You are here:Home/News/ The Oaks News

The Oaks News

Showing blog entries tagged as: Music at Dumbarton Oaks

Celil Refik Kaya

Third recipient of Early-Career Musician Residency

Posted on Jul 18, 2017 03:40 PM by Bailey Trela |
Celil Refik Kaya

We’re pleased to announce Celil Refik Kaya as the third recipient of the Early-Career Musician Residency, which provides time and resources to young musicians and composers who show promise in transmitting traditions of classical music to younger generations. The residency was previously held by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and violinist Caroline Adelaide Shaw and opera composer Matthew Aucoin.

Photo by Orhan Cem Çetin, courtesy of Celil Refik Kaya.

Kaya, trained as a classical guitarist from the age of six, has studied with the Grammy-winning guitarist Sharon Isbin and in the studio of Michael Newman, himself a disciple of Andrés Segovia. A prolific and decorated performer, Kaya has received numerous prizes at international competitions, including first prize in the 2012 JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition. As a soloist, Kaya tours internationally and in the United States, working with a number of professional orchestras, including the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Brevard Festival Orchestra, and the Istanbul State Symphony. Over the course of his career, he has presented the premieres of concertos by artists like Roberto Sierra and Suleyman Alnitemiz.

Kaya comes to Dumbarton Oaks from the University of Texas at Austin, where, as the recipient of a Harrington Fellowship, he is pursuing his PhD in the studio of guitarist Adam Holzman. When his residency begins this fall, he will continue work on a number of compositional and recording projects, cataloguing and publishing an ever-growing oeuvre of compositions while working on an upcoming CD. (His first CD, released by Naxos in 2016, explores the guitar music of the Argentinian guitarist and composer Jorge Morel, with whom Kaya maintains a close working relationship.)

This balancing act between performance and composition manifests in his concerts, which typically include one or two of his own pieces. Likewise, when Kaya sits down to compose, the resulting works bear a number of disparate influences. “I usually write in different styles,” he explains. “Sometimes I’m using quarter tones—sometimes I’m working in a more neo-romantic style. I’m also writing for different combinations of instruments, like kota and guitar, or rebab and guitar. I recently wrote a piece performed at the Sydney Opera House that was based on a Japanese folk song, so there was a story embedded in the piece that would attract the audience.” Making use of familiar elements to introduce audiences to unfamiliar styles is a common tactic of Kaya’s: “I try to mix different concepts according to the circumstances.”

For Kaya, a willingness to mix and experiment while staying grounded in the tradition of Western classical music is paramount to revitalizing interest in the genre. Ultimately, in his opinion, classical music “should be something people can relate to,” neither too modern and abstract nor trapped “in the style of an era remote from the present.” Kaya believes engagement should be a central goal of classical music, and that “the best way of continuing the Western classical music tradition and of influencing the audience is performing not just the works that only the composer will understand and appreciate, but works that the audience can grasp and appreciate as well.”

Read More…


The Friends of Music

Posted on Apr 25, 2016 11:00 AM by Dumbarton Oaks Archives |
The Friends of Music

The Friends of Music

Pianist Jens Elvekjaer playing in the Dumbarton Oaks Music Room, Friends of Music concert, January 12, 2009.

Although Dumbarton Oaks had offered periodic musical recitals during its first years while the Second World War raged, it was only when peace was reestablished in 1945 that the institution could contemplate the creation of a permanent subscription series. Designing a suitable music program for Dumbarton Oaks raised several challenges. For one, although director John Thacher had an interest in music, he was, in his own words, “neither a musician nor a musicologist,” and did not have the understanding of music necessary to conceptualize much of the program. Washington, D.C., also already boasted a plethora of musical offerings—including the Friends of Music of the Library of Congress, to which the Blisses were subscribers—and this required that Dumbarton Oaks find its own niche in the city’s existing music programming.

