Information for Researchers
Scope and Content of Collection
Collection Title: Albert Israel Elkus Papers
Date (inclusive): 1893-1976
Collection Number: BANC MSS 82/16 c
Elkus, Albert I. (Albert Israel),
Number of containers: 4 boxes, 1 carton, 2 oversize folders, 6 volumes
Linear feet: ca. 3.5
The Bancroft Library.
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720-6000
Phone: (510) 642-6481
Fax: (510) 642-7589
Abstract: The collection consists primarily of correspondence files
containing letters and related material documenting Elkus' career as an educator and a
leader in the music and arts community of his time, in particular that of the San Francisco
Bay Area. The collection also contains significant material pertaining to Cornel Lengyel,
internationally known author and long-time personal friend of Elkus. Lesser amounts of other
material related to Elkus' career, including some material on the University of California
loyalty oath controversy, and scrapbooks and other memorabilia relating to the Elkus family,
including his wife, Elizabeth Britton Elkus, and his father, Albert Elkus Sr., are found
here as well.
Languages Represented: Collection materials are in English
Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials,
please consult the Library's online catalog.
Information for Researchers
Collection is open for research.
Materials in this collection may be protected by the U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17,
U.S.C.). In addition, the reproduction of some materials may be restricted by terms of
University of California gift or purchase agreements, donor restrictions, privacy and
publicity rights, licensing and trademarks. Transmission or reproduction of materials
protected by copyright beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of
the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited
without permission of the copyright owner. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively
with the user.
All requests to reproduce, publish, quote from, or otherwise use collection materials
must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services, The Bancroft Library,
University of California, Berkeley 94720-6000. See:
[Identification of item], Albert Israel Elkus papers, BANC MSS 82/16 c, The Bancroft
Library, University of California, Berkeley
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the
library's online public access catalog
Elkus, Albert I. (Albert
Elkus, Elizabeth Britton
Lengyel, Cornel Adam
University of California,
Berkeley. Dept. of Music
University of California,
Music--California--San Francisco Bay Area
Music--Instruction and study--California
Gift of Mrs. Albert (Elizabeth) Elkus, August 11, 1981. One
additonal letter was given by Jonathan Elkus on July 16, 1991, and additonal material was
transferred to The Bancroft Libary from the Music Library by Judy Tsou in March 1993.
Albert Israel Elkus came from a family outstanding in the musical, commercial, and public
life of Sacramento. His mother, Bertha Kahn Elkus, was a distinguished
pianist and patroness of music; his father, Albert Elkus, was a prominent businessman and
several times mayor of the city.
Professor Elkus was born in Sacramento on April 30, 1884, and began there in 1896 his
career as pianist and composer. His teachers were first his mother, then Hugo
Mansfeldt and Oscar Weil in San Francisco,
Harold Bauer in Paris, Hugo Kahn,
Joseph Lhevinne,and Georg Schumann in Berlin,
Carl Prohaska and Robert Fuchs in Vienna. He was
a graduate of the University of California, receiving the degrees
Bachelor of Letters in 1906 and Master of Letters of 1907.
From 1916 to 1928 he was conductor of choral societies in Sacramento and San Francisco, and
in 1923 he began the long series of academic associations that were to continue until his
death in Oakland on February 19, 1962. He was head of the Theory Department at the
San Francisco Conservatory of Music from 1923 to 1925, and again from
1930 to 1937; Teacher of Music Theory and Composition at Dominican College, San
Rafael, from 1924 to 1931; Lecturer in Music at Mills
Collegefrom 1929 to 1933, and from 1933 to 1944 Instructor in Piano there;
Lecturer at Stanford University in the summer of 1933.
Professor Elkus joined the faculty of the University of California in 1931 as Lecturer in
Music, becoming Conductor of the University Symphony Orchestra in 1934.
In 1935 he was appointed Professor of Music and in 1937, Chairman of the Department, in
which post he continued until his retirement in 1951, a tenure of fourteen years.
For Professor Elkus it was a period of intense concentration and activity, during which he
gave his energy to the realization of his own vision of a university music department, a
vision larger in its scope than perhaps he himself realized.
During the decades immediately preceding this period, the position of the arts in American
universities had become perceptibly ambiguous, with the creative aspects of the arts under
considerable pressure from the more obviously and enticingly academic historical studies.
The University of California became deeply involved in this issue and took a lead in
resolving it. Professor Elkus aligned himself firmly with those bent on demonstrating that
all aspects of an art are academically compatible and, indeed, mutually fructifying.
