On Exhibit: Rare Book & Manuscript Library Celebrates Prokofiev and Other Composers

July 17, 2015Bookmark and Share

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  • Outroumava Portrait Prokofiev Columbia University ArchiveAnna Ostroumova painted a portrait of Serge Prokofiev in Paris, 1926. The Rare Book & Manuscript Library displays a reproduction.
  • Serge Prokofiev Columbia University Library ArchiveSerge Prokofiev, 1929
  • Lina Prokofiev Portrait Columbia University Library ArchiveLina Prokofiev, Serge's first wife and keeper of the archive. 
  • Symphony Sheet Music Prokofiev Columbia UniversitySerge Prokofiev's 1932 orchestral score, Symphone No. 3
  • Bernstein Award Columbia University Library ArchiveDouglas Moore presents the Alice M. Ditson Conductor’s Award to Leonard and Felicia Bernstein in 1958. The award is the oldest award honoring conductors for their commitment to the performance of American music.
  • Voodoo Composer Freeman Columbia University Archive LibrarHarry Lawrence Freeman (1869-1954). Photograph by Woodards Studio in New York.
  • Freeman Opera Martyr Cast Columbia University Archive LibraryCast of The Martyr, an opera composed by Harry Lawrence Freeman.
  • MacDowell Cup Composers Columbia University archive This sterling silver cup made by Tiffany & Co. in 1904 was given to Edward MacDowell by his students just before his departure from the University in June 1904. Embossed on the front and with the Columbia crown and motto, it reads: To Prof. E. A. MacDowell with the high esteem and affection of his classes at Columbia University.
  • Composer MacDowell Columbia UniversityEdward MacDowell (1860-1908).
  • Pulitzer Music Category Columbia University archive Columbia University Provost Frank D. Fackenthal drafted this letter announcing the first year that the music award would be given by the Pultizer Prize Committee. At the head of the letter is written: “Notice to conductors and directors of leading performing organizations in the United States.”

Serge Prokofiev never missed an opportunity to record his moments of inspiration. “If a theme came to his mind, he would write it down immediately on anything that was available, such as paper napkin, table-cloth or even his cuffs,” wrote his first wife, Lina, in her memoir, which is on view as part of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s first exhibition of selections from its Prokofiev archive.

The exhibition chronicles Prokofiev’s creation of acknowledged masterpieces across numerous musical genres, including piano works, opera, chamber and orchestral music, ballet and film scores. A notebook of musical ideas, dated 1919 on its cover, features Prokofiev’s meticulous jotting of notes and scales in ink and pencil. Musical manuscripts on view include the orchestral score of a portion of The Prodigal Son, Opus 46 (1928) and the piano vocal score of The Love for Three Oranges, which contains an English translation of the text by British playwright Tom Stoppard, who wrote it by hand in the 1980s. Also in the exhibit is Prokofiev’s handwritten address book from 1920, which contains the addresses of composers such as Serge Koussevitsky.

Prokofiev is not the only composer whose archives are on display at RBML this summer. A complementary exhibition, Celebrating Composers: Bartók, Beeson and a Host of Others, showcases pieces held by the Library, including collections on Ulysses Kay, Hector Berlioz and Virgil Thomson. Featured is Harry Lawrence Freeman, the pioneering African American composer and Harlem Renaissance figure who founded the Negro Opera Company in 1920 and wrote at least 23 operas. His 1914 opera Voodoo was performed at Miller Theatre in June for the first time since 1928, after a researcher rediscovered the score at the RBML a few years ago. Both Voodoo’s signed manuscript and piano vocal score are on display.

The exhibition covers the founding and history of Columbia’s renowned music department, which was started in 1896 when the University announced the appointment of Edward Alexander MacDowell, then considered America’s premier composer, as Columbia’s first music professor. When he left the University in 1904, his students gave him a Tiffany & Co. sterling silver presentation cup, which is in the show. He went on to found the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, N.H. in 1907, the oldest artists’ colony in the country.

The Pulitzer Prizes, which will celebrate their centennial in 2016 and are awarded at Columbia each April, also find a place in the show. A 1943 letter from then-provost Frank D. Fackenthal, sent to “conductors and directors of leading performing organizations in the United States,” announced that the Pulitzer committee would begin awarding a prize in music. The first went that year to William Schuman’s A Free Song, with text adapted from the poems of Walt Whitman. Later Pulitzers in music were awarded to Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Symphony No. 1 in 1983 (the first woman composer to receive the prize) and Steve Reich, whose Double Sextet won in 2009. These works are all on display.

The Prokofiev archive came to Columbia in 2013, when the Serge Prokofiev Foundation, founded by Lina in 1983, gave the RBML a trove of the composer’s musical manuscripts, letters, photographs, and even his suitcase—in an effort to make the archive more accessible to scholars. Most of the materials, which are a compilation of archives from London and Paris, represent Prokofiev’s work from his 18 years outside of Russia.

“Prokofiev’s American debut was in New York, and his opera The Love for Three Oranges had its third performance here,” said Simon Morrison, president of the Prokofiev Foundation. “The city vexed him, but he loved it... Lina grew up in Brooklyn and Manhattan. So it is poignantly appropriate that such a large part of Prokofiev’s archive has found a new home in the RBML.”

Selections from the Serge Prokofiev Archive and Celebrating Composers: Bartók, Beeson and a Host of Others are on view at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library until August 14.

— By Eve Glasberg