State University of New York at Buffalo. Music Library
No textual materials are included in the collection.
Chiefly black and
white photographs documenting Leo Smit's life and career in music.
Processed by John Bewley.
The collection was in part a gift from Leo Smit in 1998. The
remainder of the collection was given to the Music Library by Nils Vigeland,
executor of Smit's estate.
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
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.
The Leo Smit Photograph Collection consists of a mixture of
photographs documenting Smit's life. These include images of Smit as a child
and young man, photographs with friends and colleagues, including Aaron
Copland, Pete Johnson, Leonard Bernstein, and Sir Fred Hoyle, photographs
documenting Smit's tour of Latin America 1967-1968, portraits of Smit, and
images of scenes from Smit's chamber opera, Magic Water. The collection also
includes several photographs by Leo Smit. These include images of Leonard
Bernstein, William Schuman, members of the University at Buffalo Music
Department (including Morton Feldman), and members of the Buffalo Sabres hockey
team, as well as photographs of Smit's collection of Kachina dolls. Portraits
by other photographers include those of Aaron Copland, Pete Johnson, and Smit's
father, Kolman Smit. There is also a single postcard portrait of composer Peter
Ilyich Tchaikovsky and a single reproduction of a photograph of Franz Liszt.
Some items in the collection have been dated according to date stamps on the
image verso. These are most likely more reflective of when a print was made
rather than when it was shot.
The collection is arranged in nine series:
I. Photographs of Leo Smit, with and without other people. Arranged in approximate chronological order.
II. Photographs of people and places without Leo Smit. Arranged alphabetically by name of subject.
III. Photographs by Leo Smit of a 1976 hockey game between the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Rangers.
IV. Photographs by Leo Smit of Istanbul, Turkey.
V. Photographs of Leo Smit's collection of Kachina dolls.
VI. Postcard portrait of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
VII. Photographs by Leo Smit of faculty members of the University at Buffalo Music Department taken at a retreat April 9, 1975 at the First Presbyterian Church, Buffalo, N.Y.
VIII. Negatives for photographs in the collection.
IX. Oversized color portrait of Leo Smit (2 copies).
X. Additional photographs
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 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
[Specified item], Leo Smit Photograph Collection, circa 1926-1999,
Music Library, The State University of New York at Buffalo.
Locations in the remainder of Box 4 include Italy and Turkey. Locations in Box 5 include sites in the Pacific Northwest, Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, Yosemite National Park, Mount McKinley, images from a television screen of a lunar landing, Rio de Janiero, and the Pyramid of the Magician in Uxmal, Mexico.