Ives's Music Lives On, and Many Feel His House Should, Too

Friday, August 10, 2012 - 11:37 AM

Charles Ives's former house, Redding, CT Charles Ives's former house, Redding, CT (Zoë Martlew)

Musicians and historians are searching for a benefactor to buy Charles Ives's former property in West Redding, CT, to rescue the home from the wrecking ball.

The shingle house, which sits on 18 acres of wooded land, was where Ives composed the Concord Sonata, Fourth Symphony and the song “In Flanders Fields," among other landmarks of early 20th century music.

The five-bedroom house and neighboring barn, which was built for Ives and his wife Harmony in 1912, and has been in the composer's family since his death in 1954, was put up for sale in September for $1.5 million. While it was once surrounded by verdant rolling hills, it now sits in an increasingly affluent enclave of so-called McMansions. Last week, fears were voiced online that the property would be sold to a developer that would tear it down and build something grander in its place.

The alarm bells were sounded by the English cellist Zoë Martlew and the composer Oliver Knussen (right), who were granted a tour of the house by James Sinclair, the executive editor for the Charles Ives Society. Martlew's account of the visit was published on the blog Slipped Disc, authored by Norman Lebrecht. It was followed by a “Save the Charles Ives House” Facebook page and an online petition.

"The thing that was heartbreaking was to go into his composing room,” said Martlew in a phone interview from the Tanglewood Festival. “It looks like it’s been untouched. His correspondence is just lying there. Pictures, photos, programs, it’s all as was. His presence is palpable there. It’s heartbreaking to think that this house could possibly be swept up by someone who doesn’t have a connection to the composer.”

The house is owned by Charles Ives Tyler, the composer’s adopted daughter's son, who lives in Florida. Associates with knowledge of the sale describe him as an unhurried seller who recently underwent a divorce and is now reorganizing his assets (attempts to reach him were unsuccessful). Sinclair said that while the house could be demolished if it were sold to a disinterested buyer, “it’s extremely unlikely because that’s not what Charlie wants and it’s not what we’re working towards,” he said referring to the composer’s grandson. “A lot of people have awakened to the worst possible case and have said, ‘what can we do?’”

Sinclair said he visited the house last August at the invitation of Tyler to box up the composer’s books, which are now being stored in the dining room. He noted that the Ives Society was created to assemble critical editions of Ives’s work but “getting involved in saving a house is not in the charter,” and not something he can manage.

On Monday, several interested parties are expected to meet in West Redding to discuss the house's future, including Sinclair, officials from the West Redding city government, and a representative from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which manages Ives’s estate. A lawyer who represents the estates of Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland will also be present (Copland’s former house in Cortlandt Manor, NY has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is run by the nonprofit Copland House, Inc.).

Sinclair noted that several options are being considered, including a partial purchase by the town of West Redding, which has its eyes on trails that surround the property. Some notable musicians have also expressed interest, though Sinclair declined to cite specific names. So far, he said that area residents – including the singer Meat Loaf and the film director Barry Levinson – have been silent on the matter.

Also slated to attend Monday's meeting is Robert Eshbach, a professor of music at the University of New Hampshire, who founded the "Save the Charles Ives House" Facebook page, which now has over 200 followers. “At this point it’s to raise awareness,” said Eshbach of the page. “Among the things about it is some very distinguished people have gotten in touch with me and offered their help and advice. People come out of the woodwork. It’s a great facilitator for putting together a plan.”

Photos by Zoë Martlew


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Comments [11]

Antony Cooke from California

Steven of NYC shows staggering stupidity, ignorance, and the judgment of a shoe in making his ridiculous and insensitive comments. The level of non-culture and intellect in our society today is nothing short of alarming, especially when it is so easy to display and act upon such utterly moronic instincts as this man possesses.

Oct. 06 2012 09:23 PM

Perhaps the best plan would be to disassemble the house and contents, then put them back together again in a new and interesting way - just like one of the great works by Ives. But kidding aside, does the locale really matter anymore when the environs have been forever transformed into a New England unrecognizable by suburban development? It might be a nicer place to visit if it could be moved to a more "authentic" locale - and turned into an accessible Ives museum.

Aug. 15 2012 11:56 AM

I can't believe the hostility from one commenter towards this American historical landmark. But everyone is entitled to their wrong opinion. As for me, I am hoping this home can be saved so years from now, we don't bemoan its fate the way we do Benjamin Franklin's (now lost) house. Both of them are wonderful American originals. And can we get WQXR to play Ives' symphonies and tone roads?

Aug. 15 2012 11:16 AM

@Steve NYC, well that was just mean.

Aug. 14 2012 09:24 AM
Heidi Gottman from madison wi

Does the Ives House have some form of historical landmark designation?

Aug. 13 2012 12:32 PM
Nikola R from Canada

Lois Buchanan has a buyer ready to make an offer and end this once and for all. one that will restore the house and not destroy it. lets hope she follows thru ASAP!

Aug. 11 2012 10:21 PM
John from Fairfield, CT

As a humble self taught composer of classical music it would be an absolute dream to have the means to live in this house. I live in Fairfield and often ponder the presence of Ives in Connecticut. Sometimes I get silly and think what it would be like to be sitting at my piano in that house and letting the inspiration flow. I pray that the lucky person who is able to acquire this house can really appreciate its history and maintain its integrity.

Good luck to the future owner.

Aug. 11 2012 03:39 PM

Whether one personally likes Ives or not (and, I'm a big fan), he's a critical figure in American musical history, a maverick and a trailblazer at a time that America was still in the musical sway of Europe. It would be a shame to miss the opportunity to preserve this. Make it into an Ives museum, archives and research center, and sponsor concert series!

Aug. 11 2012 03:37 PM

Ives' music is junk and it is decades past the time anyone should continue to pretend he was an important composer. Demolish that boring, unimportant house and let the market determine the value of the land.

Aug. 10 2012 07:13 PM
Delmar Williams from Charlotte, NC

I just looked at a map, and I don't the sign was for this house. Redding is too far away from I 95, but I'm sure the sign had something to do with Charles Ives.

Aug. 10 2012 02:24 PM
Delmar Williams from Charlotte, NC

Several years ago I was driving up I 95 just north of NYC, and I believe there is a brown sign (which signifies an historic landmark) on the interstate which mentions this house or at least something to do with Charles Ives.) Has anyone else seen this sign?

At any rate, I got off the road, but I never found the house or whatever the sign was mentioning.

Aug. 10 2012 02:14 PM

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