Composers: Cantankerous Yankee

Conductor Leopold Stokowski hushed the audience in Manhattan's Carnegie Hall. "Tonight," he said, "we are honoring one of America's greatest artists ..." From the back of the hall came a shattering sneeze. "That," cracked Stokowski, "is not part of the score." It easily could have been.

The occasion was the world première of Charles Ives's Fourth Symphony, and if not with sneezes, the score was alive with musical snorts and snickers, hiccups and heehaws. It was one of the most difficult symphonies ever played —more, in fact, than any one conductor could handle. To help referee such rowdy goings-on as...