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Ives the Man

“You have fire and imagination that is truly a divine spark, but to me the great thing is that never once have you tried to turn your gift to your own ends. Instead you have continually given to humanity right from your heart, asking nothing in return; — and all too often getting nothing. The thing that makes me happiest about your recognition today is to see the bread you have so generously cast upon most ungrateful waters, finally beginning to return to you. All that great love is flowing back to you at last. Don’t refuse it because it comes so late, Daddy.” #

When the evening was done, an audience member asked how our presentation could be reconciled with popular imagery of Ives the man: irascible, cranky, difficult.
That Ives’ music cannot be fully appreciated outside the context of 19th century gentility, and the genteel notion that art is morally empowering, has long seemed obvious to me. Moral fire is what Ives found and cherished in Emerson — and also in Beethoven, whom he considered “in the history of this youthful world the best product that human beings can boast of.” But I hadn’t sufficiently appreciated the implications for Ives the man. #

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