Oliver Daniel: Music Director, Producer, Promoter, and Scholar

The following is a guest post from Processing Technician Pam Murrell.

On November 24, 1911, Oliver Daniel was born in De Pere, Wisconsin, a suburb of Green Bay. As an undergraduate, he attended the local St. Norbert College before journeying to Berlin and Amsterdam to study piano. When he returned stateside, Daniel continued his musical training at the New England Conservatory in Boston. After his 1935 debut as a concert pianist, he toured for the next seven years. To supplement his income, he held teaching positions at the Boston Conservatory from 1936 to 1938 and at Marot Junior College in Connecticut from 1939 to 1942. It was only when he trained a student chorus at the latter to perform in Gluck’s opera Iphigenia in Tauris that a wider audience took notice of Daniel’s choral artistry. The young man whom the Boston Herald deemed a “pianist of rare attainment” was now a conductor. The same year that Daniel made his premiere at the podium he was offered a position as music director at CBS. Financial papers, program schedules, press releases, clippings, periodicals, and transcripts are just some of the documents which comprise the CBS materials in the Oliver Daniel Papers. Although his career with CBS lasted just over a decade, the musicologist amassed a stockpile of items which spans nearly 50 years due to his enduring interest in and association with the iconic broadcasting network.

Black and white photo of Daniel and Stokowski in recording studio

Marjory Lewis, photographer. Oliver Daniel (left) and Leopold Stokowski preparing a broadcast of the CBS Twentieth Century Concert Hall, 1953. Box 55, folder 4, Oliver Daniel Papers, Music Division.

Beginning in 1942, Daniel assumed the role of a director in the educational division of CBS Radio. He was largely responsible for producing classical music concerts, interviews, documentaries, and public service broadcasts. During his 12-year tenure, he became acquainted with many musical luminaries of his time, including Milton Babbitt, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Alan Hovhaness, Walter Piston, and Wallingford Riegger. In 1954, Daniel left CBS to accept another music director position, this one at Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI). That same year, he and fellow musicians Otto Luening and Douglas Moore launched Composers Recordings, Inc. (CRI) with seed funding from the American Composers Alliance. Their new record label, which was dedicated to discovering and distributing contemporary American music, flourished for nearly 50 years. During that time, CRI released more than 600 full-length recordings, four of which received Grammy nominations. By 2003, CRI had discontinued its recording activity due to declining sales and its inability to finance ongoing operating expenses. In 2006, the rights to the company’s recording catalog were transferred to New World Records. Paperwork associated with CRI as well as correspondence between Luening and Moore and letters from the many artists Daniel encountered while at CBS, are found in the Oliver Daniel Papers.

When Daniel met Leopold Stokowski in the 1940s during his time at CBS, the two discovered a shared passion for new music and music accessibility. Consequently, they founded the Contemporary Music Society in 1952. Through promotion and venue reservations, the organization championed modern composers and enabled their music to reach wider audiences. A decade later, in 1962, Daniel and Stokowski engaged in another joint venture with the American Symphony Orchestra (ASO). The ensemble was Stokowski’s creation, but Daniel served on its Board of Directors. As was the case with their Contemporary Music Society, the mission of the ASO was to make the new music accessible to a broader public. Items associated with both nonprofit entities can be found in the Oliver Daniel Papers. The CMS, in particular, boasts nearly 30 years of documentation. Also present are dozens of Stokowski photographs and more than four decades of his correspondence.

Black and white photo of four people (including Daniel) gathered around Mitropoulos

Unidentified photographer. Oliver Daniel (far left), Dimitri Mitropoulos (seated, center), with CBS Week-End with Music, New York Philharmonic Intermission guests, circa 1948. Box 55, folder 4. Oliver Daniel Papers, Music Division.

Five years after Stokowski’s death in 1977, Daniel published a 1,110-page biography to commemorate his longtime associate. Stokowski: A Counterpoint of View was the culmination of six years of research, during which Daniel conducted over 500 interviews with more than 300 individuals. Daniel commenced a similar endeavor after becoming friends with Dimitri Mitropoulos. As with Stokowski, Daniel encountered the Greek conductor while producing radio broadcasts for the CBS network. Over a period of seven years, Daniel spoke with more than 120 people in 180 interviews and even went to the musician’s homeland twice to gather information. But Daniel was unable to complete the volume before his death in 1990 at the age of 79, and his life partner, Donald Ott, recruited historian William Trotter to finish the project which resulted in Priest of Music: The Life of Dimitri Mitropoulos. A substantial array of Mitropoulos correspondence and photographs that were acquired during and after Daniel’s lifetime is found in his papers.

Throughout his career, Daniel researched the oeuvres of several early American composers, including William Billings. The Bostonian, who was friends with such venerated historical figures as Paul Revere and Samuel Adams, was a proponent of the singing school movement in the United States. The Daniel Papers contain draft chapters of a projected biography of the self-taught Billings, as well as related articles, booklets, and genealogy documents. The Library of Congress acquired the Oliver Daniel Papers from Donald Ott between 1997 and 2002. Although most of the notables within the collection are musicians, correspondence from the likes of Ruth St. Denis, John D. Rockefeller, Robert F. Kennedy, and Gloria Vanderbilt is also included. Additional Daniel letters can be found in other Music Division collections including the papers of Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, David Diamond, and Nicolas Slonimsky.

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