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William Grant Still and Irving Schwerké: Documents from a Long-Distance Friendship
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William Grant Still and Irving Schwerké:
Documents from a Long-Distance Friendship

Edited by Wayne D. Shirley

"He does not dedicate music lightly," said Verna Arvey of William Grant Still.[1] And indeed Still's works are dedicated to major cultural figures who were helpful to him—Edgard Varèse, Howard Hanson, Georges Barrère, Henry Allen Moe of the Guggenheim Foundation, Leopold Stokowski. Still's Afro-American Symphony is dedicated "to my friend, Irving Schwerké."[2] Who is Irving Schwerké, who bears the most prestigious of Still's dedications?

Looking in Amerigrove, we find that Irving Schwerké (1893–1975), "pianist, teacher, and writer on music," was music and drama critic for "the Paris Tribune " (i.e., the Paris edition of the Chicago Tribune ) from 1921 to 1934. He was Paris correspondent for the New York periodical Musical Digest for the years 1922–1929 and for the Musical Courier for the years 1932–1941. He returned to the United States in 1941 (fleeing from the Nazi occupation of France, we correctly guess) and settled in his hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin, "to teach and write."[3]

We find out more about Schwerké from his papers, which he bequeathed to the Music Division of the Library of Congress. In them we see the latter years of Schwerké's life, spent as a well-loved piano teacher; we also see him as a collector of autographs (film as well as music and stage), photographer, and champion of American music. The Schwerké Collection contains significant correspondence with many composers, American and European; yet it is the letters of William Grant Still, running from 1930 to 1964, that are the unquestioned glory of the

Letters of William Grant Still are in the Irving Schwerké Collection, LC, unless otherwise noted.

Letters of Irving Schwerké to Still are in the William Grant Still-Verna Arvey Collection, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, unless otherwise noted. Some are present in Fayetteville only as Xeroxes.

The letters have been edited gently, with a minimum of editorial intrusion; footnotes, however, have been given their head. Obvious typos have been silently corrected, but Still's accentless "Schwerke" and "Varese" have been allowed to stand, as has "Lawrence" for Paul Laurence Dunbar's middle name in Still's letter dated "[Spring 1938]." I have noted the one misspelling in a letter written by hand. (Still's first two letters are in his flowing hand; all other correspondence is typescript.)

Both Still and Schwerké indulged in an occasional fit of ellipsis marks. Editorial ellipses are distinguished from these by being put in brackets, thus: [ . . . ].


collection. Two further items, given by Schwerké to the Library of Congress in 1966, add to its importance: the holograph manuscripts of the original versions of Still's Africa and Afro-American Symphony .

One fact neither the Amerigrove article nor the Schwerké Collection tells us: Still and Schwerké never met.[4] Their friendship developed entirely through correspondence, a correspondence that is now preserved in the Irving Schwerké Collection in the Library of Congress and the William Grant Still-Verna Arvey Collection in the Department of Special Collections of the Fulbright Library at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. For the early years we have few of Schwerké's letters—the young Still, unlike Schwerké, was not a systematic organizer of his correspondence, and he may have left much of his correspondence behind when he moved to California in 1934. From 1937 on we have both sides of the correspondence.[5]

The correspondence as we now possess it begins in 1930. The opening letters invoke two figures important in Still's life during the 1920s but are otherwise unremarkable:[6]

[July 17, 1930?][7]

108–15 172nd St.,
Jamaica, N.Y., U.S.A.

Dear Mr. Schwerke:—

Kindly allow Mr. Varese, c/o Morgan & Co., 14 Place Vendome, Paris, to see the sketch by Bruce Forsythe before you return it to me.


William Grant Still

(Forsythe's "sketch," we can infer from Schwerké's later interest in Darker America, is probably a draft of "A Study in Contradictions," which appears below in this volume.[9] Varèse lived in Paris from fall 1928 to summer 1933.)

18, rue Juliette Lamber
Paris, Oct. 9, 1930

Dear Mr. Still,

Yours of July 17th has followed me all over Europe—I have at last received it and hasten to thank you for your kindness. The Forsyth study has helped me much, and I am now writing our friend Varese, to give it to him—I should have done so before, had I known your wishes in the matter. I hope you will send me another example of your MS, similar to the one you sent me some time ago, as I shall want to decorate my article with two facsimile[10] —if I have them! And for my personal vanity, please don't forget to


Figure 13.
Irving Schwerké with singer Sophie Tucker, for whom Still made arrangements. 
From the collections of the Music Division, Library of Congress. 
Courtesy of Library of Congress.


send me some time, your photo with dedicace and also one of your compositions with inscription. If I had something for piano or voice, I could easily place it on programmes here. With good wishes and again my thanks, believe me,

Faithfully yours,

Irving Schwerké

P.S. Re Osgood's "So This is Jazz," I tried to obtain a copy of this book for review in the Chicago Tribune, but no luck. I too hope to have the pleasure to meet you sometime.

Still replied on October 29:

Dear Mr. Schwerke:

Your letter was indeed welcome. Hence the prompt though brief response.

Let me pause here to thank you for sending Forsythe's account to Mr. Varese.

Here are copies of two songs, a snapshot and an example of my poor manuscript.[11] Am more than glad to send them.

Please pardon the appearance of the songs. I want to get them off today. They are the only copies I have here and the inclement weather makes it inconvenient to get to New York.

As soon as I can get the nerve I will have some photographs made and send them to you.

Please drop me a line when you find time. Shall look forward to it.

Yours sincerely,
William Grant Still

A pleasant and enjoyable correspondence, but not a remarkable one. Still's next letter is very different in tone: Schwerké is suddenly Still's confidant, the "sympathetic ear" to whom he can tell his troubles. (Had Schwerké, in a letter to Still, assured the young composer that the writer had "a sympathetic ear" for his troubles? Still's use of the phrase suggests that he is responding to a statement by Schwerké.) This remarkable letter is worth quoting in extenso:

Jan. 9, 1931

Mr. Irving Schwerke,
18 rue Juliette Lamber,
Paris, France.

My dear Mr. Schwerke:

Greetings and sincere wishes for your happiness and prosperity during this year to which we have so recently been introduced.


The first of this week saw the completion of my latest effort. Its title, Afro-American Symphony, is self explanatory. I believe that the use of a theme in Blues idiom in a work of this sort for the purpose of welding it together is absolutely unique. And its rhythmic interest should prove to be equally as great as its melodic interest. But I must not bore you with more details.

The reaction has set in. This, as well as present conditions, has served to bring on a spell of depression. A sympathetic ear is indeed the most effective relief for such an ailment. Please do not think hard of me for becoming confidential. Strange to say, considering that we have had no personal contact, I have felt from the first that in you I have a friend.

It is unfortunate for a man of color who is ambitious to live in America. True (and I gladly admit it) there are many splendid people here; broad minded; unselfish; judging a man from the standpoint of his worth rather than his color. Such men as Dr. Howard Hanson, Frank Patterson and many others. Such a man as my friend Varese proved to be when he was here. But there is a preponderance of those who are exactly the opposite. And the views of the former must, of necessity, conform more or less to those of the latter.

I have never felt this so keenly as in the past few months. Friends who would lend me a helping hand, who would make it possible for me to make a living for my family[,] are unable to do anything because of those who are opposed to placing a colored man in any position of prominence. That is stating it mildly.

As for my people . . . well, there are many who have allowed themselves to become bitter over conditions. But, thank God, there are those who have sufficient wisdom to refrain from becoming bitter; who long for and labor to attain the day when the two racial groups may reach a state of perfect harmony or merge into a new group. With the latter I am in perfect accord.

Unless there is a change soon I will be forced to abandon my aspirations and look to other means of gaining a livlihood [sic ] or to go where such conditions do not exist.

