“The invention of sound-recording devices late in the nineteenth century made possible the preservation of definitive performances played or led by some important composers of the first decades of the twentieth century. Elgar, Rachmaninoff, Richard Strauss, and Stravinsky, among others, left a significant legacy of recordings of their own works. Charles Ives, however, did not approach recording in order to leave a legacy. At least at first, he simply wanted an opportunity to listen to some of his music with advantageous detachment (and possibly to shortcut supplying to Henry Cowell and others variants of his music). With virtually no performances of his important music occurring during the first two decades of the century, Ives certainly had a backlog of curiosity about the sound of his own compositional efforts, and the need to judge them as such.
By 1933 Ives had retired from his insurance business and had largely finished writing his autobiographical Memos. He had heard some performances of his instrumental works (mostly in very disappointing efforts), but none of his piano works. While on an extended European vacation, he introduced himself to recording, at the Columbia Graphophone Company in London. Over the course of a decade that included four such sessions, Ives recorded seventeen different pieces, ranging from the early March No. 6 and rejected Largo for Symphony No. 1 to the “improvisations” that indeed may have been freshly created in front of the microphone in 1938.”
Read more, and listen to the complete recordings of Charles Ives at the piano from 1933-1943 at UbuWeb.
This Sunday, October 21 is Charles Ives Day in Danbury, Connecticut, the city where the forward-thinking composer was born and buried. The day’s celebration will include a hike up Pine Mountain, a visit to his birthplace, and a performance of Ives’ “The Unanswered Question” on top of the Charles A. Bardo parking garage, right across the street from The Mercurial on Library Place.
More information on Charles Ives Day in this article: “‘The Unanswered Question’ to Highlight Charles Ives Day”