Category: Finding Aids (page 1 of 6)

Martha Graham slept here

In May 1947, Harvard’s Department of Music assembled a host of composers, scholars, writers and performers for a three-day symposium on Music and Criticism. Eight hundred attendees listened to opening remarks from E.M. Forster, who began, “Music is the deepest of the arts and deep beneath the arts.” They also heard talks by Roger Sessions, Virgil Thomson and Paul Henry Lang. Olga Samaroff reflected on her career as a pianist, newspaper writer and television broadcaster, touching on themes of music literacy for laypeople, the ethics of music criticism and the future of music in America.

Several compositions were commissioned for the event and thus received their world premières in Cambridge. Bohuslav Martinů was commissioned to write his sixth string quartet for the symposium, correspondence surrounding which commission features prominently in the introduction to the critical edition of Martinů’s string quartets which was published last year by Bärenreiter Praha

A letter from the composer Bohuslav Martinů, expressing concerns with an edition of the score of his sixth string quartet. Date January 29, 1947 and signed B. Martinů.

Merritt Ms. Coll. 100

Harvard professor Walter Piston’s “Done. W.P.” in blue pencil is scattered throughout the collection, as he ticks off to-do list items. Piston also contributed a new string quartet.

The Collegiate Chorale, a vocal ensemble notable for being racially integrated from its inception in 1941, sang a commissioned work by Paul Hindemith, Apparebit Repentina Dies, and pieces by Gian Francesco Malipiero and Aaron Copland. And the Martha Graham Dance Company performed William Schuman’s Night Journey for the first time, and (not a première) Carlos Chávez’s Dark Meadow. In this letter, sent after the symposium to Harvard professor A. Tillman Merritt, Graham reflects poetically on the experience.

A letter from the American dancer Martha Graham, dated June 2nd, 1946. Ms. Graham is accepting an invitation to perform at the Harvard symposium on Music and Criticism the following spring.

Merritt Ms. Coll. 100

Flying in E.M. Forster doesn’t happen without a considerable amount of paperwork. The documents tracking the planning and execution of the symposium are now held at the Isham Memorial Library, 41 folders in all. There is correspondence with the participants in the symposium, the commissioned composers, performers, donors, piano-tuners and chair-loaners. There are press releases, journal and newspaper reviews, and schedules. There are many, many receipts. The conference papers were published in 1948 as Music and Criticism: A Symposium. An attendee’s account of the event as well as some institutional context are to be found in Elliot Forbes’s A History of Music at Harvard to 1972 (Department of Music, Harvard University: 1988), pages 103-110. But these papers tell us of the mechanics, of the logistics, and of the personalities. For instance, it seems Martha Graham and her company were happy enough to be boarded at local homes. Sadly, the names of their hosts do not appear to have been retained.

This collection of correspondence, clippings and ephemera, assembled under the title Records of the Symposium on Music Criticism, held May 1-3, 1947 at Harvard, is available for use on site in the Isham Memorial Library whenever that section of the Music Library is open, generally Monday to Friday, nine to five. Click on the title above, then View Onsite, to set up an appointment to come and see these materials in person. If you are, as E.M. Forster described his usual whereabouts, “in the other Cambridge” or otherwise unable to come visit in person, Isham staff will be pleased to work with you to provide digital surrogates. Click on the collection title, then View Onsite, and then Switch to Photoduplication. 

A last letter: this one from an organizer to Arnold Schoenberg, who also contributed a new work, his String Trio Op. 45, the first work he completed after his near-fatal heart attack of 1946.

A letter to the composer Arnold Schoenberg. Unsigned carbon copy from an organizer of the conference.

Merritt Ms. Coll. 100

 

“Sweetly ululate”: the Lou Harrison collection

The coincidence of the anniversary, in June, of the events leading to the gay liberation movement in the United States, and the centennial of the birth of the composer, activist and gay icon Lou Harrison, in 2017, affords us the opportunity to highlight some important Harrison materials at the Loeb Music Library.

Lou Harrison was born in Portland, Oregon in 1917. His family moved to northern California in 1926 and most of Harrison’s career would be spend there, studying with Henry Cowell at San Francisco State College and with Arnold Schoenberg at UCLA, and teaching at Mills College, UCLA and other institutions. Travels in Asia and study of Asian instruments (Korean double-reed p’iri, Chinese psaltery, Indonesian gamelan) inspired a compositional style which incorporated Asian and Western styles and instruments. Harrison’s contributions to gay culture include several works for gay choruses, the best known of which is Three Songs, commissioned by the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus in 1985. Another commission from the same group in 1988 was a reworking of Harrison’s opera Young Caesar, to which he added several choruses.

The Music Library’s collection of Lou Harrison materials covers the years 1945 to 1991, with most items dating from the 1970s and 1980s. There are musical manuscripts and drafts, poems and drawings, and correspondence with Virgil Thomson and Alan Hovhaness.

There are several drafts of the Young Caesar revision.

A draft of Scene 4 of Young Caesar, Lou Harrison's opera adapted for the Portland Gay Men's Chorus.

Ms. Coll. 132, Merritt Room

And many items in the collection show Harrison’s distinctive music and text handwriting. This draft of the Introitus from the Mass for St. Cecilia’s Day, for example, includes three unrelated poems: “The Lady Tamma lived in Palmyra”, “Rain in New Zealand, ” “Love is made of lust.”

This draft, for the Introitus of Lou Harrison's Mass for St. Cecilia, also includes three poems and some notes, all in Harrison's distinctive hand.

Ms. Coll. 132, Merritt Room

Links to this archival collection and to other collections of Lou Harrison materials may be found in his Wikipedia article, here. We regularly add links to Isham’s archival collections in Wikipedia, and hope you will feel free to add links yourself or to suggest that we do so, so that others may easily discover Isham’s collections. 

Isham Memorial Library is the special collections unit within the Loeb Music Library. Many of its materials are in open stacks, with rare and unique items held in the locked Merritt Room. To view Merritt Room materials, use your Special Collections Request Account: start by clicking on View Onsite in HOLLIS, then log on and suggest a time you’d like to come and look at the collection. As Isham is not always fully staffed it is advisable to wait for a confirmation message from a staff member before you plan your visit.

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