The Irving Fine Collection

About This Collection

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Called a "remarkable American composer" by the noted music lexicographer Nicolas Slonimsky, Irving Fine (1914-1962) was included in the so-called "American Stravinsky School" by his fellow composer and longtime friend Aaron Copland (1900-1990). Fine, whose compositions were influenced by the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) and Paul Hindemith (1895-1963), died prematurely in 1962, thereby cutting short one of the most promising careers in twentieth-century American classical music.

Perhaps the following words of his contemporaries best describe Fine and his work.

Music has suffered from an overdependence on consecrated names, when music lovers speak of composers they are generally referring, in the whole history of music, to half a hundred famous names of whom few belong to the present century. This does serious injustice to many composers including Irving Fine whose music has sincerity, quality and vitality. He had an irreplaceable instinctive musicianship and yet he was modest to a fault.
Aaron Copland
He was a beautiful spirit in the world of music, this young and gifted composer. He was goodness itself and that goodness radiates from his music. He was one of those rare people of whom one can only think good. He brought only amity and help to his colleagues; inspiration and encouragement to his students, and honor to everything that he touched.
Leonard Bernstein
Irving Fine was not a composer to be content to find a style and then run off carbon copies. Each of his works gives emphatic evidence of superfine craftsmanship.
Arthur Cohn

With the completion of his String Quartet in 1952, Fine appears to have combined his earlier tonal approach to music writing, marked by driving "big city" rhythms and an elaborate polyphonic fabric, with the then new technique of serialism,* which he may have embraced in an attempt to explore a more modern and distinctive compositional identity. In his later works, Fine's music is more lyrical with clear polyphonic underpinnings reminiscent of some of his earlier works.

The Irving Fine Collection in the Music Division of the Library of Congress comprises nearly the entire creative work of this important mid-twentieth-century composer as well as other valuable documentation on his life and work. These materials were collected by the composer's widow, Verna Fine, who maintained a long relationship with the Music Division of the Library of Congress to which she donated the materials in stages just before and after the composer's death. She tirelessly devoted herself to promoting her husband's music until her own death in 2000.

A finding aid to the collection provides location and description information for all of the materials. Included with the music are holograph and autograph scores, as well as a number of sketch books, printed music, and some music by other composers. There are also writings by Irving Fine in manuscript and typescript and printed materials, published and unpublished, including lectures, program notes, and miscellaneous items which reflect his scholarly bent as a writer and educator.

In addition, the collection includes an assortment of photographs, clippings, programs, scrapbooks, and unpublished sound recordings as well as correspondence from such twentieth-century musical luminaries as Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), Aaron Copland, Lukas Foss (b. 1922), Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983), Ned Rorem (b. 1923), and William Schuman (1910-1992).

The first online release presents a selection of the photographs, one of the sketchbooks, a manuscript score for the String Quartet (1952), a recorded performance of the Quartet, and the finding aid for the collection.

*Serialism is a compositional technique based on ordering series of the twelve notes of the equal-tempered scale.


The Sketches

The Irving Fine Collection is rich in sketches for Irving Fine's compositions, though it does not contain sketches for all his works and many of the sketches, notably in the eighteen sketchbooks, are unidentified. The online sampling contains five sets of sketches pertaining to two finished works: the Partita for Wind Quintet of 1948 and the String Quartet of 1951-52.

The sketches are of widely differing sorts. There is a sketchbook containing material for the Partita and for a projected string quartet of the late 1940s. (Careful investigators will note that this projected string quartet, like the String Quartet of 1951-52, makes use of twelve-tone techniques.) There is a pencil draft of the String Quartet. There is a row chart for the String Quartet. There is a fragment of ink score for a rejected third movement. And there is an Ozalid copy* of the final manuscript score of the Quartet.

*Note: "Ozalid" was a blueprint-like process much used by musicians from the 1930s through the 1960s to make copies of music. It required writing out the music on translucent paper--the fragment of ink score in the present online selection of sketches is on such transparent paper. During the later 1960s, with the development of machines capable of inexpensively copying documents on opaque paper, Ozalid copying went out of fashion.


The Photographs

Photographs in the online collection range in time from Irving Fine's early childhood to his final appearance at Tanglewood to conduct his Symphony a few days before his death in 1962. They show Fine and members of his family both alone and with colleagues including Arthur Berger, Leonard Bernstein, Nadia Boulanger, Aaron Copland, Lukas Foss, Alberto Ginastera, Alexei Haieff, Darius Milhaud, Walter Piston, Juan Orrego-Salas, Harold Shapero, and Claudio Spies. There is also a photograph of the studio at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, that is named for Irving Fine.

The Irving Fine Collection contains many photographs from Fine's various stints at Tanglewood. These were taken by professional photographers, particularly Ruth Orkin. The Web site includes two photographs of Irving Fine as a child and several photographs of his parents as well as a variety of snapshots of Irving and Verna Fine and their daughters, most of them taken on various vacations (usually at the beach). A sampling of these has been included in the online collection.


Music score, drawn in pencil

descriptive record icon enlarge image icon String Quartet [holograph sketch score, pencil]

Irving Fine conducting

descriptive record icon enlarge image icon Irving Fine conducting, Leonard Bernstein on piano, Tanglewood, 1947