Filip Šír, coordinator for Digitization of Audio Documents at the National Museum (Prague), will talk of his work to track down and preserve early 20th century Czech sound recordings made in the United States. Ed. Jedlička cylinder recordings from the Music Library’s collections will also be exhibited. Filip’s book on this topic, co-authored with collector Gabriel Gossel and published in 2018, talks about a number of important Czech recording artists and producers, including Jedlička and Chicago-based Joseph Jiran.
If you’re interested in archives, historical sound recordings, immigrant cultures, or Czech history, be sure to attend!
Composers and poets love to write about May, a month characterized by seasonal change, the flowering of long dormant plants, and here at Voxman the end of the semester and for some students, graduation!
This Fall, come to the Voxman Music Building for BAND 141, a look at the Hawkeye Marching Band. Director Eric Bush donated a significant collection of materials from the Band’s history including photographs, drill charts, papers, scrapbooks, uniform pieces, audio and video recordings, and other memorabilia to the Rita Benton Music Library in 2020. The exhibit draws from these donated materials, as well as several other collections held in University Archives such as the UI Yearbooks, Charles B. Righter Papers, Scottish Highlander Records, and the Daily Iowan archives.
The exhibit opened September 3. Start your visit on the first floor by the School of Music offices where you can explore the band’s history through its thirteen directors, core song list, innovative formations, and wide ranging uniforms. The exhibit continues on the second floor alongside the Recital Hall, highlighting the Band’s drum majors, alumni, the Golden Girl, and Scottish Highlanders. And lastly, keep your eye online for certain exhibit pieces either on the HMB’s social media feeds or the Music Library’s website.
All visitors to the Music Library will be required to wear a mask. You may wear a face shield in addition to the mask, but Voxman Music Building visitors are not allowed to only wear a face shield. Each member of the UI community received a packet of masks, hand sanitizer, and face shield, and there are many local vendors selling protective equipment that you can use to promote public and personal health and safety.
All Music Library staff will be masked. There will be plexiglass barriers at the Service Desk, too, to protect library visitors and staff. If we are brief and business-like in serving you at the desk, it will be so that you will not have to linger in our space any longer than necessary.
2. Social distance using the Rule of Three Wülfies
Please keep six feet of distance between yourself and other people in the Music Library. It can be tricky to measure six feet without a tape measure, so we recommend THREE WÜLFIEs of space as an alternative measuring device.
There will also be markers on the floor, spaced six feet apart, that can be used to queue at the Service Desk.
(No, Wülfie, we aren’t going to get two more dogs at the Library. Just you, pal!)
3. Need library materials? Use Pickup, Delivery, and Scanning Services.
The University of Iowa Libraries will operate with closed stacks when they reopen this Fall. This means using the library will be like patronizing many area restaurants, in that the RBML will offer pickup, delivery, and scanning* services of library books, scores, and recordings to meet the needs of students, faculty, and staff. This will give Wülfie time to build up his skills at playing fetch!
*Please note that scanning requests must be limited to a chapter of a book or a portion of a score (a part, movement, song) due to copyright restrictions.
4. Public seating closed 🙁
Social distancing in the Music Library is very hard because we have so many book stacks and much of our furniture cannot be moved around. Therefore, the study space in the Music Library will be closed for Fall 2020. Wulfie will be posting about study break activities this fall you can do in your dorm room, at home, outside, and other social distancing locations to help you with breaking the monotony of staring at your computer screen.
There is one exception –
If you are a graduate student in music, you may reserve a study space for up to two hours in the Music Library using an online booking system. You will not be able allowed to directly access stacks, but will need to place any materials requests at the Service Desk. Seating is limited and will be first-come, first-served. This service is being provided primarily to support grad students who are working on dissertation or thesis projects and those who are studying for comprehensive and qualifying exams. Go to this webpage to learn more and book a space.
Please do not request a study space if you are not a graduate student in Music. Wülfie will cancel your reservation, and then he’ll get all growly.
5. Print and Scan.
The Music Library has relocated the public printer to the glassed-in area by the Service Desk for your convenience. The overhead scanner in the Music Library is being temporarily reassigned for staff use to fulfill an anticipated increase in patron scanning requests.
The overhead scanner and printer in the ITC are both available to UI students, faculty, and staff. However, the door between the Library and the Computer Lab will be locked for Fall 2020 – all entry must be through the swipe door off the hallway.
