Fall 2006

ARTS 627
The Songs of Charles Ives and American Culture

Bruce,Neely; Harger,Gary

09/11/2006 - 12/16/2006
Tuesday -

Charles Ives (1874-1954) is perhaps the finest composer of concert music yet produced in the United States. He received an excellent education in the fundamentals of music beginning in his youth and continuing through his college career at Yale, where he studied with one of the finest living American composers. He was recognized as possessing precocious talent as a composer and as a pianist, but chose to make his career in the insurance industry, while relegating composing to the weekends and evenings.

More than most composers, Ives is an appropriate subject for investigation in the arts and humanities. His parallel careers in insurance and music composition reinforce each other in surprising ways, and his life-long interest in politics and social issues fed his musical output even more than his business life. Through family and school connections, Ives had an exceptionally broad social circle, allowing his personal involvement with many different sorts of people, from many social strata and economic circumstances. This exposure to people, in addition to his far-ranging reading, created in him a concern for and prodigious insight into the whole human condition, as expressed in a remarkable series of 183 solo songs, produced over his entire compositional career.

This course is designed for the general student who has some interest in music and American culture, but assumes no skills in music, although musicians and those with some prior training in music can also learn from it. Primarily a lecture/discussion course, with some seminar elements, this course will focus on themes of Ives and aspects of life in his time, e.g. Ives and American and European literature; Ives and business and politics; Ives songs of peace and war and domesticity; Ives and the visual arts; Ives songs about aspects of love; Ives and 19th-century American music and the avant garde; and Ives and nature.

Special features include the performance by Bruce and Harger of all 55 songs by Ives for tenor and piano (in class), performance of selected piano works of Ives and his contemporaries (in class), fields trips to several Connecticut museums specializing in American art to view specific paintings related to Ives, attendance at "Ives Songs of Peace and War" (at the University Crowell Concert Hall), and a tour of the Danbury home of Charles Ives.

Reading includes Jan Swafford, Charles Ives and His Word, selected writing of Ives, and articles on Ives's politics, his relationship to Emerson, his connection to his musical contemporaries, etc.

There will be regular quizzes on the Swafford biography and other assigned readings as well as written reviews of the "Ives Songs of Peace and War" concert and other listening. In addition, each student will write a paper on an aspect of the Ives output for voice (songs, choral music, orchestral works with chorus, etc.) selected in consultation with the instructor. Students with a background in music may write a paper that is as technical as is appropriate to the specific topic. Other students should deal with some aspect of American culture that relates directly to Ives, his thinking, or his artistic achievement.

A syllabus for this course is available at:

Neely Bruce (B.M.U. University of Alabama; M.M.U., D.M.U. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) is professor of music and American studies. He is a composer, conductor, pianist, and scholar of American music. His largest work, CONVERGENCE, was commissioned by the American Composers Forum, and his most recent work for orchestra was commissioned by the South Carolina Philharmonic to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the birthday of Mozart. Bruce has been performing the songs of Ives since he was seventeen years old. In addition to the 121 songs he has played as part of the Ives Vocal Marathon, he has performed in public twelve others--a total of 133 songs. Bruce's article "Ives and Nineteenth Century American Music" is a pioneering study of Ives in relation to his time, his place, and his immediate musical predecessors.

Gary Harger (B.A. Ithaca College) has been on the faculty of The Hartt School and Southern Connecticut State University and currently teaches privately. His is a tenor known nationally and internationally for his versatility--equally at home in opera, musical theater, oratorio and song, he has begun to appear on the spoken stage as well. He now has in repertory thirty-eight songs of Ives, two-thirds of that composer's output for tenor voice.


Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Seminar

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 18

Texts to purchase for this course:

Jan Swafford, CHARLES IVES: A LIFE WITH MUSIC (W.W. Norton), Paperback


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