Mad Music

Charles Ives, the Nostalgic Rebel

Stephen Budiansky

Mad Music is the story of Charles Edward Ives (1874–1954), the innovative American composer who achieved international recognition, but only after he’d stopped making music. While many of his best works received little attention in his lifetime, Ives is now appreciated as perhaps the most important American composer of the twentieth century and father of the diverse lines of Aaron Copland and John Cage. Ives was also a famously wealthy crank who made millions in the insurance business and tried hard to establish a reputation as a crusty New Englander. To Stephen Budiansky, Ives’s life story is a personification of America emerging as a world power: confident and successful, yet unsure of the role of art and culture in a modernizing nation. Though Ives steadfastly remained an outsider in many ways, his life and times inform us of subjects beyond music, including the mystic movement, progressive anticapitalism, and the initial hesitancy of turn-of-the-century-America modernist intellectuals. Deeply researched and elegantly written, this accessible biography tells a uniquely American story of a hidden genius, disparaged as a dilettante, who would shape the history of music in a profound way. Making use of newly published letters—and previously undiscovered archival sources bearing on the longstanding mystery of Ives’s health and creative decline—this absorbing volume provides a definitive look at the life and times of a true American original.

E-book: $34.99
ISBN-13: 9781611685145
Pages: 324 | Size: 6 in. x 9 in.
Date Published: April 1, 2014


  • A superb and genial biography of Charles Ives.

    Washington Post
  • [An] excellent new biography ... The facts are amazing- there aren’t that many insurance tycoons doubling as undiscovered modernist geniuses-and the difficulty of writing Ives’s biography is to prevent the life from sliding into myth. Budiansky tells the story movingly but plainly.

    New York Review of Books
  • Stephen Budiansky’s Mad Music is a first-rate introduction geared to the general public. . . . Mr. Budiansky lures the reader into the mystery of Ives’s life, and the eccentric power of his music, in prose free from jargon and pretense. . . [An] engaging portrait.

    Wall Street Journal
  • Eminently insightful and engagingly written. . . . The content and style of this exhaustively researched biography combine to provide a compelling narrative of a unique figure. . . . Highly recommended.

  • This is a brilliantly written biography of Charles Ives. The author’s extraordinary research has yielded fresh and very important insights into the battle between the composer’s health and musical creations. Ives has never before seemed so human, so real. This is a magnificent biography of Ives, one to join and amplify the fine biographies done in the late 20th century. It’s absorbing reading for the general public and has significant new information for music scholars.

    James Sinclair
    Music Director, Orchestra New England

About the Author

Stephen Budiansky

Stephen Budiansky is the author of numerous books of history, biography, and popular science including Blackett’s War (2013) and Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II (2000). His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Atlantic, American Heritage, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. He was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship to research the life of Charles Ives.

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