6. Asking for Help
Music Library staff will be available to help with all your questions in a variety of ways.
Email is a great option if you need to share a link or screenshot or other information with a staff member so they can help you figure something out.
Phone is a great option when you need to check on something related to your patron account, see if we’re open, or talk through something simple.
Consultation:Make an appointment
Consultations are a great option if you need help starting a research project, understanding a concept, or need to have a longer conversation where maybe you look at a database or online tool with the music librarian. Consultations will take place on Zoom.
Connecting with everyone’s favorite library pup: Follow Wülfie on Instagram @wulfieparsons
Following Wülfie is a great way to enjoy a little laughter now and again, and to see what’s changing around the Music Library.
7. What’s online?
SO MANY of the Music Library’s resources are actually online! We have streaming audio and video databases, scholarly journals in digital format, and even some music scores. Here are some of Wülfie’s favorite resources:
Naxos Music Library (available in desktop and app): Over 2 millions tracks and counting, from labels like Warner, Sony, Harmonia Mundi, Hungaraton, and of course, Naxos! You can find classical music galore, plus movie and Broadway soundtracks. Use Naxos Jazz to access even more recordings. (see the 2019 “Jazz Cats Allowed” Accord on Instagram)
BabelScores: New last year, BabelScores provides access to online sheet music from contemporary composers around the world. Looking for new and upcoming repertory? This is a great place to search. You can download pdfs, and in some cases, listen to a recording in addition to viewing the score.
Bloomsbury Popular Music: If you’re interested in music of the 20th and 21st century, I highly recommend looking at the scholarly books and other resources available in BPM. Of particular note is the 33 1/3 series, in which individual albums are examined, like the Beach Boys Pet Sounds or Koji Kondo’s Super Mario Bros. Soundtrack.
Database of Recorded American Music (DRAM): This resource contains some of the best recordings by American groups and of music by American composers, especially of 20th century repertoire. Contains a lot of chamber, band, and electronic music. Check it out!
Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall: This collection of HD video recordings is hard to beat – world famous performers and conductors with one of the best orchestras delivering mostly standard repertoire (but there are some premieres and other unusual works in there). You’ll have to make an account with your Hawk email the first time you log in, but then you should be set to start streaming.
Discovering lost pieces of music in dusty archives is what most people think musicologists do. We only make the news if someone finds an unknown manuscript by a famous composer buried in a library. It’s true that the most rewarding part of my job is getting to hold centuries-old letters, scores, and concert programs in my hands and to imagine their earlier lives. But “dusty archives”? No, thanks to the Rita Benton Music Library’s digitization of rare scores, I made my biggest discovery on the internet: a volume of sonatas that may have belonged to the family of the novelist Jane Austen.
This story starts a few years back when George McTyre, a doctoral voice student, took me out for coffee. He had one more music history requirement, and he wanted me to offer an interesting class. By the time I’d finished my cappuccino, I’d agreed to teach “Music in the World of Jane Austen.” Designing the course was not exactly a challenge for me. I confess that I’m a “Janeite”—I’ve read all of Austen’s novels multiple times, have seen the movie adaptations, and own a plastic Austen action figure. I even have the voice of Mr. Darcy greeting callers on my cell phone.
In addition to being a writer, Austen was an amateur pianist who practiced every morning before breakfast. The music manuscripts she copied by hand survive, as do many published pieces that belonged to her and to other women in her family circle. These compositions became my class’s “textbook,” as students learned about music making in England during Austen’s lifetime. The Rita Benton Music Library owns many eighteenth-century scores similar to those the writer might have played. When we moved into the Voxman Music Building in 2016, I decided to offer a class based entirely on rare materials in the Library’s Arthur and Miriam Canter Rare Book Room. Featured prominently would be the extensive collection of historic scores by composer Ignaz Pleyel (1757-1831). The compositions of Pleyel, a contemporary of Franz Joseph Haydn, were popular throughout Europe. Rita Benton was the leading scholar of his music, and the Music Library’s Pleyel collection is unparalleled.
