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(Some of) The Outstanding Women of Arsis Press

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The following is a guest post by Music Division Archivist Dr. Stephanie Akau.

Earlier this year Processing Technician Anthony Edwards and I had the privilege of processing the records of the Arsis Press. This music publishing company was founded in 1974 and run solely by intrepid school teacher, social activist, and composer Clara Lyle Boone (1927-2015) from her home in Washington, D.C., only a few Metro stops east of the Library of Congress. Boone sang, played piano, and studied composition with Walter Piston at Harvard and Darius Milhaud as a student at the Aspen Music Festival. After working briefly for the G. Schirmer music publishing company, Boone ran for Congress in Kentucky and worked on John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. Arsis Press published sacred choral music, solo, and chamber works by living women composers, who often faced significant roadblocks trying to get larger publishing houses to publish their work.

In this collection there are works by more than 40 composers, and we can highlight only a few in this post. Other works published by Arsis Press are described in the finding aid to the Arsis Press Papers, and additional Arsis Press scores are cataloged in the Music Division’s general collection.

The tireless efforts of Clara Lyle Boone to found and run Arsis Press were a hard-fought step in the direction of inclusion of women composers into classical music. This collection is a resource for soloists and chamber musicians looking to expand their repertoire or for anyone interested in how a solo entrepreneur built a small business.

Vivian Fine (1913-2000) was a piano prodigy who wrote her first piece at age thirteen and had her public premiere at sixteen. The Arsis Press Records contain a corrected score and viola part for her Lieder for viola and piano, written later in her career. The sketches for Lieder are in her collection of manuscripts here at the Library.

Annotated manuscript score with paste over note.
Vivian Fine. Lieder for viola and piano, 1987. Box 8, folder 10, Arsis Press Records, Music Division.
Typed letter signed by Fine.
Vivian Fine to Clara Lyle Boone with corrections to a proof of Lieder for viola and piano, March 26, 1987. Box 14, folder 2, Arsis Press Records, Music Division.

Ruth Lomon (1930-2017) was a Canadian composer and teacher with several chamber and solo piano or organ works in the Arsis Press Records. Her compositions published by Arsis span the years from 1962, before the press’s founding, to 2004. There is also prolific correspondence between Lomon and Boone. In addition to letters, Lomon shared clippings and programs with Boone when her works were performed.

Annotated score.
Ruth Lomon, Five Songs After Poems by William Blake, 1962. Box 3, folder 2, Arsis Press Records, Music Division.

Ruth Schönthal (1924-2006) was, like Vivian Fine, a prodigy who started playing piano and composing as child. As the Nazi Party rose to power in Europe, her family fled their home in Hamburg, first moving to Sweden, then to Mexico, where she met composer and fellow German refugee Paul Hindemith.[1] He invited her to study with him at Yale, where she graduated in 1948.

Schönthal authored more than 100 compositions ranging from solo instrumental works to opera; two of her chamber works are in the collection. She had a successful career as an educator and pedagogue, serving on faculty at New York University from 1979 until 2004 and had a successful career as an educator and pedagogue. Her students include composers Christopher Cerrone and Lowell Liebermann, and performer/songwriter Stephanie Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga.

In the following letter to Schönthal from 1986, Clara Lyle Boone acknowledged Schönthal’s musical and educational impact on the field of classical music. Boone writes,

The music in the AWC [American Women Composers] series has been consistently good…Women have come a long way, and you are an important reason why.

Typed letter.
Clara Lyle Boone to Ruth Schönthal, December 1, 1986. Box 17, folder 5, Arsis Press Records, Music Division.
First page of score.
Ruth Schönthal, Interlude for harp, 1980. Box 5, folder 3, Arsis Press Records, Music Division

Dr. Jeanne Shaffer (1925-2007) began singing for radio commercials at age four and toured with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra from ages eleven to sixteen. She hosted two radio shows, “Eine Kleine Frauenmusik,” about women composers, and “Non-American Orchestral Music,” for Southeastern Public Radio Network. Shaffer served on the faculty of Huntingdon College (Alabama), and her works include musicals, symphonies, chamber music, an opera, and a ballet. Five of her chamber music scores are available in the collection.

Annotated score.
Jeanne Shaffer, “Eternity.” Five Songs to Poems of William Blake for soprano and piano, 1992. Box 5, folder 8, Arsis Press Records, Music Division.

Dr. Elizabeth Walton Vercoe (b. 1941) was born in Washington, D.C., and has been featured on numerous prestigious music festivals and in artists’ colonies in the U.S. and Europe. Arsis published three of her works by the time she finished her doctoral degree at Boston College. From 1997 she was on the music faculty at Regis College (Massachusetts). Many of her compositions center on the work or life of specific people ranging from well-known figures like Joan of Arc (Herstory III), the poetry of Emily Dickinson (This is my letter to the World), Japanese women’s poetry set in (Herstory II), or collaborators, like pianist Christine Paraschos (Pour Christine).

Printed score with paste overs.
Elizabeth Walton Vercoe, Herstory III, 1991. Box 7, folder 5, Arsis Press Records, Music Division.

The finding aid for the Arsis Press Records is now available. To further explore the topic of  music by women composers in the collections of the Library of Congress, check out the research guide In Search of the Woman Composer: Finding Music by Women Library of Congress.

[1] “Ruth Schonthal – the loss of a unique voice.” Vox Novus.

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