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Leo Smit Papers,

State University of New York at Buffalo. Music Library

112 Baird Hall
Buffalo, New York 14260-4750
United States
Phone: 716 645-2924
Fax: 716 645-3906

Smit, Leo, 1921-1999

4 boxes

(49 folders)


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 materials.

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Collection Details

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
III. Correspondence
IV. Clippings and reviews
V. Programs
VI. Promotion and publicity
VII. Lecture materials

No further accruals are expected to this collection.

Collection Access & Use

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 visits.

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 permissions.

[Specified item], Leo Smit Papers, 1939-2000, Music Library, The State University of New York at Buffalo.

Collection Subjects & Formats

Series I: Personal documents,

Arrangement: In order as received.

Size: Folders 1-6

Curriculum vitae, works lists, and notification of inheritance from estate of Aaron Copland

Box: 1

Folder: 1

Date: 1980

Box: 1

Folder: 2

Date: 1995

Box: 1

Folder: 3

Date: undated

Box: 1

Folder: 4

Date: undated

Box: 1

Folder: 5

Date: undated

Box: 1

Folder: 6

Four Piano Blues

Date: undated

Series II.: Writings by Leo Smit,

Arrangement: Arranged alphabetically by title of text.

Size: Folders 7-27

21 published and unpublished writings, program notes, and libretti, arranged alphabetically by title.

Box: 1

Folder: 7

Aaron Copland, 1900-1990

Published in: , March 1991: 3

Box: 1

Folder: 8

Alchemy of Love

Box: 1

Folder: 9

Cantata for a Roman Lady

Box: 1

Folder: 10

Classic Cole Porter

Published in: Dec. 25, 1971: 48-49, 57

Box: 1

Folder: 11

For Aaron

Date: 1970

Box: 1

Folder: 12

For Aaron

Date: 1975

Box: 1

Folder: 13

In Woods

Box: 1

Folder: 14

Interview with Vivian Perlis about Aaron Copland

Printed in , (1989)

Box: 1

Folder: 15

Introduction to Liszt in Italy (lecture)

Box: 1

Folder: 16

Johann Sebastian Bach: Fox or Hedgehog: a tribute on his 300th birthday

Published in: , January 1985

Box: 1

Folder: 17

Magic Water

Box: 1

Folder: 18

On artistic obsession

Date: 1990

Box: 1

Folder: 19

Pianista: a concert journal

July-August, 1983

Box: 1

Folder: 20

Pianista Noteamericano: a concert and travel journal

Date: 1969?

Box: 1

Folder: 21

Date: May 15, 1998

Box: 1

Folder: 22

Remembering Aaron Copland, 1988

Box: 1

Folder: 23

Sir Fred Hoyle: introduction

Box: 1

Folder: 24

Symphony of Dances and Songs

Box: 1

Folder: 25

To Aaron Copland

Box: 1

Folder: 26

Four Russian Songs

Box: 1

Folder: 27


Series III.: Correspondence,

Arrangement: Arranged chronologically, with undated material last.

Size: Folders 28-34

94 letters, chiefly photocopies of letters from Aaron Copland to Leo Smit. Filed chronologically

Box: 1

Folder: 28

Extent: 14 letters on 11 leaves

Date: 1940-1949

Box: 1

Folder: 29

Extent: 26 letters on 28 leaves

Date: 1950-1959

Box: 1

Folder: 30

Extent: 17 letters on 18 leaves

Date: 1960-1969

Box: 1

Folder: 31

Extent: 25 letters on 25 leaves

Date: 1970-1979

Box: 1

Folder: 32

Extent: 8 letters on 8 leaves

Date: 1980-1989

Box: 1

Folder: 33

Extent: 2 letters on 2 leaves

Date: 1995-1997

Box: 1

Folder: 34

Extent: 2 letters on 2 leaves

Date: Undated

Series IV.: Clippings and reviews,

Arrangement: Arranged chronologically

Size: Folders 35-38

27 photocopies and original documents, including 3 obituaries.

Box: 1

Folder: 35

Extent: 10 clippings

Date: 1962-1967

Box: 1

Folder: 36

Extent: 7 clippings

Date: 1976-1979

Box: 1

Folder: 37

Extent: 3 clippings

Date: 1981-1984

Box: 1

Folder: 38

Extent: 7 clippings, including 3 obituaries

Date: 1994-2000

Series V.: Programs,

Arrangement: Arranged chronologically

Size: Folders 39-42

21 photocopies and originals

Box: 1

Folder: 39

Extent: 3 programs

Date: 1939-1958

Box: 1

Folder: 40

Extent: 7 programs

Date: 1962-1978

Box: 1

Folder: 41

Extent: 7 programs

Date: 1980-1983

Box: 1

Folder: 42

Extent: 4 programs

Date: 1994-2000

Series VI.: Promotion and publicity,

Arrangement: Arranged chronologically

Size: Folder 43

4 pieces

Box: 1

Folder: 43

Extent: 4 pieces

Date: 1969-1986

Series VII.: Lecture materials,

Arrangement: Arranged alphabetically by title

Size: Folders 44-47

Materials, chiefly photocopies of music, used for lecture-concerts by Leo Smit

Box: 2

Folder: 44

Crazy Quilt of American Piano Music (no lecture texts, only music)

