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The Richard Donovan Papers

Call Number: MSS 7

Scope and Contents

The Richard Donovan Papers contain material from Donovan's long and active life as a composer, teacher, conductor, and important musical force in the New Haven area. They include approximately 300 personal letters; correspondence concerning the publication of his works; material dealing with the American Composers Alliance and the Yaddo festivals; photographs (chiefly of Donovan); concert programs; newspaper clippings, ranging from reviews of his works to articles on 20th-century composers and book reviews; many classroom notebooks from his years as a professor at the Yale School of Music; sketches, holographs, transparencies, photocopies and published versions of his musical works; and musical works of other contemporary composers.

Donovan's works cover a wide variety of genres. In the field of vocal music he wrote several songs for solo voice, and works for chorus with orchestral accompaniment as well as many choral arrangements, anthems, and secular part-songs. He favored the oboe as a solo instrument for his chamber music, but also composed two piano trios, a quartet for woodwinds, and several works for unusual combinations such as his Soundings, for trumpet, bassoon, and percussion. His keyboard works include two suites for piano, and three pieces for organ (Antiphon and Chorale being the best known). American folk tunes figure in many of Donovan's compositions, especially in his orchestral music. New England Chronicle and Passacaglia on Vermont Folk Tunes are to be noted here. Other orchestral works include a symphony, two symphonic poems, and overtures. Several of Donovan's pieces have been recorded, and many were performed regularly during his lifetime both in America and abroad. The Papers also contain a small sampling (in holograph, photoduplicated and printed form) of works by other 20th-century composers. Everett Helm, Paul Hindemith, Horatio Parker, Quincy Porter, and Halsey Stevens number among those represented.

Within the correspondence collection are letters from such contemporary composers as Aaron Copland, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Howard Hanson, Ernst Krenek, Otto Luening, Walter Piston, Quincy Porter, Mel Powell, Carl Ruggles, Gunther Schuller, Halsey Stevens, Randall Thompson and Virgil Thomson. A small collection of correspondence between Donovan and Beckett Gibbs, found within the classroom materials, points out Donovan's interest in the performance of plainsong. Father Gibbs specialized in that field, and Donovan wrote him numerous letters asking for detailed information.

The Donovan Papers would be of greatest interest to those doing research on musical events in New Haven and New York between 1920 and 1969; to those seeking information on the development and activities of the Yaddo festivals and the American Composers Alliance; to those following the growth and changes in the Yale School of Music; and certainly to those studying any aspect of 20th-century music.


  • 1913-1971 (inclusive)


Language of Materials

Materials chiefly in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Papers are open to researchers by appointment. There are no restricted materials in the collection. Please contact the Special Collections staff to schedule an appointment.

Conditions Governing Use

The Richard Donovan Papers are the physical property of the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library of Yale University. Copyrights belong to the composers and authors, or their legal heirs and assigns.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Richard Donovan Papers were established in the Music Library of Yale University by Richard Donovan, Jr. and David Donovan in 1972.


In 8 series as follows: I. Correspondence. II. Photographs. III. Programs. IV. Newspaper Clippings. V. Classroom Materials. VI. Personal Effects. VII. Donovan's Works. VIII. Works of Other Composers.


20 Linear Feet (30 boxes)

Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


Music, correspondence and other papers, photographs, and additional materials by and about the American composer, conductor, and educator Richard Donovan (1891-1970)

Biographical / Historical

Richard Frank Donovan was born in New Haven, Connecticut on November 29, 1891. He attended the Yale School of Music and the Institute of Musical Art, receiving his bachelor's degree from the latter in 1922. He also taught at the Institute (later known as the Juilliard School) for several years. After teaching, conducting, and playing the organ in New York, Donovan became the director of music at the Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut in 1920. Three years later he joined the music faculty at Smith College, and in 1928 he returned to the Yale School of Music, first as an instructor, and later (1947) as Battell Professor of the Theory of Music; he also served as Acting Dean in 1940-1941.

In addition to teaching, Donovan served in several other musical capacities in New Haven. He conducted the Bach Cantata Club from 1933 until 1944, worked with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra as associate conductor from 1936 until 1951, and was organist and choirmaster of Christ Church from 1928 until 1966. Donovan was also affiliated with the Pan American Association of Composers and Yaddo (for which he served as a director of the corporation). He served on the Board of Governors of the American Composers Alliance, and was a member of the Executive Board of New Music publications.

Richard Donovan died on August 22, 1970 in Middletown, Connecticut.

Register to The Richard Donovan Papers
Edited Full Draft
Compiled by Cindy Clark
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared According To Local Music Library Descriptive Practices
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Gilmore Music Library Repository

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New Haven CT 06520 US
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