- More than 500 people gathered in a crowd to watch the laying of the corner stone of University Building on September 14, 1880, the University’s very first structure. Later to be called Widney Hall, this small wooden building would house the School of Music for almost half of its history.
The USC School of Music is founded. As the first professional school at USC, the School of Music produced nearly half of USC’s first 100 graduates.
The Graduating Class of 1912, pictured with Dean Skeele on the steps of a vanished building. The two women in front are College of Music staff members, and the five young women in white blouses are graduates of the Diploma Course.
USC created a College of Education in 1913, and a Music Education Department soon followed. This bulletin, from the Children’s Department, advertises the school’s early music training programs for young children.
Throughout the 1910s, many of the professors teaching at the College of Music were musicians in the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In addition to individual instruction, their students, such as those pictured here in the USC Concert Orchestra, 1914, benefited from hearing their professors in concert. Every year the College purchased a section of seats for the Philharmonic’s Friday afternoon concert series, and mandated the attendance of the entire student body.
In 1915 the College of Music moved into the old Marble Homestead at 30th and Figueroa. The Fall Bulletin read “The college is located three blocks from the University and one block north of West Jefferson on one of the most beautiful boulevards in the city. The picturesque and spacious grounds covering an entire acre include tennis courts, croquet grounds and shady nooks among the magnificent old tress which offer delightful opportunities for relaxation and diversion.”
“We’ve got the largest aggregation of trained pretzels and string beans ever brought upon the American stage,” begins a 1916 advertisement for the University of Southern California Orchestra. The ad also boasts seventy-five blushing mermaid nymphs in the musical company.
Created in the 1920s after various alumni complaints regarding the uninspired band music of football games, the Department of Musical Organizations oversaw the Trojan Marching Band, campus glee clubs, and other pep ensembles. Under the direction of Harold William Roberts, each group became a colorful institution, especially the marching band, well-known for its personality and formations.
The social life of the School of Music was marked by the constant presence of music faculty members at student parties. Dean Walter Skeele, depicted here teaching an organ lesson in Bovard Auditorium, supported the family atmosphere of the college, and expected every faculty member to be present at all of the numerous meetings, recitals, concerts and parties.
The graduating Class of ’22, pictured here in front of the old College of Music at 30th and Figueroa. Seated in the foreground is Dean Skeele, surrounded by other faculty professors including Horatio Cogswell (voice) and the famous German contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink.
The Hollywood Bowl opens. Thornton faculty and alumni often perform at this venue, the summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
German contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink, friend of the College of Music, in a newspaper advertisement from 1922. After a great career in Bayreuth, Covent Garden and the Metropolitan Opera, she made her home in Southern California. A friend of the von KleinSmids, she received an honorary degree from the University.
The first musician to be distinguished by the university with an honorary degree was Ignaz Paderewski, the noted pianist and Prime Minister of Poland. Presented at a special ceremony on February 2, 1923, the event was marked by Paderewski’s eloquent address on music in the United States. Less than a year earlier he had purchased a sprawling ranch and vineyard in Paso Robles, California. As he wrote in his memoirs, Paderewski considered America “the country of my heart, my second home.”
Professor of Organ and Dean of the College of Music for 36 years, Walter F. Skeele is pictured here teaching a piano lesson in his studio. In a bizarre series of events, Mary Skeele, wife of the Dean, was kidnapped in 1923 and held for $10,000 ransom. The Dean himself deposited the cash ransom in a buried cracker tin in the appointed lonely spot in the Pasadena hills, and Mrs. Skeele was promptly returned, blindfolded and weary, to her family and home. A police investigation and court trial later found a former student, expelled from the school for hysterical behavior, guilty of the crime.
The required course of study for a 1920s student of the College of Music, as shown here in a 1924 Catalogue, includes classes in French, Italian, Educational Psychology, and Platform Deportment.
Printed in a 1924 Degree Bulletin, this page depicts a typical teaching studio in the College of Music. The underlying text explains the Normal Training Department, a division for preparing students to be piano instructors.
The 1925 Trojan Glee Club Constitution states the member qualifications and responsibilities of the student ensemble. Article IX – Rules of the Road, explains the required promise to observe regular hours, “to retire not later than 12 o’clock midnight every night” and the established penalty system. A $ .50 fine was enacted for tardiness, and a $ 1.00 fine for each absence.