But, although his voice was strong in administrative councils of the University, Professor
Elkus was not content to establish his point of view by argument alone. Within the
Department of Music he secured the appointment of a series of men of international renown,
but of very different casts of mind: Randall Thompson, Arthus
Bliss, Manfred Bukofzer, Ernest
Bloch, Roger Sessions. He encouraged younger colleagues to
broaden their interests at the same time they cultivated their specialties. And he strove
constantly toward an ideal curriculum that would offer not only maximum value to the
students but also maximum opportunity to the faculty. So it was that a historian might teach
a course in musical theory and a composer a course in history, For Professor Elkus believed
implicitly in the value of the contribution that the one might make in the field of the
While beset with the increasing administrative burden in a rapidly expanding department,
Professor Elkus continued as long as possible his activity as a performer and teacher. He
reluctantly gave up the conductorship of the University Symphony Orchestra in 1946, after
twelve years in which he had established his view of the threefold responsibility of such an
organization: to the players, for the experience of great works in the mainstream of musical
development; to the department, for works newly composed; and to the musical public for
works they might otherwise not hear.
In Music 27, which he taught from 1938 to 1950, Professor Elkus presented to thousands of
general students his own mature and balanced view of the art of music. In his later years,
in places remote from Berkeley, people would approach him, identify themselves as former
students, and express their gratitude for his instruction.
In 1951, reaching the University retirement age, Professor Elkus became Emeritus, and he
immediately assumed the directorship of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, a post he
held for six years. He retired in 1957. Accepting the invitation of the Department of Music,
he returned to active service on a part-time basis, and in the fall of 1958, in his
seventy-fifth year, taught a course in counterpoint, a discipline in which he had taken
abiding delight since his student days, and in which he has masterly skill.
On Charter Day, March 20, 1959, during ceremonies inaugurating Glenn T.
Seaborg as Chancellor of the Berkeley campus, a grateful University conferred on
him the honorary degree, Doctor of Laws.
Until his death, Professor Elkus continued to teach piano at the Conservatory and to
lecture in University Extension.
During his whole professional life, Professor Elkus was active in the musical milieu of San
Francisco and contributed greatly to forming it. He was from 1933 a member of the Board of
Governors of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and served on an enormous variety of
governing boards, executive boards, and advisory and administrative committees at all
levels--campus, regional, state, and national. His friends in San Francisco were legion, and
the confidence inspired by his presence on the Berkeley campus resulted in generous gifts to
music at the University of California.
Professor Elkus was a commanding and beloved figure in the musical world of two continents.
During his life a constant procession of young musicians sought him out for help and
counsel, which they received from an open and untiring hand.
Professor Elkus came out of the Romantic Period of music, and remained deeply devoted to
the music of that period. His gods were Beethoven, whose creative processes he studies
throughout his life; Wagner; Chopin; Verdi; and Brahms. But he also had great love for the
music of the Renaissance and Baroque composers and took a vigorous part in furthering the
music of his own time. Whatever form his musical activity, as composer, performer, or
teacher, he sought beauty as he understood it, and his understanding was neither restricted
by shibboleths of idiom nor clouded by fad.
As a performer, whether pianist of conductor, he was a true poet, equally at home in
concepts of grandeur, delicacy, or drama. Even after the demands of administration had made
regular practice impossible, his skill as a pianist was such that he made the most casual
classroom illustration an arresting experience and a brilliantly lighted glimpse into his
He virtually ceased to compose after he became Chairman of the Department of Music,
channeling his creative energy into the tasks at hand. Of his works one,
Impressions from a Greek Tragedy, received the Juilliard Award in
1935 and his found a place in the repertory of many orchestras throughout the world.
Professor Elkus is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Britton Elkus, whom
he married in 1929, and two sons, Jonathan Britton Elkus and
Benedict Britton Elkus.
Professor Elkus had a warm, generous nature, and a natural grace in all his human
relationships. It would be hard to separate in his countless students the influence of the
man from the influence of the musician and artist. A loyal and devoted friend, he evoked
loyalty and devotion in his friendships. In a very real sense he survives in every student
he taught, every colleague he worked with, and every friend he made, for there is not of
them who has not been in some degree changed as a result of the association.
A paragraph from his official correspondence as Chairman of the Department of Music gives a
quick insight into his whole personality, for it reveals him as he affirms ingratiatingly
his secure faith in the intellectual dignity of the artistic processes:
I venture to emphasize a point of view of performance which, it
seems to me, you have not estimated at its proper value--a serious and adequate production
of a major work of musical literature involves certain professional techniques only as a
means to an end. The end is highly creative, for the translation of a complex score (the
notation of which is laid out with the care of an architectural plan) into sound involves
an analytic and critical study of the work in relation to its character, time and period.
Such interpretations of major works are properly to be considered as essays in
Taken from University of California, "In Memoriam," April 1963
Scope and Content of Collection
The Albert I. Elkus papers consist primarily of correspondence documenting Elkus'
career as an educator and a leader in the musical and arts community of his day, in
particular in the San Francisco Bay area. Exam files and other professional files also are
The collection also contains a significant quantity of material pertaining to
Cornel Lengyel, internationally known author and longtime personal
friend of the Elkus family, as well as lesser amounts of materials related to the University
of California loyalty oath controversy, and the Elkus family.