Charles Ives, the early twentieth century,American composer pictured pensively above, is situated at an interesting boundary between historical debates of what constitutes “American music” that we’ve discussed in class. While Virgil Tomson’s ideas considered American music “derived from the British Isles” to be authentic—using North America’s Anglophone predominance as explanation for a continued lineage of English culture and music over all else—other critics and musicologists have proposed that American music’s essence derives from diverse folk traditions. Charles Ives was descended from pilgrims and grew up with Anglo-American melodies in New England—however, his shift to avant-garde styles, combined with influence from folk traditions considered part of an “American school” of composition, demonstrates the futility of trying to narrowly define “American music.” Ives’ development problematizes the work of early twentieth century music critics like Tomson and Olin Downes, who—possessing prominent influence over public perception of American classical music—used Ives to promote contradictory, limited arguments over American musical authenticity.
The debate over American Music’s standards and authenticity, especially when considering the influences of white male composers, was a means of determining what whiteness was in an early twentieth-century cultural context. Tomson saw an evolving American idiom—though in some ways diverging from European music—nevertheless marked by similarities indicating “the products of a common tradition.” Tomson believed Charles Ives’ music fit the characteristics closely linking European/Anglophone lineage to American music. However, in a 1937 New York Times article by music critic Olin Downes, a contemporary of Ives, the critic glances at “native scores” and lauds the many folk music traditions informing the development of modern American composers. Downes believed that not all American symphonic repertoire had been “mere imitators of European models of composition.” Instead of pointing out examples of American music deriving new forms from only a foundation of European music (as Tomson did), Downes emphasized the wealth of folk music that American composers could draw from, “either grown from the soil or transplanted there from outside sources.” Still, he links and celebrates the connection of this distinctly American folk music to songs like “Dixie” which immortalized the ideals of slavery and the Old South. This fact demonstrates a racialized context which—well into the twentieth century—still held mainstream influence in legitimizing problematic forms of white American culture. Nonetheless, as Tomson, who drew from racist, controversial scholarly ideas like those of George Pullen Jackson, saw American history as too short to legitimize its composers, Downes declared that the young, white male composers of the era, including Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, and Charles Ives, were too little performed.
In conclusion, debates over what Ives represented showed incongruent definitions of musical authenticity, since one composer—Charles Ives—fit into both “camps.” It’s perhaps more important to consider how analyzing debates over American music through Ives and the perspectives of critics like Tomson and Downes problematizes their arguments. While they musically diverge, the convergence around attempts to define the raw materials worth lauding in American music as a reflection of whiteness (and thus white American culture) provides a glimpse into the mainstream, overtly racialized ways in which music critics influenced society and worked to further an exclusive conception of American music.
 Virgil Thomson, American Music Since 1910, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, 16.
 Harold C. Schonberg,. “Natural American, Natural Rebel, Natural Avant-Gardist: Charles Ives had no use for Mozart, Haydn, Mendelssohn,Tchaikovsky and Wagner- Charles Ives Ives at the Keyboard,” New York Times (1923-), Apr 21, 1974. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/natural-american-rebel-avant-gardist/docview/119909304/se-2; Olin Downes, “A Glance at Native Scores,” New York Times (1923-), Jul 25, 1937. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/glance-at-native-scores/docview/102135938/se-2.
 Thomson, American Music Since 1910, 20.
 Downes, A Glance at Native Scores,” https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/glance-at-native-scores/docview/102135938/se-2.