I shall look forward to hearing from you[,] for your letters are always welcome.

Forgive me if I have taken too great a liberty. I would not have done so had I not felt assured that you would understand with that sympathetic understanding born of friendship.

Yours sincerely,
William Grant Still

Schwerké was duly moved by Still's letter.

Paris, Feb. 6, 1931

Dear Mr. Still,

How friendly of you to write me that nice letter! It certainly was pleasant to receive it, and what you express therein, I assure you, is quite mutual. I am


glad you feel we are friends, I believe we are. My letter has to be short, for I am not yet over a long siege of the flu, and have to watch my strength. Another time I'll write at length. This is, however, sufficient to bring you my good wishes and to say I am happy you feel the undersigned is a friend to whom you can talk as if to yourself!

Irving Schwerké

Before he received this letter Still wrote apologizing for the letter that had so moved Schwerké:

Feb. 10, 1931

Dear Mr. Schwerke:

My present happiness exceeds by far the depression I experienced when I last wrote you.

Probably I told you of having written a work last summer for ballet, chorus and bass soloist. Sahdji is its title.[12]

Through the kindness of Dr. Howard Hanson, to whom it is dedicated, Sahdji will be produced in May.[ . . . ]

I am sorry now that I burdened you with my woes in that letter, and I wish that I could recall it. Won't you forgive me?

Please drop me a line.

Yours very sincerely,
William Grant Still

As Still was writing this letter, Schwerké was planning a three-day festival of American music to be held in Bad Homburg, Germany, that July. On February 16, 1931, he wrote Still asking him for a score of Darker America . It would be, said Schwerké, "the only composition by a Negro composer to be heard at the Festival." Still replied on February 27:

Dear Mr. Schwerke:

I know not how to begin thanking you for your great kindness to me. There is appreciation that causes one to be effusive in giving thanks, and there is that appreciation born in the heart of one's soul. The latter sort is not expressed with ease.[ . . .]

I will send you score of DARKER AMERICA and score and parts of AFRICA. Please, if it be possible, program AFRICA instead of DARKER AMERICA.[ . . . ]

DARKER AMERICA, being an earlier work, has many faults. Lack of continuity, harmonization not altogether characteristic, insufficient development as well as other defects. AFRICA is a far more consistent work. It was performed this season by the Rochester Symphony.[ . . . ]In addition it will be easier for me to supply the parts [of AFRICA]. Finally the latter


[i.e., AFRICA] is an unpublished work and it will not be necessary to pay a fee for performing it.

I plan, D.V.,[13] to go through the extra score of AFRICA I have here for the purpose of eliminating any errors it may contain, and I hope to mail both scores to you before the end of the coming week. I am writing today for the parts of AFRICA and will forward them as soon as they corne.[ . . . ]

Bruce Forsythe's enthusiasm for Darker America was beginning to pose problems for Still, who felt he had moved beyond that work. Schwerké telegraphed Still to send the score of Africa only—a telegram that did not arrive in time to save Still from a fracas with the post office, which looked at the printed score of Darker America as a "book" and therefore unacceptable to French customs.[14] Still was still planning to send both scores when he wrote a letter giving instructions for the performance of Africa:[ 15]

If you decide in favor of "AFRICA" (and I sincerely hope you do) I suggest a cut from No. 17 to No. 20. On page two of the score you will find indicated a special pizzicato. F.N. Pizz. (Finger Nail pizzicato) is an invention of mine and has proved effective. It is produced by plucking the string as near as possible to the place where it is stopped. The plucking is to be done with the tip of the finger nail. Please call the conductor's attention to this, and to the Harmon and Fiber Mutes for Trumpets and Trombones. The Harmon Mute seems to contribute flexibility and is unusually good for delicate brass effects. It is rare now in this country to find trumpeters and trombonists who do not use this mute (with the exception of those in the symphony orchestras. They seem to be satisfied with the terrible [erased: metal] pear shaped mutes.) The Fiber Mutes produce a very pleasing tone and are, I believe[,] better for playing staccato passages. Where the three tom-toms are employed one player should be assigned to the 15 inch tomtom and one player to the 12 inch and 10 inch tom-toms[ . . . ]from No. 3 on through the remainder of the composition only the normal pizzicato is to be employed.

In March Schwerké wrote Still suggesting that they drop the formal salutations "Dear Mr. Still" and "Dear Mr. Schwerke."[16] Still replied:

My dear Irving:

I am happy that we may dispense with formality. May our friendship ever grow, and may that day come when I may prove to you the deep regard I have for you.

From now on they are "Dear Still" and "Dear Irving"—and often "Dear Friend."


Friendship did not, alas, make the problems of international communication any easier: several letters of this period deal with the details of getting a work in a new style, in manuscript, with a set of revisions to be entered, ready for performance:

Paris, May 25, 1931

Dear Still:

It seems impossible to procure the Harmon and Fiber mutes for Trumpets and Trombones, in Europe. Will you have the proper number of these sent to

Dr. Oskar Holger
Ludwigstrasse 14
Bad Homburg Germany,

upon receipt of this letter, if possible. The Bad Homburg people are anxious to do AFRICA as you wish, and have exhausted every means of getting these mutes[ . . . ]

June 3, 1931

Dear Irving:

After receiving your letter today I went to purchase the mutes, and to arrange for having them sent. But I discovered that the mutes cost almost fifty dollars, not including duty, etc. I then concluded that, under the circumstances, it will be best to employ ordinary mutes (i.e. the conical kind.)

[ . . . ]When the Rochester Symphony performed AFRICA the trumpeters and trombonists used [conical] mutes and, though the color desired was not exactly obtained, it was approximated.[ . . . ]

Schwerké's reply to this letter notes also the receipt of a photograph of Still to be used in the program:

Paris, June 12, 1931

Mon cher Still:

I am happy and proud to have the photo, it certainly represents a "stunner!" Thanks for sending it. I shall tell the Bad Homburg people what you say re the mutes, and depend upon it they will do their best. The concert is 9:00 o'clock, evening of July 8th, and will be broadcast in America over New York Radio. Watch papers for further details. From nine to nine-fifteen I make a speech! Should like to send you a personal message at that time, but . . . I appreciate your kind words—you know how I feel towards Still and his music. I hope some day to know you personally.

[signed] Irving


The Bad Homburg Festival of American Music duly came off on July 6–8, 1931.

Still wrote Schwerké on receiving the handsome and elaborate program book of the festival:

[July 29, 1931][17]

My dear Irving:

The programme book came today. Gee, but I am delighted with it! I am truly glad to have your picture and autograph. It may interest and amuse you to learn that the ladies who have seen your picture today have been favorably impressed. Others have remarked as to the kindliness of your expression. I am tempted to remove the picture and frame it.

Your sketch on American music is of great value. I agree with you as to the origin of American Music.[18] As I see it the music of the American Negro has resulted from the union of the religious songs you mentioned and the primitive songs of Africa.

I noted with great interest the foot-note on page 58 regarding "jazz".[19] Undoubtedly the word is of French origin for both it and the eccentric style of playing (as it was regarded in those days) to which it was applied were introduced in the Northern section of the United States by Creole musicians.

Although I am at best a poor judge, I know that you deserve great credit for the material contained in the programme book.

Please drop me a line when you have time.

Yours faithfully,

On July 19 Schwerké wrote Still of the results of the Bad Homburg festival, and of his new plans for Africa . It is a long letter, but it deserves quoting at length.

