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Sylvia Marlowe collection

Identifier: MP-0006-01


Sylvia Marlowe (1908-1981) was an important mid-twentieth century American harpsichordist. The Sylvia Marlowe collection documents her performance career, predominantly through scores, many inscribed to her by composers. Additionally, photographs and textual publicity materials provide further context for Marlowe's performances and recordings.


  • 1932 - 1978
  • Majority of material found within 1950 - 1970



3.1 Cubic Feet (8 boxes)

Scope and Content of Collection

The collection consists primarily of music manuscripts collected by Sylvia Marlowe, including various composers’ scores, music written for, commissioned, or arranged by Sylvia Marlowe, as well as correspondence, negatives, and other miscellanea. Many of the scores are inscribed to Marlowe by the composer. They may also be accompanied by correspondence from the composer to Marlowe.

The collection also contains photographic materials, mainly consisting of black and white prints and contact sheets from publicity shoots. Also includes photographs of Marlowe's husband, Leonid Berman. Other performers and composers depicted in the photographs series include conductor Ernest Ansermet, Arthur Berger, Elliott Carter, Robert Conant, Pamela Cook, Aaron Copland, Paul Des Marais, Bernard Greenhouse, Alan Hovhanness, John Lessard, Claude Monteux, Rafael Puyana, Vittorio Rieti, Daniel Saidenberg, Henri Sauguet, Harry Shulman, and Virgil Thomson.

The collection does not document Marlowe's involvement with the Mannes School of Music.

Language of Materials

Languages other than English include French and Italian as musical lyrics and inscriptions on scores.

Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research use. Please contact for appointment.

Use Restrictions

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from The New School Archives and Special Collections. Please contact:

Biographical Note

American harpsichordist Sylvia Marlowe was born Sapira Marlowe on September 26, 1908, in New York. After learning the piano and organ at school and university, Marlowe continued her musical education at the Ecole Normale in Paris, studying piano, organ, and composition with Nadia Boulanger. It was there that she first heard Wanda Landowska, whose harpsichord playing impressed her deeply, although she did not study with her until years later.

Upon returning to the United States, Marlowe received a national music award to perform Bach’s Das Wohltemperirte Clavier on the piano in a series of radio broadcasts. Gradually she gave up the piano in favor of the harpsichord. For some years she specialized in radio broadcasting, presenting Renaissance and Baroque solo and chamber works as well as a wide range of contemporary music, including jazz and rock. Although she never lost her interest in popular American music, and even performed in nightclubs, she became increasingly focused on concert recitals, performances with orchestra, and recordings. In 1948, Marlowe was appointed to the faculty of the Mannes College of Music in New York. That same year she married French painter Leonid Berman.

Marlowe performed in several tours in North and South America, Europe and Asia. A notable tour was a three month trip through East Asia as part of the State Department's International Cultural Relations Program in 1956. In 1957, she founded the Harpsichord Music Society, a non-profit educational institution aimed at fostering the study of the harpsichord, as well as the creation of a contemporary repertory. The society also provided scholarships to students and composers. In 1960, musicologist and harpsichordist Kenneth Cooper, one of Marlowe's many pupils, received a scholarship from the society to study at the Mannes College of Music. Marlowe also expanded the literature for the harsichord through commissioned works by Elliot Carter, Alexi Haieff, Alan Hovhaness, Vittorio Reiti, Henri Sauguet, and Virgil Thomson.

Marlowe is one of the figures credited with re-popularising the harpsichord in the United States and around the world. Her performances, teaching, broadcasts, and involvement with new compositions renewed the study of and interest in the instrument.

Sylvia Marlowe died in New York on December 10, 1981.

Sources: Schonberg, Harold C. "American In the Orient." New York Times (1923-Current file) Apr 22 1956: 119. ProQuest. 16 Nov. 2018 .

"Sylvia Marlowe Weds." New York Times (1923-Current file) Jan 09 1948: 24. ProQuest. 16 Nov. 2018 .

Schott, Howard. 2001 "Marlowe [Sapira], Sylvia." Grove Music Online. 16 Nov. 2018. http:////

Organization and Arrangement

Arranged in 3 series: 1. Correspondence and promotional materials, 1946-1976 2. Photographs, 1950s-1970s 3. Scores, 1932-1978

Custodial History

Collection formerly housed in the Harry Scherman Library of Mannes College the New School for Music, formerly Mannes College of Music. No known accession record exists.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred from Harry Scherman Library of the Mannes School of Music to The New School Archives and Special Collections, 2015.

Guide to the Sylvia Marlowe collection
New School Archives and Special Collections Staff
February 1, 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description