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Modern Sounding Music Facing Backwards: A Conflicted Charles Ives

by Campbell, Andrew Russell


For my senior capstone project, I shall examine Charles Ives’s musical and philosophical place in American music history by way of his messy relationship with Romanticism and the European tradition. While striving to create a distinct American music braced with American philosophies and ideals, Ives liberally appropriated features of nineteenth century (Romantic) music and thought in his work. The first questions to address are related to influence: What nineteenth-century music did Ives hear throughout his composing life? What songs or pieces did he model while studying with Horatio Parker at Yale? What did he see in Beethoven as the ideal composer of the previous century? Next, I shall address his ideological and musical conflicts: How could Ives reconcile both his New England Protestant morality alongside his apparently “Transcendentalist” themes in his music and writings? More specifically, how does Ives’s second piano sonata, the “Concord” Sonata, use Romantic musical devices and ideological themes to produce a “modern” musical language? Finally, was Ives’s music an inevitable consequence of European Romanticism? Where does he fit in American music history? To answer these questions, I will read Ives’s own writings, his Memos and Essays, along with his correspondence with other composers and teachers. Ives scholars such as J. Peter Burkholder and Frank Rossiter will contribute, in large part, the secondary sources in my paper. In addition, I will analyze Ives’s Second Piano Sonata for both Romantic and Modern elements to trace influences beyond the well researched quoted melodies. The typical scholarly discussion around Ives’s musical and philosophical roots gives too much credit to his pioneering of American modernism and not enough attention to the European tradition from which he worked. My topic will contribute a more frank and less hagiographical view of Ives and his ideas’ conflicted nature.


Colorado College Honor Code upheld.

Includes bibliographical references.

Administrative Notes

Colorado College Honor Code upheld.

Copyright restrictions apply.
Colorado College
Digital Origin
born digital
44 pages : illustrations
Senior Thesis -- Colorado College
Thesis Advisor
Grace, Michael
Degree Name
Degree Type
Degree Grantor
Colorado College
Date Issued