Friday, March 2nd, 2012...9:30 am

You’ve Got Mail: Letters from the Ward Collection

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Richard Wagner, 1872. MS Thr 519, 2008TW-1027(1)The John Milton and Ruth Neils Ward Collection of the Harvard Theatre Collection is comprised of thousands of books, scores, librettos, playbills, illustrations, and ephemera relating to public performances that incorporate music in an essential way, such as ballet, opera, social dance, pantomime, operetta, and burlesque.

The letters in the collection offer a particularly quotidian perspective on the performing arts as occupation and trade, and on performing artists as real people preoccupied with such universal human concerns as going to war, planning for the future, and attempting to resolve workplace disputes.

A 1917 letter from Vincent d’Indy to an unidentified editor replies point-by-point to charges levelled at d’Indy with “truly flagrant illogicity” by fellow composer Camille Saint-Saëns. Let the record show that d’Indy claimed not to have anything to do with the “pro-Wagnerian plot hatched by high musical personalities and others.”

Vincent D'Indy, 1917. MS Thr 519, 2009TW-190

Vincent D'Indy, 1917 (verso). MS Thr 519, 2009TW-190

Richard Wagner himself writes to an unknown recipient from Bayreuth in 1872.

Richard Wagner, 1872. MS Thr 519, 2008TW-1027(1)

In a letter to an editor, a violinist in the Orchestre national de France responds with barely veiled anger to unflattering coverage of the orchestra in Le Figaro. The recipient has pencilled a rejoinder in the left margin: “mais oui, je le savais” (“yes, I am aware that you do in fact practice”).

Orchestra Nationale de France. MS Thr 519, 2009TW-225(3.4)

Sixty pages of tightly spaced, finely written World War I-era correspondence from the enlisted French harpist Marcel Tournier to his composer colleague Fernand Halphen cheerfully report numerous details of musical life in the armed forces, such as the discovery of a piano near his barracks. Tournier survived the war and went on to teach some of the most important harpists of the 20th century; his correspondent, who as a boy was painted by Renoir, perished in combat.

Marcel Tournier. MS Thr 519, 2009TW-225(1)

On stationery adorned by a Camille Mauclair poem, the composer and impresario Charles Strony describes with touching enthusiasm an upcoming concert in his series Lundis artistiques.

Charles Strony. MS Thr 519, 2009TW-225(3.7)

This post is part of a weekly feature on the Houghton Library blog, “You’ve Got Mail,” based on letters in Houghton Library. Every Friday this year a Houghton staff member will select a letter from the diverse collections in the Library and put that letter into context. All posts associated with this series may be viewed by clicking on the You’veGotMail tag.

[Thanks to Christina Linklater, Project Music Cataloger, for contributing this post.]

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