Late one night I was perusing the virtual Pleyel scores available online through the Iowa Digital Library. I found a set of six sonatas bound in a volume labeled “Miss Austen.” I emailed librarian Katie Buehner and joked about my “discovery.” But then I looked more closely. Iowa’s sonatas have penciled-in fingerings that resemble the fingerings in another copy of Pleyel’s sonatas, this one owned by Jane Austen’s sister-in-law, Elizabeth Knight. Here things get a little complicated. Elizabeth was the wife of Edward Austen. Edward had been adopted by the wealthy Knights, and he later changed his own family’s name when he received his inheritance. Thus his wife was “Mrs. Austen” or “Mrs. Knight,” never “Miss Austen,” so it’s not clear that Iowa’s Pleyel sonatas could have belonged to her. Another possible owner of the sonatas is Elizabeth’s daughter, Fanny Austen, Jane’s favorite niece, who played the piano very well. Of course, one cannot help but wonder if the volume ever found its way to Jane’s sister, Miss Cassandra Austen or to Jane herself.
I’ve explored the possibilities for the provenance of Iowa’s Pleyel Sonatas in an article for Fontes artis musicae, the journal of the International Association of Music Libraries. I wish I could say I have positive proof that an Austen performed from this particular score. Unfortunately, the complete origins of the “Miss Austen” volume remain a mystery. Still, we can imagine that while taking a break from working on Pride and Prejudice or Emma, Jane Austen enjoyed a rendition of a Pleyel Sonata performed by her talented niece or sat down at the pianoforte and played from the score herself.
About the Author
Marian Wilson Kimber is Professor of Musicology in the School of Music. She has published numerous articles about Felix Mendelssohn, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel and spoken recitation in concert life. Her book, The Elocutionists: Women, Music, and the Spoken Word (University of Illinois Press, 2017) won the H. Earle Johnson Subvention from the Society for American Music. Wilson Kimber is a founding member of the duo, Red Vespa, which performs comic spoken word pieces by women composers.
Greetings! Everyone’s favorite library staff member, Wülfie Parsons, is back to help you navigate online library resources. The Music Library in Voxman may be closed, the Music LibraryONLINE is thriving and ready to help you with your information and research needs.
Currently checked out items
The University Libraries will not be fining patrons for overdue items during this time. Please do not bring items to the Music Library or the book drop. Both are closed at this time. Just hang onto the items and plan to return them when campus building restrictions are lifted. If you have questions about your library account, please contact <email@example.com>.
Interlibrary Loan (ILL and UBorrow)
The University Libraries is not currently processing ILL and UBorrow requests for physical books, scores, and recordings due to health and safety concerns. Requests for articles, book chapters, and portions of scores (e.g., a movement, a song, a part but not the accompanying piano score) which can be scanned, may still be processed. This includes requests for items from the Music Library – think of the print collection as a remote library from which you can make scanning requests. Use the Interlibrary Loan form for all such requests.
Need help requesting a scan?
Watch this short video to see how to use InfoHawk+ and ILL to make your request.
Get help from the Music Library staff
You can contact library staff by emailing <firstname.lastname@example.org> account. The music librarian will still do consultations online (using Zoom or Skype), and you can schedule those here, and you can contact Katie via email at <email@example.com>. And if you need help from me, Wülfie, you can find me on Instagram, where I am happy to answer your questions.
For other scores still in copyright, there are several sites that will let you view scores, even if you can’t download. Here are three websites for finding full scores for study.
New York Philharmonic Digital Archives: The Leon Levy Digital Archives at the New York Philharmonic contains scans of over 3,000 scores and 30,000 orchestral parts, both in and out of copyright. Copyright scores are behind a watermark, but you can easily view the score for study purposes.
Publisher websites: Several major music publishers put perusal scores on their sites – not great for performing from, but perfect for studying. Some example include Universal, Boosey & Hawkes, Henle, and others. Not all publishers provide such previews, and you may find some composers within a publisher’s catalog without previews, but it’s worth checking!
YouTube: There are many score videos on YouTube that track the score over recordings of the work. Some scores are hard to read in this format, but for others, it’s super useful!
If you’re looking for ebooks, you can find them online using InfoHawk+. Use the left-hand facets to narrow your search to BOOKS and FULL-TEXT ONLINE. Resulting items should be ebooks. Sometimes, you have to click more than once to get to the ebook, but in the modified words of a cartoon fish, just keep clicking!
If the Libraries has a book in print and you’d like to find out if we can get an ebook version, email music librarian Katie Buehner <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Not all books are available for libraries to purchase as ebooks, but she can find out what is and isn’t available.
