The Library of Congress has acquired the archives of Robert Hall Lewis (1926-1996)—American composer, conductor and educator—whose chamber and orchestral works have been performed widely in America and Europe.
The Robert Hall Lewis Collection, a gift from his widow, Barbara Bowersock Lewis, includes 87 completed music compositions, both printed and manuscript, that Lewis wrote mainly for chamber ensembles and orchestra. It also includes other printed music by contemporary 20th-century composers, correspondence, biographical and teaching materials, writings, programs, photographs, sound recordings and other related materials.
The donation complements existing collections in the Library's Music Division that document the work of major contemporary 20th-century American composers and artists, such as Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein.
Lewis graduated with distinction in composition from the Eastman School of Music with master's and doctorate degrees in music, where his principal teachers were Bernard Rogers, Burrill Phillips and Howard Hanson. His doctoral thesis was his Symphony No. 1, which he completed in 1964. He also studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and Hans Erich Apostel in Vienna, where he received the graduation prize in composition from the Vienna Academy of Music in 1957. Lewis was greatly influenced by Apostel, and it was under his tutelage that Lewis developed his particular compositional style.
Lewis said that he adhered "to no particular school or system of composition" and that he considered himself to be an "independent maximalist." Lewis claimed that "it is very important that a composition have an original, distinctive character and an identity of its own, devoid of the obvious, derivative tendencies and commercial influences that surround us in much music today." His intent, he said, was to create a music of genuine interest to the listener, alternately surprising, provoking, soothing, stimulating and hopefully inspiring—an experience comparable to the limitless facets of existence.
Major symphony orchestras both in America and Europe have performed Lewis' work, including the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the Royal Philharmonic and the Philharmonia Orchestra. His chamber and choral music works have been presented by many prestigious groups, such as the Gregg Smith Singers, Aeolian Chamber Players, American Brass Quintet, Chicago Contemporary Players and the Twentieth Century Consort.
During his long career, Lewis received many honors and awards, among them a Kosciuszko Foundation Chopin Scholarship, two Fulbright scholarships, two Guggenheim Fellowships, the Walter Hinrichsen Award for Composers, an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, several fellowship grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Maryland State Artist Fellowship Award. He also won ASCAP awards annually for nearly 30 years, beginning in 1969.
Lewis served as composer-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome and scholar-in-residence at the Rockefeller Foundation Study Center in Italy.
Among the organizations that commissioned Lewis to compose new works were the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, the McKim Fund, and the Kindler Foundation, all at the Library of Congress; the Baltimore Symphony; and American Composers Orchestra.
Beginning in 1957 Lewis began four decades of teaching at Goucher College in Baltimore, Md. During this same period, he also taught at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University; and he was artistic director of the Baltimore Chamber Music Society for almost 20 years, from 1964 to 1983.
The Robert Hall Lewis Collection will be available to researchers in the Library's Performing Arts Reading Room, LM-113, Madison Building, after its organization and a finding aid are completed. The Library acknowledges the diligent and helpful work of Barbara Bowersock Lewis, Nancy McCall, Avi Bloomenstiel and Frederick Mauk, all of whom collaborated in the processing of the collection.