Wehner, George B.
- 29.08 linear feet (21 boxes )
The George Wehner scores consist of original music composed by this eccentric, but prolific artist. Wehner appears to have adopted various pseudonyms (for example, "Leo" and "George Leighton") or used different forms of his name (including George Haslett-Wehner) for some of hisearlier compositions. Most of the dated materials are from the mid-1930s and the early 1960s. Although undated, one of the earliest scores in the collection most likely is the manuscript score for Summer Shower, a work dedicated to Ethel Kennedy, who was a fellow teacher at the Michigan Conservatory of Music. Other early works represented in the collection are the song, The Sacred Hour (1936, dedicated to Ernestine Schumann-Heink), an untitled orchestral piece for strings (1937), and a ballet,The Phoenix (1937, written for Katya Sergava). The greatest strength of the collection, however, lies in its extensive, but incomplete, selection of the full and/or piano scores for many of Wehner's later operas. Aside froma few synopses included with some of the ballet and opera scores, the collection does not contain any examples of Wehner's writings. Also of note is a copy of ten pages ofhandwritten, uncredited biographical notes on Wehner's life and friends. Comprised almost exclusively of scores, this collection will be of most interest to those researchers who wish to investigate Wehner's music. The collection, however, may provide some additional opportunities for the study of small-scale opera productions in New York City or Brooklyn's cultural life during the post World War II period.
Composer, actor, writer, painter, and spiritualist, GeorgeBenjamin Wehner (1890-1970) led an extraordinarily varied,yet strangely productive life. Born in Detroit, Michigan,George was the son of the sculptor Carl Herman Wehner and Annie Haslett. Much of his early childhood, however, was spent in Newburgh, New York. Wehner's own musical abilities emerged early on, and, by the age of five, he had begun composing and had devised his own notational system. Following the death of his mother in 1904, George and his sister were sent to live with their maternal grandmother in suburban Detroit. Allegedly inspired by an immersion into Native American culture forged through his interactions with a nearby encampment of Ojibway Indians, George composed a four-act opera, which earned him a scholarship to the Michigan Conservatory of Music in 1908.He studied composition, theory, and piano, and, later, taught at the Conservatory. Around this same time, Wehner also began to explore more seriously those pronounced psychic abilities he already believed he possessed. He trained with local mediums and began to hold his own séances with friends and neighbors, as well as colleagues from the Conservatory. By the early 1920s, Wehner had leftDetroit for New York City. He quickly infiltrated show business circles in New York, struggling as a songwriter and sometime performer, but finding greater success in building up a portfolio of clients for his services as a professional medium. Most notable among these patrons was the actress Minnie Maddern Fiske and designer Natacha Rambova. Wehner spent much of the rest of the decade focused on promoting his reputation as a medium; those efforts culminating in the publication of his autobiography, A Curious Life, in 1929.
By the early 1930s, Wehner appears to have abandoned "spiritual mediumship" as a profession and turned to writing fiction, as well as painting, as a career alternative. He exhibited his watercolors at galleries andalso began to compose music quite prolifically, turning out orchestral pieces, ballet scores, and other works for the stage. Among his performed compositions from this period were songs used in concerts by Ernestine Schumann-Heink and Maria Maximovitch; ballets for Katya Sergava andAlexis Rotov; and symphonic pieces put on by the WNYC Concert Orchestra and the New York City Symphony Orchestrain 1940 and 1941. Throughout the 1940s, Wehner maintained a feverish work pace. He also began to regularly attend the Cantonese Theatre of New York. Classical Chinese theater and music would have a profound influence on his later works for the stage, such as the opera, The Mark of Kings (1961). His financial situation was eased considerably in his later years when a friend left the composer a bequest of money after her death. In 1949, Wehner purchased a former rooming house in Brooklyn Heights, where he would live and work for the next twenty years. His musical output became even more prodigious during the last two decades of his life, when he composed the music and wrote the librettos for fourteen operas. Several of these works were presented by the Heights OperaCompany in summer concerts at parks throughout New York. In 1965, the Amato Opera Theater staged the American premiere of his opera, Three Days After. Wehner also created new ballet scores later in life. The Cockfight (1959), with a scenario by Romana Kryzanowska, was performed at a workshop that featured her son, Paul Mejia,then a student at the School of American Ballet. Wehner continued to compose nearly up until the time of his death. He had begun work on a new opera and had completed the first act before being taken seriously ill and being hospitalized before his death.
Controlled Access Terms
- Wehner, George B. -- Scores.
- Ballets -- Scores.
- Composers -- United States -- 20th century.
- Opera -- Production and direction -- New York (State) -- New York.
- Operas -- Scores.
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) -- Social life and customs -- 20th century.
Additional Creator Names
- Kryzanowska, Romana, 1923-
- Schumann-Heink, Ernestine, 1861-1936.
- Maximovitch, Maria.
- Sergava, Katherine.
- Amato Opera Theatre (New York, N.Y.)
- Heights Opera Company.
- American Music Collection.