One of the Truly Outstanding Inconveniences

Awhile back I noted composer Henry F. Gilbert’s response to receiving, from the unknown Charles Ives, a copy of the Concord Sonata and accompanying essays: a friend of Gilbert’s, admiring the essays, had remarked, “Depend upon it, this fellow is a bad composer – good composers are usually non compos mentis on every other subject.” Only yesterday, though, in Jan Swafford’s superb Ives biography, did I notice Ives’s justifiably arrogant yet heartbreaking answer to him:

Your friend, the critic, is wrong again. I am not a bad composer – I’m a very good one though it’s inconvenient to have no one know that but myself!


  1. Charlie Mann says

    This is going up next to “You god-damned sissy” on my list of favorite Ives quotes.

  2. mclaren says

    “Values function by controlling behavior, the behavior of others and the behavior of oneself. Value statements about art are mostly efforts to stabilize the world of art so that one can know in advance that whatever the task of aesthetic perception may be, this particular work of art will, or will not, perform it.
    “But since value statements cannot be derived from works of art, but only applied to them, they are derived from other and extra-artistic sources: morality, various sciences. Consequently they reflect the instability of such areas at the high innovative level. Nothing, not even women’s clothes, is so unstable as fashions in value judgments at this high cultural level. The result is that if one takes fashionable valuations seriously, vast areas of art are made inaccessible. Artistic valuations are the greatest hindrance imaginable to the adequate response to a work of art, particularly if it is out of fashion; and if it is in fashion, valuations can limit the perception of what can be responded to, since like all value statements they are prescriptive statements, behavior-controlling models.” [Man’s Rage for Chaos: Biology, Behavior, and the Arts, Morse Peckham, Schocken Books: New York, 1967, pp. 311-312]