Dear Grant:

Your AFRICA was the sensation of the Festival. It had a success and was comprehended, as I have never before seen. Throughout the length and breadth of Germany it has been written about in the most wonderful manner. Enclosed are a few articles—I wish I could send you the hundreds that have appeared. I wish you had been there—and as I listened to AFRICA I was not only grateful for its composer, but for the fact that he is my friend. No one but a man who has a great capacity for friendship could write like that. The work made such a stir, I see possibility of having it performed elsewhere in Europe, so instead of returning the score & parts to you, I have them with me in Paris, and unless you ask for them back right away, shall keep them here. I hope to place it with some important orchestras—if you wish I should—and naturally, this time, they will pay for the perform-


ing rights. If I hold out for $50.00, is that all right with you? I don't see how, in the face of present conditions, we could ask for more and get it, if that much. I think you have confidence in me in these matters? Other festivals will be under way:—have you, or will you have anything that could be given as a first world performance? Let me know.[ . . . ]

Still answered in a letter dated by Schwerké as July 31, 1931:

Dear Irving:

There is so much I want to say that I scarcely know how or where to begin. Your letter and the clippings came today. I feel exactly like a small child on Christmas morning. I am happy to learn that AFRICA was received favorably, but the happiness aroused by your expression of commendation is far greater.[ . . . ] Truly you are a friend, Irving. Indeed I will be glad for you to keep the score and parts. Any arrangements you make for other performances will be agreeable to me. However, it would be neither friendly nor fair for me to be the only one to profit. I insist that whatever sum is paid for performing rights be divided equally between us.

The letter goes on—without even a paragraph break—to a topic of greater importance:

I have a composition here that has not yet been performed. It is the "Afro-American Symphony". In it I have sought to portray the American Negro as he is. Dr. Damrosch has the score. I have been trying to get it back from his secretary. As soon as she returns it I will send it to you.[ . . .]

What Still did not tell Schwerké in this letter is that the score already bore the dedication "Dedicated to my friend, Irving Schwerke." This was to be a surprise for Schwerké. Like many surprises, this one was plagued by unforeseen problems—Still forgot to put enough postage on the package; Schwerké had to pay an extra fee and wrote Still what seems to have been a somewhat peeved letter.[20] But when he examined the score in detail and saw the dedication, Schwerké was much moved. (Perhaps he sensed that he was now immortal.) Still answered Schwerké's letter of thanks:

Sept. 5, 1931
My dear Irving,

I am more than glad to have your letter. I felt that you had not yet examined the score when I received the first letter you sent after having gotten it. In truth, Irving, the dedication can only feebly express my regard for you. May the ties of friendship that bind us ever grow stronger.



A further letter talks about Still's further plans and encloses a brief analysis of the symphony:

[October 5(?), 1931]

My dear Irving:

Your friend greets you, and hopes that you have returned from your vacation happier and in better physical condition than ever before. At last the parts of the symphony have been completed. I am sending them to you. They are, I believe, correct. More string parts will be needed. It will be undoubtedly best to have these made in Europe. By all means send me the bill. I will feel hurt if you fail to do so for it would be an imposition to expect you to bear this expense. Please don't fail me in this matter, Irving. You have undoubtedly received the score ere this. That was sent about ten days ago. The brief sketch enclosed will prove valuable for program notes. I hope that my next effort will be a stage work. Have applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship. If I receive it I intend to spend the period it affords in writing an African opera.[22] I have what I believe is a good libretto. Can tell better after a professional librettist has examined it. Shall look forward to a letter soon.

Your friend,


The Afro-American Symphony is not a tone picture of the "New Negro." It portrays that class of American Negroes who still cling to the old standards and traditions; those sons of the soil who differ but little, if at all, from their forebears of ante-bellum days.

These are an humble people. Their wants are few and are generally child-like. Theirs are lives of utter simplicity. Therefore no complex or elaborate scheme of harmonization would prove befitting in a musical picture of them. 'Tis only the simpler harmonies, such as those employed, that can accurately portray them.

From the hearts of these people sprang Blues, plaintive songs reminiscent of African tribal chants. I do not hesitate to assert that Blues are more purely Negroid in character than very many spirituals. And I have employed as the basic theme of the symphony a melody in the Blues style. This theme appears in each movement as follows:


Even before receiving the score of the Afro-American Symphony Schwerké had been busy promoting Still's music in other places than Bad Homburg. He had written Wilhelm Furtwängler in June or July 1931 about the score of Africa ;[23] now he sent Furtwdngler the score of the Afro-American Symphony . (In the event, Furtwängler's reply was courteous but gave no indication that he would be interested in performing the work.)[24]

While Schwerké waited for Furtwängler's reaction to the Afro-American Symphony, he sent the manuscript of Africa to Rhené-Baton, then conductor of the prestigious Concerts Pasdeloup in Paris. In May Rhené-Baton borrowed the manuscript scores of both Africa and the Afro-American; by fall he had decided to perform Africa at the Concerts Pasdeloup.[25]

Sometime early in 1932 Schwerké wrote to Still, describing his work for Still's music and relaying Rhené-Baton's enthusiasm for Africa . Schwerké seems to have written more than one letter on this subject. To the first of these[26] Still replied with a letter giving details of his current project:

My dear Irving:

How can I begin to tell you of my joy. AFRICA to be performed in Paris. . . . . well. . . . . . somehow it seems like a dream. Irving, I am so grateful to you. Yours is indeed true friendship.


I am working now on the score of La Guiablesse. The scenario is based on a legend of Martinique. In fact, it is the legend. As the story goes—the devilish spirit, La Guiablesse, comes down from the mountains into a village in the guise of a beautiful woman and lures Adou, the lover of Yzore, to follow her back up the mountain side. Just as he approaches her to embrace her she is transformed into a fiendish hag. He, shocked into unconsciousness[,] falls backward over the cliff. Ruth Page prepared the scenario. Dr. Hanson plans to produce it at the Eastman theatre next May.[27]

Must get back now to the music paper. Will write you again soon.


Still's other letter replying to the news of an impending Paris performance of Africa, a letter dated February 28, 1932, was to be fateful for their friendship:

My dear Irving:

There is so much I want to say. There is so much I should say.——I would say it if I but knew how to begin.

Your letters always bring me happiness, and the last one ——!!! Well, I have not yet gotten back to earth.

How can I thank you enough? It can't be done. You have accomplished something not at all easy; something requiring the courage of a pioneer. And I am so grateful.

I will make inquiry concerning the mutes without delay, and inform you in the near future. I will also have some photographs made right away. If there is something else I may do be sure to let me know. And please thank M. Baton for me, and assure him that I am delighted over his opinion of AFRICA and his decision to perform it.

Yesterday I sent you a money order for two hundred and fifty francs. I have wanted for a long time to repay you for what you spent when the symphony was delivered[,] but had to wait until I got to work.[28] Things now (thank God) are going well. Now let us return to the money order. If possible I want to get three or four program books of the Bad Homburg Festival. Some friends have asked for them.

Won't it be great if Mr. Furtwangler decides to perform the symphony? I believe that God is with us, and that He will bless us unusually in this particular instance. Despite my great unworthiness He has shown me clearly that He hears my prayers by answering them. Moreover, He has even shown me that He has great blessings in store if I but obey in a certain work He has given me to do.[29] These assertions may sound strange to you, Irving, but they are absolutely true. Some miraculous things have been experienced by me in the past year.

I pray for you each day, and I shall continue doing so.


Write again when you can get to it. In the meantime I will look forward to a letter.


Under the spell of this self-revealing letter Schwerké replied:

Paris, March 7, 1932

My dear Grant:

Those first two words in no way express it! No, what you say does not sound strange to me. I, too, believe, and my faith and conviction are great, but I pray constantly that they become greater. And I know that you and I have been directed to each other to accomplish some purpose—we do not know what it is, but one day we will. Tell me some of the miraculous things that have happened to you this past year, so I can share the joy and wonder of them with you.