In the end, Thacher determined that a subscription-based series of chamber concerts would be the most suitable option for musical offerings at Dumbarton Oaks. He felt that Washingtonians “would not appreciate concerts which were free as much as concerts for which they shared the responsibility for success.” In December 1945, a trial series of five concerts were held in the Dumbarton Oaks Music Room, paid for by the generosity of seven anonymous donors. These concerts proved to be the precursor to the Friends of Music at Dumbarton Oaks, which was inaugurated the following year.

Ralph Kirkpatrick and Alexander Schneider in the Dumbarton Oaks Music Room, 1945 Ralph Kirkpatrick and Alexander Schneider in the Dumbarton Oaks Music Room, 1945

Under the guidance of a group of individuals enthusiastic about the inception of the Friends of Music at Dumbarton Oaks, the general course of the musical programming was charted. Works from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and twentieth centuries were to be preferred, since the Library of Congress series tended to favor compositions of the nineteenth century. However, by 1947 works by Beethoven and Schubert were being performed. American music was to be included whenever possible, as it was felt that American music was underrepresented in Washington. Furthermore, young composers were to be supported through the occasional commissioning of new works for concerts.

Friends of Music Concert "A Program of Music by Young American Composers," February 7, 1940 Friends of Music Concert, A Program of Music by Young American Composers, February 7, 1947

In the autumn of 1946, the Friends of Music at Dumbarton Oaks was officially founded, with nearly $10,000 raised in subscriptions during its pilot year. The Blisses worked closely with Thacher during this formative period, providing their support and advice as necessary to promote the success of the program. The inaugural concerts, held on December 14 and 15, 1946, were “Two Recitals of 17th and 18th Century Music,” with mezzo-soprano Jennie Tourel, violinist Alexander Schneider, harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick, and cellist Daniel Saidenberg. The next concert, on February 7, 1947, featured soprano Nan Merriman in a “Concert of Music by Young American Composers” conducted by William Strickland. The composers chosen for this avant-garde concert were William Bergsma, Charles Bryan, Edmund Haines, Homer Keller, Robert Palmer, William Strickland, and Robert Ward. In planning for these concerts, John Thacher had written Mildred Bliss:

Speaking of music, I thought we might have the first “Friends” concerts on the fourteenth and fifteenth of December. I was so much impressed by the singing of Jennie Tourel at Williamsburg last spring that I am making arrangements for her to sing at that time with [Alexander] Schneider and [Ralph] Kirkpatrick and a small chamber orchestra. Then it seems to me that it might be interesting, among other possibilities, to have one concert devoted to the works of contemporary, but apparently unknown, American composers. Bill Strickland, whom you may know, has been most successful in conducting these works, and from all I hear the musical festival at Wellesley last spring, in which he played a prominent part, was outstanding. I am sure that he would welcome an opportunity to arrange such a festival for us.

In her Town Talk column, Eva Hinton commented on the initial offerings of the Friends of Music program: “The first two concerts of the ‘Friends of Music’ subscription series at Harvard University’s Dumbarton Oaks were acclaimed two of the loveliest concerts ever to be heard in Washington.”

Letter from soprano Leontyne Price to John Thacher after her Friends of Music concert at Dumbarton Oaks on March 9, 1961 Letter from soprano Leontyne Price to John Thacher after her Friends of Music concert at Dumbarton Oaks on March 9, 1961

After the success of the first season, the Friends of Music at Dumbarton Oaks, according to Thacher, “simply grew and evolved along lines which reflected the desire that the impact of the music upon the audience be felt as deeply as possible.” He cautioned that the programming “should not play down to an audience” but instead should strive to “offer it only great music produced as perfectly as possible.” Looking back on the history of the program and those involved, Thacher remarked that “over the years the ‘Friends’ became a closely knit group, who I believe felt that the concerts were their own. They spoke up when concerts were not up to standard; they cheered outstanding performances; and they were generous both with their contributions and with their ideas and suggestions.”

The Friends of Music concerts are still strong nearly seventy years after the program’s founding, adding a rich artistic depth to the varied offerings at Dumbarton Oaks. Maintaining the Blisses’ tradition of having music performed in their home, the concerts continue to present some of the most celebrated and promising musicians to Georgetown in the splendor of the Blisses’ former estate.

