Alice Eversman, Elena de Sayn, and the Washington, D.C. music scene

The following is a guest post from Archives Processing Technician Emily Baumgart.

Program cover featuring images of Eversamn and de Sayn

Pan-American tour program, 1914. Box 12, folder 1. Alice Eversman and Elena de Sayn papers, Music Division.

Throughout the month of March, the Library of Congress has been highlighting the accomplishments of women in our collections. Two names from the Music Division that you might not be familiar with, however, are Alice Eversman and Elena de Sayn. Eversman (1885-1974) was an operatic soprano, and de Sayn (1884-1966) was a concert violinist; their careers were intertwined for most of their lives. Beginning as performers, they concertized together throughout Europe and the United States during the 1900s-1910s. They then settled in Washington, D.C. together, where they both wrote music criticism for the Washington Star, and participated in the local cultural scene. De Sayn continued performing into the 1960s but also produced concerts by other artists, while Eversman became very active in organizations supporting women journalists like the National League of American Pen Women and the Women’s National Press Club. Their collection contains a wealth of information about the musical activities in Washington and throughout North America, and it highlights many women musicians, including performers, composers, and patrons. Their friends and colleagues spanned all echelons of the musical world.

Eversman and de Sayn were part of a large network of women musicians, and their collection demonstrates these connections. The Correspondence Series is a treasure trove of materials: cards from artists thanking Eversman or de Sayn for positive reviews of their performances, discussions of musical and political events, and short notes regarding Washington society gossip. Other letters discuss upcoming performances in Washington and beyond, including one from Canadian composer Gena Branscombe in which she jokes about arguing with de Sayn over tempo indications for her violin sonata in a minor: “I’ll gladly go over [the sonata] with you (fighting passionately for my own ideas as to tempi!!!) … but you’re safe with your own pianist.” (Box 1, folder 16.) These materials even show women looking out for each other. One letter from American composer Louise Crawford, also a member of the National League of American Pen Women, warns of a high-profile male musical figure who had revealed his disdain toward women composers. This sense of interconnectedness is seen throughout the whole of the collection. For instance, the collection includes a score for opera singer Lillian Evanti’s setting of the “Twenty-Third Psalm,” inscribed to Eversman, and sent, I believe, in thanks for the rave reviews Eversman wrote of Evanti’s 1943 performance of La Traviata with the National Negro Opera Company. Appraisal documents pertaining to de Sayn’s violins reveal that de Sayn’s Guarnerius violin was a gift from virtuosa violinist and arts patron Leonora Jackson McKim. An original copyist manuscript score of Washington composer Mary Howe’s sonata in D, which de Sayn performed, was also originally included in the collection, but has since been cataloged separately as ML96.H857 (Case).

Eversman and de Sayn were avid scrapbookers, and, in addition to the correspondence, music, photographs, and other materials, the collection also contains several of their scrapbooks. One set chronicles their joint criticism careers (you can read their articles through Chronicling America), while others focus on their own performance careers and personal lives. Some of the scrapbooks also document the careers and performances of other musicians, such as violist Alix Young Maruchess, for whom de Sayn arranged a concert at the Textile Museum in Washington.

Clipping, "Concerts of Diverse Types for Coming Weeks," on scrpabook page.

Clipping from “The Evening Star,” featuring Alix Young Maruchess, November 21, 1936. Box 14, folder 3. Alice Eversman and Elena De Sayn papers, Music Division.

One scrapbook highlights a large event involving both Eversman and de Sayn, the ripples of which can be seen throughout the collection. De Sayn worked as an impresario during the 1930s through her Société des Concerts Intimes, which brought important performers to Washington, including the Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia and Czech violinist Jan Kubelík. This project is documented in scrapbooks as well as in programs, posters, and contracts throughout the collection. As such, she was ideally situated to coordinate an event in Washington to celebrate Amy Beach’s 75th birthday. The two-day extravaganza in November 1942 included performances of most of Beach’s chamber works. De Sayn herself played Beach’s violin sonata, a piece she had performed previously with Beach at the piano—correspondence in the collection details their discussion about rehearsals and cuts in the work from this earlier performance. She also played first violin in Beach’s string quartet, op. 79. The copyist manuscript score and parts of this quartet were originally part of Eversman and de Sayn’s collection and have since been cataloged separately as M452.B (Case).

Black-and-white, half-length portrait.

Unidentified photographer. Amy Beach, undated. Box 23, Alice Eversman and Elena de Sayn papers, Music Division.

Correspondence in the collection between other performers at the celebration, including baritone William Leach and pianist Julia Elbogen, reveals a behind-the-scenes look at the production as the artists decide which pieces to perform and talk about their practice regimens. Beach, unfortunately, could not attend the event due to health concerns, but she could certainly enjoy all the good press. In a letter to de Sayn a few days after the festivities, she writes “I wish you could know how deeply I appreciate all the loving care you and your associates have given to my music! It was my plan to send messages to you just before the concert, but my strength is still so limited that for some time only absolutely necessary business letters have been written.” (Box 1, folder 13.) The scrapbook details reviews of the concerts from papers in Washington and beyond, including one by Eversman herself who praised the composer, stating, “In the works of yesterday’s program, Mrs. Beach’s extraordinary inventiveness brought no repetition of style or idea. Her music is distinctively melodic but her temperamental sweep and dramatic feeling prevents it from being sentimental.”

Concert program from 75th anniversary celebration of the Philllips Memorial Gallery.

Program, 1942. Box 23, Alice Eversman and Elena de Sayn papers, Music Division.

Check out these and all the other great materials highlighting the lives and careers of women musicians and the musical scene in Washington during the first half of the twentieth century, all found in the Alice Eversman and Elena de Sayn Papers!

2 Comments

  1. Caridad
    March 29, 2022 at 1:14 pm

    This is really cool. I love that they were avid scrapbookers.

  2. Rebecca F Samawicz
    March 30, 2022 at 8:29 am

    Thank you so much for giving us a preview of this amazing collection. Insight into a lively arts community I never had an nkling existed.

    When we moved our family to DC area in 1996, people told us Washington was just then emerging from its reputation as an arts wasteland.

    “ Eversman and de Sayn were part of a large network of women musicians, and their collection demonstrates these connections…
    …One letter from American composer Louise Crawford, also a member of the National League of American Pen Women, warns of a high-profile male musical figure who had revealed his disdain toward women composers. This sense of interconnectedness is seen throughout the whole of the collection.”

    Wow! Imagine—a secret arts society made up of the other 50% of the human race.
    and imagine the roadblocks for minority women artists.

    Fascinating and uplifting. Looking forward to end of pandemic and Coolidge concerts featuring these women.

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