The books have gone forward, and I'll be glad to have the photos. And among the photos you send me, will there be one for your friend (my ambition, to be the friend) with an inscription you can write only to him? Unless some catastrophe happens, Furtwangler and Rhene-Baton will play the Symphony and AFRICA, and yesterday, in Brussels (I went to hear a new work by Tansman), I prepared the way for Still with the wonderful orchestra there. I am praying to find some way to have some copies made of both works—if I could, then I could get a number working at the same time. But all that will come if we but remain true to the faith and the guidance we know we have. I did not want you to send me that money, but since you have, thanks. All good wishes, dear Grant, and let me hear from you often.

Faithfully and with love,

Still's letter is inarticulate gratitude; Schwerké's' is something like courtship. Still replied in the time-honored way of those receiving unwanted advances from a friend—answering the outward message warmly while ignoring the subtext. Still's own subtext comes through in the obsessive and embarrassed reassurances of friendship in this paragraphless letter:

My dear Irving:

Finally!! . . . The photographs and a letter that should have been written long since.[30] I waited until I had the pictures made to write. How can I tell you how grateful I am to you? What words can I use to describe the happiness you have brought me? Truly you are a friend, for your friendship is the genuine sort that expresses itself in deeds of kindness.


(The door is closed—kindly but very firmly—on Schwerké's hopes of being "the friend.") Still continues:

I pray for you daily, my dear friend, and I sincerely hope that God will bestow on you the greatest blessings that man can receive. God alone is able to reward such kindness as you have shown me. And I believe that He is going to reward you. I look forward to the day when I may see you and endeavor to tell you how dearly I prize your friendship. Please pardon such rambling expressions. Under such circumstances one cannot easily express himself coherently.

Still's letter then—without even a new paragraph—shifts to current news:

Dr. Hanson evidently forgot to autograph the photo I sent him. I am sending him another. The Rochester Orchestra repeated the symphony last month. The critics agreed that it seemed more worth while on second hearing. The job[31] is going along well even though it is exacting. Am rewriting La Guiablesse. Will tell you more of it later. Have not forgotten the mutes. Probably it will be best for me to purchase them here and send them to you. The books[32] came. Thanks so much for sending them. Must get ready now to work. Remember that I hold nothing but good wishes for you, and write as soon as you can.


That July Still reported to Schwerké his reactions to his work on the "Deep River Hour":

[July 1932][33]

My dear Irving:

[ . . . ] The days between this and my last letter have held for me nothing more than the usual routine. . . . . the broadcasts of one week leading immediately into preparation for those of the next week. But there is some fun in it[,] to say nothing of the valuable experience I am gaining. Truly, Irving, God has never suffered anything to occur in my life that has not been profitable.[ . . . ]

Creative work is at a standstill for the present. This is a period of study and reflection. I believe it is a turning point leading me to a more thorough technical knowledge and a deeper spiritual understanding.[ . . . ]

In the event, it was not Rhené-Baton who conducted Africa at the Concerts Pasdeloup. Rhené-Baton, facing a revolt by the orchestra, resigned his conductorship late in October. He returned the score of


Africa to Schwerké on January 15, 1933; on that same day Schwerké made sure that it was received by Richard Lert, the young Austrian conductor who was to take over some of the conducting of the Concerts Pasdeloup orchestra. Lert agreed to program Africa, which was duly performed on February 4.[34] The photograph of Still in front of a framed poster for that program is one of the iconic photographs of Still.

Schwerké wrote to Still of these maneuvers and of the performance, cautiously grading his opening salutation:

Paris, February 10, 1933

My dear Composer:

What joy it was to have AFRICA performed in Paris! It was a prayer answered. I am sure you would like to hear the story. Rhené-Baton had taken the composition for performance with the Pasdeloup Orchestra; but he resigned and being without an orchestra, could do nothing. Then I met Lert, and the first thing he said, when we talked over his Paris programs, [was] "I wish I had a real novelty for Paris." I said "I have exactly the score you want!" So I rushed home, got the score, and Lert fell in love with it on the spot, and immediately announced it for performance. Since Paris, he has, I believe, also done it in Austria, and maybe Germany. At any rate, he is all for you and you have another staunch supporter in him. In Paris AFRICA had an overwhelming public success—I have heard thousands of concerts here, but seldom a first performance that so gripped a Parisian audience. Under separate cover, by registered mail, I am sending you a collection of papers, etc. on this performance,[35] so you can have a complete record for your scrap book of your introduction to the "capital of the world," and so you can see the publicity I did, etc.,—in case you ever come here and have to do things alone, you will thus have some idea of the local technic. Some of the criticisms are not good, but that need not trouble you in the least; you do not write for critics, but for the human heart, and the way your audience responded was proof of your success. In no case would or should I ever expect the French critics to do justice to an American work, for a number of reasons. Among them 1) they are down on all American musicians and composers, and cannot abide the thought that we have anything that is worthwhile; of course there are some exceptions, but I am speaking of French critics as a class. 2) most of them are composers themselves, and this in advance condemns any new composition that is successful artistically and with the public. In spite of this, however, your criticisms tend to the good side, and withal I am heartily happy over the whole venture.

I hope this finds you well and happy, and that you will go on composing more of your much-needed music. Best wishes and love from


[in ink]: Other articles will be sent as I find them—if there are more.


The reply to this letter is classic Still:

My dear Irving:

Again you have befriended me. I am so grateful. Could you but know what great happiness your kindness has brought me you would feel repaid. I scarcely know what to say concerning the reaction of the audience to AFRICA. Your reference to it made me think again of a vision I once had of AFRICA.

In the dream I stood in the rear of a large concert hall where a symphony orchestra was rehearsing. My attention was centered on the orchestra until it was suddenly directed to one of the seats in the rear of the hall. On it I saw the score of AFRICA bound in a handsome red cover on which the title had been stamped in letters of gold.

I am sure this was a prophetic vision. The red cover was a symbol of happiness and the gold letters a symbol of success.

A person of a practical trend would surely scoff at such a conclusion. But I know God will direct, protect, and disclose to those who believe, events that lie in the future. Things of that sort have happened so often in my life. At times I have been shown symbols, the meanings of which were explained to me by an unseen entity. At others I have viewed coming events prior to their advent in the actual sequence (and with the same persons appearing in the dream who played a part in the events themselves) in which they occurred later. You can understand why I feel as I do about such things. They are facts, and important ones too. God will surely lead us steadily toward good ends if we but let Him.

Recently I have been led to make a new score of AFRICA. This is the final version. Errors of form, orchestration etc. that were present in former versions have been corrected.

I shall certainly be glad to receive the articles. Truly, Irving, you leave nothing undone. I thank you so much.

I am enclosing a note to Dr. Lertz [i.e., Richard Lert]. If I knew where to reach him I would not annoy you in this way. But circumstances force me to do so. I will be very grateful to you if you will forward this to him.

Affairs are progressing rather slowly here at the present. I believe the time is near when I will be called abroad to complete the work I must do on earth. So is it written.

LA GUIABLESSE is to be performed in May. I will let you know its outcome.

I pray that God will bless you, and will write you again in the near future.


After 1933 the correspondence lapses temporarily. Two letters of 1935 are useful for documenting Still's activities and for giving his ini-


tial reaction to a major American work that he is generally seen as standing in opposition to:


1604 W. 35th. Place,
Los Angeles, Cal.

My dear Irving:

I can blame you not at all if you see fit to ignore this letter, for I have been exceedingly negligent.

The interim between this and my last letter to you has been literally crowded with activity. A Guggenheim Fellowship, that has just been renewed for six months, enabled me to compose the opera, BLUE STEEL, and two pieces for piano and orchestra, THE BLACK MAN DANCES, and KAINTUCK'. Truly, Irving, I had not realized the amount of work required to write an opera. For over one and one half years it demanded practically all of my attention and time.