Read More…


Commissioning and Performing Contemporary Compositions

Dumbarton Oaks’ mission to foster original research and publication in humanistic studies has found a parallel expression in the Friends of Music commissions and performances of contemporary music.

Posted on Feb 01, 2016 11:00 AM by Dumbarton Oaks Archives |
Commissioning and Performing Contemporary Compositions

Dumbarton Oaks’ mission to foster original research and publication in humanistic studies has found a parallel expression in the Friends of Music commissions and performances of contemporary music.

Review of Samuel Barber's premier of Three Songs from Rilke at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington Post, April 9, 1950.

The Blisses were lifelong patrons of composers and musicians, and they transferred this passion to the institution that they created. Most famously, they commissioned Igor Stravinsky to compose the Dumbarton Oaks Concerto to celebrate their thirtieth wedding anniversary in 1938. On the occasion of their fiftieth anniversary in 1958, Dumbarton Oaks followed in this tradition with its commission of Aaron Copland’s Nonet for Solo Strings (first performed in 1961). However, long before this date, Dumbarton Oaks, through its Friends of Music concerts, had accepted the mission of engaging composers and artists of promise as well as of offering and commissioning contemporary musical compositions. Until their deaths, the Blisses helped guide this aspect of the Friends of Music programming.

In a letter to Mildred Bliss dated September 18, 1946, the inaugural year for the Friends of Music at Dumbarton Oaks, director John Thacher wrote: 

I am most anxious, as I know you are, to have the Dumbarton Oaks Concerto played again, and if possible, conducted by Stravinsky. What would you think of having an all Stravinsky program in the spring? Do you think that Stravinsky would be willing to write a composition for violin and harpsichord, if commissioned to do so, and if so have you any idea what his fee would be? If this idea appeals to you and if you see him, could you ask him when he would be in this part of the country, and also if he would consider writing such a composition?

Mildred Bliss’s reply was unexpected, but it was deeply illustrative of her goals for music at Dumbarton Oaks. She replied:

The musical program for the year sounds as if it would be a great treat, and I shall be more than ordinarily eager to hear more of it when your arrangements become more detailed. There is one item, however, with which I am not quite in agreement, and that is to commission Stravinsky to write something for Dumbarton Oaks again. In the first place, we have the Dumbarton Oaks Concerto which happens to be, fortunately, an exceedingly interesting composition. Secondly, he is a very expensive luxury. Thirdly, to have two compositions by Stravinsky and none by anyone else would seem to me a bit lopsided. Fourth, wouldn't it be of more interest, not only in the present, but, also, in the long run program for Dumbarton Oaks, to commission other composers now and then—Shostokovitch, Pistou, Hindemith, Jean Francaix, etc.? In this way, there might be built up over the years a distinguished Dumbarton Oaks musical library. Of course, none but the most outstanding composers should be considered and there are periods which might yield superb results and other periods which would have little to offer us musically. So, dear Jack, unless I hear from you to go ahead anyway with Stravinsky, I shall do nothing about it. P.S. I forgot to say above that, of course, I think we should definitely try to have Stravinsky conduct his Dumbarton Oaks Concerto and I will take that up with him before we leave.

Stravinsky would, in fact, conduct the Dumbarton Oaks Concerto in the Music Room on April 25, 1947. 

The Friends of Music concert on February 7, 1947, which was only the third concert after the inauguration of the series at Dumbarton Oaks, presented a program of new music by young American composers under the direction of William Strickland. The purpose of the program was to acquaint the audience with recent compositions by America’s rising musical talents. Although the review in the Washington Post on February 10, 1947, was mixed—“Chamber Symphony by Homer Keller created a flurry of apprehension”—both Dumbarton Oaks Director John Thacher and Strickland were pleased with the results. All of the composers were in attendance, and they signed a copy of the program for the Archives.

