The sum of $5,000 was presented to Yale College in 1854 by Joseph Battell "for the support, as far as it may go, of a teacher of the science of music to such students as may avail themselves the opportunity." The Yale Corporation approved the appointment of Gustave Jacob Stoeckel as an instructor in church music and singing director of the Chapel Choir and other musical activities at Yale College in 1855.
Mr. Stoeckel's active campaign to establish a department of music at Yale moved the Corporation in 1889 to create such a department.
An appointment as Battell Professor of Music was given to Mr. Stoeckel in 1890, and in that year Yale's first credit courses in music were offered. The first Bachelor of Music degrees given by Yale were awarded in 1894 to a class of four. Professor Stoeckel retired in 1894 and two new teachers were appointed to succeed him: Samuel Simons Sanford as Professor of Applied Music and Horatio Parker as Battell Professor of the Theory of Music. It was Sanford's tireless efforts that led to the establishment of the Yale School of Music in 1894. In 1904 Professor Parker was given the title of Dean.
A new building for the School was provided in 1917 when the Albert Arnold Sprague Memorial Hall was constructed through the generosity of Mrs. Sprague and her daughter, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. Here the entire School was housed, including offices, studios, practice rooms, library, and an auditorium.
With the death of Horatio Parker in 1919, the deanship passed to David Stanley Smith, who continued in office until 1940. The graduate division of the School was established and the degree of Master of Music was first conferred in 1932. An interim deanship was held by Richard Donovan until the appointment of Bruce Simonds in 1941. Luther Noss, a member of the faculty since 1939, became Dean in 1954.
Sprague Hall was remodeled in 1954 to accommodate the rapidly growing library of the School. The need for expanded studio facilities and administrative offices was partially met with the acquisition of York Hall in 1954, which was renovated and renamed Stoeckel Hall in honor of Yale's first instructor in music.
The School of Music became exclusively a graduate professional school in 1958, requiring an undergraduate degree for admission and conferring only the Master of Music degree. Additional programs of graduate professional studies, leading to the degrees of Master of Musical Art and Doctor of Musical Arts, were introduced in 1968.
From 1970 to 1980, Philip Nelson, a musicologist, served as Dean of the School of Music. In 1973, the Institute of Sacred Music was established at Yale as an interdisciplinary graduate center for the study of music, liturgy, and the arts. In 1980, Frank Tirro, a musicologist and Early Music specialist who had been Chair of the Department of Music at Duke University, was appointed Dean. American composer Ezra Laderman assumed the position of Dean in July 1989, and in the fall term of 1995, pianist Robert Blocker joined the Yale administration as Dean of the School of Music.