Charles Ives


You are viewing an older version of the Yalebooks website. Please visit out new website with more updated information and a better user experience:

"My Father`s Song": A Psychoanalytic Biography

Stuart Feder

View Inside Format: Cloth
Price: $70.00
Our shopping cart only supports Mozilla Firefox. Please ensure you're using that browser before attempting to purchase.

"A sound of a distant horn

O'er shadowed lake is borne

—my father's song."—Charles Ives


Charles Ives, perhaps the quintessential American composer of the twentieth century, drew on his childhood experiences in a small New England town in his music. Through his close relationship with his father, George, a Civil War bandmaster, Ives developed a powerful feeling for nineteenth-century rural America. This book—the first full-scale psychoanalytic biography of a major composer—examines the lives of the two men and shows how a knowledge of their relationship as father and son, teacher and pupil, is central to an understanding of Ives’s work.


Stuart Feder, a psychoanalyst with training in musicology, demonstrates that George exerted so pervasive an influence on Charles’s creative life that Ives’s music may be seen as the result of an unconscious fantasy of posthumous collaboration between father and son. The music bears George’s mark, not only in its incorporation of hymn tunes, parlor ballads, Civil War marches, and other homely sources that derived from his youth, but also in its use of technical musical devices attributed to George. Moreover, the span of Ives’s creative life reveals another connection to his father: Charles’s musical productivity began to wane in his forties, as he approached the age at which his father died. Dr. Feder examines the influence of George’s teaching and storytelling on Charles’s years as a composer. Ives’s later decline is traced psychologically and medically. Using Ives’s music as an essential part of his data, Dr. Feder demonstrates how music can illuminate and be expressive of the inner life of its creator.

Stuart Feder, M.D., is a practicing psychoanalyst and a faculty member of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute. He holds an advanced degree in music from Harvard University.

"A model of biography illuminated by psychoanalytic insights and musical expertise and a gripping story, informative, stimulating, and pleasurable."—Gilbert J. Rose, M.D.

"An absorbing study that should contribute substantially to our understanding of one of America's first truly original and important composers. The book is filled with insight not only into Ives the man but also into Ives the composer."—David Epstein

"Feder has written a handsome and insightful biography of Ives. Using his fine psychoanalytic technique, he delves with authority into the often confused questions of Ives's modes and motivations of composing. Most importantly, he reveals the autobiographical significance of Ives's output of songs. This biography is unique and will be indispensable."—James Sinclair, Executive Editor for the Charles Ives Society and Music Director of Orchestra New England

"[Feder's] research is impressive; the work-by-work interpretations contain valuable insights."—Kirkus Reviews

"Feder explores Ives's relationship with his father and his life in small-town New England."—Publishers Weekly

"An absorbing psychoanalytic narrative that brings fresh insight to many matters. . . . Feder's core argument . . . leads to fascinating revelations about musical representations of psychological phenomena."—Philip Lambert, Newsletter, Institute for Studies in American Music

"A fascinating book. . . . Feder makes extraordinary connections and posits fascinating explanations for subliminal processes at work behind the music."—James Sinclair, New Haven Register

"Feder knows his music as well as he knows his psychology, and he writes with insight."—Richard Brookhiser, New Criterion

"Even for readers acquainted with other studies [of Ives] Feder's book delivers new data and contains some surprises. . . . Feder's conclusions are . . . informed by his unique double perspective as musician and psychoanalyst. . . . an indispensable book, a substantial package of biography, informed musical analysis, cultural history, and psychological insight. Any subsequent study of Ives will have to reckon with it."—John C. Tibbetts, The World & I

"Feder . . . offers an eclectic blend of psychoanalytic theory, musical insight, and scholarly rigor. . . . An invaluable work of biography."—Philip Lambert, Institute for Studies in American Music Newsletter

"[A] model for how to do psychobiography or, for that matter, biography right . . . Feder tells the story whole; I believe the real Ives is in this book. . . . A delight to read, cleanly and elegantly written."—William A. Frosch, American Journal of Psychiatry

"The first psychoanalytic study of a major composer, it is also an important examination of the role of the father in the development of a creative individual. . . . Feder's book makes a major contribution to the history of 20th century music."—David M. Abrams, Psychoanalytic books: A Quarterly Journal of Reviews

"A brief review cannot do justice to the value and wisdom of Dr. Feder's book. A model for future writers, and a milestone in psychobiographic research, it elevates this approach to new levels of scholarship."—Peter Ostwald, M.D., Medical Problems of Performing Artists

"The book illuminates brilliantly the development of Ives's complex personality."—H. Wiley Hitchcock, Journal of the American Musicological Society

"[An] important contribution to the Ives literature."—Choice

"Enlightening. There is much therein on what Ives and Thoreau had in common and why Thoreau was so appealing to him."—Walter Harding, Thoreau Society Bulletin

"Stuart Feder, by drawing attention to Charles Ives's boyhood—and in particular to his close yet conflicted relationship with his father George—has made a major contribution to our understanding of the first great and quintessentially American composer. . . . This biography makes rewarding reading for its descriptions of Ives, the world he grew up in and the complex nature of his character and his motivation. It is highly recommended for anyone interested in Ives or in twentieth-century music."—Michael Craig Miller, International Journal of Psycho-Analysis

"This book [is] well worth reading and learning from. It is recommended particularly to those interested in creativity and personality."—Irwin L. Kutash, Contemporary Psychology

"No one else has ever seen the connection between Ives's life and art with such a high degree of technical expertise and human insight. . . . Feder's book is a model of psychologically informed, meticulously researched biography."—Kathleen M. Dalton, American Historical Review

"Stuart Feder has written a remarkable biography of America's most important modernist composer. . . . Its historical richness as well as its insight will earn Feder many more readers in other fields. . . . A solid, imaginatively compelling achievement, completely convincing in its use of music, that most abstract of arts, as the very stuff of the biographical process. Through his leadership role in interdisciplinary studies of applied psychoanalytic theory in music, Feder has pioneered new territory."—Judith Tick, New England Quarterly

"This is an excellent, intriguing biography with a rich narrative. It is not only a biography of Charles Ives and of George, his father; it is also a history of Danbury, the family seat, and of the Northeast of the period. Reading the biography is a visual experience as much as it is an intellectual one, as Feder describes the bands, the movements, the town, the country, the world of Yale, and its inhabitants. . . . A rich, convincing psychobiography of Charles Ives which I heartily recommend. His careful study is replete with information about Ives's life, his creative work, and his world. The reader is invited to join Feder in extending Feder's understanding and in formulating his or her own views."—Milton Viederman, Psychanalytic Quarterly

Winner of the Society for American Music’s 1993 Lowens Award for outstanding contributions to American music studies
ISBN: 9780300054811
Publication Date: June 24, 1992
368 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
16 b/w illus.
Gustav Mahler

A Life in Crisis

Stuart Feder

View details