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Finding Aid for the Leo Smit Papers, 1939-2000

Mus. Arc. 6.2

State University of New York at Buffalo. Music Library

112 Baird Hall
Buffalo, New York 14260-4750
United States
Phone: 716 645-2924
Fax: 716 645-3906
Email: musique@buffalo.edu
URL: http://library.buffalo.edu/music/

Finding aid prepared by John Bewley.
Finding aid encoded in EAD by John Bewley.
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid prepared using DACS ( Describing Archives: A Content Standard ).

Please use the following URL when citing this document:

© 2009. State University of New York at Buffalo. All rights reserved.

Collection Overview

Title: Leo Smit Papers, 1939-2000
Collection Number: Mus. Arc. 6.2
Creator: Smit, Leo, 1921-1999
Extent: 4 boxes (49 folders)
Language of Material: Collection material in English.
Repository: State University of New York at Buffalo. Music Library
Abstract: The Leo Smit Papers comprise works lists compiled by Leo Smit, articles written by Smit, personal correspondence (chiefly photocopies of letters from Aaron Copland), programs, reviews, and lecture materials.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

[Specified item], Leo Smit Papers, 1939-2000, Music Library, The State University of New York at Buffalo.

Acquisition Information

The bulk of the collection was given to the Music Library in 1998 by Leo Smit. Subsequent additions were donated by executor of Leo Smit's estate, Nils Vigeland, or provided by the staff of the Music Library.

Terms of Access

Materials can be examined by qualified researchers in the Music Library during hours of operation during which Music Librarians are present. In order to insure access, researchers are advised to contact the Music Library in advance of visits.


Copyright for the materials in the collection does not reside with the Music Library. Therefore, patrons wishing to publish any item, or part of an item from this collection for any purpose, are responsible for securing requisite permissions.

Processing Information

Processed by John Bewley, August 2003; additions processed August 2017.

Accruals and Additions

No further accruals are expected to this collection.

Biographical Note

Leo Smit was born to Russian immigrants on January 12, 1921, in Philadelphia. He received his earliest musical training from his father, Kolman Smit, beginning at age five. Kolman Smit was a professional violinist who performed in the Philadelphia Orchestra (1926-1931) under Leopold Stokowski, the Cincinnati Symphony under Fritz Reiner, and the NBC Symphony under Arturo Toscanini.

After private piano studies with Martha Lantner, Joseph Wissof, and Bert Shefter, Smit traveled to Moscow with his mother in 1929 to study piano for three months with Dmitri Kabalevsky on scholarship at the Moscow Conservatory. Upon his return to Philadelphia, Smit received a scholarship in 1930 to study piano at Curtis Institute of Music with noted piano pedagogue Isabelle Vengerova. He continued his studies on scholarship in New York, studying piano with José Iturbi (1933-35) and composition with Nicolas Nabokov (1935). It was under Nabokov's tutelage that Smit produced his first original composition in 1935, Zvay, a song setting of a Yiddish poem by Mani Loeb for soprano and piano.

Smit began his professional career as a pianist while still in his teens. His first professional engagement was as rehearsal pianist for George Balanchine's American Ballet Company in 1936-37. A year after beginning in this position, Smit met Igor Stravinsky during rehearsals of the composer's ballet, Jeu de Cartes. Smit gave his debut recital as a solo pianist at Carnegie Hall in February 1939. His successful debut was followed by a concert tour of the United States in 1940.

Leo Smit's career as composer, pianist, conductor, and educator spanned seven decades of musical life in the United States. He established close working relationships, and/or friendships, with many of the most prominent musicians of the 20th century, including Igor Stravinsky, Béla Bartók, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Harold Shapero, William Schuman, Alex Haieff, Leopold Stokowski, and Lukas Foss. As a performer, Smit was an enthusiastic and persuasive advocate and interpreter of the music of his time, especially the solo piano music of Aaron Copland. His compositional output totals more than one hundred works, including two operas, three symphonies, more than ninety songs, two ballets, and numerous chamber and piano works.

Smit was also a talented photographer. In addition to the many photographs he took of noted musicians, Smit also used his skill as a photographer to capture images from his travels. Many of his travel pictures reflect his reverence for nature. As part of his innovative approach to programming, Smit would often include displays of his photography in his theme-based concerts.

During his career Leo Smit earned several awards and honors, including Fulbright (piano) and Guggenheim (composition) Fellowships in 1950, a fellowship at the American Academy in Rome for 1950-51, the Boston Symphony Merit Award in 1953 for his Symphony No. 1 (premiered October 16, 1953 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Charles Munch), the New York Critics Circle Award in 1957 (also for his Symphony No. 1), his selection as an artist for a State Department concert tour of Latin America in 1967-68, and the Buffalo Evening News Man of the Year award in 1969. As an educator, Smit held positions at Sarah Lawrence College (1947-49), UCLA (1957-63), and the State University of New York at Buffalo (1962-84).

Leo Smit died December 12, 1999 in Scripps Hospital, Encinitas, California.

