The Curtis Institute of Music opened on October 13, 1924. It fulfilled the fondest dream of Mary Louise Curtis Bok, the only child of Philadelphia-based Louisa Knapp and Cyrus H. K. Curtis, whose Curtis Publishing Company produced two of the most popular magazines in America: the Saturday Evening Post and the Ladies' Home Journal.
It was Mrs. Bok's work at the Settlement Music School in South Philadelphia with culturally and financially deprived children, many of whom were gifted enough for professional careers, that convinced her of the need to organize a music conservatory with rigorous standards of teaching and performance to train the next generation of musical artists. With artistic guidance from conductor Leopold Stokowski and the renowned pianist Josef Hofmann, Mrs. Bok assembled a faculty that would attract the most promising students, and developed a philosophy ensuring that these exceptionally gifted young musicians would receive training to prepare them for careers as performing artists on the highest professional level.
Curtis’s rare tuition-free policy was established in 1928 and to this day provides merit-based, full-tuition scholarships for all Curtis students. Students continue to be accepted for study at Curtis solely on the basis of their artistic talent and promise.
In the school's early years, Leopold Stokowski predicted that Curtis “will become the most important musical institution of our country, perhaps of the world.” That sentiment was echoed nearly 70 years later by cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who said, “Curtis is unique, not only in the United States, but in the whole world.”
Since its founding, Curtis alumni have gone on to make history as soloists, composers, conductors, orchestral players, and chamber musicians. Curtis graduates have received Pulitzer Prizes, Guggenheim Fellowships, and Avery Fisher Awards and are in the front rank of soloists and conductors. They are members of the world’s leading orchestras, including principals in every major American orchestra. They have sung with La Scala, Covent Garden, the Vienna Staatsoper, and the San Francisco Opera, among others, and more than sixty have sung at the Metropolitan Opera.