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Inventory of the John Edmunds papers, [ca. 1930-ongoing]
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: John Edmunds Papers,
    Date (inclusive): [ca. 1930-ongoing]
    Collection number: ARCHIVES EDMUNDS 1
    Creator: Edmunds, John, 1913-
    Extent: 27 boxes
    Repository: The Music Library
    Berkeley, California 94720-6000
    Shelf location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Donor: Mrs. Vera Edmunds, Berkeley, wife of John Edmunds.

    Date of gift: March 2, 1987.


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of the Music Library.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], John Edmunds papers, ARCHIVES EDMUNDS 1, The Music Library, University of California, Berkeley.


    Edmunds [St. Edmunds], John (b San Francisco, CA, 10 June 1913). Composer. He was educated at the University of California, at the Curtis Institute under Scalero, at Columbia University, and at Harvard (MA 1941); subsequently he studied privately in England with Arnold Goldsbrough and Thurston Dart. Among his awards are Joseph H. Bearns Prize (1937), a Fulbright scholarship (1951), a grant form the Italian government (1954-6), a Folger Shakespeare Library grant (1967), a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (1968), and a Guggenheim Fellowship (1969). He taught briefly at Syracuse University and at the University of California, Berkeley. From 1957 to 1961 he was in charge of the Americana collection in the New York Public Library. From 1968 to 1976 he worked in England, returning to San Francisco in 1977. He has concentrated on arranging and transcribing English song and poetry of the 17th century. The Major Epoch of English Song (1940-76) is an unpublished collection in 12 volumes of over 300 song arrangements for voice and piano, realized from the lute tablatures and figured basses, which seeks "to reassert the greatness of English song in that one great century -not as a mass of musicological data but as living music."
    Edmunds is himself a songwriter of the first rank: Varhse noted his "happy combination of sensibility and technique," and other composers to have valued his work include Cowell, Rorem, Flanagan, and Bacon. English and Irish poetry have inspired most of his songs, especially Middle English poetry and the work of W. B. Yeats. His awareness of the past gives to many of his own works a special, otherworldly quality. Eight of the songs from Hesperides (1935-60) are built on ground basses as are his Psalms of David (1960), which includes "The Lord is my Shepherd" set to a 16th-century pavan rhythm (3/2+2/2+3/2).
    His accompaniments seldom give way to swift flights of imagery, as do those of Bacon or Rorem, but they are nonetheless evocative. Edmunds's intensely lyrical songs dating from the 1930s such as "O love, how strangely sweet", "Weep you no more, sad fountains," "Why canst thou not," and "Take, o take" have become favorites of the repertory.
    "The Isle of Portland" (1935, A. E. Housman), revised in 1978 as "The Star-filled Seas," is especially notable as representing Edmunds's sensitive declamation, as is "Instinctively, unwittingly" (Lewis) for its perfect polyphony; surpassing all others of Edmunds's songs is perhaps "The Drummer" (Hardy), a requiem for a young soldier.
    After 1960 Edmunds wrote mainly choral works and ballets. In the early 1980s his attention centered on language, in a revision of Housman (unpublished), based on the poet's notebooks in the Library of Congress, and a study of Heinrich Heine ( The Firedrake , MS 1982). In 1946, with his wife Beatrice Quickenden and a colleague, Leonard Ralston, Edmunds founded the Campion Society in San Francisco. Its main purpose was the presentation of songs in English. Until is disbanded in 1953 its annual Festival of Unfamiliar Music at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and in recital halls throughout the Bay Area presented songs by Ives, Bacon, Diamond, Bowles, Nordoff, Chanler, Rorem, Thomson, Bernstein, and Pinkham.