Scope and Content Note

This collection of papers was received from Leo Smit in 1998 before he moved from Buffalo, N.Y. to California. It has been supplemented with more materials by Music Library staff and Nils Vigeland, executor of the Smit estate. Much of the supplementary material consists of photocopied materials. The small number of personal documents include a curriculum vitae dating from 1980 and a works list compiled by Smit in 1995. Also included are notification of and receipt for an inheritance from the estate of Aaron Copland. The 21 writings by Leo Smit in the collection include published articles about Aaron Copland, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Cole Porter. Also included are unpublished writings, program notes and libretti for his own works.

The correspondence in the collection consists chiefly (more than 90%) of photocopies of letters from Aaron Copland to Leo Smit. They reveal the affection Copland held for Smit and contain details of their many musical collaborations.

Clippings and reviews (27), programs (21), and promotional material (4) provide some details about Leo Smit's career. Four of Smit's lecture-recitals on American piano music, the music of Franz Liszt, American songs, and the life and music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky are documented by compilations of music used for the programs.

The principal collection of Leo Smit materials is held by New York Public Library.

Container List

I    Personal documents, circa 1940-1995
Folders 1-6

In order as received.

Curriculum vitae, works lists, and notification of inheritance from estate of Aaron Copland

Box Folder Contents
1 1 Curriculum vitae, 1980
1 2 Works list, 1995
1 3 Works remaining with ASCAP, undated
1 4 Works coming to BMI, undated
1 5 Aaron Copland legacy notification and receipt, undated
1 6 Title page and page 1 of Aaron Copland's Four Piano Blues with dedication to Smit on p. 1 caption, undated
II.    Writings by Leo Smit, circa 1960-1999
Folders 7-27

Arranged alphabetically by title of text.

21 published and unpublished writings, program notes, and libretti, arranged alphabetically by title.

Box Folder Contents
1 7 “Aaron Copland, 1900-1990”
Published in: Keyboard, March 1991: 3
1 8 Alchemy of Love: notes
1 9 Cantata for a Roman Lady: libretto on words by Catullus
1 10 “Classic Cole Porter”
Published in: Saturday Review Dec. 25, 1971: 48-49, 57
1 11 For Aaron, 1970
1 12 For Aaron, 1975
1 13 In Woods: notes
1 14 “Interview with Vivian Perlis about Aaron Copland”
Printed in Copland: Since 1943, (1989)
1 15 Introduction to Liszt in Italy (lecture)
1 16 “Johann Sebastian Bach: Fox or Hedgehog: a tribute on his 300th birthday”
Published in: Keyboard Classics, January 1985
1 17 Magic Water: synopsis
1 18 On artistic obsession, 1990
1 19 “Pianista: a concert journal”
Clavier July-August, 1983
1 20 Pianista Noteamericano: a concert and travel journal, 1969?
1 21 Remarks addressed to graduating music students at SUNY/Buffalo, New York, May 15, 1998
1 22 Remembering Aaron Copland, 1988 (written after Copland's death in 1990)
1 23 Sir Fred Hoyle: introduction
1 24 Symphony of Dances and Songs: notes by the composer
1 25 To Aaron Copland
1 26 Translation of two songs from Stravinsky's Four Russian Songs
1 27 Trishky : (short story?)
III.    Correspondence, 1940-1997
Folders 28-34

Arranged chronologically, with undated material last.

94 letters, chiefly photocopies of letters from Aaron Copland to Leo Smit. Filed chronologically

Box Folder Contents
1 28 1940-1949
14 letters on 11 leaves
1 29 1950-1959
26 letters on 28 leaves
1 30 1960-1969
17 letters on 18 leaves
1 31 1970-1979
25 letters on 25 leaves
1 32 1980-1989
8 letters on 8 leaves
1 33 1995-1997
2 letters on 2 leaves
1 34 Undated
2 letters on 2 leaves
IV.    Clippings and reviews, 1962-2000
Folders 35-38

Arranged chronologically

27 photocopies and original documents, including 3 obituaries.

Box Folder Contents
1 35 1962-1967
10 clippings
1 36 1976-1979
7 clippings
1 37 1981-1984
3 clippings
1 38 1994-2000
7 clippings, including 3 obituaries
V.    Programs, 1939-2000
Folders 39-42

Arranged chronologically

21 photocopies and originals

Box Folder Contents
1 39 1939-1958
3 programs
1 40 1962-1978
7 programs
1 41 1980-1983
7 programs
1 42 1994-2000
4 programs
Box Folder Contents
1 43 1969-1986
4 pieces
VII.    Lecture materials, 1960-1996
Folders 44-47

Arranged alphabetically by title

Materials, chiefly photocopies of music, used for lecture-concerts by Leo Smit

Box Folder Contents
2 44 Crazy Quilt of American Piano Music (no lecture texts, only music)


• Kern, Jerome : Siren's song (p. 1 only)
• Shapero, Harold . Mister La Sol
• Gottschalk, Louis . Ossian, op. 4
• Farwell, Arthur . Polytonal study, op. 109, no. 20
• Fine, Irving . Red Queen's Gavotte
• Cage, John . Suite for Toy Piano
• MacDowell, Edward . In Deep Woods, op. 62
• Copland, Aaron . Three Moods
• Copland, Aaron . Two Piano Pieces
• Burge, David . Incomplete work from Contemporary Keyboard
• Schuman, William . Three Piano Moods
• Cage, John : Dream


