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Betsy Jolas Papers

Call Number: MSS 106

Scope and Contents

The Betsy Jolas Papers include music, correspondence, writings, teaching materials, programs, clippings, journals, calendars, photographs, sound recordings, awards and other materials by and about the composer Betsy Jolas. The first series in the collection contains manuscript and printed scores by Jolas and by other composers (1958-2006). Some of Jolas’ scores are accompanied by production notes, scenarios, and libretti, and many of the scores she collected contain annotations. The second series contains correspondence (1937-2010), both personal and institutional. Jolas corresponded with notable figures from the American and French Avant-Garde, such as Pierre Boulez, Elliott Carter, Henri Dutilleux, and Darius Milhaud, all of whom are represented in this series. The third series contains teaching materials that Jolas used in her lengthy career as a university instructor. The fourth series, Writings (1963-2009), contains similar material, and also includes a “lesson in poetics” given to a young Jolas in 1940 by James Joyce. Series five (1943-2010) consists of programs for concerts, festivals, and award ceremonies, and Series six (1949-2009) contains related publicity materials and press releases. Series seven contains pocket calendars and personal journals; the latter are restricted until the death of Betsy Jolas. Series eight (1926-2006) includes both professional and personal photos of Jolas and others. Series nine is comprised of degrees earned by Jolas, and awards given to her, including the Legion d’Honneur (1996), and the Ordre National du Mérite (2001). The final series includes sound recordings and media in a variety of formats: test pressings, reel-to-reel tapes, cassettes, CDs, and DVDs. The recordings include a number of performances of Jolas’ compositions, as well as interviews and lectures. Note that this series is organized by format.


  • 1926 - 2010


Language of Materials

In French and English.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research. Access to the journals of Betsy Jolas (Series VII.1), is restricted until her death.

Related Materials

Researchers may also wish to consult the Eugène and Maria Jolas papers (GEN MSS 108) in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University.


68 boxes

Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL

Biographical / Historical

The Franco-American composer Betsy Jolas ranks among the most distinguished and influential modern composers. She was born in Paris in 1926. Her American parents, Eugène and Maria Jolas edited Transition, an important literary journal. Betsy Jolas grew up in a literary environment, and from her childhood she was personally acquainted with many prominent writers, including James Joyce. As war came to France in 1940, the Jolas family moved to New York. Betsy studied at the Lycée Français in New York, and then at Bennington College in Vermont. She studied composition with Paul Boepple, piano with Helen Schnabel, and organ with Carl Weinrich. After the war, she returned to France. She married Gabriel Illouz in 1949; they had three children. At the Paris Conservatoire she studied under Darius Milhaud and Olivier Messiaen, the latter of whom she assisted and then succeeded as professor of analysis (1975) and professor of composition (1978). She has spent most of her career in France, but she retains dual citizenship in France and the United States. She has served as a visiting professor at several American universities, including Yale, and she is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. (She has received many other awards and honors as well.) Jolas has composed numerous instrumental and vocal works in a wide variety of combinations. Her musical style was much influenced by Webern, as well as Boulez and Stockhausen. Her literary background is evident in her exploration of the relationships between words and music. She is the composer of four operas, Le pavillon au bord de la rivière, Le Cyclope, Schliemann, and Iliade l’amour.

The Register to the Betsy Jolas Papers
Richard Boursy and Emily Ferrigno, with Stefanie Acevedo, Mary Jones, and Julie Niemeyer
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Gilmore Music Library Repository

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