USC Symphony Orchestra, Alexander Stewart, conductor (1932). For almost twenty years Alexander Stewart was active in choral and orchestral conducting for the University and College of Music.
In the fall of 1934, Arnold Schoenberg moved with his family to Hollywood and attempted to attract students among the local film composers. In Mudd Philosophy Hall he taught a Composition class which discussed only the most conventional and traditional harmony. During the intermission Mr. Schoenberg would smoke a cigarette or two, defying the “no smoking” rule of the building. After every class session ended the class would move to the tennis courts, where the students waited their turn to play with him. Mrs. Schoenberg often sat on the sidelines and admonished the players, “Keep him near the net. He must not run much.”
Recordings and radio broadcasts have long been a tradition of the Thornton School, even before the founding of KUSC. Seated at the piano for this live broadcast is John Crown, professor of piano for many years. During WWII, when the university was downsizing its course offerings and faculty, Crown taught mathematics, and continued to give numerous chamber music concerts on campus as a member of the Hancock Trio.
Baroque specialist and enthusiast Alice Ehlers joined the School of Music in September 1941, as Professor of Harpsicord. A former student of Leschetitzky and Wanda Landowska, she toured Europe with a Baroque group that included Paul Hindemith (who played the viola d’amore). Fascinated by one of her concerts, William Wyler of MGM studios contracted her to appear in the film Wuthering Heights. In addition to her active career and harpsichord teaching, and her rumored habit of practicing in her studio in only her negligee, Ehlers organized numerous baroque music festivals and concerts at USC.
Philanthropist Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, famous for her support of chamber music and international commissions, funded several series of chamber music in Bovard Auditorium. In addition to bringing concerts of the Pro Arte Quartet and other eminent chamber ensembles to USC, she presented wartime concerts of members from the Hancock ensemble, including this 1941 concert series of the University Trio. No one was free from the pressures and effects of the war, and Antonio Brosa, professor of violin and performer in this playbill, later resigned for war service.
As a youth Ingolf Dahl was an opera coach and guide for mountain climbers in Zurich, but in 1945 he joined the faculty at USC and taught composition, conducting, and music history. In addition to his teachings, he also directed the university’s symphony orchestra (1945-1958), performing much contemporary music in addition to the standard repertory.
KUSC begins broadcasting. USC’s flagship radio station develops into one of the two largest broadcasters of classical music in the U.S. It regularly features performances by Thornton students.
Los Angeles Opera is founded. USC alumna Marilyn Horne made her Los Angeles operatic debut at the Shrine Auditorium under the direction of Carl Ebert.
Benjamin Britten and his partner Peter Pears, onstage at Bovard during their 1949 visit to USC. They were in town to watch the Department of Opera’s 1949 production of Britten’s Albert Herring.
Carl Ebert, first director of the Department of Opera, proved that a local company of young singers could produce lively, well-performed opera at affordable prices for the public. With Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and Virgil Thompson in the Bovard audience, Ebert presented a 1949 production of Britten’s chamber opera Albert Herring, featuring Marni Nixon (’50).
USC Wind Orchestra, William A. Schaefer conducting, 1950s.
Incoming USC Thornton Opera director Walter Ducloux (left) meets with program founder Carl Ebert, bringing together two pillars of the opera program at USC.
Marilyn Horne, as a young student at USC, where she studied voice with William Vennard and Gwendolyn Koldofsky, and participated in Lotte Lehman’s master classes. Before her career as a diva began, she first came into the public spotlight in 1954 as the dubbed voice of Dorothy Dandridge in the motion picture Carmen Jones.
Charles Hirt, pictured here with the Madrigal Singers, was a member of the University of Southern California faculty for 35 years, where he directed the Department of Church and Choral Music. Also very active throughout Southern California as a choral conductor, he was music director of the Hollywood Presbyterians Church and a musical advisor to Disneyland.
A major figure in the world of contemporary music, Halsey Stevens was a composer, critic, program annotator for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and professor at the USC School of Music. A world authority on Bela Bartok, he wrote the first full-length study in English of the composer’s life and music.
Michael Tilson Thomas (BM ’67, MM ’76) and Eudice Shapiro, member of the School of Music faculty from 1959 until her death in 2007.
