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Peter Yates Papers
MSS 14  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Biography
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Peter Yates Papers
    Identifier/Call Number: MSS 14
    Contributing Institution: Mandeville Special Collections Library
    9500 Gilman Drive
    La Jolla, California, 92093-0175
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 22.1 Linear feet (48 archives boxes and 33 oversize folders)
    Date (inclusive): 1927 - 1976
    Abstract: Papers of a music critic, author, teacher, and poet, who championed modern avant-garde music, presented a series of chamber concerts in Los Angeles called "Evenings on the Roof," and headed the music department at Buffalo State University. The materials consist largely of correspondence and drafts of original writings. Also included in the collection are copies of scores by composers Charles Ives, Lou Harrison, Ingolf Dahl, and typescripts of poems by Peyton Houston.
    Creator: Yates, Peter, 1909-1976

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Peter Yates papers provide important documentation on contemporary musical activities in the mid-twentieth century United States, and on the career of a perceptive interpreter of those activities. The materials date mostly from the 1950s through the 1970s and consist largely of correspondence and drafts of Yates's writings. The collection is arranged in eight series: 1) CORRESPONDENCE, 2) WRITINGS, 3) PROGRAMS AND PAMPHLETS REGARDING PETER YATES, 4) MISCELLANY, 5) FRANCES MULLEN YATES MATERIALS, 6) PEYTON HOUSTON MATERIALS, 7) PROGRAMS AND PAMPHLETS COLLECTED BY YATES, and 8) OVERSIZE MATERIALS.
    The CORRESPONDENCE series is quite extensive. Represented are many important figures in the world of twentieth-century music, including Milton Babbitt, John Cage, Henry and Sidney Cowell, Ingolf Dahl, Lukas Foss, Lou Harrison, Peyton Houston, Alan Hovhaness, Charles Ives, pianist John Kirkpatrick, William Kraft, Ernst Krenek, Toshiro Mayazumi, Harry Partch, Roger Reynolds, Wallingford Riegger, Ned Rorem, Arnold Schoenberg, Virgil Thomson, Edgar Varese, and a note from conductor Bruno Walter. Also included is correspondence with poets Ronald Johnson, Marianne Moore, Lorine Neidecker, Kenneth Patchen, Kenneth Rexroth, Carl Sandburg, and Karl Shapiro.
    The correspondence with composer Lou Harrison is a very important part of the collection, since Harrison was a close friend of the Yates. Other materials relating to Harrison, including scores of some of his works, can be found in the series OVERSIZE MATERIALS.
    Another significant and extensive group of materials is the correspondence between Yates and Melissa and Charles Levitzky. The Levitzky correspondence is very personal in nature, and Yates often enclosed drafts of his poetry in his letters to the couple.
    The series is arranged alphabetically by the name of the correspondent or the subject. Thereunder the materials are arranged chronologically.
    The series WRITINGS is also extensive. It is subdivided into sections containing drafts of articles, short stories, books, plays, and program material. In general, the materials are arranged alphabetically by title. The poetry, most of which is in manuscript form, is largely unarranged due to the difficulty in determining titles or chronology. Published versions of the magazine articles can be found at the end of the series, arranged chronologically.
    PROGRAMS AND PAMPHLETS REGARDING PETER YATES document Yates' lectures, radio broadcasts, concerts which he produced, and other events in his career.
    Among the MISCELLANY are miscellaneous notes by Yates on a variety of subjects. Also included here are notes taken from an interview of conductor Bruno Walter.
    The small group of FRANCES MULLEN YATES MATERIALS relate to the wife of Peter Yates. Included here are Ms. Yates' music copy books. Ms. Yates' personal scores for the works of Charles Ives can be found in OVERSIZE MATERIALS.
    The PEYTON HOUSTON MATERIALS include typescripts of original poetry and mimeographs of manuscripts, some of which contain holograph annotations.
    OVERSIZE MATERIALS include scores of works by composers Ingolf Dahl, Lou Harrison, Charles Ives, and Johann Sebastian Bach. Many of these scores are mimeograph copies of original manuscripts. The Lou Harrison materials include prose and poetry pieces by the composer. The Bach materials consist of transcriptions of organ works made by Wesley Kuhnle, a close friend of Peter Yates and a builder of keyboard instruments.
    Also included in OVERSIZE MATERIALS is a scrapbook of Yates' writings on music, titled "The Lay Listener;" publicity materials for the Evenings on the Roof series; and copies of the Union College literary magazine, which contains early writings of Peter Yates.


