Archival Treasures: Blasts from Our Past

By John K. Blanchard
Institutional Historian and Director of Archives

Being Manhattan School of Music's first full-time staff member devoted exclusively to unearthing and preserving our School's archives has been a job full of rewards and challenges. As we move ever closer to the celebration of MSM's 100th anniversary, my other charge  that of sharing these finds and our rich history  will become increasingly important. This e-newsletter feature will be part of that exploration that we undertake together.

As a start, I've chosen some items that were surprises to me when I came across them, and will, most likely, be surprises to many of you: photos, printed notices, reviews, journal entries, and special programs from the first half of our School's history.

As all things MSM start with our founder, Janet Daniels Schenck, we'll begin with an unpublished photo of her from the 1940s with the School's financial secretary, Louise Cowing. Mrs. Schenck studied piano in Paris with Harold Bauer, earned a degree in social work, and began teaching music at the Union Settlement on the East Side of Manhattan, eventually founding what would later become Manhattan School of Music. She served as Director until her retirement in 1956. She maintained strong connections to the School until her death in 1976, at age 93.

Possibly the first piece of publicity for the School: a review in the Musical Courier of a concert in January 1920. The blurb mentions founder Janet Daniels Schenck and takes notice of the performance by Dora Zaslavsky (then a piano student, who would later join the faculty), who "played with full tone and style."

In October 1921, the Board of Trustees purchased a building from the Jewish Guild for the Blind, giving the Neighborhood Music School its first real home, at 238 East 105th Street. The building would later be replaced by larger facilities at the same address as surrounding properties became available, and the name would be changed to Manhattan School of Music.

Artists of the day were regularly invited to the School to teach and inspire the students. Here, Italian-American soprano Dusolina Giannini on a 1923 visit.

A 1925 daybook entry for the purchase of seats for the School's first concert hall: $750, minus a 2% discount.

Early fund-raising efforts included a performance by the Philharmonic Society of New York (a.k.a. the New York Philharmonic) at the Metropolitan Opera House in February 1928. The program? A little Beethoven and a little Wagner, conducted by Arturo Toscanini.

In April 1928, a new building for the School was dedicated, having been built on the same site as the previous one. Funds were provided by MSM trustee Mrs. John Hubbard with the stipulation that enough money be raised to pay off the $23,000 mortgage and to establish an endowment fund.

A concert announcement from 1932, inviting the community to a free concert: "In these times of depression  let's enjoy what is at our door."

In 1939, due to the generosity of MSM board member Helen Fahnestock Hubbard, a new auditorium was completed at our former home on East 105th Street.

Famed pianist Harold Bauer  Dr. Schenck's former teacher and one of the School's first artistic advisors  is shown here at the piano ca. 1940, with faculty members Rudolph Gruen and Dora Zaslavsky.

A reception was held for conductor Jonel Perlea shortly after he joined the faculty in 1952. Trumpet student Joseph Wilder, representing the members of the School's orchestra, presented the maestro with a silver cigarette case in gratitude.

John Brownlee met with his former student Ezio Flagello in 1957, soon after Flagello's debut with the Metropolitan Opera, where he would go on to make some 528 career appearances.

In March 1963, MSM Percussion faculty member Paul Price conducted a student ensemble at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Famed conductor Leopold Stokowski was in attendance and wrote a personal note of congratulation to Mr. Price.

Women's Wear Daily covers Manhattan School of Music's 1964 Spring Gala: a Carnegie Hall performance by the American Opera Society of Bellini's I Capuleti ed i Montecchi with opera legends Giulietta Simionato and Mary Costa.

In 1964, the great German soprano Lotte Lehmann gave her first master class in New York, sponsored by the School and featuring "advanced vocal students from Manhattan School of Music."

Violin faculty member Raphael Bronstein (left) is shown with Soviet violinist Boris Gutnikov on the occasion of his February 1966 master class at MSM.

In 1966, the Modern Jazz Quartet gave a benefit concert for MSM, arranged by MSM alumnus and MJQ pianist John Lewis, at Carnegie Hall. Pictured are members of the planning committee discussing marketing plans over tea.

Cello faculty chair Bernard Greenhouse poses with Russian guests Raya Garbousova and acclaimed cellist Mstislav Rostropovich during a 1967 visit to the School. It was Rostropovich's first visit to the U.S.

A benefit was held in 1967 at the Waldorf-Astoria, "in honor of the composers, lyricists, and librettists of the American Musical Theater." Among the special guests was Richard Rodgers, who sent the above telegram the next day. President Lyndon B. Johnson's wife, Ladybird Johnson, was honorary chairperson of the event, which was repeated twice, by special invitation, at the White House later that year.

And finally, this unpublished Blackstone Studio portrait of President John Brownlee, head of the School from 1956-1969, rounds out our brief visit to MSM's first fifty years.

Please contact me with questions or to discuss any important archival material you might have in your possession that could help us tell the story of our beloved Manhattan School of Music.

John K. Blanchard,
Institutional Historian and Director of Archives

jblanchard@msmnyc.edu
917-493-4496

Photo: John Blanchard in 1999 after rescuing the School's original stone seal from a storage closet.