Category: Isham Memorial Library (page 1 of 15)

Changing names, changing fortunes

On this date in 1803 was born the composer Lady Augusta Kennedy-Erskine.

Lady Augusta Kennedy-Erskine is depicted leaning towards a sleeping child. She is wearing a bonnet and a dark dress with a white collar.

Millicent Ann Mary Kennedy-Erskine; Lady Augusta Kennedy-Erskine. Stipple and line engraving by Thomas Anthony Dean, published 1833. National Portrait Gallery. NPG D36555.

She was christened Augusta FitzClarence, however her names and titles developed over time. Several of these are brought together in her entry in VIAF, the Virtual International Authority File.

A screenshot listing many names by which Lady Augusta Kennedy-Erskine was known, including Augusta FitzClarence and Augusta Gordon-Hallyburton.

Lady Augusta Kennedy-Erskine in the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF).

The Loeb Music Library recently digitized a volume containing four sets of printed scores by English women composers, the first of which is a set of songs by Augusta Kennedy-Erskine. The volume belonged to John Fane, 11th Earl of Westmorland (1784-1859), who also adopted a new name: until 1841 he went by Lord Burghersh. He had a long career as a diplomat, soldier and politican, co-founded the Royal Academy of Music in 1822 and owned many music books. His collection is now scattered among music libraries worldwide (browse WorldCat for Fane, John to see some of their new homes). 

The front cover of a volume of music. Gilt letters on a red morocco label say Lord Burghersh.

Mus 505.5. Loeb Music Library, Harvard University.

Earlier this year, we added this important book to RISM, the International Inventory of Musical Sources. An astute RISM colleague immediately got in touch to let us know that another item bound into the volume, a set of songs by the composer Mary Radcliff Chambers, is actually cited in an auction house’s description of a collection of materials belonging to Chambers, to which the dealer has given the title The Banker’s Daughter: family archive illustrating the consequences of bankruptcy. Following a family tragedy, Chambers took to the stage to support her family. She also published her compositions. The collection Simple Ballads was apparently produced in both an unadorned version (“just a single copy in institutions worldwide, at Harvard’s Loeb Music Library”) as well as in a luxe edition prepared specially for Queen Victoria.

Two Works by Joyce Mekeel

Headshot of Mekeel

Mekeel, Harvard University, Radcliffe Archives, W367379.1

The Joyce Mekeel Collection of Musical Scores and Recordings, 1961-1996, which came to the Library by the composer in 1997, contains manuscript scores, compositional materials and incomplete works, correspondence, reviews, theory notebooks, biographical ephemera, and audio materials. From this collection we’ve chosen two pieces to highlight: one for its interesting instructional layout, another for its glowing reviews.

Mekeel’s 1973-74 site-specific work Moveable Feast describes how the three groups in the piece, Jazz Group, Old C, and Feast, are to play music and move their bodies. The collection contains a 1992 letter to an editor at Oxford University Press as a response to numerous questions, a cue sheet from a November 1973 performance at “Mass College” and a March 7, 1974 performance at New England Conservatory, of which NEC holds a recording.

Moveable Feast stage work instructions

Merritt Room, Ms. Coll. 104, Box 18

The following year Mekeel completed a commission by Harvard’s Fromm Music Foundation of Serena, a piece for mezzo-soprano, speaker, and chamber ensemble. It premiered at Tanglewood during the annual Festival of Contemporary Music, which still continues to this day.

Serena speaker and singer instructions

Merritt Room, Ms. Coll. 104, Box 2

The work was positively reviewed by Donal Henahan, a candid opinion writer for the New York Times. He snarkily writes, “It doesn’t often happen that the newest piece on a concert program is also the best, but that is how it was last night at Tanglewood…”

Newspaper clipping with quote.He must have been truly impressed given he also states, “Otherwise, the concert offered the usual assortment of contemporary commonplaces and experimental failures, with an elderly additive to leaven the lump.” Extra kudos to Mekeel, given that Henahan also wrote a provocative piece for the New York Times titled “Let’s Hear It For Composer Persons,” where the first sentence reads, “Everyone knows women can’t compose.”

Newspaper clipping stating women can't compose.

In the same article he writes of Serena, “…Mekeel was powerful and simple in effect though intricately designed.”

newspaper clipping with praise quote

A later review of a 1977 performance held at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City was just as positive, stating “the most arresting item of the evening was Joyce Mekeel’s “Serena,” the sung and spoken duo.” The concert was titled “Hear America First,” and was a premiere for several new works by several composers.

Newspaper clipping withe previous quote

In the spring of 2019, the Loeb Music Library held an exhibit, Toward the Source: Joyce Mekeel, curated by the Keeper of the Isham Memorial Library, Christina Linklater. We also have another Mekeel collection, The Joyce Mekeel Collection of Musical Scores in Graphic Notation, 1952-1969. The Mekeel Collections will be available for research by request in the Isham Memorial Library, which is located on the second floor of the Loeb Music Library, when the Library opens again post-pandemic.

Two exhibit cases containing Mekeel materials.

Exhibit cases from the 2019 exhibition from the Joyce Mekeel collection.


Henahan, Donal. “Music: ‘Serena’ Catches the Imagination.” New York Times, Aug. 13, 1975.
Henahan, Donal. “Let’s Hear It For Composer Persons.” New York Times, Aug. 31, 1975.
Hughes, Allen. “Hear America.” New York Times, Apr. 14, 1977.

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