Articles

Studio of Composer Charles Ives Preserved in Manhattan

by Allison Meier on March 18, 2014

Charles Ives Studio at the American Academy of Arts and Letters

Charles Ives Studio at the American Academy of Arts and Letters (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic)

Object by object, some 3,000 artifacts from the studio of composer Charles Ives have been reconstructed at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in Washington Heights. The replica of the studio he used in the final 40 years of his life even has a light box mimicking the Redding, Connecticut, view he once had from his James & Holmstrom piano.

Charles Ives and his wife Harmony in Redding, CT (1948) (photograph by Halley Erskine, via American Academy of Arts & Letters)

Charles Ives and his wife Harmony in Redding, CT (1948) (photograph by Halley Erskine, via American Academy of Arts & Letters)

The studio replica is based on a surviving photograph of how it looked in his lifetime, when Ives worked on such pieces as his Fourth Symphony, with its meditative open sound within the room’s 10 by 20 foot walls. Like many artists who have experimented with the norms, Ives didn’t get much recognition while he was alive, although he’s since been celebrated as someone who took the roots of American music and transformed it into something that questioned its very composition. (One of his masterpieces is called The Unanswered Question, the sheet music for which rests on a stand in the studio.)

You have to wind through the wide gallery spaces of the Academy to find yourself suddenly back in time in the studio, which is accompanied by a small exhibition with scores and photographs. The pencil shavings have been left in the sharpener, his secret stash of alcohol preserved in its hiding place, a cane is hooked over the piano chair, and rumpled hats rest on top of books and his father’s old cornet. The royalties from his music were previously bequeathed by his wife to the Academy, where they fund scholarships in his name. On April 13, the Academy will host a free Charles Ives concert in their auditorium with performances including his “Violin Sonata #2″ and his Concord Piano Sonata. Lodged in the old world Audubon Terrace that quietly keeps art thriving in Washington Heights, the Academy may help secure the legacy of the composer of some of the 20th century’s most elusive music.

Charles Ives Studio at the American Academy of Arts and Letters

Charles Ives Studio at the American Academy of Arts and Letters

Charles Ives Studio at the American Academy of Arts and Letters

Recreated bookshelf and lounging space

Charles Ives Studio at the American Academy of Arts and Letters

Charles Ives’ desk

Charles Ives Studio at the American Academy of Arts and Letters

A hat and view out the window

Charles Ives Studio at the American Academy of Arts and Letters

Reconstructed wall of clippings and photographs

Charles Ives Studio at the American Academy of Arts and Letters

View from Charles Ives’ piano

The studio of Charles Ives is on permanent view at the American Academy of Arts and Letters (633 West 155th Street, Washington Heights, Manhattan), with public visiting hours through April 12 and then May 22 to June 15. After that it will be open during exhibitions and by appointment. The Charles Ives Concert at the Academy’s auditorium (632 West 156th Street, Washington Heights) will be 3–5 pm on April 13 and is free with RSVP to events@artsandletters.org. 

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