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Series IV: Written Works, circa 1962-2006
Series V: Scrapbooks, 1929-2010
Series VI: Correspondence, circa 1943-2006
Series VII: Subject Files, circa 1933-2010
Series IX: Programs, 1942-2014
Series X: Multimedia, 1965-2013, undated
Series XI: Works by Other Authors, 1854-2010, undated
At a Glance
This collection is arranged in twelve series and several subseries.
Jack Beeson (1921-2010) was a noted American composer and teacher of composition. Beeson's papers include a composition diary, biographical materials, scores, written works, scrapbooks, correspondence, files, datebooks, programs, and audio and audiovisual recordings, as well as written and musical works by other authors.
The strength of the collection is the documentation of Beeson's activities as a composer. Beeson recorded each of his compositions in a composition diary, which details all drafts, performances, and published versions of each work. Almost all of the works recorded in the diary are represented in the papers by drafts and holographs, and often by published scores as well. Documentation of Beeson's numerous operas includes drafts of libretti as well as background research materials (including some abandoned ideas for operas). In addition, Beeson's scrapbooks include clippings, correspondence, photographs, programs, promotional material, reviews, interviews, and other material related to his compositions. As well, his personal subject files and correspondence document his activities as a composer, including correspondence with publishers, performers, librettists, and other composers and collaborators. Copyright files are still held by Beeson's daughter, Miranda Beeson, at this time, and may be added to the collection at a future date.
The papers also contain documentation of Beeson's work as a professor and administrator at Columbia University's Department of Music, where he was ultimately appointed MacDowell Professor Emeritus of Music. These activities include helping to establish doctorate programs in composition, theory, and ethnomusicology, and working to enlarge the University's commitment to the arts, as well as teaching many cohorts of composition students. There is also documentation of Beeson's participation in many New York-based and national organizations for the arts (particularly for the promotion and support of new American music), including the Pulitzer Prize music committee, Composers Recordings, Inc., the American Music Center, Composers' Forum, American Composers Alliance, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Alice M. Ditson Fund at Columbia.
The multimedia component of the papers includes commercially produced audio recordings of several of Beeson's works. Audiovisual and photographic documentation are sparse. There are a few original visual works including sketches of sets and characters for Beeson's operas. Many photographs are still held by Beeson's family; these may be added to the collection at a future date.
The papers include little documentation of Beeson's family life. The "JB" scrapbooks contain mostly published photos and interviews relating mainly to Beeson's musical activities; as well, most of his correspondence relates to professional and artistic activities and relationships. Beeson does document his family life in his autobiography/memoir, How Operas Are Created by Composers and Librettists: The Life of Jack Beeson, American Opera Composer.
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.
The following boxes are located off-site: 2-115; 119. You will need to request this material from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.
This collection has no restrictions.
Some unique time-based media items have been reformatted and are available onsite via links in the container list. Commercial materials are not routinely digitized. If you would like to access the additional audiovisual materials in Series X, please email email@example.com for more information.
Terms Governing Use and Reproduction
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes, except that permission is required to copy musical scores. 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.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Jack Beeson papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
Materials relating to Beeson and his works are found in multiple RBML collections, including the Alice M. Ditson Fund records, the Gloria Coates papers, and the Douglas Moore papers, among others. Recordings of his pieces are also found in many collections, some of which have been digitized. The digitized recordings are available in the Digital Libraries Collections website for onsite listening.
Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Ownership and Custodial History
Gift of Jack Beeson, 1984, 2009-2010.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Source of acquisition--Beeson, Jack. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--02/29/84. Accession number--M84-02-29.
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Surveyed Christina Hilton Fenn 04/03/89.
Papers processed by Emily Clark (GSAS) 2014-2015.
Finding aid written by Emily Clark 2015.
2009-06-26 File created.
2015-02-18 XML document instance created by Catherine C. Ricciardi
2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.
2023-09-29 Box 119 added. kws/cjb
History / Biographical Note
Biographical / Historical
Jack Beeson, 1921-2010, composed over 120 works and was known primarily for his work in opera, song, and other vocal genres.
Born on July 15, 1921 in Muncie, Indiana, Beeson began piano lessons with Luella Weimer in 1928 at the age of seven, discovered a love of opera through the Metropolitan Opera's Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts, and began to compose in 1933. Beeson did his undergraduate work at the University of Toronto's Conservatory of Music, 1933-1938, and his graduate work at the Eastman School of Music, 1939-1944. Subsequently, he moved to New York City to study privately with Bela Bartok from 1944 to 1945. Through a chance encounter with the composer Otto Luening (later Beeson's mentor), Beeson was invited to attend Columbia's Opera Workshop, and thus began a lifelong relationship with Columbia University (where he eventually became MacDowell Professor Emeritus of Music) and the new American music scene in New York.
Beeson is perhaps best known for his ten operas, including Hello Out There (1953), The Sweet Bye and Bye (1958), Lizzie Borden (1965), My Heart's in the Highlands (1969), Cyrano (1994), and Sorry, Wrong Number (1999). His best known and most widely performed work, Lizzie Borden, was produced for television in 1967, became a signature piece of the New York City Opera, and was telecast again by PBS in 1999. Despite his teaching and administrative duties and his involvement with many New York arts organizations, Beeson maintained separate time and space for a very active life as a composer, including a two-year sojourn in Rome, from 1948 to 1950, funded by the Prix de Rome and a Fulbright scholarship, where he completed his first opera. His musical collaborators included librettists Kenward Elmslie and Sheldon Harnick.
At Columbia, Beeson served as chair of the Department of Music from 1968 to 1972, during which time he helped to establish doctorate programs in composition, theory, and ethnomusicology. He also worked to enlarge the University's commitment to the arts, convincing the Mellon Fund to commit $250,000 to expand offerings in film, writing, and theater. Notable students of Beeson's include Charles Wuorinen, John Kander, Phillip Ramey, Alice Shields, Joan Tower, Harvey Sollberger, Michael Rosenzweig, Bright Sheng, Mark Birnbaum, Richard Einhorn.
Beeson also participated in numerous organizations related to the promotion of American composers and American music, including board member and elected official positions at Composers Recordings, Inc., the American Music Center, Composers' Forum, American Composers Alliance, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Alice M. Ditson Fund at Columbia. He also served on the Pulitzer Prize music committee. Beeson retired formally in 1988, but continued his involvement with Columbia as a member of the Society of Senior Scholars, in addition to continued informal teaching activities and participation with many organizations up until his death on June 6, 2010.