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Sylvia Marlowe papers, scores and recordings

Identifier: MP-0026-01


Harpsichordist Sylvia Marlowe (1908-1981) contributed to popularizing harpsichord music and promoting new works for the harpsichord in the twentieth century. The collection includes personal correspondence, photographs, clippings and programs, contracts and wills, analog audio reels of important albums Marlowe recorded, and a set of scores of classical pieces set in contemporary popular arrangements composed for Marlowe. The collection also contains correspondence and documents relating to the Harpsichord Music Society (founded by Marlowe) and Kenneth Cooper, its director.


  • 1941-1993



6.2 Cubic Feet (5 boxes, 4 folders)

Language of Materials




Content Description

This collection contains audio reels of original recordings by harpsichordist Sylvia Marlowe, annotated score manuscripts from the 1940s, and papers, which include advertisements and programs for Marlowe's performances, personal correspondence and address books, photographs and negatives, and newspaper clippings. There are also legal documents such as contracts and wills for Marlowe and her husband, Leonid Berman.

The scores in this collection consist of popularized arrangements of classical compositions, mostly written by jazz composers Al Datz and Lou Singer. The compositions, which draw from themes by composers such as Bach, Haydn, and Mozart, have fanciful titles such as “Bach Breaks Out” and “Mr. Haydn Gets Hep” and were largely produced for an album with Marlowe entitled New Portraits of Old Masters, a recording which is not contained in this collection. Some of the harpsichord scores contain fingerings, corrections, and occasionally, additional harmony notes annotated in pencil.

The audio reels include master recordings of several of Marlowe's major albums, although not a comprehensive collection. No other recordings are contained in the New School Archives' related Sylvia Marlowe collection (MP.0006.01).

The collection also contains papers relating to the Harpsichord Music Society, which Marlowe founded in 1957, and the correspondence of Kenneth Cooper (1941-2021), director of the Society from the 1980s until its dissolution in 1992. Cooper was a harpsichordist and musicologist who was Marlowe’s student at Mannes College of Music in the 1960s, and later collaborated with her in the album Two Harpsichords, “Live.”

The bulk of the records in the collection post-dating Marlowe's death in 1981 concern the operations of the Harpsichord Music Society, and Kenneth Cooper's role in that organization. New School archivists speculate that Cooper may have added these materials to the collection, in addition to the materials concerning the 1985 tribute concert and other biographical documents about Marlowe after her death.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use, but no access copies of the undigitized analog audio recordings are currently available. Researchers desiring access and willing to pay a digitization fee may do so upon consultation with The New School Archives. Please contact for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

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 Rieti, 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.


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:////


Arranged alphabetically in 3 series: 1. Papers; 2. Recordings; 3. Scores.

Custodial History

Following Sylvia Marlowe's death in 1981, Kenneth Cooper came into the possession of some -- if not all -- of her papers. He subsequently loaned a portion of the papers (correspondence, address books, passports, and wills) to harpsichordist Christina Edelen for personal study. Edelen, with the consent of Cooper's widow, shipped the portion of the collection in her custody to The New School Archives. Shortly thereafter, Josephine Mongiardo-Cooper shipped the remainder of the papers to the Archives, where staff reunited them into the present collection.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated to the New School Archives by Josephine Mongiardo-Cooper, the widow of Kenneth Cooper, in 2022 and 2023.

Related Materials

The New School Archives holds the papers of Sylvia Marlowe (MP.0006.01) which includes correspondence, photographs, and scores. That collection has an unknown provenance and no accession paperwork. It is for this reason that New School Archives staff created this separate collection, rather than attempting to unite records of unknown provenance with records exhibiting a clear chain of custody.

Both collections contain correspndence, scores, photographs, and concert programs. This collection, however, contains additional correspondence saved by Marlowe, personal items such as passports and address books, records relating to Marlowe's husband, Leonid Berman, and the records of the Harpsichord Music Society and its director, Kenneth Cooper. The scores in this collection relate only to certain jazz-style compositions, possibly created for a single album, between 1941 and 1944.

Guide to the Sylvia Marlowe recordings, scores and papers
Jason Adamo
June 16, 2023
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