Cambridge Textbooks Online announced that they are opening their resource up until the end of May. We subscribe to some, but not all of this content. And now you can go to it directly and use it without logging in! There are other ebook vendors offering access to their collections through the end of the Spring semester, and we’ll be working to make it easy for you to find and use all available ebooks.
The good news? Most of our journal subscriptions are electronic! Search for the journal in InfoHawk+ and browse its contents using Browzine or use one of the music journal indexes to locate online article information (RILM, Music Index, Music Periodicals Database, etc.). Also, many publishers are opening up their content for the rest of the semester (e.g., JSTOR).
For articles that are only available in print (e.g., many of the instrument trade journals), you can submit an ILL request for the article and we will do our best to obtain a scan, either from our own collections or from another institution. Turnaround times for scans will be longer than usual. The Library will notify you if it cannot fulfill the request.
Our usual sound recordings subscriptions are available: Naxos, Music Online, and DRAM should help you locate many of the recordings you’ll need in the weeks to come.
Our usual video subscriptions are available: Naxos, Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall, Opera in Video, and Met Opera should help you to locate the recordings you’ll need in the months to come. MANY musicians are posting new and old content to YouTube and social media, and some organizations are opening up access to their content (like Berlin and the Met), so now is a good time to get out there and watch some great musical performances!
My Instagram feed will help you keep track of what’s happening with the Music Library during the rest of the semester. I’m working from the home of music librarian Katie Buehner, and while I feel she’s a little stingy with the treats it’s been very fun. I made a new friend, Fiona the cat, and she might pop up in a story or two. And I’m interested in making new friends around the Libraries, so you might get to meet some other fuzzy library friends!
The Rita Benton Music Library now provides access to BabelScores, an online scores database of over 210,000 pages of contemporary music. The catalog features composers from around the world, related media (videos of performances, sound recordings), and methods for contacting composers. This resource was recommended to the Music Library by School of Music composer Sivan Cohen Elias, who is familiar with the platform because her music is available there. If you would like to provide feedback on this resource to the Music Library, please contact music librarian Katie Buehner.
2019 was a busy year for the Rita Benton Music Library at the University of Iowa.
Here are a few highlights!
Student from Dr. Suhadolnik’s Fall 2018 American Music seminar mounted the exhibit, “Exploring Our Sounds: Traditions of American Music Making at the University of Iowa.” The exhibit stayed up through August 2019 and examined curriculums, student musical life, and composers. Learn more >
The Library was at the School of Music’s Audition Day, connecting with potential students and chatting with current ones. Button making was on the menu again, this time featuring photos of UI students with their instruments or singing in opera or chorus – and of course, imprinted with library call numbers!
In March, the Library was at the School’s Donor Appreciation Concert talking about the School of Music Recordings Archives with alumni and donors. We had old concert and recital programs dating back to the 19th century, as well as demos of the digital archiving of recordings, both audio and video. Learn more >
In April, Alan and Ann January donated over 150 wax cylinders and a gramophone player to the Music Library. In May, we found out that 13 of the cylinders were one-0f-a-kind early Czech music recordings made in the United States by jeweler Eduard Jedlička. Learn more >
May was momentous, as the Music Library helped local musician and donor Carey Bostian begin the process of transferring the James Dixon Papers to the University’s archives. Three van loads later, and the Library’s Seminar Room was FULL with the over 2,000 scores and 30 boxes of papers belonging to Dixon and his mentor, Greek conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos. The rest of the summer was spent sorting the score collection in preparation for preservation and exhibition.
In June, Library Assistant Christine Burke and her ensemble performed one of her compositions in [ramp] fest, a concert sponsored by the UI Stanley Museum of Art in the Tower Parking Garage. Christine’s works have been performed this year in Los Angeles, Chicago, Columbus (OH), Pittsburgh, and of course, Iowa City! One of the performers in the ensemble was student worker and Bentz Scholarship winner, Alex Spenceri. Learn more >
In July, the Music Library welcomed new School of Music director Tammie Walker to Voxman! Learn more >
In August, the Music Library moved over 10,000 LPs to the Libraries Annex facility. An additional 2,000+ titles were withdrawn (duplicate with online or CD content). Around 3,000 titles remain in the Music Library; mostly jazz, UI recordings, saxophone literature (supporting the Iowa Saxophone Archive), and other unusual or semi-rare items. Annex LPs are still available to patrons via request in InfoHawk+/Aeon. The relocation of the LPs provided the Music Library with much needed processing and storage space.
