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The Letter File is an on-going collection of over 700 pieces of correspondence dating from the 16th-century to the 20th-century, items addressed to and/or from composers, musicians, and other persons associated with music and/or with the Eastman School of Music. While most items are single pieces of correspondence, the file contains some notable “sub-collections,” such as the following: a group of some 40 letters of Berlioz; Pablo de Sarasate’s correspondence with his mother while on tour; Charles-Marie Widor’s letters to Mme. Trélat; and 15 letters from Cosima Wagner, dealing with contractual arrangements.

Of particular interest are two collections of letters pertaining to Barbara Duncan, the first director of the Sibley Library, and Dr. Ruth Watanabe, who directed the library from 1948 to 1984. The Duncan Correspondence contains much information about the history of the Eastman School and the development of the Sibley Music Library and its collections. The Watanabe correspondence is a unique source of information about 20th century American music. It consists largely of letters from composers responding to Dr. Watanabe’s requests for information to be used in program notes she wrote for the annual Festivals of American Music held at the Eastman School.

Other unique items worthy of note include a program containing a handwritten note from Abraham Lincoln requesting the repetition of a song, a letter from Handel, written in French, and Tchaikovsky’s reply to a fan letter.


Begun in the Eastman School’s early years, the collection continues to grow. Some of the items were purchased; others were either donated, or were the result of the School’s activities.

Restrictions and Use

Copyright restrictions govern the use of these materials. For reproduction of any item, application must be made either to its author or to the heir(s)/executor(s) of the author’s estate.


The Arthur Hartmann Collection (SC1995.4) contains correspondence between violinist Arthur Hartmann (1881-1956) and many noteworthy musicians of his time, including Webern and Schoenberg. The content of the letters ranges from casual personal messages to important discussions of interpretation and performance. Certain other of the special collections, such as the Arthur Farwell Collection (SC1995.2), the John Rowe Parker Collection (SC1995.14), and the Malcolm Frager Collection (SC1995.17), also contain significant amounts of correspondence. The contents of those collections are listed in their individual finding aids.

Many letters in the Letter File are responses to requests from admirers or journalists for musical autographs and photographs. Many of the photographs and autographs associated with these letters may be found in the Musical Autographs Collection, the Iconography Collection, and the David James Photographs Collection

The Database

Each item has been entered in an online database, which is searchable on the by author, by recipient, and by subject. Each entry contains the date, language, places of origin and destination, and a comment field containing a physical description and, where possible, a summary of the item’s contents