Virginia Brisac Moore was a member of the School’s first graduating class

By Adrienne Lotto

In December of 1783, Yale President Ezra Stiles met Lucinda Foote, a 12-year-old prodigy and University applicant. “Were it not for her sex,” Stiles wrote, reflecting on their interview, “she would be considered fit to be admitted.”

While it would take until 1969 for Yale College to open its doors to women, the tides of gender equality began to turn at Yale’s graduate and professional schools in the mid-19thcentury—and it was the art schools that led the way. The Yale School of Fine Arts became Yale’s first co-educational school when it opened in 1869. And when the newly established Yale School of Music conferred its first Bachelor of Music degrees in 1894, one of those four degrees was awarded to a woman.

That woman was Stratford, Conn., resident Virginia Brisac Moore. While the details of her life are largely unknown, certain clues point to an upbringing in the world of arts and music.

Virginia was born on May 17, 1859, and was among the youngest of nine children. Her father, Charles Moore, was a lace merchant who at various points in his life kept shops in Philadelphia, San Francisco, and New York City. His was a job that required artistic taste, something he clearly passed on to his children. Two of Virginia’s older brothers, Charles Herbert Moore and Howard Berndtson Moore, became successful painters— Charles Herbert is known even today for his landscape paintings.

Virginia’s maternal grandfather, Elof Berndtson (later Anglicized to Benson), was a sea captain who emigrated from Sweden to the United States in the early 19thcentury, and her mother was a devout member of the Swedenborgian church. It is known that Virginia, too, was a member of the Swedenborgian Church of New Jerusalem. Perhaps this was one outlet for music making in her early life.

At some point before Virginia was born, the Moore family relocated from Manhattan to Stratford, where Virginia grew up. She attended the Guy B. Day School in Bridgeport, Conn., a small, co-educational college preparatory “classical school.” There, Virginia would have taken classes with subjects in the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music). Several alumni of the Guy B. Day School went on to study at Yale. So, too, did Virginia; curiously, after a long break in her schooling.

Virginia entered the School of Music as a 35-year-old. It is not known what she studied at the School of Music or what she did in the years after receiving her degree, but one thing seems certain: Virginia embodied a life of independence that was unorthodox for a woman of her time. She remained unmarried and died at age 73 of appendicitis.

Virginia Brisac Moore, unlike Lucinda Foote before her, was fortunate to have been born in an era in which co-education was increasingly becoming the norm.

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 November 26, 2019
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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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YSM launches yearlong celebration of its 125-year history

Throughout the 2019-2020 academic year and concert season, the Yale School of Music community will reflect on the School’s 125-year history and look forward to the future of music-making at Yale. While music at Yale can be traced to earlier days, it was in 1894 that the School was established and that its first degrees were conferred. To celebrate music at Yale is to appreciate and acknowledge all those who have made music here.

“In celebrating the 125th anniversary of the School of Music, we pause to reflect on the values of the faculty, staff, alumni, and friends whose work ensured an artistic legacy for us,” YSM Dean Robert Blocker said. “Now we gratefully embrace the responsibility of continuing their work and imagining new musical horizons that ignite our passion and resolve today and in future decades. Indeed, music is the currency of hope.”

This year’s Convocation, on September 5, will mark the beginning of our yearlong anniversary celebration. The School’s Board of Advisors, faculty, staff, students, and special guests will join us for a ceremony that includes performances by students, faculty, and alumni and remarks about the legacy and promise of music at Yale by University President Peter Salovey and President Emeritus Richard Levin. As always, the incoming class will be welcomed and formally installed.

This year, for the first time in more than a decade, the School will hold an alumni reunion. Graduates from all classes are invited back to campus for activities ranging from an alumni concert to a panel discussion about women composers, in conjunction with the University’s 2019-2020 Women at Yale celebration “commemorating the 50th anniversary of coeducation in Yale College and the 150th anniversary of women students at the University.” In further celebration of women at Yale, the Yale Camerata and Yale Glee Club will give the world-premiere performance in April of a new work by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and School of Music alumna Julia Wolfe on a program presented “in celebration of 100 years of women’s suffrage.” The fall-winter 2019-2020 issue of Music at Yale, our biannual alumni magazine, will appropriately be dedicated to women from the School of Music.

