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Museum Update with Kate Cooper

By Kate Cooper

For some visitors to the Schubert Club Music Museum, the most intriguing exhibit is the Gilman Ordway Manuscript Collection.  Hooked on collecting composers’ letters and manuscripts, Schubert Club friend and supporter Gilman Ordway looked for a way to share some of his collection with a wider audience. When the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts opened in January, 1985, Mr. Ordway chose to donate a number of letters to the Schubert Club Music Museum. His desire to share these revelatory treasures led to a long relationship with Schubert Club, and the Collection currently includes some 100 documents.

In Gilman Ordway ‘s own words, “collecting [these letters] is a fascinating way to become close to something that has passed through the hands of the geniuses of history”. The stories around these remarkable individuals in history often shed much light on their human side. They convey experiences of emotion and passion in love and friendship, trials and successes in business, and numerous other life events along the way.  There is a fascination in knowing that the hand of one of these geniuses held the pen that formed the elegant handwriting, many centuries prior.

When the Schubert Club Music Museum opened in 2009, Schubert Club exhibited a rotating set of these letters in their own space within the Museum gallery. Careful attention was given to appropriate lighting and exhibit cases. The room was quiet, dimly lit and gave the visitor a place to think and reflect upon the minds of the writers. This quieter corner of the Museum was an attraction to some but we noticed that it was often overlooked in comparison to some of the busier arrays of collectibles throughout the galleries.

As Schubert Club embarks upon a redesign of the gallery spaces, we are inspired to bring focus to the human element of our collection, weaving together the stories the manuscripts tell and some of our keyboard instruments. The stories behind the instruments involve builders, players and creators of music. Letters in the Manuscript Collection help tell those stories and the roles the individuals played in the history and development of music.

Here are two examples:

The stationery on which Igor Stravinsky wrote his 1923 letter is its most stunning feature, boasting the glamorous Pleyel piano manufacturer’s insignia. Stravinsky had a long-standing connection with Pleyel, rewriting many of his compositions for piano rolls for a special mechanical cimbalom which he commissioned them to build. This letter is exhibited alongside an 1839 Pleyel “Pianino” Upright Piano which has a unique story to tell as well.


Schubert Club has three spectacular German/Austrian, 19th century keyboard instruments in the Keyboard Journey exhibit.  During this era, several women were making significant contributions to music as builders, composers, teachers and performers.  A letter from Clara Schumann arranging business details of a new student for her father’s studio is displayed near a piano constructed by the Stein-Streicher family builders.  Nanette (Stein) Streicher played a significant role in the manufacturer’s legacy.  Also, in this exhibit, visitors will hear an audio recording of a beautiful Notturno composed by Clara Schumann, played on that Streicher piano.  Both the letter and the instrument exemplify the ambitions and accomplishments of women in music during this era.

The newly designed Schubert Club Music Museum will feature other remarkable documents. from the Gilman Ordway Collection including letters written by Liszt, Grieg, Beethoven, Mozart, Gershwin and more.  Also on exhibit will be an autographed copy of Schubert’s song, Jagerlied.

We are sincerely grateful to Gilman Ordway for the gift of these precious documents.  We look forward to sharing selected letters from the Collection with you when we reopen later in the spring.  

Pictured here: Former Artistic and Executive Director Bruce P. Carlson with Gilman Ordway.

Because the original letters are old and susceptible to damage from light and changeable humidity, the documents regularly on display are facsimiles.  We will plan to schedule occasional events when the original documents will be on display to the public.