The Friends of Music at Dumbarton Oaks also took Mildred Bliss’s directive to commission new music to heart. Over the years, the Friends of Music commissioned several compositions, notably Samuel Barber’s Melodies passagères (Rilke), performed in 1952 with Francis Poulenc at the piano. Other commissions included Charles Bryan’s Cumberland Interlude–1790 (1947, with Nan Merriman), Paul Des Marais’s Pastorale (1948), Stanley Hollingsworth’s Dumbarton Oaks Mass (1953) and I saltimbanchi (1960), Paul Ramsier’s Night Songs (1960), Gian Carlo Menotti’s Canti della lontananza (1969, with Elly Ameling), and Charles Turner’s Serenade for Icarus (1960). Several composers wrote works for Dumbarton Oaks, where they were then first performed. These included Barber’s Three Songs from Rilke (1950, with Eileen Farrell and the composer accompanying), Robert Ward’s Third Symphony for chamber orchestra (1950), and Stravinsky’s Septet (1953, dedicated to Dumbarton Oaks). In 2007, in anticipation of the Blisses’ hundredth wedding anniversary and to celebrate the completion of the Robert Venturi–designed library, the renovation of the Main House, and the reopening of the Dumbarton Oaks Museum in 2008, the institution commissioned from Joan Tower the Dumbarton Quintet, which received its Washington premier in the Music Room with Tower at the piano. And this year, in celebration of Dumbarton Oaks's seventy-fifth anniversary, Dumbarton Oaks commissioned from Caroline Shaw a string quartet, Plan & Elevation (The Grounds of Dumbarton Oaks), which was premiered by the Dover Quartet in the Dumbarton Oaks Music Room on November 1, the historic anniversary date.

Dumbarton Oaks’ mission to foster original research and publication in humanistic studies has found a parallel expression in the Friends of Music commissions and performances of contemporary music.

Friends of Music Concert "A Program of Music by Young American Composers," February 7, 1940 Friends of Music Concert, A Program of Music by Young American Composers, February 7, 1947

Read More…


Music at Dumbarton Oaks: The Performers

Many famous or soon-to-be famous musicians performed at Dumbarton Oaks over the years, and several have reminisced fondly about their concertizing there, in both the residential and institutional periods.

Posted on Dec 17, 2015 11:00 AM by Dumbarton Oaks Archives |
Music at Dumbarton Oaks: The Performers

In 1945, Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, the founders of Dumbarton Oaks, joined with director John Thacher and six Washingtonians interested in chamber music to explore the formation of an organization that would assure the continuation of musical concerts at Dumbar­ton Oaks. That year, Dumbarton Oaks offered a festival of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century music, the success of which led directly to the 1946 inauguration of the Friends of Music at Dumbarton Oaks. According to John Thacher, the new organization’s mandate was to add to Washington’s musical repertoire without competing with other musical organizations or duplicating their programs; to encour­age the participation of serious lovers of chamber music; and to present music in a setting—the Dumbarton Oaks Music Room—reminiscent of that for which the music was originally composed.

Many famous or soon-to-be famous musicians performed at Dumbarton Oaks over the years, and several have reminisced fondly about their concertizing there, in both the residential and institutional periods. Among them is the keyboard instrumentalist, Ralph Kirkpatrick, who wrote:

In the spring of 1934, I was invited by Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss to play in her beautiful music room at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington. As it later turned out, this was to be but the first of more than 50 concerts in which I participated in that same room between 1944 and 1979. In a letter of 23 April 1934, I included an account of this little concert, [telling Mrs. Bliss] “. . . there were a few gratified members of my audience who really caught and admired real musical value and who really meant something when they talked of transcendent beauty.”

—Ralph Kirkpatrick, “On Playing the Clavichord,” Early Music 9, no. 3 (July, 1981), 299.

Francis Poulenc and Pierre Bernac Francis Poulenc and Pierre Bernac

From its inception, concerts offered by the Friends of Music at Dumbarton Oaks were remarkable. Major works, such as Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos or Schubert’s song cycle Die Winterreise, and world-renown artists, such as Karl Münchinger and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, quickly established a tradition of programming of the highest caliber. Using chamber orchestra forces, the Friends offered, for example, Mozart’s symphonies and violin and piano concertos. In 1949, the composer Benjamin Britten accompanied tenor Peter Pears in a concert of Britten, Purcell, and Mahler songs. The composer and pianist Francis Poulenc made his American debut at Dumbarton Oaks in 1948 and returned in 1952 for a concert with Pierre Bernac where they premiered Samuel Barber’s Mélodies Passagères. This song cycle, set to the poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, had been commissioned for Dumbarton Oaks by William Strickland.

