Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Emily Gresser Papers, 1880s-2004, bulk 1910-1919

Summary Information

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#1884
Bib ID 12979142 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Gresser, Emily
Title Emily Gresser Papers, 1880s-2004, bulk 1910-1919
Physical Description 4 linear feet (Two record storage cartons (boxes 1-2), one manuscript box (box 3), two tall manuscript boxes (boxes 4-5))
Language(s) English , French , German .
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located onsite.

This collection has no restrictions.




The archive, totaling approximately 4 linear feet, comprises material ranging from scrapbooks, photographs, and correspondence, to books, theatrical scripts, and sheet music, all reflecting Emily Gresser's life in music both in the United States and abroad from the late 1890s to the 1960s, with the majority centered on her professional performing career of 1910-1919.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located onsite.

This collection has no restrictions.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Emily Gresser Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase from Glenn Horowirz Bookseller, 2017. Gift from Albert B. Knapp and Ruth Oratz, 2017.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Catherine Carson Ricciardi and Ariana Csonka Kaleta, St. John's University 2018. Finding aid written on 1st December 2017. Processing completed by Kevin Schlottmann, January 2022.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Scores (documents for music) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Franko, Sam, 1857-1937 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Guilbert, Yvette, 1865-1944 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Music Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Music -- France -- 19th century Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Music -- France -- Paris -- 20th century Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Musicians Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Violinists Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

Emily Gresser was born on March 11, 1894, in Newark, New Jersey to Fania Pallant Gresser and Joseph Gresser, who had immigrated from czarist Russia to the US for political reasons. She was the eldest of four children, all of whom were musically gifted; her brothers Albert, Willie, and Eddie would go on to become a businessman, physician and lawyer, respectively. Soon after the turn of the twentieth century, the family moved to Brooklyn, NY, and their social circle comprised a wide variety of freethinkers, artists, and intellectuals.

When Emily was about 8 years old, she started violin lessons, and by age 9 began playing recitals in local churches and schools; around this time, she played Schumann's "Traumerei" for the Teacher's Society of the Norwegian Church in Brooklyn, and was well received. She was referred for lessons to Mr. Riderich, the first cellist in the Metropolitan Opera orchestra, but her parents felt Emily was too young to travel alone into Manhattan. She began studying instead with Mr. Schradick in Brooklyn, and, noting Emily's talents, he demanded that she leave school and focus entirely on her violin. This was not to the Gressers' liking, either, and Emily was referred on to Mr. Sam Franko (1857-1937), who was both a composer and violinist, and whose brother Nahan was a conductor at the Metropolitan Opera. Due to Franko's renown, and Emily's ardent desire to pursue her violin studies, her parents finally granted permission for Emily to commute to Manhattan for violin lessons, where she studied with Franko twice a week, and in 1906, at age 12, she became a member of the Children's Orchestra at the Educational Alliance on East Broadway and Jefferson Street.

Emily's graduation from Brooklyn Manual Training High School was marked by a recital given at Mendelssohn Hall, after which she was called out for six or seven curtain calls. Many notable individuals attended her concerts, including Professor Charles Eliot (the future President of Harvard University, Booker T. Washington and Mark Twain. Fania, Emily's mother, recalled that Twain came up to Emily after a performance, congratulating her and stating"My child, you do not know how much joy this evening gave me, how I enjoyed your playing." The consensus of critical acclaim was such that Emily was encouraged to pursue her musical training abroad, and she soon departed for Europe, declining full scholarships to both Barnard and Vassar Colleges.

Emily spent the next 4 years based in Germany, but also performing in important musical centers throughout the Continent. She continued studying with Sam Franko, who had just been appointed head of the Violin Department at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin, where Gustav Hollaender (1855-1915), the head of the Conservatory, was responsible for moving it to the Berlin Philharmonic Concert Hall. Hollaender attended all of Emily's concerts, taking a great interest in her playing, and recommended that she also study harmony and theory with his brother, Alexis Hollaender (1840-1924).

