WISE – Musings

A discussion about contemporary classical music and its inaccessibility to laypeople came up yesterday between me and a friend of mine during robotics club, of all places. He said that he was not a fan of how contemporary classical music was taking a more and more atonal approach, because it makes it that much more inaccessible to laypeople who have difficulty comprehending or appreciating those types of music.

Ives, as I indicated in my previous post, was a huge fan of atonality, polytonality, clusters, and everything else that characterizes “inaccessible” music. That got me thinking: where do I lie on this spectrum as a composer?

I know that there’s no rush for me to find my own musical voice, but I still think this question is very relevant to my compositions. How much of these “inaccessible” techniques am I willing to put into my own music? Is it more important to me that people can easily enjoy what I write, or am I more concerned about the complex inner meanings of my music?

These are all great unanswered questions. And I imagine they’ll remain unanswered for quite a long time.

WISE – Charles Ives

There have been quite a few connections to the composer Charles Ives lately: we are playing a piece by him in band (shown above), and he was mentioned by Sally as one of her favorite composers in an interview I conducted with her. So it was only natural that I would start off my research with Ives.

Often there’s much to be learned from taking a glimpse at the life of a composer, but that’s not why I like to read about composers. Perhaps it’s coincidence or perhaps it’s not, but it seems to me that lives of composers are bound to be interesting in some way or another. Beethoven’s deafness, Stravinsky’s riot during The Rite of Spring, and Shostakovich’s relationship with Stalin are just a few famous examples. Ives, however, seems to have had one of the most interesting lives of them all.

Ives is known for being one of the first American composers to employ contemporary techniques such as polytonality, clusters, and aleatoric sections in his music. What’s intriguing is the fact that he was encouraged to explore these then-uncommon styles from a very early age by his father, George Ives.

But even after being raised by a musician, he did not go into a musical profession: he became an insurance salesman. Of course he continued to compose, but it was not his day job. All of these factors caused Ives to appear as an amateur composer to many critics of his time.

It was not until years after his death that his music became well known and more appreciated. Fitting to the mold of the true innovator, his work was largely ignored during his life. Now we know that he was simply ahead of his time.


  • Burton, Anthony. “Charles Ives.” BBC Music (London, England). June 2004: 48-52. SIRS Renaissance. Web. 09 Feb 2013.
  • “Charles Ives.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Sept. 2013. Web. 09 Feb. 2013.