Karel Husa Donates Archive to Ithaca College


Karel Husa
Karel Husa
photo credit Alexander Dippold

Czech-born composer and conductor Karel Husa recently donated his archive to Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York. The Archive now exceeds in scope and volume the Husa documents in the Library of Congress. The Husa Archive at IC contains materials from his entire career. As a champion of new music, Husa’s correspondence contains many letters to composers such as Bernstein, Carter, Copland, Foss, Ginastera, Penderecki, and Poulenc on matters pertaining to the interpretation of their works. In addition, there are 62 letters from Nadia Boulanger, dating from his student years in the 1950s until just before her death in 1979.

The most important component of the Archive is Husa’s own work. The Archive includes the manuscripts of Music for Prague, Apotheosis of this Earth, the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, and Les Couleurs Fauves, among others. The Archive also contains lists, prepared by Husa, of errata in currently-published scores. This is the College’s first Archive of “specialized, primary source documents by a master composer,” says Curator and Music History Professor Mark Radice.

The 100-cubic-foot collection is important, according to Radice, for three reasons. First, “it is international,” Radice explained. “His career began in Central Europe, continued in Western Europe, and has taken, for now, into the United States.” Second, the contents of the Archive document the past fifty years in considerable detail. Third, the Archive is diverse, reflecting his varied activities as composer and conductor. “Those characteristics,” according to Radice, “make this collection a unique opportunity for scholars to see music history unfolding in the second half of the 20th century.”

The Archive will be the property not of the College Library, but of the School of Music. The Karel Husa Gallery in the new James J. Whalen Center for Music is designed for the display of important documents and scores. Portions of the Archive will be installed in the Gallery’s floor-to-ceiling glass cases. Radice is planning to reproduce many items of the collection, either on microfilm or on paper. This way, if someone is interested in studying a manuscript, for instance, they will contact Radice and he will set them up first with a reproduction of the score. Then, if necessary, he will provide them with supervised access to the original.

Husa served as Professor of Composition at Ithaca College from 1967 until 1986. His influence is still felt through the Karel Husa Visiting Professor of Composition Series. The Series provides for a different composer each year to come to the College, work with students, supervise performances of his or her works, and give lectures. The diversity of Visiting Professors, in Radice’s opinion, reflects Husa’s own openness to a diversity of styles. Past Professors have included Jacob Druckman, Shulamit Ran, John Harbison, John Corigliano, and William Bolcom. This year’s Karel Husa Visiting Professor of Composition is Michael Daugherty.

Karel Husa was born in Prague in 1921. After completing studies at the Prague Conservatory and, later, the Academy of Music, he went to Paris where he received diplomas from the Paris National Conservatory and the Ecole normale de musique. Among his teachers were Arthur Honegger, Nadia Boulanger, Jaroslav Ridky, and conductor André Cluytens.

In 1954, Husa was appointed to the faculty of Cornell University where he was Kappa Alpha Professor until his retirement in 1992. Among numerous honors, Husa has received a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation; awards from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, UNESCO, and the National Endowment for the Arts; Koussevitzky Foundation commissions; the Czech Academy for the Arts and Sciences Prize; and the Lili Boulanger award.

Husa’s String Quartet No. 3 received the 1969 Pulitzer Prize, and his Cello Concerto the 1993 Grawemeyer Award. Music for Prague 1968 — with over 7000 performances worldwide — has become part of the modern repertory. On 13 February 1990, Husa realized a long-time dream when he conducted the orchestral version of Music for Prague 1968 in Prague. He was invited back to conduct the work again in1993, with the Prague Philharmonia, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Russian invasion.

Some of Husa’s more recent works include a Violin Concerto (1993), commissioned for the 150th Anniversary of the New York Philharmonic and premiered by concertmaster Glenn Dicterow; the String Quartet No. 4 (1991), commissioned for the consortium of Colorado, Alard, and Blair Quartets by the National Endowment for the Arts. Most recently, Husa’s Les Couleurs Fauves was premiered in November 1996 by the Northwestern University Wind Ensemble.

Karel Husa has conducted many major orchestras including those in Paris, London, Prague, Zurich, Hong Kong, Singapore, New York, Boston, and Washington. Among numerous recordings — including his own works — he made the first European disc of Bartók’s Miraculous Mandarin with the Centi Soli Orchestra in Paris. Every year, Husa visits the campuses of some 20 universities to guest conduct and lecture on his music.