In the spring, in partnership with the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, the Yale Philharmonia will join the Yale Schola Cantorum and The (London) Bach Choir on an East Coast tour, led by David Hill, with performances in New Haven, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.

These and other moments will help us look to the School’s past with an eye and an ear on its future. As always, the coming concert season features music and performances by internationally acclaimed artists and the next generation of composers, instrumentalists, and vocalists. More than 250 concerts are scheduled to take place on campus, and most of those will be streamed live online for families and friends in cities around the world.

We invite you to join us in celebrating 125 years of music-making at Yale.

Watch our celebration launch video

Published August 28, 2019
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Willie Ruff awarded honorary doctorate

Willie Ruff receives an honorary doctorate from University President Salovey. Photo by Michael Marsland

As part of Yale’s 317th Commencement, which took place on May 21, the University awarded honorary degrees to “10 individuals who have received distinction in their respective fields.” Among the recipients was Willie Ruff ’53BM ’54MM, who retired in May 2017 having spent 46 years on the School of Music faculty.

Presenting Ruff with an honorary doctor of music degree, University President Peter Salovey said, “You have shared the wonders of music with the world. Introducing new audiences to the transcendent power of jazz; you discovered the echoes of distant times and faraway places in this quintessential American art form. In your ‘conservatory without walls,’ generations of young people have been inspired by jazz legends. Scholar, storyteller, and musician, in gratitude for your creativity and charisma, we are privileged to present your third Yale degree, Doctor of Music.”

The “conservatory without walls” to which Salovey referred is the “‘invisible institution’ through which African American music has been nurtured and developed over time,” explained Lucile Bruce in the Spring 2017 issue of Music at Yale. In 1972, a year after joining the faculty at his alma mater, Ruff brought 40 jazz legends to Yale — among them Duke Ellington, Marian Anderson, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charles Mingus — and launched the Duke Ellington Fellowship and the Ellington Jazz Series.

Throughout his extraordinary career, Ruff has introduced audiences around the world to jazz. With pianist Dwike Mitchell, Ruff — a horn and bass player — brought the art form to the Soviet Union in 1959 and to China in 1981.

Ruff’s scholarship has yielded remarkable insight into musical connections, and his eagerness to share his experiences and knowledge has enlightened many. His 1991 memoir, A Call to Assembly: The Autobiography of a Musical Storyteller, earned him an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for Music Writing.

At the School of Music’s 2017 Honors Banquet, Ruff was given Yale University’s Nathan Hale Award. “He’s changed all our lives,” YSM Dean Robert Blocker said.

Ruff came to the Yale School of Music to study with Paul Hindemith — because he had read that Charlie Parker would have done the same. More than half century later, the School and the University continue to recognize and appreciate his remarkable legacy.


Published May 23, 2018
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Yale celebrates Adams Center grand opening

Adams Center for Musical Arts | Photo by Bob Handelman

Adams Center for Musical Arts | Photo by Bob Handelman

The Yale University community and distinguished guests on Thursday celebrated the grand opening of the new Adams Center for Musical Arts. It was an event in the stunning orchestra rehearsal hall at which a great debt of gratitude was paid to Stephen ’59BA and Denise Adams, whose continued generosity helped make the complex that bears their names a reality.

“This is a day not just for music,” Yale University President Peter Salovey said, “but it is a day for Yale University, as well, because this is a day where our University places an exclamation point on a place to study music that is second to none for graduate students and undergraduates, alike.

Peter Salovey dedicates the Adams Center | Photo by Harold Shapiro

Peter Salovey dedicates the Adams Center | Photo by Harold Shapiro

“One Yale — a place that celebrates a great college set alongside a great professional school, a place that gives our superb musicians from across all of our campus magnificent facilities to make music together during their bright college and their bright university years. We are really humbled by the extraordinary generosity and vision of Stephen and Denise Adams, our principal donors to this project … Their profound profound love of music, and of Yale, is what shines throughout this shining new light of campus architecture.”

