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Robert Shaw Papers

Call Number: MSS 86

Scope and Contents

The largest part of the Robert Shaw Papers consists of Shaw's collection of annotated musical scores. Most works in the standard repertoire are represented by multiple copies, marked up by Shaw at different points in his career. The Papers contain Shaw's extensive office files, which include files on musical topics (including specific composers and compositions); general files (which deal with Shaw's performing career as well as a wide variety of other topics); and general correspondence, including letters from many prominent musicians and other persons of note. The Papers also contain writings (including speeches and Shaw's famous letters to his choruses), photographs, programs, audio and video recordings, and various other materials.


  • 1916-2002


Language of Materials

In English.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research. A number of sound recordings from this collection are available to stream online via the Gilmore Music Library's AV access system, Aviary. Links to access these recordings are provided in this finding aid. Yale users can login to Aviary using their Yale University ID, to stream these recordings without restriction. Other users are able to request access to recordings directly through Aviary.

Conditions Governing Use

The Robert Shaw 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 Robert Shaw Papers were established in the Gilmore Music Library in 2002 by Thomas Shaw and Alex Hitz.


Organized into 15 series: I. Music II. Books III. General Files IV. Files on Musical Topics V. Correspondence VI. Writings VII. Documents VIII. Photographs and Drawings IX. Clippings X. Scrapbooks XI. Programs XII. Repertoire Indices XIII. Sound Recordings XIV. Audiovisual Material XV. Awards and Miscellaneous Objects


219 Linear Feet (438 boxes)

Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The Robert Shaw Papers contain annotated musical scores, correspondence, office files pertaining to a variety of topics, photographs, sound recordings, and other materials, by and about the American conductor Robert Shaw (1916-1999).

Biographical / Historical

Robert Shaw was born on April 30, 1916 in Red Bluff, California. His father was a clergyman, and he was at first expected to pursue a career in religion rather than music. In his youth he had considerable experience in singing, but he received little formal musical training. At Pomona College, he sang in the Glee Club, and when the conductor had to go on a medical leave of absence, Shaw took over. Fred Waring, a popular band leader, happened to hear the substitute's surprisingly proficient conducting, and he offered Shaw a job. After graduating, Shaw accepted the offer and in 1938 established the Fred Waring Glee Club in New York. Waring's group focused on light music; wanting to take on weightier repertoire, Shaw began conducting the Collegiate Chorale in 1941. He was so successful that within a few years he was teaching choral conducting at Juilliard and at Tanglewood, and preparing choruses for Arturo Toscanini, who called him "The maestro I have been waiting for."

In 1948 Shaw founded the Robert Shaw Chorale, a smaller and more selective group than the Collegiate Chorale. Its many concert tours and best-selling recordings over the next nineteen years made Shaw a household name, and established his reputation around the world as the leading choral conductor of his generation. Meanwhile, despite his rapid success, Shaw was self-conscious about his shortcomings: a limited formal education in music, and a lack of experience as an orchestral conductor. He worked tirelessly to overcome these limitations. In the mid 1940s and early '50s, he took lessons from Julius Herford, Pierre Monteux, and Artur Rodzinski. From 1953 to 1958 he conducted the San Diego Symphony, and from 1956 to 1967, he was the associate conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, a major job that was also a long apprenticeship under the brilliant but imperious George Szell. Needless to say, Shaw also directed the Cleveland Symphony Chorus.

In 1967, Shaw disbanded the Robert Shaw Chorale and resigned from the Cleveland Orchestra to become the music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Atlanta's leaders were determined to show the world that their fast-growing city was no sleepy backwater, and hiring a famous conductor was part of their plan to put Atlanta on the map. (The city acquired its first major league sports teams at about the same time.) The ASO had been a semiprofessional orchestra little known outside the South, but Shaw turned it into a first-rate professional ensemble with a global reputation. The transition was not always smooth, however; Shaw dismissed several veteran musicians, and he nearly resigned in a dispute with the board of directors, some of whom felt that he was performing too much modern music. As one would expect, Shaw also made the ASO Chorus a world leader in its category.

Shaw stepped down from the ASO in 1988, but in retirement he continued to maintain a punishing schedule as a guest conductor, as music director emeritus in Atlanta, and as the leader of several institutes for training choral conductors. He died in New Haven on January 25, 1999; he was in town to see a play directed by his son, Thomas Shaw (Yale Class of 1999).

Shaw married twice. He and his first wife, Maxine Farley, had three children: Johanna, Peter, and Thad. Shaw and his second wife, Caroline Sauls Hitz, had one son, Thomas; Shaw legally adopted Caroline's son by a previous marriage, Alex Hitz.

Shaw released countless recordings, many of which are still available. He received numerous Grammy Awards, honorary degrees, and other distinctions. His life and career are described in Keith Burris's biography, Deep River: The Life and Music of Robert Shaw (Chicago: GIA Publications, 2013), as well as Joseph Musselman's Dear People … Robert Shaw (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1979; 2nd edition, Chapel Hill: Hinshaw Music, 1996).

Register to the Robert Shaw Papers
Compiled by Kendall Crilly, Richard Boursy, and Emily Ferrigno, with the assistance of Bogdan Dumitriu, Luke Stence, and Kristin Kall; Mary Caldera, consultant.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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