A Millennium of Music at the Morgan, Part II

Let’s continue our tour of the music collections at the Morgan that we began in Part I. While the Morgan’s reputation for literary manuscripts, rare books, and master drawings is well established, a recent survey showed that only a quarter of our visitors expect to see a music exhibition when they come to the Morgan. In this two-part series, I aim to raise that number by taking you on a tour of highlights from our wonderful music collections, which span over a millennium of musical creativity. In the first part of our tour we saw rare and special items from the medieval period through the end of the nineteenth century. Today, we’ll pick up where we left off with a work from 1897, and then delve into the musical riches of the twentieth century that reside at the Morgan.

A great thing about music at the Morgan is that we offer not only our collections of rare musical scores, but also first-rate concert and lecture programming. Normally these events take place in Gilder Lehrman Hall, but during the current crisis we have moved our programming online. In more typical times when our concerts are on site, we like to align our programming with our collection whenever we can. When a concert includes a work for which we have a manuscript in one of our collections, we will often display it outside the hall on the evening of the concert. In 2019 for example, Julie Adams and Ken Noda performed Richard Strauss’s “Morgen" in the George London Foundation recital at the Morgan's Gilder Lehrman Hall (pictured).

Photography by Jennifer Taylor

Richard Strauss (1864–1949), Songs, op. 27 “Morgen” (“Tomorrow”), Autograph manuscript, 1897, Mary Flagler Cary Collection, Gift of Robert Owen Lehman

The words of this song, one of Strauss’s best-loved works, were written by Scotch-German poet John Henry Mackay. The opening lines offer a note of hopefulness:

And tomorrow the sun will shine again
And on the way which I shall follow
She will again unite us lucky ones

We are particularly excited about Richard Strauss at the Morgan this year because the works of his in our collection are newly available in our repository of digital manuscript facsimiles, Music Manuscripts Online. Titles include Don Juan, Tod und Verklärung, and other greats. Enjoy them here.

Working in the vault at the Morgan is generally a straightforward affair, retrieving items after locating them in our library catalog. Sometimes, though, it's a treasure hunt, full of the joy of discovery. Exploring the James Fuld Collection provides particularly good opportunities for serendipity. Mr. Fuld’s succinct notes, written on three-by-five cards and placed with each item, provide telling details and memorable anecdotes.

Here is a favorite item I came across recently: a piano roll recorded in 1916 by the American composer Scott Joplin. As Mr. Fuld explains in his note (visible in the image), such items “are extremely rare.” Fuld’s collection also features many early-edition Joplin scores including his opera Treemonisha, and important historical records like the signed publishing contract for his iconic Maple Leaf Rag.

Scott Joplin (c.1868–1917), Something Doing, Piano Roll, 1916, James Fuld Collection

In this image you can see the small holes punched in the piano roll; when it’s played back with a pianola, also called a player piano, we can hear the nuances of timing in Joplin’s own performance.

Another unique item, found in the Robert Owen Lehman Collection on deposit, is this sketchbook of the French composer Claude Debussy. As I noted in Part I of this tour, Mr. Lehman’s collection is known for twentieth-century French and Russian music, particularly Ravel, Debussy, and Stravinsky. Debussy’s composing notebook, with his pencil still in it, offers a sense of intimacy with the composer and his creative process. It contains sketches for several of his works including Images for orchestra, Ibéria, Préludes for piano (Book I), and others.

Claude Debussy (1862–1918), Sketchbook: autograph manuscript, ca. 1908, Robert Owen Lehman Collection, on deposit.

Just for fun, I made a quick transcription of Debussy’s sketch for Ibéria.

As we move further into the twentieth century, let’s return to the Mary Flagler Cary Collection. Here we find one of the largest works in our music holdings: Arnold Schoenberg’s Gurre Lieder. This cantata, which tells the tale of a Danish legend in grand Wagnerian style, was begun in 1900 before Schoenberg had developed his signature atonal sound. He completed it over a decade later, and although it jarred somewhat with the style he had become known for by then, it remains one of his best-loved works.

Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951), Gurre Lieder, Autograph manuscript, 1911, Mary Flagler Cary Music Collection.

