Finding Aids Home

Ruth T. Watanabe Special Collections
Sibley Music Library
Eastman School of Music
University of Rochester

A revision of the original finding aid, prepared by Colleen V. Fernandez
Fall 2017






Shelf location: M8A 5,1–6,7 and 7,2
Physical extent: 38 linear feet

Biographical Sketch

Alexander Lafayette Chew Wilder was born in Rochester, New York, on February 16, 1907. He received private instruction in counterpoint and composition from Herbert Inch and Edward Royce at the Eastman School of Music but was mostly self-taught as a composer. Wilder was a vagabond with only three suitcases of belongings; he was constantly traveling and only resided with any regularity at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. He was respected by many of his friends for his innovative compositional style and artistic integrity, which was unaffected by popular musical trends. Most notably, Wilder utilized elements of jazz, American popular song and classical forms throughout his works, while also employing uncommon instrumentations to create a distinct, innovative sound.

Wilder got his start after he moved to New York City in 1932. During the 1930s and early 1940s, Wilder wrote many of his most popular songs, including “I’ll Be Around” and “It’s So Peaceful in the Country.” He also wrote popular octets, with such titles as The Neurotic Goldfish and The Amorous Poltergeist, which Charles W. Fox, musicologist and Eastman professor, once described as “so individual that they cannot be pigeon-holed.” Throughout his life, Wilder composed in many different forms including sonatas, suites, concertos, operas, ballets, art songs, woodwind quintets, brass quintets, jazz suites—and hundreds of popular songs. He also composed for several commercials and film scores. Additionally, Wilder enjoyed writing music for children and produced hundreds of easy study pieces for children, children’s songs for television productions and records, and an album titled A Child’s Introduction to the Orchestra; he also wrote the children’s songs included in the book Lullabies and Night Songs illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Aside from composing, Wilder also wrote hundreds of poems and dozens of short stories.

Wilder was open about his deep distrust of institutions and often shied away from publicity and recognition. As a result, many of his works have escaped public notice. Wilder omitted his own celebrated popular songs from his well-known book, American Popular Song: The Great Innovators 1900-1950; the omission further diminished his own musical presence within the American popular song genre. Instead, many of Wilder’s friends were responsible for introducing his music to the public; Mitch Miller organized historic recordings of his works including the octets, , and Frank Sinatra conducted a series of Wilder’s works on the LP Sinatra Conducts Music of Alec Wilder. Other champions of Wilder’s music have included Gunther Schuller, Marian McPartland, John Barrows, David Diamond, and many others.

Despite the efforts of his friends, Wilder detested celebrity and said he wrote music because it was the only thing that could content his spirit. He declared, “I didn’t do well in terms of financial reward or recognition. But that was never the point.”

Alec Wilder died of lung cancer on December 24, 1980, in Gainesville, Florida.

Scope and Content

The Alec Wilder Archive constitutes a large collection of manuscripts, printed music, recordings, literary works, correspondence, photographs, and other materials documenting the life and work of composer Alec Wilder.

The extensive series of music manuscripts, which includes sketches, drafts, fair copies, reproductions, and performance parts, and published scores of works from diverse genres and instrumentations, attest to Wilder’s prolific and eclectic compositional career. The collection also contains numerous recordings, both commercially-produced and private, of Wilder’s compositions and more than 40 reel-to-reel tapes of programs for his Peabody Award-winning radio series American Popular Song with Alec Wilder and Friends produced for NPR (1976–1978).

Wilder’s writings are also well-represented in the archive via hundreds of handwritten and typed versions of poems, drafts of Wilder’s published and unpublished memoirs, and several drafts of essays on a wide range of topics. Additionally, the archive contains more than 200 letters, various publicity and press items, concert programs from performances of Wilder’s compositions, photographs, biographical material and memorials, artifacts, and other personal and professional papers.


Alec Wilder did not often keep his own materials and often presented his original copies to his friends. Therefore, most of the materials in the Alec Wilder Archive have been generously donated by the friends of Alec Wilder including Marian McPartland, Louis Ouzer, David Diamond, Glenn Bowen, Judy Bell, Joseph Taubman, Gunther Schuller and Margun Music, Thomas Hampson and countless others.

