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Donald Oenslager collection of Adolphe Appia

Call Number: GEN MSS 81

Scope and Contents

The Donald Oenslager Collection of Adolphe Appia contains correspondence, holograph and typescript manuscripts, articles, miscellaneous papers and drawings documenting the life and career of the author of Die Musik und die Inscenierung (1899). The material spans the years 1900 to 1971, with the bulk falling between 1920 and 1926. The papers were collected by Donald Oenslager, who wrote on stage and theater design and taught in the Yale School of Drama for over forty years.

The first section of the collection contains Oenslager's correspondence concerning Appia. Letters between Oenslager and Edmond Appia, distant cousin of Adolphe and representative of the Fondation Adolphe Appia, document the purchase of the typescript carbons of Appia's essays which are found in the second section of the collection. Correspondence between Oenslager and Samuel J. Hume, an author on the theater and dealer in rare books on the subject in Berkeley, California, relates in part to the purchase of Appia manuscripts. A third folder contains correspondence between Oenslager and Walther R. Volbach, a fellow Appia enthusiast and author of Adolphe Appia, Prophet of the Modern Theatre: A Profile.

The second section, Writings, includes over twenty essays by Appia, and an outline of La musique et la mise en scène together with an English translation of that work, based on the German version. Most examples are typescript drafts. The section begins with a list (folder 4) which provides a brief description of most of the writings. All the material in this section except the manuscripts in folders 8, 10, 23, and 24 were bought by Oenslager from the Fondation Adolphe Appia in 1953 and bear the mark of the Fondation. They are third carbons (of six).

The third section,Writings about Appia, contains over a dozen articles by such writers as Carl Niessen, Edmund Stadler, Carl Van Vechten, Jessica Davis Van Wyck, and Walther R. Volbach. Included in this section are two issues of theater magazines dedicated to the memory of Appia.

The fourth section, Miscellaneous Papers, contains materials relating to Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, a Swiss education reformer with whom Appia collaborated, and photographs of Appia.

The fifth section, Drawings, contains three set design drawings for Wagner's Ring Cycle.


  • 1892 - 1971
  • Majority of material found within 1920 - 1926


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Donald Oenslager Collection of Adolphe Appia is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Bequest of Donald Oenslager, 1976.


2.75 Linear Feet ((4 boxes) + 3 broadside folders)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers contian correspondence, manuscripts, articles, and miscellaneous papers, documenting the life and career of Adolphe Appia. The papers were collected by Donald Oenslager, professor at the Yale School of Drama.

Adolphe Appia (1862-1928)

Adolphe François Appia was born in Geneva, the son of Louis Paul Amédée Appia, a successful surgeon and one of the founders of the Red Cross. While a youth, he became fascinated with the theater, but since his family considered it an inappropriate career choice, he studied music at Geneva, Paris, Leipzig, and Dresden.

In 1884 Appia met Houston Stewart Chamberlain and became devoted to the works of Richard Wagner. With the help and encouragement of Chamberlain, he decided to become a designer and stage director.

Although he received scant recognition during his lifetime, Appia is regarded today as the father of modern stage lighting and design. His reforms of the antiquated nineteenth-century practice of stage design emphasized the significance of time and space, the relation of stage and auditorium, and the contrast of light and shadow. He devoted much of his lifework in particular to creating new productions of the operas of Richard Wagner.

Appia died on February 29, 1928, in a nursing home near Nyon, Switzerland.

Appia set down his theories on stage set design in two books and several essays, but much of his writing was published only in the 1950s and 1960s. The Fondation Adolphe Appia has as its objective the publication of all his works and the furtherance of his ideas.

For further biographical information, see Walther R. Volbach's Adolphe Appia, Prophet of the Modern Theatre: A Profile (1968).

Guide to the Donald Oenslager Collection of Adolphe Appia
Under Revision
by T. Michael Womack
September 1987
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

P. O. Box 208330
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Opening Hours

Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.