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Leon Fleisher papers

 Collection
Identifier: PIMS-0081

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

The Leon Fleisher papers contain materials from 1875 to 2021, with the bulk of the materials originating from approximately 1980 to 2015. The collection, arranged in seven series, includes concert programs from Fleisher's career as a concert pianist, conductor, and master-class teacher; clippings and press releases about Fleisher from international publications; professional files related to Fleisher's travels and participation at festivals; correspondence with musicians, arts administrators, and students; photographs for publicity, press, and personal use; and annotated scores from Fleisher's playing and conducting experience. The seventh and final series contains audiovisual recordings of performances, interviews, and broadcast news features.

Dates

  • Creation: 1875 - 2021

Creator

Language of Materials

Materials primarily in English. Includes some programs and clippings in French, German, Italian, Dutch, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Hebrew, Spanish, and Portuguese. A few letters in French.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for use at the Peabody Archives. Contact peabodyarchives@lists.jhu.edu for more information.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright. All requests for permission to publish or perform materials in this collection must be submitted in writing to the archivist of the Arthur Friedheim Library.

Biographical / Historical

Leon Fleisher (1928-2020) was a pianist, teacher, and conductor. Born in 1928 in San Francisco, he began to study the piano at the age of 4 and by the age of 9, the legendary Artur Schnabel invited the child prodigy to be his student, first in Lake Como, Italy, and then in New York, where Schnabel nurtured and inspired the young Fleisher for the next 10 years. Fleisher made his debut in 1944 with the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Pierre Monteux, when he was 16 years old. Monteux called him "the pianistic find of the century."

Fleisher went on to international renown, becoming the first American to win the prestigious Queen Elisabeth of Belgium Competition in Brussels in 1952. He subsequently enjoyed a prolific recording career, most notably in collaboration with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. The Peabody Conservatory appointed him to the faculty in 1959 and named him the Andrew W. Mellon Chair in Piano in 1972.

In 1965, before a scheduled tour of Russia with the Cleveland Orchestra, Fleisher began to suffer symptoms of a debilitating condition of his right hand, later diagnosed as focal dystonia, a neurological condition that causes the fingers to curl into the palm of the hand. Fleisher subsequently channeled his creativity in new directions, mastering the piano repertoire for left hand and initiating a career in conducting for ensembles such as the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. He was a cofounder and conductor of the Theater Chamber Players, a contemporary chamber music ensemble based at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts from 1968 to the early 2000s, and he taught at Tanglewood in the 1980s and 1990s. He renewed his dedication to teaching at the Peabody Conservatory, where he taught generations of piano students, and at the Curtis Institute of Music. He regularly served as a jurist for piano awards such as the Queen Elisabeth Competition.

In the mid-1990s, with the combined therapies of Botox injections and Rolfing, he regained sufficient use of his right hand for two-handed playing, leading to an extraordinary career renaissance. In 2003, Fleisher joined forces with his wife, pianist Katherine Jacobson, to form the Fleisher-Jacobson Duo, giving concerts worldwide and recording for Sony Classical. Leon Fleisher released the album Two Hands in 2004, a critical and commercial success. Two Hands is also the title of the 2006 Oscar-nominated short documentary film by Nathaniel Kahn about Fleisher's life story. In 2013, Sony Classical issued a 23-CD box set of his entire recorded output, and in 2014, Fleisher released his first solo CD in a decade, the Grammy-nominated All The Things You Are.

In 2006, in Paris, Leon Fleisher received the honor of Commander in the Order of Arts and Letters by the Minister of Culture of the French government. Fleisher received a John F. Kennedy Center Honors award in 2007 as a "consummate musician whose career is a testament to the life-affirming power of art."

Fleisher continued teaching at Peabody and maintaining an international schedule of master classes, performances, and orchestral guest conducting until his death in 2020.

Biographical information adapted from http://peabody.jhu.edu/faculty/leon-fleisher/ (accessed February 12, 2018; edited January 2024).

