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Andre Kostelanetz Papers Donated to Library of Congress

September 29, 2008

The papers of legendary conductor, arranger and broadcaster Andre Kostelanetz have been donated to the Library of Congress by his estate. Kostelanetz died in 1980. The gift is a veritable treasure trove for students of 20th century music and broadcasting. The archive of Kostelanetz’ personal property, papers, clippings, letters, sound recordings, posters, and photographs spans some 73 crates. It documents in detail the career of one of America’s most remarkable men of music. The gift from Kostelanetz’ estate will complement the gift of scores and parts for many of his arrangements Kostelanetz made to the Library of Congress. His papers will join those of George and Ira Gershwin, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, Lorenz Hart, Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner, and Irving Berlin, among others in the Library’s collection of material belonging to eminent American musicians.

“We feel great satisfaction in the belief that this is what Andre would have wanted – to be again in the company of his musical colleagues,” said his niece, filmmaker Lucy Kostelanetz. He knew those people and worked with them. Ms. Kostelanetz is now at work on a website, http://andrekostelanetz.com, where much of Kostelanetz’ memorabilia can be seen.

The significance of Kostelanetz’ contribution to music cannot be overstated. He was a pioneer of the variety show format that became a staple of radio broadcasting for almost half a century. He developed the techniques of microphone placement and sound mixing that became the standard for radio and records. He commissioned several important orchestral works, most notably “A Lincoln Portrait” by Aaron Copland. He put Columbia Records on the map, contributing over one hundred titles to its catalogue over almost 50 years. He encouraged the New York Philharmonic to give a young Leonard Bernstein his historic first big break in 1943. And most importantly, through his many weekly radio programs on CBS in the 1930s and 1940s, he bridged the gap between “popular” and “classical” music, bringing music, in all its forms, to millions of Americans. He was associated with the New York Philharmonic most of his life as guest conductor for 27 years and as the architect of its spring season of light classics, known as Promenades. He was also in demand as a guest conductor for major symphony orchestras around the world. He circled the globe many times fulfilling his commitments.

Unknown to most, however, Kostelanetz was instrumental in the development of the technology that enabled Allied ships and submarines to differentiate their own craft from enemy vessels underwater. The collection includes correspondence between Kostelanetz and Sir William Stephenson, a wartime leader of British intelligence in which the latter wrote, “This instrument helped win the Battle of the Atlantic in 1941, turning the tide of the war which had threatened to destroy Britain. You made pitch visible and enabled a layman to distinguish between friendly and enemy submarines. You initiated it!”

Kostelanetz was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1901 where he received his initial musical education and recognition. He immigrated to New York in 1922, arriving in time for the birth of radio, a medium to which he became attracted while working on a transcontinental tour of “master classes” as accompanist to the vocalists. In the late 1920s he was hired as a conductor for the Atlantic Broadcasting Company, which was shortly thereafter bought by William Paley and absorbed into CBS. By 1930, Kostelanetz, then only 29, was named conductor of the CBS Orchestra. It was there, working on hit radio programs that his talent as an arranger came to the medium’s rescue. Kostelanetz determined that what sounded good to a concert hall audience often sounded terrible on the radio or on records. The reason was simple. The microphone does not “hear” in exactly the same way as the human ear. Kostelanetz began to experiment with new arrangements that sounded more “authentic” on the air than did the originals. He also worked on the physical placement of microphones and musicians in the studio to simulate as much as possible the concert hall experience for the radio listener.

Kostelanetz was so instrumental to the success of CBS Radio and co-owned Columbia Records that he would remain with CBS, “unfireable” in the words of CBS Records legendary chief Goddard Lieberson, for the rest of his life with a broad repertoire that spanned the music spectrum. He sold over 50 million records during his remarkable career. “No other Columbia artist was as crucial to the label for recording, and consistently selling, music of so many styles. It may also be argued that no other single musician, American or otherwise, did as much to open up the idea of conducting an orchestra in the confines of a studio,” wrote Gary Marmorstein, author of “The Label, The Story of Columbia Records.”

Highlights of the Kostelanetz estate gift to the Library of Congress include:

— Documentation of Kostelanetz’ U.S.O. tours with then wife Lily Pons for Allied forces in Europe and the Far East, including Kostelanetz’ U.S.O. ID card.

— Private correspondence in French between Kostelanetz and his first wife, singer Lily Pons, throughout their relationship, from 1935 until Pons’ death.

— Personal letters to and from US presidents Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, and Richard Nixon; personal correspondence with Rose Kennedy and Mamie Eisenhower.

— Correspondence with such musical luminaries as Beverly Sills, Irving Berlin, Leopold Stokowski, Cole Porter, George M. Cohan, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Harold Arlen.

— The series of letters beginning with a note from Aaron Copland to Kostelanetz which led to Leonard Bernstein’s spectacular 1943 debut as conductor of the New York Philharmonic and ending with Bernstein’s heartfelt “thank you” note two weeks afterward.

— Kostelanetz’ collection of batons ranging from 10 to 24 inches used to conduct.

— Thousands of photographs from publicity stills to signed and inscribed pictures from collaborators such as George M. Cohan, Yehudi Menuhin, Irving Berlin, Leopold Stokowski, and Cole Porter, to personal photos of Kostelanetz at work and at play – including a notable signed two-shot of the conductor with Moshe Dayan in Tel-Aviv, signed by the famous Israeli war hero.

— Drafts of press releases – “exclusives” – tailored for individual reporters on the music beat – which document Kostelanetz’ historic, 30-day round-the-world trip of 1955 in which he began recording natural sounds as the inspiration for orchestral works. His curiosity for natural sound eventually led to his collaboration with composer Alan Hovhaness on “And God Created Great Whales.”

— Countless sketches, drawings, paintings and cartoons of Kostelanetz at work.

— Personal letters to Kostelanetz from artists Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse, and Claude Monet. Kostelanetz was a noted art collector.

“During his lifetime, Andre Kostelanetz donated hundreds of his unique orchestral arrangements and ‘off-air’ recordings to the Library. This addition of his personal and professional papers adds a tremendous resource for researchers and students of American music,” said Susan H. Vita, chief of the Library of Congress’ Music Division.

“It will be of great value to students and historians of American music, show business and broadcasting,” said Vita. “From his musical imprint to his innovations in broadcasting, Andre Kostelanetz was a fascinating figure of the 20th Century.”




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