Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] McGinness, John. “Has Modernist Criticism Failed Charles Ives?” Music Theory Spectrum 28 (Spring 2006): 99-109.

To secure Ives’s compositional reputation against modernist criticism, revisionist scholars have adapted the untenable position that Charles Ives was a modernist composer. Such characterizations attempt to situate his music within Western European tradition and refute the categorization of Ives as an experimentalist. Two critical processes, the idea of experimentalism and the use of musical analysis, are important to understanding how Ives’ reputation was created. In post-1974 Ives scholarship, music analysis is often used as a determinant of aesthetic value. It is frequently employed to “prove” that Ives’s music is systematic and logical, and by extension is skilled and therefore valuable. This motivation also lies behind scholarship which demonstrates how Ives’s music is more “traditional” and how it relates to European art music. For example, some scholars have tried to show how Ives’s uses of musical borrowings fit into a European tradition. Such traditionalist studies seek to redefine the term “experimentalism” as it was originally conceived in the 1930s by Cowell—a type of music which deliberately sought to break with European tradition—to a term that signifies compositional uniqueness. The motivations of such analyses, which have attempted to place Ives’s musical reputation within a context of “skill and value,” should be examined. Perhaps Ives’s music, aspects of which (such as his uses of pre-existing music) intentionally undermine conventions, should not be subject to formalist analysis and scholars should instead examine the validity of evaluating Ives through a modernist lens rather than characterize his music as modernist.

Works: Ives: Tone Roads No. 1 (104), Study No. 5 (104), The Cage (104), Piano Sonata No. 2 (Concord, Mass., 1840-60) (105-6).

Index Classifications: 1900s

Contributed by: Kate Altizer, Chelsea Hamm, Amanda Jensen

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