I had been planning to write something nice about Charles Ives this week, to help celebrate the centennial of his birth, but I decided not to. Not that I don’t admire his example and love his music. It just didn’t seem necessary. Almost every periodical I’ve picked up in recent weeks has contained some sort of eulogy to Ives. The concert schedules are loaded with Ives programs. Everybody has been getting on the bandwagon.
It is good that we should honor Ives so extravagantly. But I can’t help noticing how deeply ironic it is that a society which practically ostracized Ives during his lifetime would turn around 20 years later and pretend that Ives is really a great American hero after all, with the charming implication that really we all must have loved his music all along. Meanwhile, I have not run across even a short obituary about the recent death of another great American composer, Harry Partch.
We may admire Ives now, but his example hasn’t taught us much. America still makes things pretty tough for its musical innovators. Even among musicians, I occasionally find people who haven’t yet heard of Harry Partch. And among those who have heard of him, most seem unaware of ‘Delusion of the Fury,’ Partch’s longest, and probably his finest work. And no one can plead ‘unavailable,’ as the work was issued by Columbia records a couple of years ago.
But eventually people will probably discover it, and by the year 2001, when it is time for a Partch centennial, there will no doubt be dancing in the streets, concerts all over, and eulogies galore. That seems to be the American way.