• September 9, 1995 . Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall, Williams College, Williamstown, MA (includes photocopy proof)
• September 17, 1995 . Gerald G. Wilmot Hall of Music, Nazareth College, Rochester, NY (includes texts to Emily Dickinson songs)
• April 19, 1996 . Karl Geiringer Hall, University of California, Santa Barbara

2 45 Liszt in Italy


• Introduction to Liszt in Italy (Typescript (2 leaves))

Music: (2 photocopied sets of the following works)

• Liszt, Franz : Angelus!
• Liszt, Franz : Carillon
• Liszt, Franz : Les Funerailles
• Liszt, Franz : Consolation No. 3
• Liszt, Franz : Liebesträume: Notturno no. II
• Liszt, Franz : Il Pensieroso
• Liszt, Franz : Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa
• Liszt, Franz : Miserer
• Liszt, Franz : Les Jeus d'Eaux à la Villa d'Este
• Wagner, Richard : Isolden's Liebestod
• Liszt, Franz : Kleine Stücke
• Liszt, Franz : Sursum Corda

Additional music:

• Bach, Johann Sebastian : Cantata no. 161. Der Lieb zwar in der Erden (Chorale)
• Liszt, Franz : La Notte. With typescript letter from Paul Pascal, University of Washington, July 11, 1997, regarding literary allusions in the Liszt work
• Liszt, Franz : Harmonies poetiques. Invocation
• Liszt, Franz : Abschied
• Liszt, Franz : Unstern
• Liszt, Franz : En rêve
• Liszt, Franz : Nuages gris
• Liszt, Franz : Angelus
• Liszt, Franz : Consolations
• Liszt, Franz : Five Hungarian Folksongs
• Liszt, Franz : Glockenspiel (Carillon)
• Schumann, Robert : Liebeslied
• Liszt, Franz : Sursum Corda


• June 11, 1986 . Gartner Auditorium, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio
• May 31, 1995 . Gartner Auditorium, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio. With typescript letter (1 leaf) from Lita Grier to Leo Smit

3 46 Songs (no lecture title provided)


• Porter, Cole : Art
• Porter, Cole : I am in love
• Porter, Cole : Cherry pies ought to be you
• Porter, Cole : Trust your destiny to a star
• Porter, Cole : No lover
• Porter, Cole : Nobody's chasing me
• Porter, Cole : Red, hot and blue
• Porter, Cole : A little skipper from heaven above
• Porter, Cole : Where oh where
• Porter, Cole : Fresh as a daisy
• Porter, Cole : Most gentlemen don't like love
• Porter, Cole : Blow, Gabriel, blow
• Porter, Cole : Give me the land
• Raksin, David : Laura
• Ives, Charles : Songs my mother taught me
• Ives, Charles : The circus band
• Ives, Charles : Walking
• Ives, Charles : The greatest man . (2 copies)
• Blitzstein, Marc : Jimmie's got a goil
• Rorem, Ned : Snake
• Citkowitz, Israel : Gentle lady
• Carter, Elliott : The line-gang
• Thomson, Virgil : Susie Asado
• Fine, Irving : Polaroli
• Kubik, Gail : The Lamb
• Gershwin, George : I can't be bothered now
• Gershwin, George : How long has this been going on?
• Bernstein, Leonard : Some other time
• Bernstein, Leonard : My house
• Bernstein, Leonard : One hundred easy ways
• Copland, Aaron (arr.) : Simple gifts

3 47 Tchaikovsky - Self Portrait


• Tchaikovsky diary entries and letters


• circa 39 works by Tchaikovsky, mostly songs

VIII.    Books bearing inscriptions to Leo Smit, 1960-1998
Folders 48-49

Arranged alphabetically by author

Published books signed by their authors.

Box Folder Contents
4 48 Copland, Aaron, 1900-1990
Copland on music Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1960

280 pages ; 22 cm

Bears inscription from Copland to Leo Smit.

4 49 Solomon, Maynard
Beethoven: Second, revised edition New York, New York: Schirmer Books, 1998

xxii, 554 pages ; 25 cm

Bears inscription from Solomon to Leo Smit.

Search Terms

The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the Library's online catalog.


Copland, Aaron, 1900-1990


Composers--New York (State)--Buffalo
Copland, Aaron, 1900-1990--Correspondence



Associated Material

Related Resources

Related Resources in the Music Library

The collection consists of 104 scores by Leo Smit, principally in copies of holographs. There are also another 43 items arranged or transcribed by Smit, inscribed to or by Smit, scores marked for performance by Smit, and miscellaneous scores.

A collection of photographs of and by Leo Smit, with digital images online.

An online exhibit commemorating the life and career of Leo Smit. It contains many images of Smit as well as photographs taken by him. A list of Smit's compositions, compiled by the composer, is also included.