In honor of his receiving two awards from area organizations this fall, the Music Library mounted an exhibit of materials about world-renowned bass-baritone and Iowa graduate, Simon Estes. Dr. Amy McBeth curated the display which reviewed his time as a student, his exceptional career, and his philanthropic work.
The Libraries installed a second overhead scanner, this time in the adjacent ITC. Now students can scan materials when the Library is closed, but the ITC is open. This purchase was suggested by Library Assistant Amy McBeth and supported by Library Administration.
The Music Library took 16 brown wax cylinders to the Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative at Indiana University to be digitized. Two of the cylinders turned out to have been made in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Librarian Katie Buehner and Czech audio archivist Filip Šír will present about the cylinders at the 2020 International Association of Music Libraries, Archives, and Documentation Centres (IAML) meeting in Prague. More news about the Jedlička Czech cylinders will be forthcoming in 2020.
The inaugural Benton Student Worker Scholarships were awarded to senior public policy major Olivia Waller and junior music major Anastasia Scholze. These two scholarships were made possible by generous donations from Raymond and Daniel Benton.
A new exhibit case arrived at the Music Library that will be used to display items from the Canter Rare Book Room. Thanks to Daniel Benton and Library Administration for supporting this purchase.
The Music Library was on hand with a pop-up library to accompany a performance by pianist Sarah Cahill of her show “The Future is Female.” Scores by the performed composers were available for check out, and the button maker was busy (again) creating buttons featuring the composers.
Music Librarian Katie Buehner traveled to New York to deliver items from the James Dixon papers for use in the NY Philharmonic Archives exhibit, “Dimitri Mitropoulos’ Music Library,” in Lincoln Center’s Bruno Walter Gallery. The exhibit is open through February 1, 2020. Learn more >
Every semester, the UI Catering hosts “Lunch with the Chefs,” which is a “pop-up lunch” based around a theme. This fall’s theme, “The Beatles – Come Together!” was a perfect match for the Music Library’s collections. Working with UI Special Collections, the RBML created a pop-up exhibit of vinyl records, books, and other materials drawn from Donna Parsons‘ excellent Beatles collection. The whole exhibit was staged in a fake teenager’s room, complete with posters, magazine, bean bag chair, a turntable, and OF COURSE Wulfie Parsons! Learn more >
In response to student feedback, the Music Library utilized the Seminar Room as a Music Graduate Student Lounge during Finals Week. Students (and Wulfie) seemed to enjoy having a space all their own, where they could concentrate and have ready access to caffeine, which means we’ll do it again this coming Spring. Learn more>
On November 21, the New York Philharmonic Archives opened a new exhibit about Greek conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960) in the Bruno Walter Gallery at Lincoln Center. The exhibit focuses on Mitropoulos’ tenure as music director of the Philharmonic (1949-1958), but also explores major themes of his overall career. Exhibit items include correspondence, photographs, and many scores drawn from the Philharmonic’s Archives and the conductor’s personal music library, which resides in Iowa City. This significant score library and related documents will soon be added to the collections of the University of Iowa’s Rita Benton Music Library; a destination best explained via a generational narrative involving Mitropoulos, Iowa native James Dixon (1929-2007), and UI alumnus Carey Bostian.
Dimitri Mitropoulos: from Greece to New York
Mitropoulos began his musical career in Greece as a concert pianist, composer, and conductor of various conservatory orchestras in Athens. However, it was in the early thirties that Mitropoulos made a splash in Berlin and Paris with Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto, in which he served as both soloist and conductor, leading the orchestra from the piano. In 1936, he made his American debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and in 1938, was named music director of the Minneapolis Symphony (now the Minnesota Symphony). It was during this time that Mitropoulos encountered a young James Dixon, who attended the Symphony’s touring performances in Iowa and eventually approached its conductor, seeking guidance. Mitropoulos became a mentor and benefactor for Dixon throughout his formative musical training at the University of Iowa during the 1950s. By this time, Mitropoulos was no longer in the Twin Cities. Many guest conducting appearances with the New York Philharmonic throughout the 1940s led to a co-appointment as music director (along with Leopold Stokowski) in 1949-50, and sole directorship of the ensemble from 1950-1957.