    STAGE The Pastoral Kingdom (The Shepherd's Maze) (masque, Middle Eng.) nar, boys'/ female chorus, fl, va, kbd, perc, 1963, rev. 1974; Dance Requiem (Choric Requiem) (ballet on Renaissance and Baroque dance forms), 4 solo vv, chorus, org, perc, 1968; Jehovah and the Ark (children's ballet), nar, 2 pf, solo dancers, 1968, rev. 1973 as The Voyage to Ararat, collab. E. Bacon, rev. 1979 The Book named the Governor (7 dances, after T. Elyot), nar, 2 pf, 1974; The Parliament of Fowls (children's ballet), 1974, rev. 1976 as Rookmaster, collab. Bacon; The Council of Rooks (ballet), actors, dancers, pf/small orch, 1983-
    CHORAL The Sandison Hymnal, 1957-62; The Urban Muse [after tunes of 1400-1700] (J. M. Neale, I. Watts, J. Ruskin, others), Bar, chorus, org, perc, 1965, rev. 1975 as The Cities of Heaven and Earth, speaker, chorus, org; The Adams Book of Carols, 1957-72; Hymns Sacred and Profane (Vaughan, J. Clare, Melville, others) [after tunes of 1400-1700], nar, Mez, chorus, org, perc, 1966, rev. 1975 as The Praise of the Created World 12 Choral Hymns and Carols, 1966; A Son is Born (Middle Eng.), 1967; Carols at a Feast, speaker, mixed chorus, kbd (1978); Towards the Western Hills (W. Wordsworth, D. Wordsworth, R. Bridges, I. Watts), male nar, female nar, mixed chorus, org, perc, 1984-
    SONG SETS The Curlew (Yeats), 1935-6; The Fortunate Isles (Lydgate, Shakespeare, Dryden, others), 1935-60; Greenbuds (Housman), 1935-7; Hesperides (Herrick, Shakespeare, others), 50 songs, 1935-60 (1975), rev. 1983, incl. Oh love, how strangely sweet (Marston), Instinctively, unwittingly (Lewis), The Starfilled Seas (The Isle of Portland) (Housman), Take, o take those lips away (Shakespeare), Weep you no more, sad fountains (anon.), Why canst thou not (Danyel); The Phases of the Moon (Yeats), 1935-52 The Faucon (Middle Eng., Blake, Housman, Yeats, others), 24 songs, 1939-44 (1978), rev. 1983 [songs from previous collections]; The Rising of the Sun (Middle Eng.), 1939-60; Coventry (various), 1945-6; The Tower (Yeats), 1945-6; Byzantium (Yeats), 1948; The Fair City (Middle Eng.), 1958; 7 Psalms of David, Mez/Bar, pf, 1960, incl. The Lord is my Shepherd; Boreas, 32 songs, 1983, incl. The Drummer (Hardy) Folksong arrs.: Fleur-de-lis, 12 French songs, lv, pf, 1959-63; A Williamsburg Songbook, 18th century Virginian songs, 1964; The Williamsburg Cycle, 10 18th-century Virginian songs, S, Bar, B, obbl vv, insts, 1964; The Parson's Farewell, 12 American songs, lv, pf, 1936-65; Die friesche Welt, 24 German songs, lv, pf, 1958-65; The Flowers of the Field (American, Eng., Irish, Fr., Ger.), 64 songs, lv, pf, 1978 Principal publishers: Concordia, C. Fischer, Lawson-Gould, R. D. Row, World Library of Sacred Music.
    EDITIONS Venetian Operatic Arias in the mid-17th Century ,1956-76, Uk The Major Epoch of English Song: the 17th Century from Dowland to Purcell , 1940-76, Uk The Garden of the Muses(New York, 1985) Many arias, cantatas, and songs by J. S. Bach, A. Scarlatti, Vivaldi, and others; many other unpubd edns
    WRITINGS with A. Mann: Steps to Parnassus (New York, 1943, rev. 2/1965 was The Study of Counterpoint) [part trans. of J. J. Fux: Gradus ad Parnassum , Vienna, 1725] with G. Boelzner: Some Twentieth Century American Composers: a Selective Bibliography (New York, 1959-60) A General Report on the New York Public Library's Americana Music Collection and its Proposed Development in Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts( New York, 1961)
    [Mr. Edmunds died in Berkeley, December 9, 1986].

    Scope and Content

    Related collectionErnst Bacon papers (ARCHIVES BACON 1); John Edmunds letters : to Cornel Adam Lengyel (ARCHIVES EDMUNDS-LENGYEL 1)
    John Edmunds [St. Edmunds], b. San Francisco, b San Francisco, June 10, 1913; d Berkeley, December 9, 1986. Memorabilia, literary and musical writings, musical compositions and arrangements, and tapes of musical performances.
    NB: Item no. 12 was removed and returned to Mrs. Vera Edmunds at her request. Additionally, the numbering of some items in this collection is irregular owing to the fact that a sizable portion of the collection arrived some six years after the original gift.