The cellist and performance artist Zoe Martlew got a culture shock when she went to visit the house where Charles Ives composed his music in Redding, Connecticut. The place is up for sale and developers, Zoe was told, are clamouring to knock it down.
If Leonard Bernstein were still alive, he would write a check and the place would be saved for the nation. Who will save it now?
Zoe has written this account of the Ives house exclusively for Slipped Disc.
Charles Ives’ country house is hidden away amidst verdant rolling hills of unspoilt New England countryside. Chipmunks and gophers scuttle in the surrounding forest and the fragrant air is filled with dragonflies, humming birds and the sound of leaves fanned by the wind.
It would seem that time has stood still since Ives bought this land in Redding, Connecticut. He had a house and barn built in 1912 and moved in with his wife Harmony a year later. It was to become their country home until his death in 1954 and has been lived in by the Ives family ever since.
Last week I had the opportunity to visit the place with composer Oliver Knussen who had been invited by James Sinclair, editor‐in‐chief of the wonderful Ives critical editions, most recently that of the amazing Fourth Symphony. Sinclair’s wife was also there, who, as it turns out, is a cousin by marriage of Ives. The house is a splendid example of its kind and in pretty good nick from what I could see. Most of Ives’ library was boxed up ready for moving, although his personal possessions, including period furniture, appear to remain in place.
[Here’s Ives’ famous hat next to his father’s cornet. Note the picture of Brahms above, one of several.]
But the extraordinary thing about the house is Ives’ surprisingly small composing room, which appears to have been left untouched since he died. Cobwebs grace the mementos lying on the table and writing desk which include a Christmas painting from Carl Ruggles. A profusion of faded images, programmes and newspaper cuttings adorns the walls, family letters and photos sit gathering dust. Two metronomes set at different speeds sit side‐by‐side next to assorted empty hooch bottles. There’s a rusty‐springed couch behind the piano for when he got too musically worked up and had to lie down.
The real‐estate agent, an expert on historical buildings in the area and sympathetic to the cause, explained ruefully that property investors are snapping at his heels to get their hands on this prime bit of real estate. The likelihood is that they will knock the house down, having no interest in its history. The value of the land is unaffected by its presence. The asking price is $1.5 million US.
SURELY someone out there can help?
It’s heartbreaking to think that this beautiful and important musical landmark could be demolished in a matter of weeks. Please contact James Sinclair at the Ives Society http://www.charlesives.org/ or me, www.zoemartlew.com, if you can help. Time is running out.NB: This house is not to be confused with the Charles Ives Birthplace Museum in Danbury, CT.
See more pictures here.