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Collection Irving Fine Collection, ca. 1914 to 1962

About this Collection

The career of Irving Fine (1914-1962), composer, conductor, writer, and academic, is documented in the Library of Congress Music Division by approximately 4,350 items from the Irving Fine Collection. Comprising manuscript and printed music, sketchbooks, writings, personal and business correspondence, scrapbooks, programs, clippings, and sound recordings, the collection contains most of the creative work of this colleague of Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein.

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String Quartet [holograph sketch score, pencil]

This online presentation presents a selection of 57 photographs, a sketchbook that includes sketches for the woodwind Partita and a string quartet, a manuscript score for the String Quartet (1952), a recorded performance of the Quartet, and the finding aid for the collection.

Called a "remarkable American composer" by the noted music lexicographer Nicolas Slonimsky, Irving Fine (1914-1962) was included in the so-called "American Stravinsky School" by his fellow composer and longtime friend Aaron Copland (1900-1990). Fine, whose compositions were influenced by the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) and Paul Hindemith (1895-1963), died prematurely in 1962, thereby cutting short one of the most promising careers in twentieth-century American classical music.

Perhaps the following words of his contemporaries best describe Fine and his work.

Music has suffered from an overdependence on consecrated names, when music lovers speak of composers they are generally referring, in the whole history of music, to half a hundred famous names of whom few belong to the present century. This does serious injustice to many composers including Irving Fine whose music has sincerity, quality and vitality. He had an irreplaceable instinctive musicianship and yet he was modest to a fault.

Aaron Copland

He was a beautiful spirit in the world of music, this young and gifted composer. He was goodness itself and that goodness radiates from his music. He was one of those rare people of whom one can only think good. He brought only amity and help to his colleagues; inspiration and encouragement to his students, and honor to everything that he touched.

Leonard Bernstein

Irving Fine was not a composer to be content to find a style and then run off carbon copies. Each of his works gives emphatic evidence of superfine craftsmanship.

Arthur Cohn

Irving Fine conducting, Leonard Bernstein on piano, Tanglewood, 1947

With the completion of his String Quartet in 1952, Fine appears to have combined his earlier tonal approach to music writing, marked by driving "big city" rhythms and an elaborate polyphonic fabric, with the then new technique of serialism,* which he may have embraced in an attempt to explore a more modern and distinctive compositional identity. In his later works, Fine's music is more lyrical with clear polyphonic underpinnings reminiscent of some of his earlier works.

The Irving Fine Collection in the Music Division of the Library of Congress comprises nearly the entire creative work of this important mid-twentieth-century composer as well as other valuable documentation on his life and work. These materials were collected by the composer's widow, Verna Fine, who maintained a long relationship with the Music Division of the Library of Congress to which she donated the materials in stages just before and after the composer's death. She tirelessly devoted herself to promoting her husband's music until her own death in 2000.

A finding aid to the collection provides location and description information for all of the materials. Included with the music are holograph and autograph scores, as well as a number of sketch books, printed music, and some music by other composers. There are also writings by Irving Fine in manuscript and typescript and printed materials, published and unpublished, including lectures, program notes, and miscellaneous items which reflect his scholarly bent as a writer and educator.

In addition, the collection includes an assortment of photographs, clippings, programs, scrapbooks, and unpublished sound recordings as well as correspondence from such twentieth-century musical luminaries as Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), Aaron Copland, Lukas Foss (b. 1922), Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983), Ned Rorem (b. 1923), and William Schuman (1910-1992).

The first online release presents a selection of the photographs, one of the sketchbooks, a manuscript score for the String Quartet (1952), a recorded performance of the Quartet, and the finding aid for the collection.

*Serialism is a compositional technique based on ordering series of the twelve notes of the equal-tempered scale.