During her time in Europe (1910-1915), Emily traveled extensively in Germany giving recitals and concerts. Well equipped with a comprehensive and vast repertory, she played with orchestral accompaniment under Steinbach in Cologne, Busoni and Franko in Berlin, Prill in Munich, and Gille in Hanover. She met with enthusiastic success in Dresden, Leipzig, and Munich, as well as Prague, Amsterdam and The Hague, to name only some of the cities included in her tours.

In the spring and summer of 1914, Emily was in Switzerland, but her family in America had not received any letters for more than six weeks and was very worried, as news of war in Europe was pressing. After contacting officials in the U.S. government, Fania and Joseph read in The New York Times that "the Gresser family (instead of Emily Gresser) was safe in Nuremberg" and a family friend who had met Emily in Nuremberg confirmed this. Emily then traveled back to Berlin, where with the aid of Mr. Gerhard, the American ambassador in Germany, she was put on a train to Rotterdam, and from there was sent on to London, where, age 21 and alone, she finally was able to get passage on steamer back to New York. She returned to America in the spring of 1915, and played her first recital at home at Aeolian Hall, after which the New York press gave her rave reviews and praise, confirming reports of her remarkable playing abroad.

Mme. Yvette Guilbert (1865-1944) attended Emily's recital at Aeolian Hall, and was most impressed with the young violinist. Guilbert, at first a chanteuse in Parisian café society, went on to become a renowned concert vocalist and scholarly authority on French song, and Sam Franko, a good friend of Guilbert's husband, Max Schiller, and made the appropriate introductions. Emily was invited to join Mme. Guilbert at once, as much for her beautiful violin playing as for her excellent schooling and genial temperament, and she accompanied Guilbert on concert tours throughout the United States and Canada from 1915-19.

In the 1915-16 season, Emily gave more than twenty concerts in New York alone, and also played in Boston, Washington, and Quebec. From 1916-1919, her itinerary carried throughout eastern Canada; Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago, Toledo, and Cleveland; Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, St. Louis, Denver, and Colorado Springs; and Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Fresno, Santa Barbara, and San Francisco. These coast-to-coast tours continued over the next few years. For the young Emily the tour was a great adventure, but also quite arduous: every morning was spent practicing her violin repertoire, and then, after lunch, she prepared for the evening's performance. In 1919, Guilbert returned to Europe, and Emily remained in New York.

Emily's violin studies continued and she played numerous solo recitals and concerts in the New York area. It was around this time that Jascha Heifetz made his American debut in Carnegie Hall on October 27, 1917; Emily was present at this concert along with her friends and fellow violinists Fritz Kreisler, Mischa Elman, and Sam Franko. A clear sign that their professional and social circles soon intersected is a photograph dated May 27, 1919, of the handsome young Heifetz and inscribed "To Emily Gresser, in kind remembrance." In addition to Heifetz, Emily played music and maintained close personal friendships with many other talented artists over the years, in particular Yehudi Menuhin, Mischa Elman, Walter Damrosch, and Fritz Kreisler. Later, Emily's young daughter Bettina (Liebowitz Knapp) would collect autographs from these great musicians when they came to visit and play violin with her mother. (These are currently framed on the wall in a barn on the grounds of Heifetz's former Connecticut country estate, now owned by Emily's grandson, Dr. Albert Knapp and his wife, Dr. Ruth Oratz.).

On November 2, 1920, Emily Gresser married David Liebovitz, a son of Simon and Fanny (Unterberg) Liebovitz, and soon thereafter their son Daniel (1921-2013) was born, followed by daughter Bettina (1926-2010); for the latter's arrival, Sam Franko, composed a lullaby"Cradle Song" and presented it to Emily as a baby gift. In 1930, the family left New York to live in Europe, based in France, but also traveling and summering in Switzerland. With Europe again on the brink of war, though, the family returned to the United States in 1939 and bought an old farmhouse in Ridgefield, CT, where they spent summers and holidays while living permanently in New York. Emily frequently visited Heifetz's nearby home in Redding, CT, during the 1940s for weekend and summer concertizing in his "music barn." Emily Gresser Liebovitz died in 1981.