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The Henry Gilbert Papers

Call Number: MSS 35

Scope and Contents

The Henry Gilbert Papers contain manuscript and published music by Gilbert and others, correspondence, clippings, programs, scrapbooks, financial and legal items, musical games, writings by Gilbert and others, biographical material, photographs, and miscellaneous items. Their dates range from 1821 to 1980; most were created between the late nineteenth century and Gilbert's death in 1928.

The largest series in the Papers is music. There are manuscript and published musical works by Gilbert covering several genres: opera and incidental, orchestra, band, chamber and instrumental, songs, voice and instrumental ensemble, choral, and keyboard. The subseries Music by Others contains Gilbert's arrangements and transcriptions of music by others; manuscript and published works by his father, Benjamin Franklin Gilbert (1828-1894), and uncle, James L. Gilbert; and miscellaneous music by others.

The bulk of the correspondence is from others to Gilbert, spanning from 1885 to 1928. It includes letters from many of Gilbert's contemporaries in music and literature, such as Percy Atherton, Joseph Breil, Clarence Birchard, Charles Wakefield Cadman, John Alden Carpenter, George Whitefield Chadwick, Robert W. Chanler, Frederick W. Converse, Oscar Coon, Edward S. Curtis, Arthur Farwell, Lawrence Gilman, Henry Hadley, Maud Cuney Hare, Edward Burlingame Hill, Otto Kahn, Edgar Stillman Kelley, Serge Koussevitzky, Charles Martin Loeffler, Edward and Marian MacDowell, Frederick Manley, Ivan Narodny, George Turner Phelps, Edwin Carty Ranck, Edward Arlington Robinson, Thomas P. Robinson, Carl Ruggles, César Saerchinger, Bertram Shapleigh, Cecil Sharp, Arthur Shepherd, Alexander Smallens, Walter F. Spalding, Carl Stoeckel, the Wa-Wan Press, and Arthur Whiting. The correspondence from Gilbert to others consists of about 400 copies of typed letters and drafts from 1891 to 1928. There are also about 250 letters between Gilbert and his family dating from 1881 to 1927. Two subseries concern Gilbert's collaboration with Edward S. Curtis (1911-1920) and his association with the New Music Society of America (1906). The remainder of the correspondence is mostly between Gilbert's wife, Helen Kalischer Gilbert, and one of his daughters, Tessie Gilbert Horton, and others.

Henry Gilbert invented several musical games, which he had patented. The games, their instructions, and patents are included among the Papers.

There are about fifty lectures and articles by Gilbert, mostly in manuscript, pertaining to music as well as other subjects. Also included are twenty-nine of Gilbert's diaries and address books from 1882 until 1928. Gilbert's notebooks bridge his childhood to adulthood (1875-1927). There are thirty-five notebooks which include notes for music as well as school, thoughts and ideas, natural history, minerals, and butterflies.

Five photograph albums contain photographs of Gilbert, his family, and friends. The album dating from 1904-1925 contains photographs from the MacDowell Colony of people such as Aaron Copland, Mabel Daniels, Edward Burlingame Hill, Edgar Stillman Kelley, Marian MacDowell, Edwin Carty Ranck, and Edward Arlington Robinson. There are also over three hundred loose photographs of Gilbert and others.

Among the miscellaneous items are two oil portraits by Robert W. Chanler and Frank Waldo Murray and a plaster death mask of Gilbert.

The bulk of the Henry F. Gilbert Papers consists of five gifts from Mr. and Mrs. Philip C. Horton (Gilbert's daughter and her husband): December 27, 1968 (3 boxes); July 3, 1969 (20 boxes); December 18, 1976 (6 boxes, including the papers of Benjamin Franklin Gilbert and James L. Gilbert); December 18, 1978 (2 boxes); and May 27, 1981 (17 boxes, a suitcase, and a violin case). Mr. Philip Horton gave the Yale University Music Library for deposit, 21 boxes and loose items, including two portraits, on November 9, 1982.


  • 1821-1980 (inclusive)


Language of Materials

Materials chiefly in English.

Conditions Governing Access

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

Some of the materials may be stored at the Library's off-campus shelving facility, so researchers should allow at least two business days to have the appropriate boxes paged.

Conditions Governing Use

The Henry Gilbert 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 Henry Gilbert Papers were established in the Music Library of Yale University by Mr. and Mrs. Philip C. Horton in 1968.


In 14 series as follows: I. Music. II. Music by Others. III. Correspondence. IV. Clippings. V. Programs. VI. Scrapbooks. VII. Financial and Legal Items. VIII. Musical Games. IX. Writings. X. Biographical Material. XI. Photographs. XII. Engraver's Plates. XIII. Sound Recordings. XIV. Miscellaneous Items.


37.2 Linear Feet (93 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 Henry Gilbert (1868-1928)

Biographical / Historical

Henry Franklin Belknap Gilbert was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, on September 26, 1868. He had a congenital heart defect known as tetrology of Fallot and made medical history by outliving any other recorded sufferer by twenty-three years. Despite his poor health and chronic lack of funds, Gilbert achieved distinction as a composer, lecturer, editor, and writer.

Gilbert came from a musical family, and he studied violin, piano, theory, and composition at the New England Conservatory and with a variety of private teachers, including Edward MacDowell. As a young man he struggled to support himself by playing the violin and working in a variety of non-musical jobs. In 1893 he attended the Chicago World's Fair, where he had the opportunity to hear Asian and African music, which made a profound impression on him. In 1894, 1901, and 1927 he visited Europe. From 1902 to 1911 Gilbert collaborated with Arthur Farwell on the Wa-Wan Press, an important publisher of American music. In 1912 Gilbert spent the first of several summers at the MacDowell Colony, the last being in 1926.

In both his compositions and his writings, Gilbert was an influential proponent of musical nationalism. He believed that American composers should not rely solely on European models, but instead should draw inspiration from indigenous sources, such as the music of black Americans and American Indians. Gilbert's music frequently borrowed melodies and rhythms from ragtime, spirituals, and folk songs. Gilbert also transcribed Indian music from wax cylinders recorded by Edward S. Curtis for Curtis's book The North American Indian. These transcriptions are included in the Papers.

Several of Gilbert's works received major performances. Negro Rhapsody was commissioned for and performed at Norfolk, Connecticut in 1913. His Comedy Overture on Negro Themes was chosen to be performed in Russia by Glazunov and conducted by Glière in 1914. Riders to the Sea was performed by the New York Philharmonic in 1917. Gilbert's one-act opera Dance in Place Congo was performed by the Metropolitan Opera Ballet and Orchestra in 1918, and two years later it was rendered as an orchestral piece by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Monteux. Gilbert composed the music to the first episode of the Pilgrim Tercentenary Pageant (1921). Other composers who contributed to the pageant were Clifton, Converse, Foote, Hill, Kelley, and Sowerby. In 1922 Gilbert wrote the film score to a documentary drama about whaling entitled Down to the Sea in Ships. The Boston Symphony Orchestra under Koussevitzky performed Gilbert's Symphonic Piece in 1926. Despite failing health, in 1927 Gilbert traveled to Frankfurt along with Copland to represent modern music in America at the ISCM Festival where his Dance in Place Congo was performed. Finally, his Nocturne was performed two months prior to his death by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Monteux.

Henry Gilbert died on May 19, 1928 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Register to The Henry Gilbert Papers
Edited Full Draft
Compiled by Adrienne Nesnow
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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