Another of the essential Ives problems, an important manifestation of his doubt, is his simultaneous affection for music of unashamed consonance—like hymns or Stephen Foster ballads, which are almost too easy to understand—and music of bewildering dissonance. (His dirty secret was that he loved to write beautiful things.) He did not hide this divided loyalty, which would be disqualifying for most composers in search of a voice. In the 114 Songs, self-published as testament, these extremes are side by side: his gorgeous student setting of “Feldeinsamkeit” in normative D-flat major nestles against pages of tone clusters, savage piles of unresolved notes.And again:
Humor has a complicated place in the value system of classical music, and for many Ives’s broad wit is a failing. But his slapstick pastiches and his most affecting testaments share a common urge: to recreate the messiness of human experience. It’s true enough to say that Ives wrote music about music, but truer to say that Ives wrote about music-making—social events, church services, parties—any kind of event in which music is a conduit for communal epiphany, release, or outpouring. One famous example is the last movement of the Second Orchestral Set, where Ives remembers an accidental catharsis: shortly after the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, crowds on a train platform joining along with a hurdy-gurdy to sing “In the Sweet Bye and Bye.” The moment when everyone arrives together singing the tune is thrilling, but even more moving is the aftermath, the trailing-off, the hurdy-gurdy continuing to play, winding down slowly but surely—Ives devotes a great deal of love to the unclean finish.This is a pretty good argument for Ives' music and for listening to it in a different way. One piece that Mr. Denk particularly recommends is "The Revival", the last movement of the Violin Sonata No. 2. Let's have a listen:
Well, that is certainly an interesting, unique and expressive piece. I may have to change my mind about Ives rather thoroughly! It is probably the case that I just don't know very much of his music.