Biography and History

Since 1935 Princeton University's Department of Music has offered courses in composition, music history, and related areas to students at the graduate and undergraduate level. Though the music curriculum has traditionally centered upon music history and composition, developments in the 1990s resulted in the addition of a certificate program in musical performance to complement these areas.

The origins of music education at Princeton can be traced to the early 20th century, when chapel music, the University Orchestra, and other student musical groups provided students with an informal introduction to performance and composition. All of these activities were overseen by different individuals and classes and lectures on music were offered only sporadically. It was not until 1934 that a strong push was made by faculty for the formal organization of a Department of Music. The oft-cited rationale for such an initiative was the maintenance of a well-rounded liberal arts curriculum (Yale in comparison had established its own School of Music in 1894); however limited funding for new departments forestalled the immediate realization of the idea.

In the spring of 1935 Roy Dickinson Welch, chair of the Department of Music at Smith College, came to Princeton as a visiting professor to teach two elective courses and to investigate the potential for a full program in music. The student response to Welch's courses was overwhelming and the next year he was appointed the first director of the Program in Music, a special section established under the Department of Art and Archaeology. By 1940, undergraduate elections in the program had leapt from 35 to 380 students.

The progress made by the Program in Music during its first five years of existence was impressive enough to warrant a special issue of the Bulletin of the Department of Art and Archaeology of Princeton University in June of 1940 entitled "The Crisis in Music." The titular article was a plea by Welch for increased funding, improved facilities, and the upgrade of the music section to departmental status. He fervently argued that the program was so dire for resources that it would be better for it to be scaled back dramatically than to carry on indeterminately in such a constrained manner. A request for gifts in support of the Music section by President Harold Dodds soon followed.

Welch's petitions were finally answered in 1945, when he was made the inaugural chair of the Department of Music by action of the Board of Trustees. This new status was accompanied by the addition of several faculty, most notably Oliver Strunk and Arthur Mendel, the latter of whom took over as chairman following Welch's death in 1951. Ph.D. programs in music history and composition were instituted in 1950 and 1961, respectively, and the department moved from its crowded makeshift quarters in Clio Hall to the newly built Woolworth Center for Musical Studies in 1963.

Arthur Mendel served as chairman until 1967, bringing great recognition to the department through his acclaimed studies of the work of Bach. He was succeeded by a string of similarly respected scholars and composers, including Kenneth Levy, Peter Westergaard and Scott Burnham. The Department of Music's curriculum, though consistently maintaining its dual emphasis upon history and composition, began to experiment with music technology and performance classes in the late 1960s.

Throughout the department's history and particularly during its infancy, it was bolstered by the support of the Friends of Music at Princeton, a group founded by Roy Dickinson Welch in 1950 to raise funds for the Department of Music's wide swath of activities outside of classroom teaching. At various times gifts made by the Friends of Music have underwritten to some degree the University Orchestra, the Glee Club, the University Band, concerts, guest lectures by music scholars, and a record library. In 1997 a gift from William H. Scheide '36, an original Friends member, enabled the construction of the Arthur Mendel Music Library. The addition to the Woolworth Center placed most of the University Library's music collections under one roof and at arm's length from the department for the first time.

Source: From the finding aid for AC151

  • Department of Music Records. 1932-2015 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC151

    Since 1935 Princeton University's Department of Music has offered courses in composition, music history, and related areas to students at the graduate and undergraduate level. The records of the Department of Music document the department's wide range of activities including teaching, research, curriculum development, and the planning of music-related programs on campus.

  • Department of Music Records. 1932-2015 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC151

    Since 1935 Princeton University's Department of Music has offered courses in composition, music history, and related areas to students at the graduate and undergraduate level. The records of the Department of Music document the department's wide range of activities including teaching, research, curriculum development, and the planning of music-related programs on campus.