Featured image: Charles River, Cambridge/MA © private photo, E. Reisinger, 2019
Equipped with an Erwin Schrödinger Fellowship from the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), I started a postdoc residency at Harvard University on 1 September 2019 that was originally planned to last 12 months. On the one hand, my choice to spend some time in the Boston area, to elaborate my pilot study on Benny Goodman and to develop my approach in the field of performer patronage was based on the faculty members of Harvard’s Music Department, where I had the pleasure to discuss my topics with experts such as Anne C. Shreffler, Ingrid Monson, Carol J. Oja, and Claire Chase.
On the other hand, a true gold mine of source material stretches along the East Coast. Harvard’s libraries are filled with enormous resources and contain not only literature, audio and video recordings but also a remarkable number of primary sources relevant for me, such as the Rudolf Kolisch Papers. The Austrian-born violinist Kolisch was a friend of Eric Simon’s, who in turn was associated with Benny Goodman. In 1942, Simon and Kolisch performed Béla Bartók‘s Contrasts together with the composer, which was the first performance of the piece after the expiration of Goodman’s exclusive performance rights to the piece. As described in a recent blog post, the commission for Contrasts was a joint initiative by Goodman and the Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti. The latter also left his mark in the Boston area: The Joseph Szigeti Papers are preserved in the Boston University Special Collections.
The most important part of my primary source work concerned the Goodman Papers in the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library’s Special Collection Division at Yale University, where I spent several weeks in the fall of 2019. This extensive collection was bequeathed by Goodman himself to the library and includes manuscripts and printed sheet music, correspondence, financial records, newspaper clippings, photos, drafts by Goodman for speeches and lectures, and much more. Furthermore, the Yale library holds material on the clarinet concerto written for Goodman by Paul Hindemith, who during his residency in the US taught at Yale. Additionally, the autograph manuscript of Bartók’s Contrasts, which was recently investigated by Bartók scholar Vera Lampert, can be found there today.
At the beginning of March, shortly before the widespread outbreak of COVID-19 in the US, I was able to undertake one further research trip to New York City. I aimed to explore several collections: In the Music Division of the New York Public Library, I discovered the scores of two concertos written for Goodman, which represent new additions to the list (an autograph score of one by Henry Brant and a published piano reduction of the one by Gordon Jenkins). I was further excited to visit the archives of The New School, where the abovementioned Simon was appointed teacher and where I was able to uncover a folder containing material on Simon, which revealed several yet unknown biographical details.
Also at The New School, I gained first insights into a fascinating collection dedicated to Sylvia Marlowe, an amazing harpsichordist, who engaged in the creation of new repertoire for the harpsichord as modern instrument. Finally, my path led me into the Rare Book & Manuscript Library of Columbia University, which preserves documents on the piano concerto that was commissioned by pianist Paul Wittgenstein from Sergei Prokofiev. Marlowe and Wittgenstein are two wonderful examples of performers actively promoting and sponsoring new music – stay tuned for details on them in future blog posts!
On a day off, I took the opportunity to visit the famous Metropolitan Museum of Art (who would have imagined that this was one of the last days before it shut down…). Coincidentally, a guided tour in the Gallery of Musical Instruments was offered – an absolutely stunning collection which I truly recommend! Apart from myself, only one other person participated; thus, the tour guide was able to make this a very special and individual experience. She asked us for our musical backgrounds and interests that led us to the museum. When I mentioned my research on Benny Goodman, her eyes lit up (a reaction you get pretty often when you mention BG in the US), and she took us to the next room, where she proudly presented one of Goodman’s clarinets.
However, COVID-19 gained more and more momentum. Not only did the museum close, but archives, libraries, and universities across the globe also shut down. In March, I not only cut short my trip, which would have led me from New York to Washington, DC, and the Library of Congress, but also returned to Europe two months earlier than intended. I wish all the wonderful people on the other side of the Atlantic who supported me and made my stay so great and special the very best during these strange times, and I hope to be able to return soon!