Ernestine Schumann-Heink (1861-1936), renowned Austrian, naturalized American, contralto/mezzo soprano, was courted by the major composers of her day, including Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, and Johannes Brahms to perform their works. Thus, it is not surprising to find that over her long career she had collected more than 1,125 music manuscripts representing the work of 640 professional and amateur composers. These works comprise art songs, songs associated with World War I, lullabies, patriotic songs, and popular tunes; many were inscribed with dedications to her.
Even though most of these songs were written by composers with whom she associated throughout her career, it is still a delightful surprise to find a previously unknown, unsigned autograph manuscript of “Frühlingsmorgen,” by Gustav Mahler in the collection. Another remarkable aspect of the collection is the inclusion of many songs by women composers such as Amy Beach, Marion Bauer, Carrie Jacobs-Bond and Fannie Charles Dillon and by lesser-known figures. It is hoped that access to these works will foster research and discovery of new works by composers that have not in the past received full recognition.
Schumann-Heink made her operatic debut in Dresden in 1878 and subsequently sang in Hamburg until 1897, in Bayreuth (1896-1914), and at Covent Garden (1897-1901). After her 1897 American premiere in Lohengrin in Chicago, her career included a long-time association with New York’s Metropolitan Opera (1898-1932). She is best known for her Wagnerian roles of Ortrud, Erda, Fricka, Waltraute, and Brangӓne; she also sang the role of Clytemnestra in the 1909 premiere of Richard Strauss’ s Electra. In later years, after settling in California, she made extensive tours across America and was featured on a weekly radio broadcast. She took an active role in performing for American military personnel and service organizations during and after World War I.
In 1938, her personal music collection, which also included newspaper clippings, concert programs, posters, photographs, letters, certificates, radio broadcast scripts and awards, was given by her bequest to Pomona College and is preserved and made available to researchers in Special Collections of the Claremont Colleges Library.
The Ernestine Schumann-Heink: A Contralto’s Legacy Collection is an ongoing project to digitize her music manuscript collection and is made possible by the generous support of Thomas Hampson’s Hampsong Foundation.