I do hope you won't judge me too severely for having failed to write you. I want to hear from you very much, and promise that I will not again be guilty of my error of omission.


[October 1935][37]

My dear Irving:

Several good things have happened since I wrote you last. Pro Musica hears a two piano version of KAINTUCK', my poem for piano and orchestra, on Oct. 28. The Cincinnati Symphony will play the same piece this season. The New York Philharmonic is playing the AFRO-AMERICAN SYMPHONY this season. Since I sent you the score of this piece I have revised it, and it has been published. A new ballet, CENTRAL AVENUE, is almost ready. As a matter of fact, completing the extraction of the string parts is all that remains to be done. This is a humorous ballet. Although it bears the name of the main thoroughfare in the Negro District of Los Angeles' east side, it typifies the main streets in the Negro Districts of many American cities. Both Ruth Page and Zemach have asked for it.[ . . . ]

Your picture hangs on one of the walls of my living room. Many people see it, and ask me about you. In each instance a sales talk follows in which your virtues are enlarged upon.

The Chicago Opera Co. has done nothing about BLUE STEEL. In the interim I submitted it to the Metropolitan. Nothing happened. Unless something happens soon new plans will have to be laid out. It shall be produced.

PORGY met with success in New York, and I am glad. I felt all along that Gershwin would achieve splendid results.


Please drop me a line when you find time. Best wishes.


The correspondence resumes in 1937. Schwerké remains his cultured and amiable self; Still has shed the awkwardness of the young composer and writes with a new confidence in his stature. We do not have the opening letter of the correspondence—Still's letter ordering a copy of Schwerké's recently published book, Views and Interviews .[38] The first four extant letters run as follows:

March 1, 1937

Dear friend William:

Many thanks for yours of Feb. 5, 1937, and the check for a copy of VIEWS AND INTERVIEWS which has been mailed to you to-day (registered). I hope it reaches you in good condition—if not, let me know—and that you will find some virtue in it. Shall be mighty pleased to hear your candid opinion.

Will you please let me know if AFRICA and the AFRO-AMERICAN SYMPHONY have been published? I have had various opportunities of late to place them with certain conductors over here, but the copies which you sent me some time ago are now so used (I have had so many people study them!) that I do not think it safe to pass them on any more. The instrumental parts are, of course, still in good condition. The other day at The Hague, for instance, I told George Szell about you—he is up and coming and wants something fine from America; and if he found your works suitable to his feeling (for he does not undertake works that are contrary to his nature) he would do same in Scotland, Holland, Prague, etc. I am certain he would love your music, as anyone must who knows it. Also let me know if you are protected by the Society of Composers for any performing rights that might be due you. You might also send me notes about yourself to bring my file of you up to date. You see, I am always working for you whenever I have the chance—I love your music and esteem the author as friend. Has my symphony been done in America? The one dedicated to me? If so, I'd be thrilled to have the program.

Best of everything to you, and as ever,


1604 West 35 Place
Los Angeles, California

March 17, 1937

Dear Irving:

Your letter arrived safely, and the book today, in excellent condition. I spent some time cutting the pages, and looking over the contents, and


I assure you that I think it is splendid. I don't see how you manage to do so many things, and to do them all so well! I'm so happy that you autographed my copy—I shall prize that most of all.

No, Africa has not been published, although it has been in the hands of one for the past few years.[39] He is not at all energetic, and therefore, I am trying to push the Afro-American Symphony most of all, since that has been published by a most sympathetic, energetic, and intelligent man: George Fischer, at 119 West 40th Street New York. He has done a great deal to help this along, and I have written to tell him of your great interest in my music. Perhaps then, he will communicate with you—or would you rather communicate with him?

Don't you remember—this Afro-American Symphony is the one I dedicated to you? Before publishing it, it was necessary to revise it extensively, and in the resultant confusion, your name was left off the printed copy. However, I have always thought of it as being dedicated to you, and have agreed with the publisher that whenever a new edition is made, your name will appear on it as it should have done in the first place. I have also revised Africa, and for that reason, the parts that you possess for each of these compositions are no longer any good .[40] I think the new versions are much better than the old, and will be anxious to know what you think about them.

Yes, I am a member of ASCAP, and I am sending you the notes about me, as you asked.[41] Believe me, it is hard to tell you how very much your continued interest in my music means to me, I am grateful for everything you have done, and for everything you wish to do in my behalf. I would be most proud and happy if George Szell were to like my Afro-American Symphony well enough to do it.

It has been most successful since Stokowski and Hans Lange played it last year. Lange gave it a New York performance with the Philharmonic Orchestra, and Stokowski played the final movement on his tour across the United States. Then, when Lange played it twice in Chicago a few months ago, the ovation on each occasion was so tremendous that he had to repeat it a third time. Perhaps you read the account of that in the Musical Courier. Rene Devries was most enthusiastic, I thought. And did I tell you that I conducted the Philharmonic Orchestra here in the Hollywood Bowl in two of my compositions last summer? It was quite an occasion, as it was the first time in the history of the United States that such a thing had happened. It pleased me very much, I can assure you.

You asked me for some comments and a program of the symphony dedicated to you: one critic in New York said that the Scherzo of the Symphony crashes through the melancholy of the preceding movements with such verve and rhythmic gaiety that Carnegie Hall was electrified. In Chicago, Mr. Eugene Stinson said that "all lovers of music who are touched with the wonderful qualities of his race will rejoice to find in this work a simple, straightforward, unpretentious but extremely beautiful account of how the composer, from a decidedly superior viewpoint, beholds the world that is


open to the Negro in the United States." I'm sorry the original clippings are pasted securely in my scrapbook, or I'd send them to you.

I wish you could find time to write and let me know what you are doing. I read you in the Musical Courier, of course, and I've especially enjoyed the little quips to Leonard Liebling for Variations—that you send from time to time.[42] They are very clever, and, on looking through the new book, I find that you have brightened it with many such pithy paragraphs: witty, but full of truth.

I'll be looking forward to hearing from you whenever you have a chance to write, and I surely thank you for the book and for the autograph! I value them highly. With best wishes always, I am



P.S. Did I tell you that Richard Lert is out here, and that I like him very much? Ernst Toch is here too. He is certainly a fine fellow.

April 10, 1937

William Grant Still
1604 West 35th Place
Los Angeles.

Dear Still,

Thanks for your good letter and all the nice things you say about my new book. I am happy you like it—and the autograph.

I shall look forward to seeing my name on the revised copy of the Afro-American Symphony. I am very happy to have this honor and thank you sincerely. In regard to the matter of the revised edition: shall I destroy the old orchestral parts which I have? I hope that you will not fall to send me score and parts of both the Symphony and Africa, as, if you still want that I should have these works played here in Europe, I must have entire new sets of the compositions. Please let me know as soon as possible so that I shall know what to do in regard to these matters.

I rejoice that everything goes so well with your work and am indeed happy to hear all the fine things said in your behalf. Write again soon, and believe me,

Yours sincerely,


May 5, 1937

Dear Irving:

I was surely glad to receive your letter—the more so since I have been spending the hours just before retiring in the pleasant pastime of reading your book. As I must have told you before, I'm enjoying it very much indeed. It is instructive and interesting. Even the title is very well chosen. I


heartily agree with what you expressed about modern music—that chapter is marked in my copy. I, too, feel that there are very few people today who are attempting to write sincere music, that is, music that stems from the Divine Source rather than from a limited human mind.[43] Not long ago, I gathered from one of Mr. Stokowski's letters that he also shares this view of modern music.[44]

I'm surprised that my publisher has not yet gotten in touch with you about the Afro-American Symphony, and I shall write soon to remind him of it. Yes, since the old orchestral parts of this symphony are now useless, I wish you would destroy them. I think you will agree with me that the new version is far better than the old.