Restrictions and Use

There are no restrictions on the Alec Wilder Archive. In regards to any reproduction of any of the contents, the provisions of the United States Copyright Law (1976) and its revisions do apply. The written permission of the Depositor must be obtained for citation and for photocopying.


Given Alec Wilder’s close friendships and professional associations with Marian McPartland, Louis Ouzer, and Bob Brookmeyer, the Marian McPartland Collection, Louis Ouzer Archive, and Bob Brookmeyer Collection may be of interest to researchers. Whereas the Ouzer and Brookmeyer Collections contain relatively limited material directly related to Wilder (namely, photographs from Wilder’s several visits to Eastman and copies of Brookmeyer’s album 7 x Wilder, respectively), the Marian McPartland Collection preserves some additional published music by Wilder, essays about Wilder written by Ms. McPartland, and several recordings of compositions by Wilder.

Additionally, RTWSC holds two collections of Eastman composer alumni whose careers, like that of Alec Wilder, traversed popular and classical music idioms: the Walter Mourant Collection (BM 1935, MM 1936) and the Joseph Scianni Collection (MM 1953, DMA 1959).

Outside of the department, Alec Wilder’s published output is well-represented in the Sibley Music Library’s circulating collection and the library’s recordings stacks through nearly 250 published scores and more than 200 recordings of compositions and arrangements by Wilder.


Series 1: Manuscripts (MS)

This series is comprised of manuscript materials, including sketches, working drafts, fair copies, and manuscript reproductions. The materials are arranged in accession order, so there are discrepancies between the sequence of scores within each series and the numeric box and folder order.

The series is subdivided into thirteen sub-series according to genre and instrumentation as indicated below:

Sub-series 1: Large instrumental ensemble
Sub-series 2: Vocal or instrumental solo with large ensemble
Sub-series 3: Instrumental solos, with or without accompaniment
Sub-series 4: Chamber music
Sub-series 5: Vocal chamber–voice(s) as part of chamber ensemble
Sub-series 6: Keyboard–two or more hands
Sub-series 7: Vocal solo
Sub-series 8: Vocal soloist ensemble with or without accompaniment
Sub-series 9: Choral with or without soloists and accompaniment
Sub-series 10: Stage works
Sub-series 11: Films Scores
Sub-series 12: Commercial music
Sub-series 13: Sketches

Series 2: Printed Music

This series includes published copies of Wilder’s works. It is intellectually organized by the same sub-series classification as series 1, but is also in accession order only.

Series 3: Recordings

This series includes professional, commercial, and casual recordings of Wilder’s works. Casual recordings were received in an existing numbered sequence, which has been retained. The recordings are organized into six sub-series by format:

Sub-series 1: Reel-to-reel
Sub-series 2: NPR recordings

 This sub-series consists of NPR broadcasts of Wilder’s American Popular Song program, which have been retained as received.

Sub-series 3: Discs
Sub-series 4: Cassettes
Sub-series 5: Video cassettes
Sub-series 6: CD’s

Series 4: Correspondence

This series consists of Wilder’s correspondence with friends and business associates.

Series 5: Personal Papers

This series consists of the literary works by Wilder and is divided into two sub-series, poetry and prose.

Sub-series 1: Poetry
Sub-series 2: Prose

Series 6: Ephemera

This series consists of a variety of materials pertaining to the life and works of Alec Wilder. It is sub-divided into five sub-series:

Sub-series 1: Biographical material
Sub-series 2: Programs from performances of Wilder’s works
Sub-series 3: Listserv content, printed from the Internet listserv on Wilder.
Sub-series 4: Ancillary materials of various kinds
Sub-series 5: Artifacts relating to Wilder’s life

Series 7: Photographs

This series consists of photographs relating to Wilder, the majority being photographs of Wilder.

Series 8: General

This is not a distinct series but is used to house oversized items from all other series.