Scope and Content

Music: Kern, Jerome : Siren's song (p. 1 only) Shapero, Harold . Mister La Sol Gottschalk, Louis . Ossian, op. 4 Farwell, Arthur . Polytonal study, op. 109, no. 20 Fine, Irving . Red Queen's Gavotte Cage, John . Suite for Toy Piano MacDowell, Edward . In Deep Woods, op. 62 Copland, Aaron . Three Moods Copland, Aaron . Two Piano Pieces Burge, David . Incomplete work from Contemporary Keyboard Schuman, William . Three Piano Moods Cage, John : Dream

Programs: September 9, 1995 . Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall, Williams College, Williamstown, MA (includes photocopy proof) September 17, 1995 . Gerald G. Wilmot Hall of Music, Nazareth College, Rochester, NY (includes texts to Emily Dickinson songs) April 19, 1996 . Karl Geiringer Hall, University of California, Santa Barbara

Box: 2

Folder: 45

Liszt in Italy

Scope and Content

Text: Introduction to Liszt in Italy (Typescript (2 leaves))

Music: (2 photocopied sets of the following works) Liszt, Franz : Angelus! Liszt, Franz : Carillon Liszt, Franz : Les Funerailles Liszt, Franz : Consolation No. 3 Liszt, Franz : Liebesträume: Notturno no. II Liszt, Franz : Il Pensieroso Liszt, Franz : Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa Liszt, Franz : Miserer Liszt, Franz : Les Jeus d'Eaux à la Villa d'Este Wagner, Richard : Isolden's Liebestod Liszt, Franz : Kleine Stücke Liszt, Franz : Sursum Corda

Additional music: Bach, Johann Sebastian : Cantata no. 161. Der Lieb zwar in der Erden (Chorale) Liszt, Franz : La Notte. With typescript letter from Paul Pascal, University of Washington, July 11, 1997, regarding literary allusions in the Liszt work Liszt, Franz : Harmonies poetiques. Invocation Liszt, Franz : Abschied Liszt, Franz : Unstern Liszt, Franz : En rêve Liszt, Franz : Nuages gris Liszt, Franz : Angelus Liszt, Franz : Consolations Liszt, Franz : Five Hungarian Folksongs Liszt, Franz : Glockenspiel (Carillon) Schumann, Robert : Liebeslied Liszt, Franz : Sursum Corda

Programs: June 11, 1986 . Gartner Auditorium, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio May 31, 1995 . Gartner Auditorium, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio. With typescript letter (1 leaf) from Lita Grier to Leo Smit

Box: 3

Folder: 46

Songs (no lecture title provided)

Scope and Content

Music: Porter, Cole : Art Porter, Cole : I am in love Porter, Cole : Cherry pies ought to be you Porter, Cole : Trust your destiny to a star Porter, Cole : No lover Porter, Cole : Nobody's chasing me Porter, Cole : Red, hot and blue Porter, Cole : A little skipper from heaven above Porter, Cole : Where oh where Porter, Cole : Fresh as a daisy Porter, Cole : Most gentlemen don't like love Porter, Cole : Blow, Gabriel, blow Porter, Cole : Give me the land Raksin, David : Laura Ives, Charles : Songs my mother taught me Ives, Charles : The circus band Ives, Charles : Walking Ives, Charles : The greatest man . (2 copies) Blitzstein, Marc : Jimmie's got a goil Rorem, Ned : Snake Citkowitz, Israel : Gentle lady Carter, Elliott : The line-gang Thomson, Virgil : Susie Asado Fine, Irving : Polaroli Kubik, Gail : The Lamb Gershwin, George : I can't be bothered now Gershwin, George : How long has this been going on? Bernstein, Leonard : Some other time Bernstein, Leonard : My house Bernstein, Leonard : One hundred easy ways Copland, Aaron (arr.) : Simple gifts

Box: 3

Folder: 47

Tchaikovsky - Self Portrait

Scope and Content

Text: Tchaikovsky diary entries and letters

Music: circa 39 works by Tchaikovsky, mostly songs

Series VIII.: Books bearing inscriptions to Leo Smit,

Arrangement: Arranged alphabetically by author

Size: Folders 48-49

Published books signed by their authors.

Box: 4

Folder: 48

Copland on music

Extent: 280 pages ; 22 cm

Person: Copland, Aaron, 1900-1990

Date: 1960

Scope and Content

Bears inscription from Copland to Leo Smit.

Box: 4

Folder: 49

Beethoven: Second, revised edition

Extent: xxii, 554 pages ; 25 cm

Person: Solomon, Maynard

Date: 1998

Scope and Content

Bears inscription from Solomon to Leo Smit.