Instead of sending you a new version of Africa, would you not prefer that I send you the score of a new tone poem? This one, "Dismal Swamp", lasts about fifteen minutes and should be off the press quite soon now. This afternoon I telephoned to inquire about it, and was told that in a very few days I may have a copy to give to you.

Last week, Langston Hughes (the poet) arrived in Los Angeles to collaborate with me on a new opera. We are both enthused over the subject, and by the musical possibilities inherent in the libretto that has been sketched. Langston plans to pass through Paris briefly in a few months, and I am going to ask him to see you meanwhile.[45] I think you will enjoy knowing each other. Have you read any of his books?

I have been unusually busy for the past few months. There is so much work to do, and the studio work has to be done so very rapidly that it keeps me rushing about. I'm trying, however, to complete a new Symphony.[46]

You know, I do appreciate more than I can tell you all that you are doing for me and my music, and all that you have done. I hope that you will have time to drop me a line occasionally to let me know of your own activities, for I missed your letters during those months when I did not hear from you, though I realized how busy you were.

Always with my very best wishes, I am



Schwerké's next letter to Still was to put a strain on their friendship. Views and Interviews had contained studies of four composers: Paul Dukas, Manuel de Falla, George Migot, and Serge Prokofieff. It had not, however, mentioned Still.[47] Schwerké had also, in 1931, published a monograph on Alexandre Tansman,[48] which had been the first detailed study of the composer (and which remains a useful book). Schwerké now proposed to do a "comprehensive" article on Still: perhaps (though this idea remained unarticulated) it might even become a book—William Grant Still, compositeur américain .


One fact Schwerké had not considered. His previous major writing on composers—the book on Tansman and the articles in Views and Interviews —had been to a significant extent the result of interviews carried on face-to-face.[49] Composer and writer could talk together; questions the composer thought of little importance could be quickly turned away ("You don't want to talk about my Third Quartet"). The book on Still, on the other hand, would involve intercontinental correspondence: anything Schwerké was to know, Still would have to send him. And a question becomes an assignment ("Dear Irving: You ask about my third string quartet. It's not a work I'm particularly proud of . . .").[50] Schwerké's letter proposing the book reads, in fact, distressingly like the letters sincere graduate students in search of a dissertation topic write to composers:

May 12, 1937

William Grant Still
Los Angeles

Dear Still,

I am preparing to write a comprehensive article about you and your work, for publication in Europe, and as I want this to be as complete and up to date as possible, I am writing to you to ask for the following information. If, when you have read over my request, you find that you do not have the time to prepare the data, please tell me quite frankly, and I shall understand.

What I need is:—

1) detailed biographical notes; indications of personal traits of character, likes, dislikes, important influences in your life, important friendships, first (childhood) experiences in music, and so on. Any data that will help me to present Still the human being.

2) complete catalogue of your compositions, with titles, genre, date of composition; names of persons to whom the works are dedicated; dates of first world performance of each work, together with complete names of performers, name of hall, etc.

3) detailed description of each work (also, if possible, give inception of work) pointing out for what instruments it is written, any peculiarities in harmony, rhythm, melodic line, form; pointing out any qualities which make the work distinctly American in sentiment, meaning, and aesthetics.

4) as many press notices as you can send, about each work, be those notices pro or con.


5) until such time as the article shall go to press, keep me informed of unfinished works, giving detailed information as above, so it will be complete down to the time of publication.

Do not try to be short in all this, but give me as much as possible. The article must be such so that, when once published, it will never have to be done again, and so that people can ever after refer to it again.

Other points on which you must think and send me information are:—

6) what is the effect in America of your work, what is the peculiar uniqueness of your work;

7) what are the determining causes of this sensibility, what are the relevant circumstances of your life which determined it?

8) what is the sensibility which necessitated this expression?

9) by what means was this sensibility given expression; give a technical examination of your style.

10) give close examination of some perfectly characteristic passages in which your sensibility is completely expressed.

This, of course, means work, but unless we do it, nothing serious can be achieved. After I have all this material from you, provided you can see your way to sending it to me, I shall get to work and make a serious and complete study of you and your work, one which will be definite and able to serve you and those interested in your art. Hoping to hear from you very soon, and with all best wishes, I am

Sincerely yours,


A large-scale request! But Schwerké had done much for Still, and his name was powerful. And for an American composer to have "a comprehensive article" published about him in Europe was rare. Still was willing to cooperate, but there was a complication, which he explained in his reply:

May 27, 1937

Your letter arrived yesterday, and your proposed article fills me with a deep sense of gratitude, for I fully realize all that this will mean to me in my work, and to my future. The more I read your own book, the more I admire your writing and your approach to your subjects, so you know that I feel honored to have you wish to write such an article about me.

Now, there is a rather strange situation in regard to this—one in which I will rely upon your unfailing tact to set everything right.

Do you recall reading articles by Verna Arvey in the Musical Courier? I believe that she had one called Italian Piano Music, Contemporary and Past—as well as one on South American and Cuban Music[51] —in maga-


zines in which articles by you also appeared, so perhaps you did see them. At any rate, for the past year Miss Arvey has been gathering material about me for a book she will write, and she has also lectured about me and played my music in various cities here. You can well imagine that I have given her all the available material about myself and my work. However, I have now asked her if she will answer your questions fully for me from the material I've already given her. She has promised to do this, also to add some details about the reactions of the public that I couldn't very well give as well as she—and then I will tell her a few facts which are especially for you, and will give her some clippings that may be of service.

She has done this for me because she admires your writing, but I think it would be nice if you were to acknowledge her help in some way when your article is finally printed. The manner of doing this would be up to you, and I know that you will devise some way to do this so that everyone will be happy over it. She would ask nothing except the public acknowledgement, which it seems right that she should have so that later, when her book comes out, it will not appear that she has copied her own data. On the other hand, you can manage to say such a thing so graciously and tactfully that it will not seem as though you had copied either, and then you have had enough experience with my music to write in much that neither one of us could possibly send you, for your sensitive reaction to music is one of your finest features.

What do you think about this? Of course, I am going to supervise whatever Miss Arvey sends, so you can be assured that there will be no inaccuracies.

Again, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your good, helpful thoughts in my behalf and I hope to hear from you very soon.



Arvey's involvement with the project had both benefits and drawbacks. The major benefit was that she had already done the in-person interviewing necessary for such an article (who can sit down and write a letter giving "indications of personal traits of character, likes, dislikes, important influences, . . . important friendships, first [childhood] experiences in music, and so on"?) and had gathered much of the necessary data. The drawback was much greater: here was another work on Still already in progress, and one being written by someone in whom Still had already considerable personal interest. Still's asking Arvey to share her work with Schwerké shows Still's admiration for his old friend-by-correspondence—and possibly his consciousness that "a comprehensive article" on him in a major European journal would be a great help to his career.


Arvey wrote to Schwerké agreeing to cooperate:

[May? 1937]

Dear Mr. Schwerké:

Mr. Still has asked me to write and to send you this information about him.[52] He has given me some information which is especially for you, and then has asked me to add some of my own reactions gained through several years' association with his music. The clippings are, I think, duplicates of some that are pasted in his scrapbook.

He has also promised to write to you to inquire if you wish to acknowledge my help in some way—for that is indeed all I would ask. He has from time to time spoken of you with great affection and esteem, and I know that you must admire him in order to have done the wonderful things for him that you have done. Thus we surely must have a mutual admiration, and I feel as if that establishes a sort of bond between us. If this information does not satisfy you, or if I ever can be of service to you, do not hesitate to ask.

