Two Sylvias and a Surprising Discovery in New York | by E. Reisinger

I’ve recently returned from my latest research trip to the United States, a trip with a truly extraordinary backstory. This time, my journey took me to Philadelphia to explore the holdings of the University of Pennsylvania (stay tuned for more details on that in an upcoming report), and then to New York, where a rather remarkable development reached its climax.

The beginning of this story, however, takes us back to August 2022, when I was attending the congress of the International Musicological Society in Athens, Greece. It was during a session of the IMS Study Group “Musical Patronage and Gender” that I met Sylvia Kahan, a pianist and musicologist from New York. I told her about my plans to visit New York in September 2022 for archival research, including a study of the harpsichordist Sylvia Marlowe (1909-1981). Sylvia Kahan was immediately intrigued and we agreed to continue our conversation in New York.

Shortly before I left for the United States, I discovered a significant connection between my research subject, Sylvia Marlowe, and Kenneth Cooper, a celebrated harpsichordist who had been a student and close friend of Marlowe’s. In addition, she was said to have left him a great deal of sheet music, letters, and recordings. Sadly, Kenneth Cooper had passed away in 2021. However, it turned out that his wife, the singer Josephine Mongiardo, was still alive. Unfortunately, my initial efforts to contact her were unsuccessful.

I shared this fascinating information with Sylvia Kahan when we met for dinner in New York. She was familiar with the name Kenneth Cooper and thought she might even know someone who had studied or worked with him. At the end of the evening, she posted a request on her Facebook page on my behalf. And indeed: one of Sylvia’s friends turned out to be connected to Josephine Mongiardo.

Less than 24 hours later, Josephine Mongiardo contacted me with the news that her son had retrieved several boxes of Sylvia Marlowe’s belongings from the attic. She generously offered them to me and asked if I wanted to pick them up. Although it was very tempting to return to Europe with this treasure trove of historical artifacts, I recommended that the collection be donated to The New School’s archives. They had already established a Sylvia Marlowe Collection: Marlowe had once taught at Mannes College/The New School. Therefore, a vast amount of her sheet music, letters, concert programs, and more had found a home there. I knew that also the new material would be in good hands in this well-maintained archive and, most importantly, accessible to scholars.

Months later, I received word from the archivist at The New School: The Marlowe material from the Cooper-Mongiardo estate had been successfully acquired, ensuring its preservation for future generations. A few weeks ago, in September 2023, I had the pleasure of returning to New York to immerse myself in these rich documents, which provide a fascinating insight into the life and art of Sylvia Marlowe. The collection contains a wealth of fascinating items, including biographical documents such as passports and address books, wills, personal correspondence with such luminaries as Nadia Boulanger, Vittorio Rieti, and Virgil Thomson, performance materials from Marlowe’s radio broadcasts on NBC, and master tapes of Marlowe’s recordings of baroque music.

Furthermore, I had accepted the kind invitation of Sylvia Kahan to stay at her home in Brooklyn, where I was received with great hospitality. My trip to New York was not just an academic expedition, it was a testimony to the magic of serendipity and the generosity of fellow scholars. I am deeply grateful to Sylvia Kahan for her invaluable support, both in terms of my research and the memorable experiences I had in Brooklyn. This remarkable journey underscores the joys of scholarly exploration and of forging connections in the world of academia.

The beauties of Brooklyn (Prospect Park, Coney Island, Greenwood Cemetery) © E. Reisinger, 2023

Cite this blog post
Elisabeth Reisinger (2023, October 19). Two Sylvias and a Surprising Discovery in New York | by E. Reisinger. Performers as Patrons of New Music. Retrieved June 21, 2024, from

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