Mitropoulos’ Library: from New York to Iowa
Mitropoulos’ time in New York included over 50 world and 30 American premieres, including works by Schoenberg, Milhaud, Sessions, and even University of Iowa composition professor Philip Bezanson. His relationship with the Philharmonic became increasingly strained, and in 1957-58, he shared the directorship with the conductor who would replace him – Leonard Bernstein. In 1960, Mitropoulos died in Milan while conducting a rehearsal of Mahler’s Third Symphony at La Scala. James Dixon, who at the time was working at the New England Conservatory, inherited his score library, papers, batons, and many religious icons. When Dixon returned to the University of Iowa in 1962 as a professor, the library came to Iowa City. Over the next thirty-five years the Dixon/Mitropoulos score library grew to include almost 2,000 items, ranging from miniature study scores to full sets of orchestral parts. Much like his mentor, Dixon was a champion of contemporary music throughout his career, both in his programming for the UI Symphony Orchestra and collaborations with the UI’s Center for New Music. The library contains many unusual or rare editions of works, many sent to the two conductors by publishers and composers hoping for a premiere performance. Of equal value are the conductor’s markings to be found in many of the scores, especially from premieres, where the conductors worked with composers to fine-tune the work before it was heard in public or sent to press. Mitropoulos was renowned for his phenomenal memory and ability to conduct without the score, both in rehearsal and performance. Markings in his scores reveal clues to his memorization techniques, including numbering maps that allowed him to recollect rehearsal numbers.
The Dixon/Mitropoulos Library: from private collection to public archive and exhibition
Following Dixon’s death in 2007, the library was inherited by Dr. Carey H. Bostian II, a cellist and conductor who was one of Dixon’s last students at the UI. Bostian worked to organize the collection and created an inventory and became yet another contributor to its content. Four years later, the New York Philharmonic launched the Leon Levy Digital Archives, which now includes over 3000 digitized scores, 36,000 orchestral parts, 14,000 programs, and over 50,000 images and photographs. Included in the Archives is Mitropoulos’ score of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony (which the conductor premiered in the United States with the Philharmonic in 1947), loaned to the Philharmonic by Dr. Bostian for digitization. This single score loan led to a collaboration between Bostian, the Philharmonic Archives, and the Rita Benton Music Library (e.g., the Mitropoulos exhibit in Lincoln Center).
In July 2019, Bostian began the process of donating James Dixon’s papers to the Rita Benton Music Library at the University of Iowa, which include the Mitropoulos music library. The Philharmonic’s Director of Archives and Exhibitions Gabryel Smith visited the collection in August, both to review items for exhibition, but also to discuss digitization of Mitropoulos’s marked scores for inclusion in the Leon Levy Digital Archives. This partnership will allow seamless access to the scores within a robust digital archive of orchestral music and performance data, allowing researchers to explore Mitropoulos’ career and musicianship more fully.
There will be more news about the James Dixon Papers in future months, but for those interested in exploring Mitropoulos’ library now, a marvelous sneak peek (thanks to archivists Sarah Palmero and Gabe Smith) is available at Lincoln Center for your consideration. Here in Iowa City, the Music Library will continue to unpack and prepare this large and fascinating collection for processing.
Visit the Exhibit
Dimitri Mitropoulos’ Music Library
Curated by Sarah Palmero (Assistant Archivist) and Gabryel Smith (Director, Archives and Exhibitions), New York Philharmonic Archives
Bruno Walter Gallery | David Geffen Hall
Lincoln Center, New York City
Open through February 1, 2019
Explore the New York Philharmonic’s Leon Levy Digital Archives
One of the problems of being a film historian is that you sometimes stumble across movies that require immediate love and attention. Four Daughters is one such film for me.
Falling short of “classic” status, this sentimental family drama fared more than well when it was released in 1938. The film’s adamant normalcy—a happy, middle-class family ensconced in a suburb untouched by the Great Depression—appealed to audiences. Its impressive popularity at the box office compelled Warner Bros. to make three more films with the same starring cast: a spinoff, Daughters Courageous (1939), and two sequels titled (spoiler alert) Four Wives (1939) and Four Mothers (1941). Fifteen years later, Warner Bros. would revive the Four Daughters story again for Doris Day and Frank Sinatra, retitling it Young at Heart (1955). Four Daughters also launched the screen career of John Garfield, cast in the unlikely role of an orchestrator. (He was, at least, a cynical, embittered orchestrator—more Garfield’s style.)
