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Peter Yates Papers
MSS 0014  
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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
  • Related Materials

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Peter Yates Papers
    Identifier/Call Number: MSS 0014
    Contributing Institution: Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego
    9500 Gilman Drive
    La Jolla, California, 92093-0175
    Languages: English
    Physical Description: 22.0 Linear feet (47 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-20th 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.


    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 0014. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego.

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired 1977, 1987.

    Related Materials

    Peter Yates Letters to Peyton Houston, MSS 662. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Cage, John -- Correspondence
    Evenings on the Roof (Concert series).
    Harrison, Lou, 1917-2003 -- Correspondence
    Houston, Peyton -- Correspondence
    Ives, Charles, 1874-1954 -- Correspondence
    Jarrell, Randall, 1914-1965 -- Correspondence
    Johnson, Ronald, 1935-1998 -- Correspondence
    Krenek, Ernst, 1900-1991 -- Correspondence
    Mac Low, Jackson -- Correspondence
    Moore, Marianne, 1887-1972 -- Correspondence
    Niedecker, Lorine -- Correspondence
    Partch, Harry, 1901-1974 -- Correspondence
    Patchen, Kenneth, 1911-1972 -- Correspondence
    Rexroth, Kenneth, 1905-1982 -- Correspondence
    Reynolds, Roger, 1934- -- Correspondence
    Rorem, Ned, 1923- -- Correspondence
    Sandburg, Carl, 1878-1967 -- Correspondence
    Schoenberg, Arnold, 1874-1951 -- Correspondence
    Shapiro, Karl, 1913-2000 -- Correspondence
    Thomson, Virgil, 1896-1989 -- Correspondence
    Waldrop, Rosmarie -- Correspondence
    Williams, Jonathan, 1929-2008 -- Correspondence
    Yates, Frances Mullen -- Archives
    Yates, Peter, 1909-1976 -- Archives
    Young, La Monte -- Correspondence
    Music -- 20th century