Original Research

‘Music is Life’ – The influence of transcendentalist philosophy on Ives’s Concord Sonata

Waldo Weyer, Bertha Spies
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 3, No 2 | a328 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v3i2.328 | © 2007 Waldo Weyer, Bertha Spies | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 11 March 2016 | Published: 11 April 2007

About the author(s)

Waldo Weyer, North-West University, South Africa
Bertha Spies, North-West University, South Africa

Full Text:



Although the Concord Sonata is traditionally regarded as a sonata, it is atypical of the genre and is often considered as enigmatic. To understand this composition, a transdisciplinary approach is essential by, more specifically, incorporating knowledge of the philosophies of Transcendentalist authors Emerson, Hawthorne, the Alcotts and
Thoreau. Charles Ives set out the Transcendentalist ideas which influenced his conception of this piano sonata in his Essays before a sonata. His view of musical structure is based on the motto ‘Music is Life’, which he derived from their philosophy. The analysis of the first and last movements of this sonata also facilitates access to the ideas of Emerson and Thoreau. By linking the results of a musical analysis to extra-musical knowledge from literary art, this article demonstrates how abstract ideas of the Transcendental writers can be expressed through music. Interpretations arrived at in this manner help to promote a better understanding of the work as a whole. This essay shows how mediating between two different fields of knowledge and between knowledge and understanding as complementary concepts can enhance understanding and therefore appreciation of the music.


Charles Ives, knowledge and cognition, transcendentalism, Henry David Thoreau, Walden, ‘Music is life’.


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