    Peter B. Yates, music critic, author, teacher, and poet, was born in Toronto on November 30, 1909. His parents were U.S. citizens, and he attended Ridley and Union colleges in New York State. He received his B.A. from Princeton University in 1931. In 1933 Yates married the pianist Frances Mullen. After migrating to the West Coast, Yates went to work for the California Department of Employment in Los Angeles in 1937. He stayed with the agency as an employment counselor until 1962.
    In 1939 Peter and Frances Yates began a series of chamber music concerts in their Los Angeles home. The series took place in an attic-like room and eventually came to be known as "Evenings on the Roof." The programs featured contemporary music in combination with more traditional works, and many of the performers and composers were important figures in the Los Angeles avant-garde music scene. The series was later moved to other locations and evolved into the "Monday Evening Concerts" at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. These concerts gained a national reputation for presenting the works of 20th century composers such as Igor Stravinsky, John Cage, and Lou Harrison. Yates retired as director of the series in 1954.
    Yates was involved in many other music-related activities while in Los Angeles. He served as music critic for the magazine Arts and Architecture and presented numerous lectures on musical subjects. One of Yates' more memorable presentations, given in San Francisco in 1964 and elsewhere, involved a multi-media event which included projected images, tape recorded conversations, and a performance of a Bach chaconne on a frying pan. In this and other lectures, Yates inspired his audiences to approach music from new perspectives. He brought his ideas to the air waves in a series of radio broadcasts on the Los Angeles station KPFK.
    In 1964 Yates received a Ford Foundation grant that enabled him to travel and visit various composers and poets. In 1968 he was appointed the head of the music department at Buffalo State College (later the State University of New York at Buffalo). This was an unusual appointment, since Yates held only a Bachelor's degree and was not a performer or composer. At Buffalo Yates championed the cause of contemporary music and arranged many concerts of the works of living composers. He taught a course and led a seminar on the art of criticism, and he presented a series of weekly radio programs on the campus station WBFO. His wife gave many piano recitals, often performing the works of Charles Ives, her specialty.
    Peter Yates died in Buffalo in 1976. He left an important body of published criticism and poetry. Among his most significant works are An Amateur at the Keyboard (1964) and Twentieth Century Music (1967). In An Amateur at the Keyboard, Yates advocated a return to direct involvement in music-making by non-professionals. Such an involvement, he felt, would be an improvement over the passive appreciation of music through concerts and recordings, and it would restore a dying tradition of amateur musicianship that flourished in the 18th century and earlier. In Twentieth Century Music, Yates helped to explain the genesis of contemporary compositions and instructed his readers on how to appreciate the works. A collection of Yates' poetry was published in 1946 under the title A Smaller Poem Book.

    Publication Rights

    Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.

    Preferred Citation

    Peter Yates Papers, MSS 14. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego.

    Acquisition Information

    Not Available

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Ives, Charles, 1874-1954
    Jarrell, Randall, 1914-1965
    Johnson, Ronald, 1935
    Patchen, Kenneth, 1911-1972
    Rexroth, Kenneth, 1905-1982
    Sandburg, Carl, 1878-1967
    Schoenberg, Arnold, 1874-1951
    Shapiro, Karl Jay, 1913-2000
    Music -- 20th century