Four Daughters has some interesting connections to Iowa and to special collections within the state. I’ve learned about these materials in the process of researching the film’s music, and I’m happy for the opportunity to share these now. They may interest you in the films and the Hollywood history that is preserved in Iowan collections.
Like Little Women, Four Daughters is about four, close-knit sisters: Emma, Thea, Kay, and Ann. Until they find husbands, the young women live with their father, who teaches music at the local conservatory. Days are filled with music, dad jokes, and friendly sparring for the affections of Felix, a young composer at the conservatory. All is sunny until a cranky orchestrator named Mickey arrives, making everything complicated and interesting. For casting, Warner Bros. landed a novelty: Thea, Kay, and Ann are played by actual sisters: Lola, Rosemary, and Priscilla Lane. The Lanes hailed from Indianola, Iowa, and Four Daughters was not their first encounter with show business.
The real name of the Lane family was Mullican, and they had not three daughters but five. Starting with the eldest, there was Leotabel (Leota), Martha, Dorothy (Lola), Rosemary, and Priscilla. Of the bunch, all but Martha performed on the stage professionally. The Mullican family took advantage of their proximity to Simpson College. They boarded students, and the sisters took music lessons at Simpson. Martha even eloped with a professor. (Remarkably, all of these events anticipate plot points in Four Daughters and Four Wives. The resemblances are purely coincidental.)
The older Leota and Lola took to musical theater in the 1920s, playing in revues and shows, where they occasionally sang together as a sister act. Lola eventually went to Hollywood in the late 1920s; Leota soon followed, but struggled to land parts. Meanwhile, Rosemary and Priscilla initiated their own sister act in New York with Fred Waring’s band, The Pennsylvanians. When Waring and the band were cast in the Warner Bros. film Varsity Show (1937), Rosemary and Priscilla received major parts. Contracts from Warner Bros. kept the sisters in California, much to the dismay of Waring, whose sojourn to Tinseltown cost him several key members of his band. Rosemary next joined Lola in Hollywood Hotel (1937), with the sisters receiving second and third billing behind the inconceivably cheerful star, Dick Powell.
Given the four sisters’ film experience, one might logically expect them to join forces in Four Daughters. Hollywood, however, is neither logical nor kind to families. Warner Bros. evidently tested Leota but selected Gale Page as Emma, the eldest sister, for the film. (To her credit, Page handles her tricky role admirably.) How this setback was felt among the Lanes is anyone’s guess, but a brief article from Boxoffice shows Leota didn’t let Hollywood break her or her family.
The article reads:
Leota Lane, who has been visiting Sisters Lola, Rosemary, and Priscilla while they have been making Four Wives for Warner Bros., will present a concert in Indianola, the Lane girls’ home town, Tuesday, December 5.
Leota, the eldest of the Lane girls, was once a stage name with Sister Lola. During the last year she has been studying voice at the Juilliard School of Music.
After Leota’s concert at the Methodist Church, old friends will greet her at a public reception in the Simpson College administration building. (Boxoffice, 2 December 1939)
Tucked in the corner of the regional news section, the article is quietly affecting. I hope her recital went well.
There’s a quirky epilogue concerning the sisters: Although Leota was excluded from Four Daughters and the three films that followed, she was cast with her siblings in the Lux Theatre radio adaptations of Four Daughters and Four Wives. On the radio waves, at least, she resumed her regular role as eldest daughter. Today, pictures, papers, and memorabilia from the Lane sisters’ careers are preserved in the Mark Felton Collection in the Simpson College Archives.
More Four Daughters material has since made its way to Iowa. The Libraries have two archival scripts from the production. There’s a copy of a revised script, dated 12 February 1938, held among the Robert Blees’ Papers at the University of Iowa’s Special Collections. Robert Blees’ career as a screenwriter took off in the 1940s and 1950s (Magnificent Obsession is among his credits), and it’s not clear that Blees had any connection with Four Daughters. But his employment in the studio’s story department meant he had ready access to scripts, and the version preserved among his papers is a rare transitional document that occasionally diverges from the final shooting script. Comparing Blees’ copy of this revised—but not yet final—script with the film is a little like watching deleted film scenes from more recent titles: the differences show the film’s story to be more flexible and uncertain of itself. The discrepancies allow alternative perspectives on the characters and story to slip in.