The Friends also sponsored early appearances of soon-to-be internationally famous artists such as Leontyne Price (1957) and Joan Sutherland (1961), both appearing at Dumbarton Oaks before their acclaimed debuts at the Metropolitan Opera. And, notably, the Friends endeavored to offer concert performances of then little-heard works, such as Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea (1953) and Handel’s Julius Caesar (1957), all in an effort to broaden the musical programming of Washington.

Occasionally, recordings resulted from the Friends of Music programming. This was especially true between 1947 and 1952 when pick-up orchestras were assembled at Dumbarton Oaks, and they rehearsed with famous conductors and soloists. On at least three occasions, recordings were made featuring what was called the Dumbarton Oaks Chamber Orchestra. Although it is unlikely that the instrumentalists remained the same on all three recordings, it is certain that the recordings resulted from concerts given in the Dumbarton Oaks Music Room that were then recorded within the week for posterity. The three vintage recordings that resulted from Dumbarton Oaks concerts are:

  • Igor Stravinsky, Dumbarton Oaks Concerto, conducted by Igor Stravinsky (1947);
  • Samuel Barber, Knoxville: Summer of 1915, with Eleanor Steber, soprano, conducted by William Strickland (1951); and
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Piano Concerto no. 17 in G, with Ralph Kirkpatrick, piano, and Violin Concerto no. 4 in D, with Alexander Schneider, violin, conducted by Alexander Schneider (1952).

Read More…


Stravinsky, Copland, Tower, and Shaw

The Blisses ensured that music was given proper space in their homes, a commitment that was enhanced through their sponsorship of musicians and the commissioning of new works. Dumbarton Oaks continues this commitment through a concert series and commissioning new works from early-career musicians.

Posted on Nov 26, 2015 11:00 AM by Dumbarton Oaks Archives |
Stravinsky, Copland, Tower, and Shaw

Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss held classical music dear to their hearts. From the salon of their Parisian apartment at 4, rue Henri-Moissan, to their Renaissance-inspired Music Room at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown, the Blisses ensured that music was given proper space in their homes, a commitment that was enhanced through their sponsorship of musicians and the commissioning of new works.

A skilled pianist and violinist herself, Mildred took a particular interest in supporting talented musicians. She enthusiastically arranged small concerts and often became the patroness of her musician friends. One such friend was Enrique Granados, who debuted his Tonadillas al estilo antiguo (1910) for voice and piano in the Blisses’ Parisian apartment in 1914. Later, Mildred petitioned her husband to give Granados diplomatic support to safeguard his return to Barcelona after the outbreak of the First World War. She even intervened on his behalf so that his opera Goyescas would open at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1916 after its Parisian premiere had to be cancelled because of the war.

Enrique Granados, 1914 Enrique Granados, 1914

The Blisses also made major commissions. For their thirtieth wedding anniversary, for example, they commissioned Igor Stravinsky to compose the Dumbarton Oaks Concerto (also known as Concerto in E-flat) in 1937 for a premiere in the Dumbarton Oaks Music Room the following year. Mildred worked with her friend Nadia Boulanger, the French composer and conductor, to arrange and facilitate the agreement. Boulanger conducted the first performance of the piece in the Music Room at Dumbarton Oaks on May 8, 1938, when Stravinsky proved unable to travel to America because of poor health.

Dumbarton Oaks Concerto Album Cover., 1947 Dumbarton Oaks Concerto album cover, 1947

While the Blisses lived at Dumbarton Oaks between 1933 and 1940, they regularly hosted musical evenings in their Music Room after dinners. On numerous occasions, the Musical Art Quartet performed chamber music, but other luminaries also performed, including the American pianist Beveridge Webster, the Spanish soprano Lucrezia Bori, and the Polish-American bass Doda Conrad.

