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Charles Ives’ America

“’Charles Ives’ America’ is very likely the most important film ever made about American music” – JoAnn Falletta, Music Director, The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

My forthcoming book, Dvorak’s Prophecy and the Vexed Fate of Black Classical Music (WW Norton, Nov. 25) links to six documentary films. 

Of these, “Charles Ives’ America” attempts a landmark feat of advocacy. It argues that Ives not only deserves to be situated at the center of American classical music, but that he should become as generally well-known and esteemed as such American icons as Herman Melville and Walt Whitman.

The film strives to overcome the notion that Ives is esoteric — not readily approachable. It approaches Ives through his words and music, and also the Civil War, the Transcendentalists, and his Connecticut porch.

My collaborator Peter Bogdanoff has rendered such music as “The Housatonic at Stockbridge” and “The Alcotts” (both included in their entirety) with spellbinding visual panache. For “The ‘St. Gaudens’ in Boston Common” he has done more than that: in combination with James Sinclair’s inspired commentary, Peter has taken the most elusive of Ives’s signature compositions and fashioned a visual rendering that will electrify first-time listeners.

If any music seals Ives’ pertinence today, it is this 1911 “Black March” memorializing Colonel Robert Gould Shaw’s Black Civil War regiment as famously depicted by Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Boston Common bas-relief, with its proud Black faces and striding Black bodies. As I write in Dvorak’s Prophecy, “Ives’s ghost-dirge is suffused with weary echoes of Civil War songs, plantation songs, minstrel songs: a fog of memory, a dream distillation whose hypnotic tread and consecrating ‘Amen’ close celebrate an act of stoic fortitude.”

In addition to Peter Bogdanoff and Jim Sinclair, my collaborators on the Ives film include the music historians Peter Burkholder and Judith Tick and two peerless Ives performers: the pianist Steven Mayer and the baritone William Sharp (accompanied by Paul Sanchez).   

Information on all six films is posted here and here.

an ArtsJournal blog