I know that Still has dedicated to you one of his most important works—and he does not dedicate music lightly. He has also shown me your new book, which I admire very much—and of course I've read most of your Paris dispatches in the Musical Courier, as well as the longer articles you write occasionally.[ . . . ]

With best wishes for your project and for all your endeavors, I am


Verna Arvey

P.S. It is not worthwhile to mention "Central Avenue" which appears in some of the notices because it has been completely destroyed, and I think Mr. Still would rather not have it given even a passing notice. VA.[53]

Schwerké responded to Still and Arvey on June 12:

[ . . . ]

I[ . . . ]had a cordial letter from Miss Arvey, and now have yours of May 27, 1937. The reason why I have always gone directly to the composers about whom I write, is just to avoid such situations as has now seemingly arisen. I cannot as yet quite make up my mind what to do. You have no doubt noticed that in my articles I never lean on others—I collaborate with the composers, but do not lean upon my confreres. I quite understand and appreciate the situation, and I certainly do not want to be unjust to any one. . . . . But as I say, I have not yet really gone through the material, and cannot say definitely until I have done so. However, we won't worry and let us hope all will be right in the end. In the


meantime, I appreciate the trouble Miss Arvey went to, and hope you will thank her for me.

With all good wishes I am,

Sincerely yours,


Schwerké and Arvey managed to maintain a semblance of friendship during this difficult time. Arvey even agreed to let Schwerké use her material without credit:

[June 1937?][54] "

Dear Mr. Schwerke:

Mr. Still has just shown me your recent letter (you notice that I am writing this on his typewriter) and I want to assure you that you may use the material I've sent you without mentioning my name in connection with it if you wish. He feels that your article will be a splendid thing for him (and so do I) and I would not like to think that any action of mine had taken an opportunity from one who is so talented and who deserves all the help we can give.

Although some of the thoughts are my own, the greater part of the material stems directly from Mr. Still, as you will see when you read through it, so that you need have no fear as to its being authentic. He okayed it before I sent it to you. Moreover, knowing his reticence and modesty on matters concerning himself, I am sure that you have far more material in what I have sent than if he had written it out himself.

Please do use what you will need, and ask me for more information if you need it.


Verna Arvey

Other correspondence of this busy year touched on other subjects. One of the more awkward was the omission of the dedication to Schwerké in the published edition of the Afro-American Symphony . Still had mentioned this in his letter of March 17. Schwerké alludes to it in his letter acknowledging the receipt of the score of the symphony:

Paris, May 21, 1937

Dear William,

Just a word in reply to yours of the 5th. By now you have no doubt received my letter saying that I received the scores from Fisher,[55] for which many, many thanks. The first person to whom I showed the symphony opined I must be a very untruthful person: I had told him the symphony


was dedicated to me, and when he did not see my name on it, he called my bluff! Of course, I'll be happy to have the DISMAL SWAMP and to do all I can for it, as well as the others.

Should be happy to meet Langston Hughes and to do anything in my power to make his sojourn agreeable—this also applies to any other friends or acquaintances of yours who may be coming this way.

[ . . . ]

Still explained the circumstances again in his letter of June 8:

[ . . . ]

About the Afro-American Symphony: didn't I explain to you how it happened that the dedication was left off in the revision? It is dedicated to you, and to none other,—and the second printing, when it comes, will carry the printed acknowledgement. Those were my instructions to the publisher, and if the friend to whom you showed the Symphony still thinks you untruthful because the name doesn't appear, you have only to show him this letter and to tell him that it was on the original copy.

[ . . . ]

Despite Still's assurance, the dedication to Schwerké never appeared on any published edition of the Afro-American Symphony; a writer today, like Schwerké in 1937, can only follow Still's advice and "show [the doubters] this letter" to verify that Schwerké is the dedicatee.[56] This writer has, at least, one further resource: when I asked Verna Arvey late in her life whether Still might have withdrawn the dedication to Schwerké, she replied, "Certainly not! The work was dedicated to Schwerké and that dedication stands." It was as definite a statement as I heard that very definite lady make.

The year 1938 started with a final exchange of letters on the subject of Schwerké's proposed "comprehensive article."

Paris, February 25, 1938

Dear William,

I am working on a big study on my favorite STILL, but I do not progress very fast, for the principal reason, that I do not have much information about your compositions. I am enclosing a list of works on which I have only the merest fragments of hints, if anything at all, and hope that, sooner or later, you can let me have the material. Naturally, not having the scores and never having heard them performed, I can't say much about them, can I, hence must turn to you. I want this to be a "historical" study, one that people can turn to for information on any one of your works, and which


will be authoritative from every point of view. Thanks in advance, and with best wishes and affectionate greetings,



The enclosed list began with a request for an analysis of Darker America —Bruce Forsythe's article was still on Schwerké's mind—and went on to ask general questions about a number of works. Still's answer, which ran to two and a half pages of single-spaced typing, attempted to answer all of these questions.[57] It is here given complete, preceded by my attempt to reconstruct the now-lost enclosure with themes of Darker America that accompanied Still's letter.

[Reconstructed enclosure:]



First, you ask for an analysis of "Darker America". I am enclosing some themes, the lettering on which will correspond to the letters in the following description. "Darker America" was my first serious effort in a larger form and I now realize that it has many weaknesses. As its title suggests, it represents the American Negro. The introductory material is furnished by theme A on the separate sheet (presented at the outset by unison strings) and by theme C. At the 16th measure, theme B commences, given to English horn: this represents the sorrow of the American Negro. After 21 measures, theme C appears. Then follows a brief development built on themes A and C. After this, the episodic theme D appears, later leading back to a new treatment of theme B, interspersed with repetitions of theme D in various forms. After a brief development, theme E, which is a transformation of theme C, appears. This leads to theme F which is also a transformation of theme C. Following this comes a 3/4 section that I now wish I had omitted, for it seems forced. Then theme B, transformed, reappears, accompanied by theme D. This leads to a combination of themes A and C, with D appearing at intervals. This combination of themes A and C are shoWn at D.[59] That leads to the end. Now I know that I could have built a stronger composition with only two of these themes. As it is, it's fragmentary.


On the following points, my memory may be a little dim, but I'll try to cover everything you requested. "From the Land of Dreams" is dedicated to Edgar[d] Varese. It is for three voices and chamber orchestra and was first performed by the International Composers Guild Inc. in N.Y. on February 8, 1925, conducted by Vladimir Shavitz. I have now lost the score, so cannot analyse it further. "From the Journal of a Wanderer" is dedicated to Edgar[d] Varese and was first performed by the Chicago Symphony under Frederick Stock in 1926. It is an orchestral suite. "Levee Land" has no dedication. It was first performed in N.Y. in 1926 by the International Composers' Guild with Florence Mills as soloist and Eugene Goossens conducting. It is a humorous suite for soprano and chamber orchestra. "From the Black Belt" has no dedication. It is a suite for chamber orchestra composed of the following sections: Lil' Scamp, Honeysuckle, Dance, Blue, Brown Girl, Mah Bones Is Creakin', Clap Yo' Hands. "Log Cabin Ballads" has no dedication. It was first performed in 1928 by Georges Barrere and is 3 nostalgic pieces for chamber orchestra, entitled: Long To'ds Night, Beneaf de Willers, Miss Malindy.

"La Gulablesse" has no dedication. It is a ballet based on a Martinique legend, on which Ruth Page based her scenario. The legend speaks of the she-devil who assumes the guise of a beautiful woman in order to lure a susceptible village youth to his death. It was first performed at the Eastman Theatre in Rochester with Dr. Howard Hanson conducting in 1933.

