Life at Curtis before the War: Photos by Fritz Henle, 1938

Date: August 5, 2013 Category:

In January 1938 the photojournalist Fritz Henle visited the Curtis Institute of Music to take pictures for the photographic essay “Music: Ten Million Americans Become Musically Literate” in LIFE Magazine. The feature aimed to illustrate the increased appreciation of music due to radio, music education in schools, and American participation in bands and orchestras.

Gary Graffman with his teacher in LIFE

Gary Graffman with his teacher in LIFE

When the article was published on December 12, 1938, two of the ten pages pertained to Curtis, including a full-page photo of Gary Graffman, then ten years old, with his piano teacher Isabelle Vengerova. The remaining photos taken during his visit are displayed here in four slideshows, along with Henle’s photographs of the annual Christmas party in December 1938, when he was invited back to celebrate with the Curtis community. The photographs remain under the copyright of the Henle Estate.

Accompanying the images are Curtis performances of the period, selected from hundreds of hours of acetate recordings that have been recently remastered by Safe Sound Archive of Philadelphia and preserved in digital format. Together they provide a fascinating glimpse of life at Curtis between the Depression and the Second World War.



Life at Curtis, January 1938

W.A. Mozart: Menuet, from String Quartet No. 17 in B flat major, K. 458 (“Hunt”).  Performed by the Curtis String Quartet. Broadcast from Casimir Hall on October 13, 1937



Learning by Doing

J. Brahms: Grazioso, from Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56b. Performed by Eleanor and Vladimir Sokoloff ’38. Broadcast from Casimir Hall on March 2, 1938.



Curtis Innovations, 1937–38

Anonymous: Fugato in B flat major (at the time thought to be by L. van Beethoven). Performed by Trio Classique. Broadcast from Casimir Hall on January 26, 1938.



Christmas Party, 1938

J.S. Bach: In Dulci Jubilo, from Orgelbuchlein. Performed by Caribel Gegenheimer ’38. Broadcast from Casimir Hall on March 12, 1938


Fritz Henle, c. 1938 (Courtesy of the Henle Estate)

Fritz Henle, c. 1938 (Courtesy of the Henle Estate)


Fritz Henle

The German-born photographer Fritz Henle (1909–1993), who settled in the United States in 1936, was one of the most famous photographers of his time. During his 60-year career he took over 100,000 photographs in various countries, covering many genres. He was one of the earliest contributors to LIFE Magazine, which published more than fifty features based on his images, including the one about music in America for which he visited Curtis in January 1938.



The photographs in this exhibit are on display at the Curtis Institute of Music.  For display purposes, the photographs in this exhibit were rearranged in a different order and captions were shortened. The full text of the exhibit  may be used for educational purposes and personal research only.

© Fritz Henle (photographs); Curtis Institute of Music (text)