Extent

40 Cubic Feet (99 boxes, 1 photo album, 4 bound volumes, 51 reel-to-reel tapes, 2 map-case folders)

Abstract

Pianist, conductor, and teacher Leon Fleisher (1928-2020) had a career in music stretching more than 70 years, including 61 years as a faculty member of the Peabody Conservatory. After making his debut at age 16 with Pierre Monteux conducting, Fleisher toured internationally as a soloist until a neurological condition caused him to lose the full use of his right hand. After three decades of focusing on performing the piano repertoire for the left hand, conducting various ensembles, and teaching, Fleisher received therapies that allowed him to regain the use of both hands and embark on a renaissance in his performing and recording career. The Leon Fleisher papers include concert programs, professional documents, correspondence, clippings, photographs, recordings, and scores from his career as a performer and pedagogue.

Arrangement

The collection is arranged in seven series.

  1. Series 1: Programs, 1938-2021 and undated
  2. Series 2: Clippings, 1937-2019
  3. Series 3: Professional papers, 1965-2020
  4. Series 4: Correspondence, 1954-2013
  5. Series 5: Photographs, approximately 1938-2020 and undated
  6. Series 6: Scores, 1875-2016 and undated
  7. Series 7: Sound and video recordings, 1937-2018 and undated

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Multiple accessions from 1995 to 2023, with the bulk of the collection donated in 2009-2011. Most materials donated by Leon Fleisher, Katherine Jacobson Fleisher, and their management agency, Frank Salomon Associates. Some photographs, clippings, and recordings appear to have been transferred by the communications office of the Peabody Institute following an exhibit and event in 1999.

Existence and Location of Copies

Most concert programs and clippings from the pre-2022 series 1 and 2, as well as several other documents and photographs, have been digitized and are available online at the Leon Fleisher digital collection: http://cdm16613.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p16613coll3.

Related Materials

The Arthur Friedheim Library Archives also holds the Theater Chamber Players records (PIMS.0070), which includes administrative documents, scores, and recordings of the chamber ensemble cofounded by Leon Fleisher and Dina Koston. Additionally, the Archives hold the Dina Koston papers (PIMS.0042).

A collection of materials related to Fleisher's wife, pianist Katherine Jacobson Fleisher, is also available at the Arthur Friedheim Library Archives. The Katherine Jacobson Fleisher papers (PIMS.0138) contain photographs, programs, posters, clippings, and correspondence documenting her career as a duo pianist with Enrique Graf and then Leon Fleisher, as well as solo performances and teaching.

Fleisher's 2010 autobiography with Anne Midgette, My Nine Lives: A Memoir of Many Careers in Music, and various commercial recordings are available for circulation at the Arthur Friedheim Library and can be located through the library catalog. Several scores of piano music from Fleisher's library are in the rare book collection of the Arthur Friedheim Library and can be located through the library catalog.

A 1999 interview with Leon Fleisher for the Johns Hopkins University oral history collection is available at https://jscholarship.library.jhu.edu/handle/1774.2/37675.

Additional information files about Fleisher and recordings of his performances at the Peabody Institute are available in the Arthur Friedheim Library Archives.

Processing Information

Processed by multiple archivists from 2010 to 2012 and by Matt Testa in 2018. Material received in 2022 and 2023 was processed by Natalie Salive, including the addition of the Scores series. Born-digital materials processed by Matt Testa in 2023.

Most analog recordings in series 7 digitized by George Blood LP in 2023. Digital surrogate files processed by Matt Testa and Natalie Salive.

Title
Guide to the Leon Fleisher papers
Author
Natalie Salive and Matt Testa
Date
2023
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
English
Sponsor
Processing and digitization in 2022-2023 supported by Katherine Jacobson Fleisher and Mr. and Mrs. Harris Kempner, Jr.
  • TypeCollection

Repository Details

Part of the Peabody Archives Repository

Contact:
Peabody Institute
1 E. Mount Vernon Place
Baltimore MD 21202 USA