Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: Carl Ruggles

George Crumb
George Crumb (1929-2022)

Before moving on to Carl Ruggles, the featured composer of today’s post, we would offer the warmest of happy birthdays to one of the most brilliant composers of the twentieth century, who also happened to be one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever met, George Crumb.  He was born in Charleston, West Virginia on October 24, 1929 – 93 years ago today – and died at his home in the Philadelphia suburb of Media, Pennsylvania, on February 6, 2022, at the age of 92.

I offered up an appreciation of Crumb in my Music History Monday post on the occasion of his 87th birthday on October 24, 2016.  We will revisit Crumb in my Music History Monday and Dr. Bob Prescribes posts for March 13 and 14, 2023 (yes, I plan ahead!) when we tackle his Black Angels for electric string quartet.

On to the featured event for today’s post.

Carl Ruggles circa 1950
Carl Ruggles (1876-1971) circa 1950

We mark the death on October 24, 1971 – 51 years ago today – of the American composer, teacher, and painter Charles Sprague (“Carl”) Ruggles, in Bennington Vermont.  Born in Marion, Massachusetts on March 11, 1876, Ruggles was 95 years old at the time of his death.

C-level People

Ordinarily when we refer to “C-level people”, we are talking about those people who constitute the upper echelons of a corporation’s senior executives and managers.  “C” means “chief”, and such “C-level” individuals include CEO (chief executive officer); CFO (chief financial officer); COO (chief operating officer); and CIO (chief information officer).  

Much as I’d love to discuss the leadership issues and workforce empowerment challenges faced by such C-level/C-suite executives, we’d observe that there is another sort of “C-level people”, folks who are, by their nature:

Crusty.  Curmudgeonly.  Cantankerous.  Crabby.  Cranky.  And Cross.

Let us now get a bit more specific.  Let’s talk about “C-level Composers.”

BTW, this isn’t to say that the individuals on the following list of (C-level) composers didn’t have good reason to be the way they were; that they didn’t have “hearts of gold” and various saving graces: and that they weren’t capable of the warm-‘n’-fuzzies.  Just that on a day-to-day basis they could be . . . crotchety.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827).  Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901).  Johannes Brahms (1833-1897).  Charles Ives (1874-1954). Carl Ruggles (1876-1961). 

(Those people in-the-know will wonder why I didn’t put the American composer David Diamond [1915-2005] on this C-level composers list.  A truly wonderful composer whose Symphony No. 2 was featured in my Dr. Bob Prescribes post on May 21, 2019, David Diamond, bless him, crossed the line from being a just a curmudgeon to genuine douchebag.  Sorry, but that’s just how he was.)

(Neither is Richard Wagner on my “C-level” composer list.  See David Diamond, above.)

Carl Ruggles (he changed his first name from “Charles” to the German equivalent of “Carl” out of his love for things German) was of that generation of American modernists (which included his friend, Charles Ives), who were bound up in a “dissonance equals machismo” thing.  Born in New England (as was Ives) in 1876, Ruggles grew up at a time when real American men weren’t professional musicians, a career considered fit only for “foreigners” and “effeminates.”  The result was an overcompensating, exaggerated machismo on the part of both Ives and Ruggles, both of whom felt that purposely “pretty” music (like that of Debussy) was the compositional equivalent of a limp handshake.   Instead, they each cultivated edgy, chromatic music that, in their own minds, reinforced their masculinity.…

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