Irene Battell Larned, champion of music at Yale

Irene Battell Larned

By Adrienne Lotto

Anyone familiar with Yale and its surroundings will have heard the name Battell, the family whose donations bolstered the college’s arts and humanities in the late 19th century. Perhaps the most familiar name from that family is Joseph Battell, for whom Battell Chapel is named. But the distinction of the most influential Battell, when it comes to Yale’s musical life, should perhaps go to Irene Battell Larned. As the instigator of (or inspiration behind) the first endowment for music at Yale College, Irene began the legacy of supporting music at Yale.

Much of what is known about Irene Battell Larned as a person comes from Memories of an Elect Lady, a book of letters and recollections compiled by her family and published upon her death. Irene was born on November 14, 1811, in Norfolk, Conn., where her family’s influence on the town’s musical culture is still felt today through the annual Yale Summer School of Music/Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. Her grandfather was the first minister of Norfolk, and Irene’s upbringing in the church gave her a musical outlet as she began to play the village church’s pipe organ at age 11.

In Memories, Irene’s sister Urania recalled the joy that music brought the Battell family, writing, “Music became our pastime. At every gathering in-doors and out, party, sleighride or picnic, we sang.” As a teenager, Irene began to use her musical skills to teach, reportedly spending hours each evening drilling villagers on choral parts for ordinary church services as well as for occasional concerts, which she organized. One contributor to Memories wrote, “She threw her whole soul into these concerts, imparting courage to the timid, correcting and assisting every one who had a part to perform, and always doing this kindly that every one felt it a privilege to be under her criticism.”

Irene moved to New Haven when she married Yale professor William Larned. In New Haven, she continued to encourage the spread of high-quality music-making. In the late 1840s, Irene helped found the New Haven County Musical Association and the Mendelssohn Society of New Haven, organizations through which the public were treated to performances of oratorios by Handel, Haydn, and Mendelssohn. Irene performed the soprano solos in these works to great acclaim. One listener likened her to Jenny Lind, the famous Swedish soprano of the day. Dr. Gustave Stoeckel, Yale’s first music professor, was a prominent contributor to Memories, in which he wrote about finding a champion in Irene upon arriving in New Haven from Germany in 1848. “By her assurance of help and support,” Stoeckel wrote, “I gained confidence in myself and hope of success in my profession.”

In 1862, Irene, feeling that music had been neglected as an area of study at Yale College, contributed generously to the musical fund she had encouraged her brother Joseph to establish in 1854. She also donated large sums for the acquisition of scholarly music books and for the care of the organ in Battell Chapel.

After Irene died, on May 5, 1877, a funeral service was held in Battell Chapel. Stoeckel led a choir of Yale students and alumni who had come to appreciate Irene’s gifts to and presence in Yale’s musical community.

At a time when exceptional classical music in America was still a fledgling pursuit and hardly a focus in the country’s universities, Irene Battell Larned’s passion for the discipline inspired many to recognize its importance and ensured a place for it in Yale’s future.

Read more about the Battell family’s contributions to the School of Music in the Spring-Summer 2019 issue of Music at Yale.

Soprano Adrienne Lotto ’20MM is a student in the early music, oratorio, and chamber ensemble program at the Yale School of Music and Yale Institute of Sacred Music. 

Published September 25, 2019
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Music Library’s exhibit on Cole Porter opens Oct. 19

ColeporterIn celebration of the 100th anniversary of Cole Porter‘s graduation from Yale in 1913, the Music Library presents “From Peru to Paree: A Cole Porter Jubilee,” an exhibit on his life and work.

Among Yale’s most notable musical alumni, Porter (1891–1964) is recognized as one of the greatest Broadway and Hollywood composers of the golden years. Only two such American icons—Porter and Irving Berlin—wrote their own lyrics. Enduring standards such as “Night and Day,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Begin the Beguine,” and “You’re the Top!” have become a part of the American songbook vernacular, performed by jazz musicians and Broadway stars alike.

Drawing on the Gilmore Music Library’s extensive Cole Porter Collection, the exhibit presents photographs, letters, scrapbooks, and music manuscripts to illustrate both the work and the life of this remarkable man.  MORE

Published October 10, 2013
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Hindemith at the Yale School of Music

Hindemith+CollegiumIn the last issue of Music at Yale, the School of Music’s alumni magazine, the story about Paul Hindemith included two historical photos — along with a request for help in identifying the students in them.

We were pleased to receive multiple replies, and we can now identify the members of the Collegium Musicum in the photo at right.

Seated, left to right: Joseph Iadone, Charlotte Durkee, and Eckhart Richter.

Standing, left to right: Martha BixlerJohn Temple Swing.

(Hindemith stands at right.)

Published April 29, 2013
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New exhibit explores local 19th-century woodwind makers

Portrait of Philo Ruggles (1765-1829) by Ralph Earl (1751-1801). Courtesy of the Litchfield Historical Society.

A new exhibit called Whirring Lathes, Dulcet Tones: Woodwind Making in Early 19th-Century Connecticut and New York will open on Wednesday, January 25, 2012, at Yale’s Collection of Musical Instruments.

Twenty-six woodwind instruments are on display, including flageolets, fifes, a piccolo, flutes, clarinets, and a bassoon.

The most unusual instrument featured in the exhibit is a bass clarion (a bass clarinet in the shape of a bassoon) made by Uzal Miner after a design that his mentor George Catlin patented in the early 1800s.

