an idle thought about Charles Ives

I've always wondered how Charles Ives plays to non-Americans. As a modernist, I'm sure he's sounds as stark and muscular to a European as he does to me.

But what of the 'Americana' aspect of his music? Ives' use of American hymns and simple folk songs evoke a sense of New England at the dawn of the 20th century - not an idyllic vision, but one where the bucolic greenery mixes with the chaos of a young democracy - outspoken, rough, rude and heartfelt - Whitman's 'barbaric yawp'.

Where Bartok seemed to have taken Hungarian folk music and ingested it whole to become part of his melodic voice, Ives never seems to completely absorb early American music into his voice. There's a ongoing process of synthesizing it all into a style - but the process is never complete - the hymns emerge from the darkness and fade back. The throb of Beethoven's 5th keeps emerging from the Concord Sonata only to be absorbed a few bars later.

It's almost as if Ives heard the simple hymn tune, and felt that all the swirls of atonality were implied by the populace that sang the hymn; he saw a complexity to the American character that joined together the roar of the mob, the untamed cosmos and the voice of quiet belief.