I have destroyed "Puritan Epic."[60] "Sahdji" is an African ballet with a chorus and a chanter, a bass soloist who from time to time sings African proverbs to emphasize the meaning of the action. This chanter also sings a Prologue to the ballet, though this Prologue is a comparatively recent addition, added during the revision of the ballet. In this ballet Sahdji's dance before the chieftain, Sahdji's fire dance, and Sahdji's dance of death are the outstanding numbers. The first is the most exciting of them all. "Blue Steel" was composed in 1934–35, and is dedicated to the Founders of the Guggenheim Fellowships. It is an opera, the scene a mythical swamp, showing a man from a modern city who goes into a primitive Negro tribe and attempts to carry away with him the high priest's daughter—he does not love her, but he simply wishes another conquest.[61] In the end, he dies. The opera has never been performed in its entirety, but excerpts from 'it have been given.

"Kaintuck'" is dedicated to Verna Arvey, and is a tone poem for piano and orchestra depicting my emotions as I passed through a certain section of Kentucky on a misty summer day. It was first performed on two pianos at a Los Angeles Pro Musica concert in 1935 with Verna Arvey as soloist, [and] Robert V. Edwards at the second piano. I think it would be well not to speak of the first orchestral performances of this work, for two very good friends of mine—Dr. Hanson and Eugene Goossens—played it in their respective cities within a few weeks of each other, and each claimed credit for a first performance. So, in order not to hurt either of these men whom I admire So much, perhaps it would be as well not to mention either


performance as being the first orchestral one. Since then, of course, I have conducted it on several occasions with Miss Arvey as soloist.

"Three Visions" has no dedication, though I have mentally dedicated it to my friends who have departed this life. It is a group of three compositions for piano in the modern (not ultra-modern) idiom. First played in concert in Los Angeles in the Spring of 1936 by Verna Arvey. I have since made an arrangement of the second one, "Summerland", for small radio orchestra. The first one is called "Dark Horsemen" and the third "Radiant Pinnacle".

"Dismal Swamp" is a poem for orchestra with piano solos, and is largely built on a single theme. It is sombre, for the most part, and moves slowly. (Didn't I send you a score of this? If so, the poem at the beginning will express what I was trying to say musically.)

"Lenox Avenue" is a series of ten episodes and Finale for orchestra, chorus and announcer, with a short piano solo. It was especially designed for radio performance and was first performed over the Columbia Network on May 23, 1937 with Howard Barlow conducting. The continuity for this performance was by Verna Arvey, as is the scenario for the ballet version that was made of it later and will soon be produced in Los Angeles. The whole thing is a musician's view of Lenox Avenue, the street that cuts through Harlem, and all the events seen there.

"Great Day" was changed by the publisher into the book of Spirituals I sent you.

"Deserted Plantation" has no dedication and was first performed by Paul Whiteman at the Metropolitan Operahouse in N.Y. in 1933. I do not consider this work representative enough to require a complete analysis.

Now, you ask about songs, piano pieces and violin pieces, etc. I've already described the three piano pieces. There are no pieces for violin, although my arrangement of "Summerland" for radio orchestra is fixed so that a violin and piano might play it. There are two songs, both published by Schirmer. One is "Winter's Approach", a humorous song to Words of Paul Lawrence [sic ] Dunbar, and the other is "Breath of a Rose" to words of Langston Hughes. The first is rollicking, the second pensive and more or less ultra-modern in style.

I think I've covered everything you asked for now. Please forgive this very careless typing. I became enthusiastic over getting details correct, and perhaps started going too fast. And please let me know if there is anything else I can do.

Always, gratefully—



Early in 1939 Verna Arvey's monograph "William Grant Still," a volume in the series Studies of Contemporary American Composers, was published by J. Fischer & Bro. Irving Schwerké thanked Arvey for his


copy on February 28. Schwerké's own "comprehensive article" was never finished: probably he came to the conclusion that a genial correspondence with a composer and a deep involvement with a few pieces was not a sufficient substitute for the personal contact that had informed his other large-scale articles on composers.

Schwerké left Paris in mid-1940—his last dispatches to the Musical Courier were published in their issue of June 15. When he left Paris he put his material in storage; by the end of the war, when he could retrieve it, Still's career had moved substantially past what Schwerké's material documented. Schwerké never again raised the possibility of collaborating on a detailed article on Still: his postwar life was that of a teacher, not of a journalist.

One incident of Schwerké's flight prompted an entertaining response from Still. While Schwerké was in Lisbon he was interviewed by a local music critic, and declared that Still and Roger Vuataz were "duas maiores revelaçoes da vanguarda."[62] Schwerké enclosed a clipping of the interview in his letter to Still announcing his arrival in America ("Just a word to say, here I am!"). Still replied:

March 25, 1941

Dear Irving:

Many thanks for your note, and for sending me the clipping from Portugal. I hope you meant for me to keep it, as it made me very proud and I've already pasted it into my scrapbook. Incidentally, if you really do consider me America's outstanding composer, you might find yourself very unpopular with a few other American creators who have settled it in their own minds and among their friends that they and they alone deserve that honor!!!!

[ . . . ]

The Still-Schwerké correspondence for the years after 1941 is pleasant and enjoyable—if this were a Complete Correspondence it could be reprinted without apology—but it is not particularly revealing. Composer and writer say hello, apologize for the amount of time it has been since they have written each other, congratulate each other on triumphs (Schwerké is particularly happy to hear of the success of Troubled Island ), and in general write like old friends who cannot think of anything particular to say.

What, finally, was Schwerké's significance to Still's career? It was chiefly as Still's European representative in the early 1930s, securing performances of Still's orchestral works—notably of Africa, which as a


shorter work than the Afro-American Symphony had more appeal to a European conductor looking for a single American work. We should not exaggerate the importance of these performances. Schwerké, a single person with single copies of two works (and those in versions that by 1937 had been superseded), could do only a limited amount for the composer: only a publisher with good European connections could have done much to establish Still in Europe in the 1930s.[63] Still's European reputation had to be built afresh in the 1940s—largely by conductor Rudolph Dunbar; it must be built again today.

But we should not underestimate the value of Schwerké's work for Still either. The performances Schwerké arranged—coming at a time when nonexpatriate Americans had few opportunities for European performance—must have seemed to the young composer like a voice ratifying his importance as a composer and his ability to speak to a general audience of the cultured. And when the conductors to whom Schwerké showed Still's work in the early 1930s came to America in later years, Still's name was already familiar to them. Nor should we underestimate the value of Schwerké's "sympathetic ear": here was a man on another continent, knowing and known to Still only by words and notes on paper, willing to believe in the importance of his music. Nor, finally, should we see Schwerké entirely in terms of Still: the article on Schwerké in Amerigrove, a just if brief summary of his importance, makes do without mentioning Still at all.

For the Still scholar the letters are extremely valuable. We tend to see Still principally from the Arvey years, when he had a skilled journalist, publicist, and organizer as his helpmeet. It is valuable for us to hear his voice in his earlier years: already confident of his musical ability, but less sure in his dealings with others. The Still-Arvey collections in Fayetteville and Flagstaff are rich in letters to Still of this period,[64] but Still's own letters, save for the few represented by carbons, must be looked for elsewhere. We have only begun to look beyond the Still collections for Still letters: perhaps this sample from what can be found in a single collection will inspire researchers to look further.

We can even be grateful to Schwerké for being available as a dedicatee for the Afro-American Symphony . What would we make of an Afro-American Symphony dedicated to Hanson or Varèse? Even a dedication to a major black cultural figure such as Alain Locke would tempt listeners to hear the Afro-American Symphony in the light of that figure's ideas of Afro-American culture. Dedicated to someone whom Still knew only as a disembodied "sympathetic ear," the Afro-American Symphony


stands splendidly on its own, a work that helps to define American culture rather than a work defined by it.

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