Ives' house faces demolition, Bartók cabin saved

A marker at the spot where Béla Bartók spent his last summer

photo by Brenda Tremblay

On Monday, August 13, Charles Ives’ house may be saved from destruction.

There’s a movement afoot to preserve the late composer’s dwelling in West Redding, CT.  Some fear the shingled home (in which he wrote the Concord Sonata among other iconic works) faces the wrecking ball.  It's been on the market since September for $1.5 million, and chances are it'll be razed and replaced by something grander, more modern.

       

But the fate of the house might be decided on Monday, when several parties plan to meet in West Redding, including local government officials and a lawyer who represents the estates of Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. According to WQXR, the house is owned by Charles Ives Tyler, the composer’s adopted daughter's son.  He plans to sell.

But musicians and music lovers have the power to preserve history.

In 1995, Romanian pianist Cristina Stanescu visited the cabin where Béla Bartók spent the last summer of his life in Saranac Lake, New York.  The small, shingled building was falling down and slated for demolition.  Stanescu found the place fascinating and insisted that it be rebuilt and preserved.  She and other musicians offered benefit concerts and helped pay for a new roof.  In 2001, the non-profit Historic Saranac Lake received a major donation from Bartók’s son Peter, and Bartók cottage was completely restored.      

    Amy Catania, Executive Director of Historic Saranac Lake, says it attracts a small but steady stream of visitors, most recently a writer from Harper’s magazine.

On a recent vacation, I toured the tiny place.  It’s a romantic conceit to imagine one can feel closer to someone through a physical place, but this writer felt a frisson of connection to Béla Bartók by standing in his small living room, looking at the view that inspired him, studying his diminutive bathtub.               

 

When he lived in the spare, four-room cabin in the summer of 1945, the Hungarian composer believed he was dying. To leave his wife Ditta a legacy, he began secretly writing his third piano concerto.  She thought he was working on a viola concerto.  His son Peter recalls seeing his father sitting in the corner, working the piano piece and quickly hiding it under the manuscript of the viola concerto when his mother walked in the room.

Here, his son Peter said, “he found the peace and tranquility suitable for composing.”