Com­poser Charles Ives’ Con­necti­cut stu­dio finds a home in New York’s Amer­i­can Academy of Arts and Let­ters

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Mu­se­ums are ac­cus­tomed to re­ceiv­ing dona­tions of art­works or heir­looms or files of cor­re­spon­dence, but few are in a po­si­tion to ac­cept the gift of an ac­tual room. The Amer­i­can Academy of Arts and Let­ters in New York City there­fore had some se­ri­ous think­ing to do when Charles Ives Tyler ap­proached the or­ga­ni­za­tion with the of­fer of the room in which his grand­fa­ther, Charles Ives, wres­tled com­po­si­tions into be­ing from about 1913 un­til his death in 1954.

The Academy al­ready had lots of rooms, as would be ap­par­ent to any­one who vis­its its very spa­cious head­quar­ters, which sprawls through three sep­a­rate build­ings at Audubon Ter­race, not many paces from where West 155th Street meets the Hud­son River. The Academy moved there in 1923, hav­ing spent its for­ma­tive years (since around the turn into the 20th cen­tury) an­chored in mid­town Man­hat­tan. It is the ul­ti­mate “honor so­ci­ety” for our na­tion’s cre­ative artists, and it has been ever since its first mem­bers were in­ducted — its ini­tial hand­ful of lu­mi­nar­ies in­cluded sculp­tor Au­gus­tus Saint-Gau­dens, stained-glass mas­ter John La Farge, com­poser Ed­ward MacDow­ell, and writer Wil­liam Dean How­ells. Ives re­ceived lit­tle recog­ni­tion as a com­poser un­til his fi­nal years, but in 1947 he was given the Pulitzer Prize in Mu­sic for his Sym­phony No. 3, which by then was about 40 years old but had just re­ceived its be­lated pre­miere. Two years ear­lier, in 1945, he had been granted membership in the Academy.

He ap­pre­ci­ated this honor deeply, and he re­cip­ro­cated by ar­rang­ing for the Academy to be­come the ben­e­fi­ciary of the roy­al­ties from his com­po­si­tions af­ter his wife died, which she did in 1969. “At that time, the amount re­al­ized from his roy­alty pay­ments was very small,” ex­plained Cody Up­ton, the Academy’s direc­tor of op­er­a­tions, when I vis­ited the premises in Jan­uary. “Now it comes to more than $200,000 a year.” The funds sup­port schol­ar­ships for com­posers, of which the most im­pres­sive is a grant of $100,000, spread over two years, that is des­ig­nated the Charles Ives Living. Luck­ily, Ives hadn’t de­pended on his mu­sic for his living. He made a for­tune in the in­sur­ance busi­ness, es­tab­lish­ing his own firm on Wall Street when he was less than a decade out of Yale and earn­ing renown for de­vis­ing what would be­come known as es­tate plan­ning and for­mu­lat­ing meth­ods, later adopted through­out

the in­dus­try, for train­ing in­sur­ance agents. He qui­etly un­der­wrote nu­mer­ous en­ter­prises to sup­port avant­garde mu­sic and gave away sub­stan­tial sums to less for­tu­nate com­posers. In fact, he passed on half of his Pulitzer Prize award money to fel­low com­poser Lou Har­ri­son as thanks for con­duct­ing the win­ning piece in its over­due pre­miere.

When con­fronted with the op­por­tu­nity to ab­sorb the Charles Ives Stu­dio into its col­lec­tion, the Academy con­sid­ered it as an ar­ti­fact that would memo­ri­al­ize one of Amer­ica’s great­est com­posers but would also honor one of its own and, one might say, an on­go­ing donor. An agree­ment was reached, and cu­ra­tors, ar­chi­tects, and mov­ing spe­cial­ists be­gan plot­ting how to dis­as­sem­ble the room and re­in­stall it within the Academy’s fa­cil­ity. The jour­ney be­gan in Red­ding, Con­necti­cut, just a few miles from the com­poser’s na­tive city of Dan­bury. Although Ives and his wife, Har­mony, kept a res­i­dence in New York, he built a coun­try home, be­gin­ning the project in 1912 and mov­ing into the com­pleted house, with its com­pos­ing stu­dio, the fol­low­ing year. He ini­tially set his sights on Dan­bury, but find­ing that it had changed more than he wished since his grow­ing-up days, he set­tled on Red­ding be­cause it re­minded him of the Dan­bury of his youth. He lived there, at least part of most years, un­til his death.

On the af­ter­noon I dropped in at the Ives Stu­dio, the room was ab­so­lutely si­lent. When Ives was at work, it would have been any­thing but. He was cer­tainly ca­pa­ble of writ­ing lovely and gen­tle mu­sic, and he of­ten did; but his sig­na­ture sound is un­bri­dled to the point where it can seem spiky and chaotic, and record­ings of him im­pro­vis­ing at the pi­ano tes­tify that he seemed at his hap­pi­est when work­ing up to an in­con­testable din. Those days are long gone, of course, and yet the stu­dio seems prac­ti­cally alive, as if the mae­stro had stepped out briefly and would re­turn any minute through the sa­loon-style doors to pick up the hul­la­baloo he had left hang­ing in the air.

