Reflections on the Jonathan Larson Collection

The following is a guest post from Mark Eden Horowitz, Senior Music Specialist, and curator for the Larson Collection.

 

Portrait of composer Jonathan Larson (1960-1996).

On Monday, May 9th at noon in the Whittall Pavilion, I will be discussing the Larson Collection and showing some of the rare and surprising treasures it holds.

The special collections of the Music Division of the Library of Congress include many strengths and focuses, but it is quite possible that American musical theater is our strongest subject area. Our collections include the papers of Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Oscar Hammerstein II, Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter, Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner, Burton Lane, Leonard Bernstein, Bob Fosse & Gwen Verdon, and dozens of others. That is one of the reasons when we learned of Jonathan Larson’s sudden and tragic death in January 1996, just before the opening of RENT off-Broadway, we determined that his papers were a collection we should pursue to help preserve his legacy before it was too late.

After consultation with Larson’s mentor, Stephen Sondheim (whose papers are also promised to us as a bequest), we contacted Larson’s parents in July of 1996. This began several years of discussions and interactions with the family, including their visiting the Library to look at our facilities and other collections in the summer of 1997. After the estate (with some guidance from the Library) hired an archivist to first go through the collection to organize and identify its contents, the collection finally arrived at the Library in February of 2004.

Though not a huge collection—we estimate at approximately 5,000 items—it has proven to be remarkably rich, and has already been used by several researchers. Larson was involved in far more projects that most people are aware of (all reflected in the collection), but the materials for RENT in particular are close to miraculous in the depth and quantity of what’s to be found—not only lyric sketches, and many many drafts of the script, but research materials, biographies of the characters, and notes and essays by Larson. The collection also includes over 600 recordings, many of them of Larson performing his works. In addition, the collection is among our first to include significant numbers of computer disks—an exciting new avenue for researchers interested in the intersection of creativity and technology.

In 2006, the Library produced a Jonathan Larson concert that featured the original musicians and musical director from RENT, along with original cast members Anthony Rapp and Gwen Stewart, joined by later additions to the cast, Natascia Diaz, Jeremy Kushnier, and Michael McElroy. The concert also featured three songwriters who won grants from the Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation, established in his memory. And in 2007 the Library underwrote the Jonathan Sings Larson CD/DVD package as part of the Songwriter Series, using funds from our Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trust for the Benefit of the Library of Congress.

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