Saturday, May 11, 2013

I live for pedantry

Ivan Hewett over at The Telegraph has posted an introduction to the music of Charles Ives. The listening points will be helpful to the novice, and the selections are well-chosen, but I find at least three errors in the first paragraph:

“Stand up and use your ears like a man!” That was Charles Ives’s furious response to some hecklers at a performance of music by another great American radical, Henry Cowell. Ives was very hot on manliness — there’s a well-known photo of him in the garb of an American footballer, taken in his Harvard days. One detects an undercurrent of anxiety that his chosen profession was a touch “sissy”, which was reasonable enough given that classical music in the US was almost entirely run by blue-rinsed ladies of a certain age.

In the first place, Ives went to Yale, not Harvard. In the second, he did not play sports in college. The photograph of him as captain of his football team was taken when he was still in high school, a time in life when a lot of guys without psychosexual hangups try out for athletics.  Third, the music being performed during his famous outburst was by Carl Ruggles, not Henry Cowell. (It was Men and Mountains.) And, for a possible fourth, the outburst probably never happened. According to Jan Swafford's biography, Ives wrote later it was something he wished he had said. We all have moments like that.

I know. I need to get a life, but Hewett is a well-known  critic who works for a big-time paper. I expect more from a pro, even if he is English. I'd tell him about it, but you have to sign up to post comments, and I've already left my email address at too many sites around the Web.

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