The Musical Art Quartet: Sascha Jacobsen and Paul Bernard, violins; Louis Kaufman, viola, and Maria Roemaet-Rosanoff, cello The Musical Art Quartet: Sascha Jacobsen and Paul Bernard, violins; Louis Kaufman, viola, and Maria Roemaet-Rosanoff, cello Wanda Landowska Wanda Landowska

The transfer of Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard University in 1940 did not bring an end to its musical offerings, although the Second World War limited the number of occasions. Between 1941 and 1945, Dumbarton Oaks sponsored twenty-six concerts. The Musical Art Quartet was again regularly featured, and performed in honor of the Blisses’ thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, on April 14, 1943. The Stradivarius Quartet gave two concerts, in 1942 and 1945, under the auspices of the Friends of Music of the Library of Congress and its founder, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. The famous harpsichordist Wanda Landowska performed in 1943, and for this concert she provided her own program notes. For the Passacaille of François Couperin she noted:

French music of the past has always been weighed down by certain prejudices: ‘trifling, elegant or quaint’, it has been regarded as a sort of coquette, endlessly humming the Bergère lègère to herself and pivoting through the steps of a perpetual minuet, charming and vivacious, it is true, but incapable of experiencing a profound thought or emotion. How could the pathos, the richness of feeling, the perfection of form of a musician like Couperin ever have led to such a misinterpretation of his implicit values as the term ‘miniaturist’ suggests?

Beginning in 1945, the duo of violinist Alexander Schneider and harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick gave a series of recitals; they became a mainstay at Dumbarton Oaks, eventually performing fifty-eight times in the Music Room.

Ralph Kirkpatrick and Alexander Schneider in the Dumbarton Oaks Music Room, 1945 Ralph Kirkpatrick and Alexander Schneider in the Dumbarton Oaks Music Room, 1945 Joan Tower Joan Tower

The success of these concerts in the early years of the institution instigated, in 1946, the creation of the Friends of Music at Dumbarton Oaks, a subscription concert series that continues to this day. Dumbarton Oaks also continues to commission music. In 1958, the institution commissioned Aaron Copland to compose his Nonet for Solo Strings (better known today as “Nonet for Strings”) in honor of the Blisses’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. Boulanger returned to conduct nine members of the National Symphony Orchestra in its premiere on March 2, 1961, and Copland dedicated the piece “to Nadia Boulanger after forty years of friendship.” In 2006, Dumbarton Oaks commissioned Joan Tower to compose the Dumbarton Quintet, which premiered in the Music Room on April 12, 2008, with the composer at the piano. For this year’s celebration of Dumbarton Oaks' seventy-fifth anniversary, the institution commissioned Caroline Adelaide Shaw, the first Dumbarton Oaks Early-Career Musician Resident, to compose Plan & Elevation (The Grounds of Dumbarton Oaks), a string quartet that was premiered by the Dover Quartet in the Dumbarton Oaks Music Room on November 1, the historic anniversary date.

Read More…


The Musical Art Quartet and the Bliss Stradivarius Viola

Mildred Barnes Bliss was an enthusiastic patron of the Musical Art Quartet. She supported the string quartet from soon after its inception in 1926 until it disbanded in 1944. The quartet performed in the Music Room each year between 1941 and 1944, and it was largely due to the success of these performances that Dumbarton Oaks decided to inaugurate a Friends of Music concert series in 1946.

Posted on Nov 02, 2015 11:00 AM by Dumbarton Oaks Archives |
The Musical Art Quartet and the Bliss Stradivarius Viola

Mildred Barnes Bliss was an enthusiastic patron of the Musical Art Quartet. She supported the string quartet from soon after its inception in 1926 until it disbanded in 1944. Initially, the Musical Art Quartet comprised four students from the Institute of Musical Art in New York, later known as the Julliard School of Music. The Quartet’s founder and first violinist, Sascha Jacobsen (1895–1972), and cellist, Marie Roemaet-Rosanoff (1896–1967), both became friends of Mildred Bliss, and she frequently invited the Quartet members to perform at Dumbarton Oaks and also helped them to book engagements at her friends’ homes and at concert halls. After Dumbarton Oaks transferred to Harvard University in late 1940, the Musical Art Quartet performed in the Music Room each year between 1941 and 1944, and it was largely due to the success of these performances that Dumbarton Oaks decided to inaugurate a Friends of Music concert series in 1946.