Salovey also acknowledged the visionary leadership of School of Music Dean Robert Blocker, saying, “Every project that I have witnessed at Yale needs someone who has (an) uncompromising eye, and when that project has someone with that eye, it always comes out wonderfully. And Robert was the uncompromising eye behind this.”

In the Adams Center, Blocker sees his — and the Adamses’ — dreams for Music at Yale. MORE

Published February 17, 2017
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[ alumni ]

Read the Spring 2014 issue of Music at Yale

ycmi-staffWe’re pleased to post the Spring 2014 issue of our alumni magazine, Music at Yale. This issue contains a web-exclusive article on the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments (pictured at right). You can read the magazine by scrolling down or clicking here.

The cover story spotlights the Brentano String Quartet, which will join the YSM faculty this fall. Other news includes the musical inauguration of Yale president Peter Salovey, the announcement of the Adams Center for Musical Arts, and updates from YSM students, faculty, and alumni.

Read profiles of faculty member David Lang, alumni Richard and John Contiguglia, and Board of Advisors member Anne-Marie Soulliere. Enjoy a guest column by visiting faculty member Sebastian Ruth, and an article on digital access to music by David J. Baker. Learn more about the Music in Schools Initiative at YSM and the Historical Sound Recordings collection at Yale.


Published May 16, 2014
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[ publications ]

Music at Yale: Spring 2013

We’re pleased to post the newest issue of our alumni magazine, Music at Yale. We’d welcome your feedback in the comments.

If you can’t see the magazine below, please click HERE.

Published May 3, 2013
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Obituary: Isabelle DeWitt, first editor of Music at Yale Magazine

DeWittIsabelle Hollister Tuttle DeWitt, the first editor of Music at Yale Magazine, died Saturday, September 26th at her home in New Haven, Conn. She was 82 years old.

Mrs. DeWitt was born November 14th, 1926, in Boston, MA, to Isabelle Hollister Tuttle and H. Emerson Tuttle. She spent much of her childhood in New Haven, where her father was the first Master of Yale’s Davenport College. Mr. and Mrs. Tuttle were artists whose etchings and paintings have been shown and collected worldwide.

Mrs. DeWitt was educated at the Foote School in New Haven, St. Timothy’s School (Catonsville, MD), and the Yale School of Music. She married H. Daniel DeWitt, MD, in 1960. They settled in New York City, where their three children were born, and spent summers on Nantucket, where the couple first met. After Dr. DeWitt died in 1969, Mrs. DeWitt returned with her children to New Haven. There she became the founding editor of both Music at Yale and Foote Prints, alumnae periodicals for her alma maters.

She was the senior accompanist for New Haven’s Classical Ballet Academy during the 1970s and taught piano at various times in her life. Mrs. DeWitt also flourished as a New Haven real estate agent, working with the late Barbara B. Tower and H. Pearce Company. She retired from real estate in 2007 after more than 25 years in the business. MORE

Published November 10, 2009
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Music at Yale magazine now available online

Music at Yale 2008-09The Yale School of Music’s annual publication, Music at Yale, has released its first online issue.  The 2008-09 issue of the magazine highlights Denise and Stephen Adams, donors who have transformed the Yale School of Music with their generosity. An article by Susan Hawkshaw traces the career of the legendary Aldo Parisot, who this year celebrates his fiftieth year on the School of Music faculty.

Other featured news items include the Philharmonia’s first tour of Asia in July 2008, the new alumniVentures program, the 2008 Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, the Messiaen Centenary Celebration in December 2008, and announcements of events such as the 2009 Symposium on Music in Schools and the new Yale Institute for Music Theatre. As in previous issues, the magazine also includes student, alumni, and faculty news, music briefs, and many other items about the Yale School of Music.

View the 2008-09 issue of Music at Yale here.

Published April 15, 2009
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