Bortkiewicz and the Fleisher collection

The Edwin A. Fleisher collection of the free library of Philadelphia, houses the manuscripts of the two symphonies (opus 52 and 55) of Bortkiewicz. Here is the story how they came in that collection.

Edwin A. Fleisher (1877-1959), an amateur musician and heir to a textile business was passionate about music. In 1909 he founded in Philadelphia (USA) a club for young people to play music. He obtained a building, hired a conductor, and brought the students in to play orchestral music. He called it the Symphony Club.

He tried to buy as many scores as possible in the United States, but Fleisher quickly realized, however, that he would need to go to the source of orchestral music to collect scores: Europe. Music publishers did not have international distribution at that time and the most important music publishers were based in Europe. So Fleisher traveled to Europe to personally meet with dozens of publishers and convince them to sell him hundreds of scores – which were otherwise available only through rental. He purchased music, signed agreements (with the proviso that the material should be used only by amateur orchestras and never at a concert where admission was charged), and shipped scores and parts back to the United States. Over time Fleisher traveled to Europe six times to purchase performance materials for his Symphony Club.

Fleisher was building what would become the largest library of orchestral performance material in the world. It was the library of the Symphony Club, and is now called the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music. Fleisher donated his huge Collection to the Free Library of Philadelphia on 6 May 1929. The collection is still housed in the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Fleisher not only bought scores and parts from music publishers, but from late 1934 also invited composers to send manuscripts of unpublished works for copying. A team of professionally trained copyists at the Free Library would copy the manuscripts of full scores and parts (Music Copying Project).

The earliest correspondence between Bortkiewicz and the head librarian of the Fleisher collection in the Free Library of Philadelphia, Franklin H. Price, dates from 11 November 1940. In this letter Bortkiewicz acknowledges a letter from the Library dated 2 October 1940, in which he was asked to give an inventory of his orchestral works and concertos to date. In his letter (in English language) Bortkiewicz wrote – among others: “For orchestra I composed […] Two Symphonies: I in D op. 52 and II in E flat op. 55 – both manuscripts.”  Notably, in 1940 the Fleisher Collection already had the following full performance sets: Piano Concerto no. 1, op. 16 [436p], Five Russian Dances, op. 18 [2447], Othello, op. 19 [2059], Cello Concerto, op. 20 [608c] and Violin Concerto, op. 22 [905v]. Subsequently Bortkiewicz was invited to send the manuscripts of his unpublished symphonies for copying. By 1945, the Fleisher Collection also had acquired the Österreichische Suite, op. 51 [1797s], but the symphonies remained elusive. On 11 May 1946, Bortkiewicz wrote (in English language):

  • “Many years ago you asked me to send my Symphonies No. 1 and No. 2 and other orchestra-works for your library. You wished to make a copy of the manuscripts unfortunately the war started just at that time and postage was irresponsible. It was a great disappointment for me! One of thousand disappointments and unfortunes I had and I have to suffer from the terrible war and its consequences: bad and very insufficient food, miserable conditions to life, no tobacco etc. You can in your country not imagine what we are suffering in Europe, and perhaps more than everywhere in Vienna! I would be so glad to go to America, to bring you personally my music! As a renowned composer, pianist, teacher and conductor I am sure to have success. […]”

Bortkiewicz was hoping to get materials to the Fleisher collection; however, WWII had taken its toll on the Music Copying Project that had sponsored preparation of materials from manuscripts. In February 1950, Bortkiewicz arranged for Juan Feigl to deliver the symphonies personally, as problems persisted in Europe. Bortkiewicz explained on 10 February 1950:

  • “Nearly all my compositions have been printed by German publishers (N. Simrock, D. Rahter, Fr. Kistner, H. Litolff). My misfortune, almost a tragedy, is the present state of affairs in Germany (Leipzig): no contact, no mail, no exchange.- N. Simrock, for instance, has a number of my new compositions, unable to put them into print: he has no license, no paper etc. All my previously printed works are sold out, cannot be reprinted and are, therefore, unavailable, unobtainable, with all the attendant material consequences to me. That’s the reason my symphonies remained in manuscript, more or less, condemned to remain unaudible [sic], dead.”

The Fleisher collection received the manuscript of the full scores the following month and the manuscript of the parts later that year through Wilder Spaulding, Cultural Affairs Officer of the American Embassy in Vienna. Spaulding would refer to Bortkiewicz as “a fine old gentleman.”

In 2002 conductor Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra recorded for the first time both symphonies (Hyperion records), using the manuscripts of the Fleisher collection.