerful discourse that valued artists chiefly in proportion to their technical and formal innovations. It was not necessarily the best vantage point from which to view Ives (or, some might argue, any artist). But the long-frustrated composer bought into it for a while, and it turned the Ives boom into a bubble that might easily be pricked.

I’m especially happy because this is almost precisely what I had earlier said at greater length in my article about Ives’s symphonies in this month’s Symphony magazine (regrettably unavailable on the web):

[R]ecognition that Ives was a master of melodic and harmonic continuity may defuse some of the pointless controversy over the extent to which he was “first” to do everything. Yes, Ives’s Third is “suppressed, technically speaking” [as Ives wrote]. But who ever thought that the technical side of music was the important part? Who thinks the Jupiter Symphony is a great piece because of its invertible counterpoint? Who believes that hemiola is what makes the Schumann Third great, or that the contrapuntal superimposition of two themes is the ultimate point of Bruckner’s Fifth? And yet when it comes to Ives, suddenly we get all musicological, and his greatness is entirely credited to a pack of musical card tricks no one had thought of before. And Ives, in the Memos, nods his head in agreement! Ergo, if you cast doubt on those card tricks – prove that some of the dissonance was added later, that maybe the complexity wasn’t complex as early as someone said (none of which has been proven) – then the whole Ives edifice comes tumbling down.

See? And I consider Taruskin brilliant, so those who come up with the same insights he does must be… well, you get the idea.