Another copy of the film’s script in Special Collections was annotated by a musician directly engaged with the production. Max Rabinowitsch (or “Rabinowitz” or “Rabinowitsh,” as it is sometimes spelled) had been hired to assist with the film’s many scenes of onscreen musicmaking. A professional pianist, Rabinowitsch was known among Los Angeles concertgoers as an exemplary recital accompanist who performed alongside luminaries like Nathan Milstein, Fyodor Chaliapin, and Joseph Achron. (Later, Jascha Heifetz would help set up Rabinowitsch as a private piano teacher to the young and promising André Previn, who went on to write film scores, perform in jazz combos, compose concert music, and enjoy international renown as a conductor.) Rabinowitsch also belonged to a small group of studio pianists who were called upon to make famous stars sound musical. While an actor pantomimed a virtuosic performance at the piano onscreen, the efforts of an actual pianist surged from the theater’s speakers. (Sometimes getting actors to look musical was still a challenge. Hal Wallis, the producer for Four Daughters, complained that the film’s bachelor composer looked more like he was digging a ditch than playing piano.)
Rabinowitsch did more than assist with onscreen music performances. He also wrote an original piece of music. Well, technically, part of a piece. There are two musical works in the film that are “composed” by characters in the story. One piece is by composer Felix, who hires Mickey, the jaded orchestrator, to arrange it. The piece is entered in a competition and, naturally, wins first prize. The other work is by Mickey. He plays a melody on the piano for only one person—Ann, the youngest daughter—and insists that it is not a full composition but “only a middle.” Rabinowitsch wrote that “middle,” and you can hear him performing his own work as Garfield’s arms wander vaguely over the keyboard.
In the film, the orchestrator’s inability to complete his composition is another mark of his inadequacy. For Rabinowitsch, however, this was an unexpected and welcome diversion. Rabinowitsch appears not to have published any compositions before or after this, and in Hollywood he was hired to play piano, not compose. But in this case, Max Steiner, the chief composer of Four Daughters’ background score, took the unusual step of having Rabinowitsch dream up something for the onscreen orchestrator. Rabinowitsch was clearly proud of his contribution. He dedicated his 21-measure piece to “Hula Boy Max Steiner” (a grinning reference to Steiner’s recent Hawaii vacation). And in his annotated copy of the script, for the scene in which Mickey privately shares “his” melody with Ann, Rabinowitsch scrawls “He starts to play my composition.”
You won’t find Rabinowitsch’s name in the screen credits for Four Daughters. Such omissions were common during this era of filmmaking. But another bizarre epilogue rescued Rabinowitsch’s authorship from anonymity. In the sequel Four Wives, the screenwriters decided that Mickey’s “middle” would be magnanimously finished by Felix—a musical role reversal that would culminate in a lengthy concert hall performance. The arrangement of this fictional symphony was largely managed by Max Steiner, but he was arranging Rabinowitsch’s theme, so the film’s screen credits include a rare attribution: “Mickey’s theme by Max Rabinowitsh.” This must be one of the few instances in which a single melody receives its own credit line. Conveniently, the symphony features a lengthy piano solo which was written and performed by Rabinowitsch himself. Rabinowitsch is also the pianist onscreen performing among the ranks of the orchestra—finally seen as well as heard.
The scripts from Four Daughters represent a sliver of an iceberg’s worth of film-related material preserved in the Special Collections. There are thousands of documents, including scripts, production materials, correspondences, music, fan ephemera, and (naturally) much more. An overview of these contents is available here. For those interested in watching any of the Four Daughters films or the 1955 Young at Heart remake, DVDs of the titles are held in the library’s collection.
Recommended Further Readings
For more on the Lane Sisters, see these profiles from the Des Moines Register:
A special thanks to librarian Cynthia Dyer of Simpson College, the staff of the University of Iowa’s Special Collections, and music librarian Katie Buehner, without whom this work would not have been possible.
About the Author
Nathan Platte is an associate professor of musicology in School of Music with an affiliated appointment in the Department of Cinematic Arts. His most recent book, Making Music in Selznick’s Hollywood (Oxford University Press, 2018), explores films like Gone With the Wind, Since You Went Away, and Spellbound. Nathan’s research on the Four Daughters films is featured in the forthcoming anthology, Voicing the Cinema (University of Illinois Press).