State University of New York at Buffalo. Music Library
The Leo Smit Papers comprise works
lists compiled by Leo Smit, articles written by Smit, personal correspondence
(chiefly photocopies of letters from Aaron Copland), programs, reviews, and lecture
Processed by John Bewley, August 2003; additions processed August 2017.
The bulk of the collection was given to the Music Library in 1998 by Leo Smit.
Subsequent additions were donated by executor of Leo Smit's estate, Nils
Vigeland, or provided by the staff of the Music Library.
Leo Smit was born to Russian immigrants on January 12, 1921, in Philadelphia. He
received his earliest musical training from his father, Kolman Smit, beginning at
age five. Kolman Smit was a professional violinist who performed in the Philadelphia
Orchestra (1926-1931) under Leopold Stokowski, the Cincinnati Symphony under Fritz
Reiner, and the NBC Symphony under Arturo Toscanini.
After private piano studies with Martha Lantner, Joseph Wissof, and Bert Shefter, Smit traveled to Moscow with his mother in 1929 to study piano for three months with Dmitri Kabalevsky on scholarship at the Moscow Conservatory. Upon his return to Philadelphia, Smit received a scholarship in 1930 to study piano at Curtis Institute of Music with noted piano pedagogue Isabelle Vengerova. He continued his studies on scholarship in New York, studying piano with José Iturbi (1933-35) and composition with Nicolas Nabokov (1935). It was under Nabokov's tutelage that Smit produced his first original composition in 1935, Zvay, a song setting of a Yiddish poem by Mani Loeb for soprano and piano.
Smit began his professional career as a pianist while still in his teens. His first professional engagement was as rehearsal pianist for George Balanchine's American Ballet Company in 1936-37. A year after beginning in this position, Smit met Igor Stravinsky during rehearsals of the composer's ballet, Jeu de Cartes. Smit gave his debut recital as a solo pianist at Carnegie Hall in February 1939. His successful debut was followed by a concert tour of the United States in 1940.
Leo Smit's career as composer, pianist, conductor, and educator spanned seven decades of musical life in the United States. He established close working relationships, and/or friendships, with many of the most prominent musicians of the 20th century, including Igor Stravinsky, Béla Bartók, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Harold Shapero, William Schuman, Alex Haieff, Leopold Stokowski, and Lukas Foss. As a performer, Smit was an enthusiastic and persuasive advocate and interpreter of the music of his time, especially the solo piano music of Aaron Copland. His compositional output totals more than one hundred works, including two operas, three symphonies, more than ninety songs, two ballets, and numerous chamber and piano works.
Smit was also a talented photographer. In addition to the many photographs he took of noted musicians, Smit also used his skill as a photographer to capture images from his travels. Many of his travel pictures reflect his reverence for nature. As part of his innovative approach to programming, Smit would often include displays of his photography in his theme-based concerts.
During his career Leo Smit earned several awards and honors, including Fulbright (piano) and Guggenheim (composition) Fellowships in 1950, a fellowship at the American Academy in Rome for 1950-51, the Boston Symphony Merit Award in 1953 for his Symphony No. 1 (premiered October 16, 1953 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Charles Munch), the New York Critics Circle Award in 1957 (also for his Symphony No. 1), his selection as an artist for a State Department concert tour of Latin America in 1967-68, and the Buffalo Evening News Man of the Year award in 1969. As an educator, Smit held positions at Sarah Lawrence College (1947-49), UCLA (1957-63), and the State University of New York at Buffalo (1962-84).
Leo Smit died December 12, 1999 in Scripps Hospital, Encinitas, California.
This collection of papers was received from Leo Smit in 1998 before he moved from
Buffalo, N.Y. to California. It has been supplemented with more materials by Music
Library staff and Nils Vigeland, executor of the Smit estate. Much of the
supplementary material consists of photocopied materials. The small number of
personal documents include a curriculum vitae dating from 1980 and a works list
compiled by Smit in 1995. Also included are notification of and receipt for an
inheritance from the estate of Aaron Copland. The 21 writings by Leo Smit in the
collection include published articles about Aaron Copland, Johann Sebastian Bach,
and Cole Porter. Also included are unpublished writings, program notes and libretti
for his own works.
The correspondence in the collection consists chiefly (more than 90%) of photocopies of letters from Aaron Copland to Leo Smit. They reveal the affection Copland held for Smit and contain details of their many musical collaborations.
Clippings and reviews (27), programs (21), and promotional material (4) provide some details about Leo Smit's career. Four of Smit's lecture-recitals on American piano music, the music of Franz Liszt, American songs, and the life and music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky are documented by compilations of music used for the programs.
The principal collection of Leo Smit materials is held by New York Public Library.
The collection is arranged in seven series:
I. Personal documents
II. Writings by Leo Smit
IV. Clippings and reviews
VI. Promotion and publicity
VII. Lecture materials
No further accruals are expected to this collection.
Materials can be examined by qualified researchers in the Music Library during
hours of operation during which Music Librarians are present. In order to insure
access, researchers are advised to contact the Music Library in advance of
Copyright for the materials in the collection does not reside with the Music
Library. Therefore, patrons wishing to publish any item, or part of an item from
this collection for any purpose, are responsible for securing requisite
[Specified item], Leo Smit Papers, 1939-2000, Music Library, The State University
of New York at Buffalo.
Curriculum vitae, works lists, and notification of inheritance from estate of Aaron Copland
21 published and unpublished writings, program notes, and libretti, arranged alphabetically by title.
94 letters, chiefly photocopies of letters from Aaron Copland to Leo Smit. Filed chronologically
27 photocopies and original documents, including 3 obituaries.
21 photocopies and originals
Materials, chiefly photocopies of music, used for lecture-concerts by Leo Smit
Published books signed by their authors.