In January 1938 the photojournalist Fritz Henle visited the Curtis Institute of Music to take pictures for the photographic essay “Music: Ten Million Americans Become Musically Literate” in LIFE Magazine.

The feature aimed to illustrate the increased appreciation of music due to radio, music education in schools, and American participation in bands and orchestras.

When the article was published on December 12, 1938, two of the ten pages were dedicated to Curtis and included a full-page photo of a 10 year old Gary Graffman with his piano teacher Isabelle Vengerova. Henle's other photos taken during this visit are displayed here along with later images of the annual Christmas party in December 1938, when Henle was invited back to celebrate with the Curtis community. All photographs remain under the copyright of the Henle Estate.

Accompanying the images are Curtis performances of the period, selected from hundreds of hours of acetate recordings that have been recently remastered by Safe Sound Archive of Philadelphia and preserved in digital format. Together they provide a fascinating glimpse of life at Curtis between the Depression and the Second World War.

Life at Curtis, January 1938

W.A. Mozart: Menuet, from String Quartet No. 17 in B flat major, K. 458 (“Hunt”).  Performed by the Curtis String Quartet and broadcast from Casimir Hall on October 13, 1937

Learning by Doing

J. Brahms: Grazioso, from Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56b. Performed by Eleanor and Vladimir Sokoloff and broadcast from Casimir Hall on March 2, 1938

Curtis Innovations, 1937–38

Anonymous: Fugato in B flat major (at the time thought to be by Ludwig van Beethoven). Performed by Trio Classique and broadcast from Casimir Hall on January 26, 1938

Christmas Party, 1938

J.S. Bach: In Dulci Jubilo, from Orgelbuchlein. Performed by Caribel Gegenheimer and broadcast from Casimir Hall on March 12, 1938

Fritz Henle

The German-born photographer Fritz Henle (1909–93), who settled in the United States in 1936, was one of the most famous photographers of his time. During his 60-year career he took over 100,000 photographs in various countries, covering many genres. He was one of the earliest contributors to LIFE magazine, which published more than 50 features based on his images, including the one about music in America for which he visited Curtis in January 1938.

The photographs in this exhibit are on display at the Curtis Institute of Music.  For display purposes, the photographs in this exhibit were rearranged in a different order and captions were shortened. The full text of the exhibit  may be used for educational purposes and personal research only.

© Fritz Henle (photographs); Curtis Institute of Music (text)