Music, Department of.

Music, Department of. Although music is a latecomer to the University's curriculum (Yale Congregationalists have attributed this to the severities of Presbyterianism) it has nevertheless held an important place in Princeton life since the early days of the College. President Davies wrote odes to ``Peace'' and ``Science,'' which were sung by students at Commencement in 1760; and when President Witherspoon was married in 1791, a student orchestra celebrated the event with music from the belfry of Nassau Hall. Student singing has long been a prominent feature of campus life, whether in the Glee Club, founded in 1874, or in step-singing, in vogue since the 1880s.

An approach to a more formal program came in 1917 when Henry C. Frick donated the great organ in the Graduate College's Procter Hall, and Alexander Russell, appointed part-time organist and director of music, began weekly organ recitals and public lectures on music. Ralph Downes, first organist and choirmaster in the University Chapel, dedicated in 1928, also taught several music courses for undergraduates. The work of Russell and Downes was supplemented by a committee, made up principally of faculty and wives, which organized the University's public concert series.

In 1934, on recommendation of a faculty committee, Roy Dickinson Welch, Professor of Music at Smith College, was invited to Princeton to give two undergraduate courses in music and to design a future plan of study. Student response to Welch's offerings was so enthusiastic that he was prevailed upon to stay and to build the music program himself, thus becoming the father of the Music Department at Princeton.

Welch's embryonic program was incorporated within the Department of Art and Archaeology as a Section of Music. Growth was rapid. By 1937 the two experimental courses had increased to seven and the original thirty-five students had grown so that one-tenth of the student body was taking at least one music course sometime in their college career. The enlarged curriculum allowed undergraduates to begin concentrating in the theory and history of music. Welch made several distinguished appointments for the future -- Roger Sessions in theory and composition, Oliver Strunk in history and literature, and in 1940 a one-year M.F.A. program was begun. Several new instructors were appointed, including: Milton Babbitt and Edward Cone, two of the department's earliest M.F.A.'s, and Merrill Knapp. The latter was Glee Club director as well as teacher, as, later, Elliot Forbes was for eleven years before he left to return in 1958 to his alma mater, Harvard.

The phenomenal progress of the early years occurred despite the fact that there was very little money and no building. Instruction was given in the basement of Alexander Hall, the Peking Room of Murray-Dodge (shared with Theatre Intime), and the crypt of the Chapel. Books and scores were stored in McCormick Hall, and practice facilities were virtually nonexistent.

In 1946 the music section attained departmental status and shortly thereafter was given Clio Hall for a home. Although Clio was not ideal (Stravinsky in the basement often collided with Bach on the second floor via the heating pipes -- a wondrous conduit for sound), music was finally under one roof and began to flourish. The graduate program was extended to include the award of Ph.D.'s; the first one was conferred in 1950. The Record Lending Library (soon to possess some 8,000 recordings) became popular among undergraduates and faculty, and concert activities expanded greatly. The necessary support was provided by Paul Bedford 1897 (the department's perennial godfather), David H. McAlpin '20, William R. McAlpin '26, and many other of the Friends of Music.

In 1951 the department suffered a grievous loss in the early death of its founder, Roy Dickinson Welch. In a moving tribute the faculty praised him as a brilliant teacher and able administrator and as one whose life illustrated the truth of his own belief that ``music offers infinite capacity for infinite self-renewal.''

Arthur Mendel, an authority on the music of Bach who was called to Princeton in 1952, brought the department professional recognition and eminence during his fifteen years as chairman. Mendel's own scholarship and teaching led in the development of excellence particularly in the graduate program. He was strongly supported by the eminent American composer Roger Sessions, who returned in 1953, after an eight-year absence in Berkeley, as first incumbent of the Conant chair in music, and by Oliver Strunk, one of the nation's leading musicologists.

Almost as important was the influence these men exerted on younger colleagues who were to take their places. In theory and composition, Milton Babbitt became widely known as a contemporary theorist and composer; Edward Cone, as composer, pianist, and writer on musical structure and form; Earl Kim, as composer and performer; James K. Randall, as composer of electronic music; Peter Westergaard, as composer and teacher of theory. This group helped found Perspectives of New Music, a leading periodical in the field.

In musicology, Merrill Knapp (Handel and the English eighteenth century), Kenneth Levy (Byzantine and medieval music), Lewis Lockwood (Renaissance studies and Beethoven), have all published widely in their respective fields.

Carl Weinrich, organist and choirmaster in the University Chapel for thirty years, brought renown to Princeton by his organ recitals and recordings of Bach. He was also Glee Club director from 1952 to 1958, when Walter Nollner took over. Nollner proved markedly successful in this position, and in 1973 succeeded Weinrich as choirmaster as well.

After years of careful planning, Arthur Mendel brought the department into the Woolworth Center of Musical Studies -- more soundproof than Clio! -- in the fall of 1963. During the late 1960s and 1970s, when Kenneth Levy, Lewis Lockwood, and Peter Westergaard were chairmen, the department continued to progress and expand, particularly after the advent of coeducation. Practical music-making, student concerts, and demand for practice space filled Woolworth to overflowing only ten years after its completion, and the abundance and frequency of musical notices in the Weekly Bulletin showed how pervasive music had become in the life of the campus.

Appointments of Claudio Spies (composer and authority on Stravinsky) and Harold Powers (ethnomusicologist and opera scholar) in the early 1970s further strengthened the department. As of 1972, Princeton's graduate program in music was rated as one of the best in the country~.

J. Merrill Knapp


From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

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