The instruments come from the workshops of Edward Riley (New York City), George Catlin (Hartford), Uzal Miner (Hartford), John Meacham, Jr. (Hartford and Albany), Asa Hopkins (Litchfield), Benjamin & Munger (New Haven), and Firth, Hall, and Pond (New York City and Litchfield).

Enhancing the displays of instruments are period portraiture, genre scenes, newspaper advertisements, instrument tutors, and instruction books. Facsimiles of engravings enable viewers to see what kind of lathes were used in the turning of woodwinds at this time. Actual wood samples acquaint viewers with the different species of woods that were favored by makers: boxwood, satinwood, rosewood, cocuswood, ebony, and maple. MORE

Published January 23, 2012
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Music Library opens Liszt exhibit

This fall the Gilmore Music Library marks Liszt’s 200th birthday with an exhibit entitled Franz Liszt: Transcending the Virtuosic. The most dazzling pianist of the nineteenth century, a strikingly innovative composer; an important conductor, teacher, and author; and a charismatic personality, Liszt was as one of the most talented, colorful, and influential figures in the history of music.

The exhibit features five musical manuscripts wholly or partly in Liszt’s hand, four of his letters (including ones to his daughter Cosima and his friend Robert Schumann), three early printed editions of his music, two books about Liszt (a biography published during his lifetime and a novel by an alumna of Yale’s PhD program in musicology), three images (depicting Liszt in boyhood, middle age, and old age), and a medallion that was owned at various times by Liszt, Toscanini, and Horowitz. There is also a rose that he is said to have kissed.

View the exhibit online HERE.

Published December 16, 2011
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From the Archives: Richard Storrs Willis

One of the first notable musicians to come out of Yale was Richard Storrs Willis (1819–1900). He graduated from Yale College in 1841 – before the School of Music even existed.

Willis was the president of Yale’s Beethoven Society in 1838 and 1840. After graduation he studied music in Germany for six years. His teachers there included Felix Mendelssohn.

Most prolific in writing hymns, Willis is best known for having written the music to “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”

After his studies in Germany, Willis returned to America and served as music critic for the New York Tribune, The Albion, and The Musical Times, where he was also the editor for a time. He was a member of the New-York American-Music Association.

Willis founded his own journal, Once a Month: A Paper of Society, Belles-Lettres and Art, which published its first issue in January of 1862.

Published September 2, 2011
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Online Schumann exhibit launches

On June 8, the Gilmore Music Library celebrated Robert Schumann’s 200th birthday with the installation of an exhibit designed by Richard Boursy and entitled Robert Schumann: Composer, Critic, and Correspondent.

A central figure in the romantic movement in Germany, Schumann (1810–1856) concentrated on piano music in the early phase of his career, and eventually came to excel in genres ranging from the song to the symphony.

Perhaps the most important music journalist of his era, Schumann edited the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik and wrote reviews heralding the genius of the 21-year-old Chopin and the 20-year-old Johannes Brahms. Clara Wieck Schumann (1819–1896), Robert’s wife, was one of the greatest pianists of the century, and a notable composer as well.

This week the exhibit’s online version makes its debut. Click HERE to view. MORE

Published July 12, 2010
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Walking tours of Yale’s historic Collection of Musical Instruments

One of the leading resources of its kind, the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments includes nearly one thousand musical instruments from antiquity to the present, from both Western and non-Western traditions. The International Festival of Arts and Ideas, taking place now in New Haven, offers two walking tours of the Collection: Friday, June 18 and Sunday, June 20 at 2 pm.

Both tours will be led by curators Susan Thompson and Nicholas Renouf. Guest artist Andrew Appel, harpsichordist, fortepianist and director of the Four Nations Ensemble, will join the tour on Sunday, June 20, prior to his 7 pm concert in Sprague Memorial Hall. The tour will last about 90 minutes. Meet at the Collection, 15 Hillhouse Avenue, New Haven.

Presented by the Yale School of Music.

Tickets for this tour are $10. Visit the event page for more info.

Published June 16, 2010
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From the Archives: Historic Norfolk

The 2009 Norfolk Chamber Music Festival is underway, offering concerts on Friday and Saturday evenings as well as free lectures, fellows’ performances, and a listening club. The Norfolk season announcement from the archives does not list a year; many of the participating musicians were on the faculty from the 1930s onward. The concerts all take place Fridays at 3:00 pm in Battell House, indicating a more informal series than what the season might have offered in the Music Shed on weekend evenings.

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Bruce Simonds, a pianist who appeared in two programs that summer, joined the faculty in 1921 and taught until 1964, serving as Dean from 1941 to 1954. Other programs in Yale’s archive indicate that he often performed two-piano repertoire with his wife, Rosalind Simonds. This photo from the library’s archives shows Simonds participating in a folk dance at Norfolk, a tradition that has since died out. MORE

Published August 3, 2009
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From the Archives: New York Phil at Yale in 1922

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In 1922, the Philharmonic Society of New York – which would later call itself the New York Philharmonic – performed at Yale. It was the orchestra’s 1660th concert and fell in their eightieth season. A year previously, the Philharmonic had merged with the New York-based National Symphony Orchestra (not the same organization as the ensemble of the same name based in Washington, DC). MORE

Published May 28, 2009
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