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History of the School of Music

The origin of the Yale School of Music can be traced to the 1840s when members of the Battell family of Norfolk, Connecticut, became interested in the musical life of the University. Irene Battell Larned, an accomplished musician, moved to New Haven as the wife of a professor in Yale College in 1843. Convinced of the need for professional music instruction at the University and prompted by the arrival in New Haven of the German musician Gustave Jacob Stoeckel, she persuaded her brother to fund an endowment for musical studies with Stoeckel as the teacher. The sum of $5,000 was presented to Yale College in 1854 by Joseph Battell “for the support, as far as it may go, of a teacher of the science of music to such students as may avail themselves of the opportunity.” The Yale Corporation approved the appointment of Stoeckel as an instructor in church music and singing and as director of the Chapel Choir and other musical activities at Yale College in 1855. Continued support by members of the Battell family resulted in an endowment for a professorship of music. In 1890 Mr. Stoeckel was appointed Battell Professor of Music, and Yale offered the first credit courses in music.

The year 1894 was remarkable in the history of the School. The first Bachelor of Music degrees were awarded to a class of four. Gustave Stoeckel retired, and two new teachers were appointed as cochairs of the new department: Samuel Simons Sanford, a distinguished pianist of international rank, was appointed professor of applied music; and Horatio Parker, an outstanding composer and church musician, was named Battell Professor of the Theory of Music. In November the Corporation voted to make the music department a separate entity.

Also in 1894, Morris Steinert formed an orchestra in New Haven and conferred musical leadership on Parker. Called the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, it was nevertheless closely linked with the University. In 1900 Steinert donated eighty-three historical instruments to the University, both keyboards and string instruments, providing the core of the future Collection of Musical Instruments.

The music department was designated a School in 1904, and Horatio Parker was appointed the first dean. The School expanded, though its work was hampered by the lack of suitable facilities. The situation was remedied by the construction of Albert Arnold Sprague Memorial Hall in 1917, made possible through the generosity of Mrs. Sprague and her daughter, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. The only building on campus designed specifically for music, it was given “to advance the best interests of music and to widen the usefulness of Yale University.” Sprague Hall housed the entire School, including offices, studios, practice rooms, the music library, and a recital hall.

With Horatio Parker’s death in 1919, the deanship as well as the post of conductor of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra passed to David Stanley Smith. A composer, Smith served until 1940, and under his leadership academic programs were strengthened and the library was developed into one of the finest in the country. The School saw the development of a strong program of professional studies, resulting in the establishment of a graduate division. The first Master of Music degree was conferred in 1932.

In 1940 Yale designated a separate Department of Music for undergraduate studies, with Bruce Simonds as chair. Richard Donovan served a one-year term as acting dean of the School of Music, and the following year Simonds continued to serve as both chair of the department and dean of the School. Music history classes were now offered through the department, though some music theory courses continued to be held through the School. The presence for twelve years of composer Paul Hindemith, who took an intense interest in the work of the School, lent a special distinction to this period. He established the Collegium concerts, thus helping to spark the early music movement. The year 1941 brought the first students to the Yale Summer School of Music/Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, held on the Battell-Stoeckel estate in northwest Connecticut.

Luther Noss, a member of the faculty since 1939, became dean in 1954, the year that Sprague Hall was remodeled to accommodate the School’s rapidly growing library. The acquisition that year of York Hall, which was renovated and renamed Stoeckel Hall, helped meet the need for expanded studio facilities and administrative offices. Under Noss’s guidance, the School of Music became exclusively a graduate professional school in 1958, requiring an undergraduate degree for admission and conferring only the Master of Music degree. Additional programs of graduate professional studies, leading to the degrees of Master of Musical Arts and Doctor of Musical Arts, were introduced in 1968.

Yale College became coeducational in 1969, though the School of Music and the Norfolk festival had both included women from their earliest days. The Collection of Musical Instruments moved to its current location on Hillhouse Avenue in 1961. With further acquisitions in 1960 and 1962, it became one of the world’s foremost collections of its kind. Under the guidance of faculty member Mel Powell, Yale opened its first electronic music studio in 1962. It was only the third such facility to be built in the United States.

From 1970 to 1980, Philip Nelson, a musicologist, served as dean of the School of Music. In 1973 Yale established the Institute of Sacred Music as an interdisciplinary graduate center for the study of music, liturgy, and the arts. The same year, the Philharmonia Orchestra of Yale took on its current name and role as the premiere graduate ensemble.

Frank Tirro, a musicologist and early music specialist, was appointed dean in 1980. In the decade of the 1980s, the School acquired and renovated the building at 435 College Street, the Philharmonia Orchestra of Yale performed annually in Lincoln Center in New York and made its first European tours, and the Yale Cellos were established in 1983 under the leadership of professor Aldo Parisot. American composer Ezra Laderman assumed the deanship in July 1989, and the Artist Diploma was added to the School’s degree programs in 1993.

In 1995 pianist Robert Blocker was appointed the first Henry and Lucy Moses Dean of Music. The Board of Visitors, later renamed the Board of Advisors, was established in 1997. During the past fifteen years the School’s endowment has increased tenfold. In 2005 a transformational gift of $100 million from Stephen (B.A. 1959) and Denise Adams enabled the Yale School of Music to become tuition-free and to expand its programs and global partnerships. Their generosity to the School will be recognized upon the completion of the Hendrie Hall renovation and expansion project, when the new complex will be named the Adams Center for Musical Arts.

The School of Music has had active programs of music education in public schools from the 1980s onward. In 2005 the Yale College Class of 1957, committed to improving the quality of music education in the public schools, created an endowment to sustain the Music in Schools Initiative. The initiative’s activities were enhanced by the creation of the Morse Summer Music Academy in 2010.

As it has continued to expand over the past quarter-century, the School of Music has benefited from an ambitious facilities renovation program. The Gilmore Music Library opened its doors in 1998, giving the music library a home inside Sterling Memorial Library. Sprague Hall reopened in 2003 after two years of extensive renovations, featuring a refurbished Morse Recital Hall. The building at 435 College Street was renovated and officially reopened as Abby and Mitch Leigh Hall in 2005.

The School formalized its six international partnerships in the early 2000s and in 2008 undertook its largest-scale international collaboration to date, cohosting Musicathlon: The Conservatory Music Festival with Beijing’s Central Conservatory of Music. Nine other conservatories from North America, Europe, and Asia participated, convening in Beijing before the 2008 Summer Olympics.

The Yale School of Music adopted its first strategic plan, “Beyond Boundaries,” in 2009, and with it affirmed its mission to prepare a new generation of international artists and cultural leaders.

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