Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Stephen Blum

Committee Members

Philip Lambert

Ursula Oppens

Norman Carey

Subject Categories

Music Performance | Music Theory


Charles Ives, Central Park in the Dark, The Unanswered Question, Fourth Symphony, Rhythm, Entrain


Charles Ives on the Nature of Experience: The Compositional Designs and Aesthetic Programs of Three Orchestral Works explores the hypothesis that Ives set in motion in many of his compositions a juxtaposition of temporal process (such as polyrhythm and polymeter) with the aim of exploiting a person’s innate abilities to entrain. Ives believed participants engaged in a juxtaposition of temporal processes are able to form personalized experiences by choosing which elements to attend to.

I present three analyses to explore the potential for multiple entrainment experiences in three works by Ives: The Unanswered Question, Central Park in the Dark, and the Fourth Symphony. Each composition contains a juxtaposition of temporal processes and a written program addressing the nature of human experience. I examine each work’s compositional design and written program to find an underlying process (“aesthetic program”) that is realized in both musical and extra-musical forms.

Chapter 2, “Ives’s Views and Approaches to Musical Time,” outlines Ives’s performance approach to polyrhythms and connects his performance practice with current studies on polyrhythmic performance. Ives considered musical time as being built on a fluid foundation that is continually affected by experience. I connect this approach with current musical theories that consider experience a critical component in the unfolding of musical time: Christopher Hasty’s theory of projection and Mari Reiss Jones’s concept of subjective generators.

Ives referred to many of his compositions as “Pictures in Sounds.” Chapter 3 “Pictures in Sounds” lists these compositions and explores the underlying aesthetic objective in this sub-category in Ives’s oeuvre. I claim that these musical illustrations are perceptual images comprised of the participant’s perceptual anticipations while entraining in the musical experience. As participants engage in a juxtaposition of temporal processes, their choices while listening and/or performing shape and define their individual experiences, resulting in individual “views.”

As many researchers have noted, Ives was interested in cycles as a medium of unification. The term “cycles” in music however has typically referred to imbedded or repetitive structures. In Chapter 4 (“Cycles Revised”), I treat the use of “cycles” as a process and connect Ives’s use of the term to Ulric Neisser’s concept of “perceptual cycles.” Both authors considered cycles and perception as being continually evolving processes rooted in the inseparable variable of experience.

I introduce the concept of cyclic reference units (CRU), which are continual musical processes that guarantee a juxtaposition of temporal processes, heard or unheard. The CRU creates a rhythmic density in Ives’s music that allows listeners and performers to actively choose between different temporal processes inherent in the work or attune to an internal process in the creation of a composite view. I assert that this rhythmic density in Ives’s music reverberates into the composition’s musical form and continuity by enabling participants to ultimately choose what is in the foreground, middle ground, and background. Ives’s compositions subsequently take many forms and facilitate a variety of meanings, creating musical experiences that ultimately embrace diversity and individuals’ rights to choose—paradigms at the heart of Transcendental principles and American values.