It wouldn’t take very much noise to prove deaf­en­ing, since the space is not large — 20 feet long and just 9 feet wide, with a nicely fash­ioned Ives ex­hibit sur­round­ing the ex­te­rior and in­su­lat­ing the room from the nearby gal­leries. The stu­dio is full but not overly clut­tered; still, some 3,000 ob­jects were packed up and trans­ported as part of this re­lo­ca­tion, and that adds up to a lot of stuff. The Academy has opened up a por­tal in one of the nar­row ends to pro­vide a view down the length of the stu­dio to the far ex­trem­ity, where a pre­ex­ist­ing paned win­dow looks out on the same bu­colic view Ives had in Con­necti­cut, though now re­pro­duced in a pho­to­graph and ar­tis­ti­cally lit to re­sem­ble a sunny day. View­ers can also look in from a door on a side wall, next to a fire­place, and from one per­spec­tive or the other, noth­ing is very far away.

The stu­dio’s con­tents vividly re­veal the com­poser’s life, of­ten through unan­tic­i­pated de­tails. There’s his pi­ano — not a high­fa­lutin, fa­mous-brand in­stru­ment of the sort he could eas­ily have af­forded, but rather a “cabi­net grand,” which is a po­lite way of say­ing an up­right pi­ano, built by the firm of James

& Holm­strom, which pro­duced good but hardly pres­ti­gious in­stru­ments at a shop in Har­lem. This par­tic­u­lar pi­ano boasts a proud her­itage nonethe­less. Its crash­ing keys and fly­ing ham­mers were the first to in­tone some of the most tow­er­ing mas­ter­pieces of Amer­i­can mu­sic, in­clud­ing Ives’ Three Places in New

Eng­land , his Sym­phony No. 4, his Con­cord Sonata , and the ground­break­ing col­lec­tion he would pub­lish un­der the ti­tle 114 Songs . On the back of the pi­ano is af­fixed a por­trait of Jo­hannes Brahms — a sur­pris­ing dis­cov­ery, but less so when one thinks about how Ives’ ear­li­est songs were of a Brahm­sian mold, from back when his ex­as­per­ated Yale pro­fes­sor Ho­ra­tio Parker was try­ing to knock some mu­si­cal sense into him and bless­edly failed. Brahms por­traits, it turns out, are po­si­tioned through­out the stu­dio, rarely out of view if you know where to look. Maybe they re­minded Ives to main­tain un­com­pro­mis­ing mu­si­cal stan­dards.

There is his pen­cil sharp­ener, filled with its orig­i­nal shav­ings — per­haps from pen­cils dulled while scrib­bling those very pieces onto mu­sic pa­per. There is his mil­i­tary cot, all made up and ready for his af­ter­noon nap. Ly­ing there, he could reach out and pluck a book from the cou­ple of hun­dred that line the shelves, or he could swivel up to jot down an idea at ei­ther of two small writ­ing desks. Two cor­nets, one badly dented, sit atop a book­shelf. Th­ese be­longed to Ives’ adored fa­ther, a Civil War band­leader; Gen. Grant pre­sum­ably re­ported to Pres­i­dent Lin­coln that his was the best band in the whole Union Army. The fa­ther passed on to the son a love of hear­ing un­re­lated mu­si­cal ac­tiv­i­ties go­ing on at the same time, like dif­fer­ent bands play­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously on a pa­rade ground or the com­pet­ing hymns em­a­nat­ing from churches sur­round­ing a vil­lage green. Some of Ives’ most mem­o­rable pages in­volve in­con­gru­ent sounds of this sort. Per­haps it ex­plains why not one but two metronomes sit atop the pi­ano in the stu­dio, each ready to mark the rhythms of the dis­tinct pieces go­ing on si­mul­ta­ne­ously in the com­poser’s mind.

The sa­loon doors dou­ble as a bul­letin board, a trea­sure trove of ephemera se­cured to them with thumb­tacks: news­pa­per clip­pings about Ives and his friends, pic­tures of his high school and col­lege ath­letic teams, old con­cert pro­grams, in­clud­ing one from 1890 doc­u­ment­ing a per­for­mance by “Mas­ter Ives,” who was fif­teen at the time. One spots quite a few bot­tles of bit­ters. “Many of th­ese bot­tles were found hid­den in cab­i­nets and be­hind book­shelves,” Up­ton said. “It seems that he stocked up on sev­eral cases prior to Prohibition — 44 per­cent al­co­hol.” In short, this was not just Ives’ com­pos­ing stu­dio. It was his man cave.

The Charles Ives Stu­dio is ac­ces­si­ble when­ever the Amer­i­can Academy of Arts and Let­ters is open to the public, which it is when its an­nual art shows are on dis­play. The Academy opens on Thurs­days through Sun­days, from 1 to 4 p.m., from March 12 through April 12; and again, on the same sched­ule, from May 21 through June 14. At other times, how­ever, the Academy is happy to wel­come vis­i­tors, although ar­range­ments must be made in ad­vance. En­ter on Audubon Ter­race be­tween 155 and 156 Streets, on the west side of Broad­way in New York. There is no ad­mis­sion charge. For in­for­ma­tion, call 212-369-5900.

The Charles Ives Stu­dio, re­lo­cated from Con­necti­cut to the Amer­i­can Academy of Arts and Let­ters in New York City, houses a wealth of me­mora­bilia re­lat­ing to the com­poser; all images cour­tesy the Academy Op­po­site page, Charles Ives by David Levine, 2006, cre­ated for the Academy

Charles Ives with his wife, Har­mony, Red­ding, Con­necti­cut, 1946; cour­tesy Amer­i­can Academy of Arts and Let­ters

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