Frank Damrosch was born into music. His father was a conductor and his mother a singer; his godfather was composer Franz Liszt. The household moved from Germany to America when he was young, and he stuck to the family trade. His efforts to teach music to the poor in New York earned him, in 1897, the position of head of music education for New York City’s public schools.
Musical ignorance was common in America’s schools at the time, and the best musicians had to either come from Europe (as he had), or study there. Damrosch firmly believed American musicians should not have to go abroad to become masters. He wanted to create a conservatory that rivaled the great European music schools.
Money remained the problem until he met banker James Loeb—who agreed to finance a conservatory in memory of his mother, Betty. It was originally known as the Institute of Musical Art, and opened in 1905. Thanks to Loeb’s generosity the school was freed from pressure to please tuition-paying students, and instead focused on inculcating demanding standards of musical art.
In 1919, a rich textile merchant named Augustus Juilliard (who led the board overseeing New York’s Metropolitan Opera) made the largest bequest ever for the advancement of music. A sum ultimately totaling $12.5 million was used to create the Juilliard Graduate School. Just a few years later, in 1926, the two superb training academies built by these donors merged to form the Juilliard School of Music.
The Juilliard School is today one of the world’s leading conservatories, and supports instruction in dance and drama as well as music. Juilliard continues to benefit from powerful support by many of America’s most devoted philanthropists, most recently hedge-fund billionaire Bruce Kovner. In the late 1960s, Kovner left a Ph.D. program at Harvard, felled by writer’s block, and took up driving taxis, working on political campaigns, and studying the keyboard at Juilliard. The school made a mark on him, and he later became long-serving chairman of its board, not to mention its most generous giver. In 2006, he donated a priceless collection of manuscripts to the school (original sheet music by Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, and many others). In 2009, he began supporting the school’s Historical Performance Program, which encourages authentic presentations of music created from 1600 to the early 1800s. In 2012, Kovner donated $20 million to fully fund the program—providing total scholarships for all students. In early 2013 he offered $5 million to the Juilliard drama program. And at the end of 2013 he gave $60 million, the largest gift in the school’s history, to allow 52 of the music conservatory’s most accomplished students to be given full-ride scholarships every year.
- Juilliard School history, juilliard.edu/about/brief-history
- Augustus Juilliard’s initial bequest announced in the New York Times, query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=FB0F12FD3F5E157A93C5AB178DD85F4D8185F9
- “$60 Million Gift to Establish Fellowships at Juilliard,” New York Times, October 9, 2013, artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/09/60-million-gift-to-establish-fellowships-at-juilliard