The Dumbarton Oaks Archives contains considerable correspondence between Mildred Bliss and members of the Quartet. In one letter of May 26, 1931, from Marie Rosanoff to Mildred Bliss, Rosanoff states, “It is only through the generosity of a few far-sighted individuals like yourself—who realize the ultimate importance of the development of art in America—that we hope to be able to continue as a quartet.”

 Bliss Stradivarius Viola "Saint Senoch," ca. 1734 - front and back Bliss Stradivarius Viola “Saint Senoch,” ca. 1734 - front and back The Musical Art Quartet The Musical Art Quartet, July 1931

In 1937, several patrons joined together to acquire for the Musical Art Quartet string instruments made by the famed Antonio Stradivari (ca. 1648–1737), so that the group could remain an all-Stradivarius quartet. The banker Felix Warburg (1871–1937) had previously provided the Quartet with Stradivarius instruments from his collection, but on his death in 1937 they were returned to his estate. To replace the Warburg instruments, Alice Garrett, wife of the former U.S. ambassador to Italy, purchased a 1732 violin (“Red Diamond”) for Jacobsen; Caroline Marmon Fesler purchased a 1730 cello (“Ben Venuto”) for Rosanoff and a 1703 violin (“Allegretti”) for second violinist Paul Bernard; and Mildred Bliss purchased a ca. 1734 viola (“Saint Senoch,” also known as the "Gibson") for Louis Kievman (1910–1990). When Kievman left the quartet in 1937, the Blisses lent the viola to William Hymanson (1914–2015), who joined the quartet that year. Thought to be the last viola made by Stradivari, the “Saint Senoch” took its name from Édouard Haincque de Saint-Senoch (1826–1885), who had owned a quartet of Antonio Stradivari’s instruments, which were dispersed after his death. The Blisses eventually sold the viola in 1961.

In 1941, Mildred Bliss also lent Sascha Jacobsen money without interest so that he could purchase a house in California. The terms for repayment were that half would be repaid by Quartet concerts at Dumbarton Oaks and “the other half by solo music and cash.” In her letter of August 19, 1941, making the offer to Jacobsen, Mildred Bliss wrote:

We do congratulate you heartily on having found this excellent little house under such advantageous terms. It really does seem an extraordinary opportunity, and I am delighted that California will henceforth be able to claim you for part of the year. Let me know when you have moved in. Also, please let me know if you can come up to [Doda] Conrad’s concert. It would be delightful if one’s musical friends down the coast could join us that night. I suppose [Jascha] Heifetz won’t give up one peaceful evening or day on the beach during his well-earned and short-lived holiday. Give him my greetings and tell him he would be most welcome if at any time he can come up with you.

In 1942, Mildred Bliss helped arrange for the Musical Art Quartet to give three concerts of modern music at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She wrote Jacobsen on January 15, 1942:

How would you like the following suggestion:

a. It will be highly advantageous to the Quartet to play at the Museum of Modern Art;

b. I have a credit with you;

c. I am on the Board of the Museum;—

therefore, would it not be more advantageous for the Quartet to play concerts at the Museum against your indebtedness to me? You thus would get the audience, publicity, prestige. The Museum would have fine concerts under its auspices and on its premises and you would reduce your indebtedness. I shall be most happy to do this for the Quartet and the Museum, so let me know how you feel about it.

The Musical Art Quartet gave concerts at the Museum of Modern Art on February 16 and March 9 and 23. Tickets for single performances ranged from $1.65 to $2.20.

The Musical Art Quartet Poster Flyer announcing the Quartet's performances at The Museum of Modern Art, 1942

The Musical Art Quartet Poster (reverse)

Read More…