Carl (Charles Sprague) Ruggles was born in East Marion, Massachusetts, on March 11th, 1876. Trained as a violinist, he also studied theory and composition in Boston with Josef Claus and John Knowles Paine. (Plans to study composition with DvoÅ™ák in Prague were put off when a financial sponsor died).
In 1907, Ruggles moved to Winona, Minnesota. In this small city on the banks of the Mississippi he founded, and for a decade conducted, the Winona Symphony. He also gave lessons, composed, and began painting during this time.
Ruggles moved to New York City in 1917 and, supported by teaching and private patronage, became associated with Ives, Varèse, Cowell, Slonimsky, and Seeger. Most of his major works were begun and first performed during the years in New York (1917-37).
After a period (1938-43) during which he taught composition at the University of Miami in Florida, Ruggles settled in a converted schoolhouse in Vermont, where he had been spending his summer since the ’20s. His musical activities during this time consisted mostly of ruthless and painstaking revision of his earlier works. (He started few new works; the only one completed is the short hymn tune Exaltation, written in 1958 as a memorial to his wife). He turned mostly to his painting : which grew increasingly abstract : during the Vermont years of his life.
A crusty, cigar-smoking, classically independent Yankee, Ruggles was described by Henry Cowell as “irascible, lovable, honest, sturdy, original, slow-thinking, deeply emotional, self-assured, and intelligent” and by Charles Seeger as “the most delightful character in contemporary American life.”
Ruggles’ unique music : atonal but not serial, and filled with shifting lines and rhythms : is difficult to describe. The New Grove’s Dictionary sees his music characteristically moving in “mounting declamations of heroic striving” varied with sparser, more settled textures, and finds “his aim was the clearest and boldest presentation of the features that were most important to him: line and polyphony.” Ives called it simply “strong masculine music.”
Carl Ruggles died in Bennington, Vermont, on October 24th, 1971.
Cover Title (Subtitle) Duration Instrumentation Solo AngelsFor Piano 2:40 Piano Unaccompanied AngelsOrgan Transcription 3:00 Organ Unaccompanied EvocationsFour Chants for Piano 10:00 Piano Unaccompanied OrganumFor Piano 6:30 Piano Unaccompanied Chamber Ensemble AngelsFrom Symphonoc Suite “Men and Angels” 3:00 Trumpet Sextet OrganumFor Two Pianos, Four Hands 6:30 2 Pianos 4 Hands Vocal / Choral ExaltationA Hymn Tune for Congregation and Organ Voice and Organ ToysFor Voice and Piano 1:00 Voice with Piano Orchestra Evocations 12:00 4 4 4 4 – 4 3 3 1; Timp. Perc. Pno. Str. Lilacs(2nd Movement: Men and Mountains) for String Orchestra 3:00 Str. Men and Angels 10:00 5 4 5 4 – 6 6 3 1; Timp. Perc. 2Hp. Str. Men and MountainsVersion for Large Orchestra 12:00 3 3 3 3 – 4 3 3 1; Timp. Perc. Pno. Str. Organumfor Orchestra 10:00 3 3 5 3 – 4 3 3 1; Timp. Perc. Pno. Str. Portalsfor String Orchestra 7:00 Str. Sun-Treader 14:00 5 5 5 4 – 6 5 5 2; Timp. Perc. 2Hp. Str. Vox Clamans (In Deserto)Solo Voice and Orchestra 12:00 Mezzo-Sop.; 1 0 2 0 – 1 2 0 0; Pno. 2Vln. Vla. 2Vcl. Cb.
Blistering with intensity, the twelve-minute piece makes use of Ruggles’ personal brand of atonality through dissonant counterpoint.
The work makes for intriguing listening, with slithery phrases coming together into satisfying climaxes. Wind lines wither like dying flowers and coil into stabbing chords. Throughout Ruggles paints a dense canvas of sound, with instrumental colors blurring together in unusual mixtures. The orchestra gave the work a performance of surging vitality to make a strong case for a composer whose music deserves to be heard more often.
–Aaron Keebaugh, Boston Classical Review
HARBISON: SYMPHONY NO. 4; RUGGLES: SUN-TREADER; STUCKY: SECOND CONCERTO FOR ORCHESTRA
Naxos (8.559836); June 1, 2018
Performer(s): National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic, David Alan Miller, conductor
THE COMPLETE MUSIC OF CARL RUGGLES
Other Minds (1020/21-2); April 24, 2012
Performer(s): Michael Tilson Thomas with the Buffalo Philharmonic
Men and Angels
Toys for Voice and Piano
Vox Clamans (in Deserto) for Solo Voice and Orchestra
for OrchestraMen and Mountains
for String Orchestra