Learning from Marilyn Horne, On Stage and Through the Archive

By NYPL Staff
May 24, 2019
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Like many who come to The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts searching for a music score or CD, I had always believed the Library’s collection could be found on the second floor. As a young and enthusiastic musician, I attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, and would be sent to LPA—conveniently located across the street—by my teachers to find art songs and borrow recordings of famous singers. I grew up loving the fact that I could come here and sit in the stacks to look at scores that were new to me. What I did not know until I began working in the Music & Recorded Sound Research Division on the third floor, was that I had known about only a small fraction of the invaluable resources housed at NYPL.

Marilyn Horne and me after a master class at Oberlin Conservatory of Music in 2018

There are many priceless collections here, but Marilyn Horne’s Score Collection has become my favorite treasure trove of information and inspiration. Horne has a residency at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where I studied from 2014 to 2018. As a student, I always looked forward to watching and learning from her master classes and, eventually, taking a lesson with her and singing in one of those master classes myself.

Young singers like me attend events like these eager to soak up any advice or knowledge we can. We pore over YouTube videos of the artists’ performances, meticulously hunting for technique and interpretation. When I was charged with inventorying the 47 boxes of Marilyn Horne’s newly acquired music and files, I suddenly had the key to a door I never thought I could go through—having the ability to find every piece of preparation and detail that went into the performances that I, and countless others, still watch.

Horne’s annotated scores make up a large portion of this collection. Of the 1,550 bound scores the Library obtained, around 500 are filled with her personal markings. As these can be found in everything from art song, aria, and folk-song anthologies to oratorio and orchestral repertoire, they reveal the breadth and depth of her career and the devotion she had to all forms of music.

Like Beverly Sills’ scores, which the Library acquired in 2009, Horne’s notated scores emphasize the creativity and dedication she gave to her craft. These scores are saturated with her translations, phrasings, breaths, highlighting, stage directions, emotional interpretations, and corrective notes. I cannot even begin to explain just how exciting it is to me, an operatic hopeful, to see just how hard Horne worked (and still works), and to gain insight into the process she went through to create music.

Two pages from Verdi's Il trovatore, with notes from Marilyn Horne. The breaths, phrasings, translations, interpretations, and reminders such as "legatissimo" and "one N" show the detail Horne applied to all of her work

One of my favorite scores is the spiral-bound manuscript Horne used for John Corigliano’s opera, The Ghosts of Versailles. The part was written for her towards the end of her operatic career. Initially, I assumed that, because Horne was already such an experienced and seasoned performer, the manuscript would have few or no markings. I could not have been more wrong.

Note from historian Joseph A.D. Sutton to Marilyn Horne, about her character in the opera The Ghosts of Versailles

The score does have all of the usual notes, such as phrasings, pitch reminders, breath reminders, and highlighting, but it has so much more. Tucked inside are handwritten alternate cadenzas on torn staff paper, and scribbled staging and acting notes on yellow legal paper. Taped to the inside cover is a note written to her by Joseph A.D. Sutton, a sociologist and historian based in Brooklyn to whom she had seemingly reached out for historical information on the character on which her role was modeled. All this in a score of only 12 pages of music! What a joy it is to watch video of the performance with her personal score in front of me, to see her actions reflected in her score and her score reflected in her actions.


From the score of the Ghosts of Versailles, covered in notes and alternate pitches

 A handwritten scrap of staff paper tucked into Horne's score of The Ghosts of Versailles with the costume-fitting schedule in the top left corner

Marilyn Horne's copy of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, signed and inscribed by Zubin Mehta in 1983

Horne’s annotated scores are just a part of what makes this collection so special. It also contains her teaching materials, including the bel canto exercises she derived from the work of Maria Malibran, Manuel Garcia, and Pauline Viardot, for her vocal workshops at Carnegie Hall. The collection also has photocopies of rare arias, and hundreds of versions of arranged and transposed folk songs, popular songs, and Broadway songs. It includes autographed gifts from artists like Pete Seeger and Leonard Bernstein, and the scores Horne used for performances like Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic in 1983, adorned with her notes and an autograph by Mehta—it's the very score from which one can see her singing in the concert video online.

The collection even has items that had been hidden away in scores, such as rehearsal schedules, doodles, birthday cards from friends, and a drawing by her daughter, Angela Lewis (which has been returned). Horne’s collection shows not just musical decisions, but also the life and work of an American operatic legend.

Marilyn Horne’s donation to The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts is a pedagogical dream come true. I am honored to have been the person at the Library to organize her materials, and I feel honored to work at an institution that readily and freely supplies priceless information to whomever would like to learn from it.

Collection photos from the NYPL Music & Recorded Sound Research Division.This collection is still being processed. For more information, contact music@nypl.org.