This piece is massive in every sense: The autograph manuscript, seen here, is two feet tall and 179 pages long, with 48 staves of music on each page. The score calls for 200 singers and 150 instruments, including no less than four harps.

Harry T. Burleigh is known for his incredible baritone voice and for his prolific composing and arranging. By the 1910s he had become one of America’s best-loved composers of art songs, and his music remained hugely popular in the following decades and beyond. This arrangement of the beloved spiritual Deep River is one of his most-performed scores.

Harry Thacker Burleigh (1866–1949), Deep River, Autograph manuscript, 1926, Mary Flagler Cary Music Collection.

Burleigh's life spanned a pivotal period in the history of the United States, and he was deeply involved in American musical and political life. At the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago he sang on a program that included a speech by Frederick Douglass, and for many years he collaborated regularly with Booker T. Washington, providing a musical dimension for his events. Burleigh studied with Antonín Dvořák at the National Conservatory in New York and advised the Czech composer on his effort to bring the influences of Native American and African American music into American classical music practice. Burleigh was a founding member of ASCAP and served on the board of the Music School Settlement for Colored People, with other important figures including David Mannes and W. E. B. Du Bois. Burleigh’s legacy continued in the work of his students, including Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson.

Burleigh may be one of the only composers in our collections known personally to our founder, J. Pierpont Morgan. Morgan was chief warden at St. George's Episcopal Church in Manhattan when Burleigh auditioned as baritone soloist in 1894. With the support of Morgan and the church’s rector, the Rev. William Stephen Rainsford, Burleigh was hired over the objections of the white congregation, and he sang at St. George’s for the next fifty-two years. He also sang regularly at the Temple Emanu-El in New York City.

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971), Perséphone, Autograph manuscript, 1934(?), Mary Flagler Cary Music Collection

The manuscripts of Russian composer Igor Stravinsky are one of several areas of significant overlap between our Mary Flagler Cary Collection, the cornerstone of our collections, and the Robert Owen Lehman Collection, a privately owned collection on deposit at the Morgan. Lehman’s incredible collection includes autograph manuscripts of nine Stravinksy ballets including L'Oiseau de feu (Firebird), Petrushka, Le Chant du Rossignol, and Les Noces (The Wedding). The Cary Collection includes a separate manuscript of Les Noces (a draft of an arrangement for pianola... echoes of the Joplin piano roll shown above) and continues that magnificent lineup of Stravinsky’s stage works with Perséphone, from 1934. In this image, we see Stravinsky beginning to orchestrate the music by penciling in the instruments he plans to use.

Perséphone was commissioned and premiered by Ida Rubinstein, a major figure in the first half of the twentieth century whose legacy has been neglected in recent times. Rubinstein was an actor, mime, dancer, impresario, and star of the first two seasons of the Ballets Russes in Paris, in 1909 and 1910. She went on to become a rival to the Ballets Russes’ famous director, Sergei Diaghilev. For her own productions Rubinstein often hired Diaghilev’s best people, including choreographer Michael Fokine and artist Léon Bakst (both of whom she had worked with before the Ballets Russes was founded), and composers including Stravinsky, Debussy, and Ravel. Her dance company performed Ravel’s Boléro and commissioned his La Valse; both of those manuscripts are also in the Lehman Collection housed at the Morgan.

Philip Glass (b. 1937), Einstein on the Beach, Autograph manuscript, 1976, Morgan Collection, bequest of Paul F. Walter.

Let’s round out our millennium-spanning tour of music at the Morgan with a major work from the late twentieth century: Philip Glass’s opera Einstein on the Beach, which premiered in 1976. This unconventional work brought minimalism, the musical style that had originated in the 1960s with American composers, including Glass, Terry Riley, and Steve Reich, into the mainstream.

In 2012, to coincide with a revival performance of Einstein on the Beach at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Morgan mounted an exhibition devoted to this single work, displaying the entire manuscript along one wall, accompanied by video projections and visual works by Glass’s collaborator, Robert Wilson.

In May 2020, Philip Glass tweeted about the Morgan’s exhibition.

Robinson McClellan
Assistant Curator of Music Manuscripts and Printed Music
The Morgan Library & Museum

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