World-renowned string performers William Primrose, Jascha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky teach at USC. Throughout the 1960s, Primrose, Heifetz and Piatigorsky led master classes with extremely talented students from the School of Music.
Beginning in 1962 and lasting until his death in 1976, Gregor Piatigorsky held master classes at USC for cellists who flocked to him from every part of the world. The classes met twice a week for four or five hours, in the then newly completed Ramo Hall of Music. It was a common occurrence to see many of Piatigorsky’s former students, major artists in their own rights, drop in for a “try-out” in front of one of the most demanding group of critics anywhere.
As the centerpiece of the Music Center of Los Angeles County, the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion opens with the 28-year old Zubin Mehta leading a Steve Reich birthday tribute, featuring the Los Angeles Philharmonic and USC faculty member Jascha Heifetz as soloist.
Scene from the 1966 production of Mathis der Maler, conducted by Walter Ducloux, director of the USC Symphony and Opera Department.
Conductor and composer Michael Tilson Thomas (BM ’67, MM ’76), pictured here as a student with Ingolf Dahl, began his formal studies at the University of Southern California where he studied piano with John Crown and conducting and composition with Dahl.
Front page of program from James Horner’s (’74) undergraduate composition recital, in 1973. After studies at USC and The Royal College of Music, James Horner became famous for his numerous Hollywood film scores including Titanic, Braveheart, and Apollo 13.
Gregor Piatigorsky (left) and Dean Beglarian (right) enjoying a break, in the foreground of ongoing construction of the new Music School facilities.
The Heifetz Master Class, featured in a recital program from 1974.
A lesson from the master, Jascha Heifetz demonstrating for a violin student in one of his master classes.
Workers laying the foundation of the Raubenheimer Music Faculty Building, 1975.
In 1975 USC awarded an honorary doctorate to composer William Grant Still for his efforts to dissolve music’s racial barriers by emphasizing the universalities in African and Western music. In 1926 he became the first black conductor to lead a major American orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl.
Gregor Piatigorsky, professor of cello, and James Arkatov, a cellist and photographer who captured images of the great musical personalities of the 20th century from his seat as principal cellist of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and other major symphonies. His collection of photographs is currently located in the USC Library’s Special Collections.
The downstairs lobby of the new Arnold Schoenberg Institute, built as an international research center for the study and performance of not only Schoenberg’s music, but all 20th century music.
Recreation of Arnold Schoenberg’s study, furnished with the composer’s artifacts and papers in the Schoenberg Institute.
The USC Trojan Marching Band breaks record with its recording of “Tusk” with Fleetwood Mac, making it the largest number of musicians ever to perform on a single.
Four USC students form the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. LAGQ goes on to become one of the most influential chamber ensembles in the world, winning a GRAMMY in 2004.
The Kronos Quartet was in residency at USC in the 1983-84 season. The six-concert season was built around the Bartok Quartets, one per concert in reverse order. In their final concert of the residency, beginning 35 minutes after the starting time given to everyone but the performers, the group performed Frederick Lesemann’s (MM ’61, DMA ’71) “Strokes”, Morton Subotnick’s “The Fluttering of Wings”, Ben Johnston’s Fourth Quartet, and Bartok’s First Quartet.
Los Angeles hosts the Olympics. Thornton collaborator and honorary alumnus, John Williams, winns a GRAMMY for his “Olympic Fanfare and Theme.”
Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski in a 1985 residency at USC. During his two-week tenure at the School of Music he was active in lectures, rehearsals and performances of his music.
While in residency at USC, Witold Lutoslawski conducted open rehearsals of several of his works, including “Chain 1”, “Mi-Part”i and “Trois Poemes de Henri Michaux.”
Philanthropist Flora L. Thornton becomes the school’s benefactor with a naming gift of $25 million, at the time the largest such contribution to an American school of music.
Thornton friends Martha Newman Ragland and Alice Harnell on the occasion of the renovation and opening of Alfred Newman Recital Hall.
The late virtuoso violinist Isaac Stern thanks members of the USC Thornton Symphony after a rehearsal. Maestro Stern appeared with the Symphony in one of his last public performances before his death.
Walt Disney Concert Hall opens. It is the current home of the L.A. Master Chorale, under the direction of USC Thornton alumnus Grant Gershon.
Midori Goto, world-renowned violinist who debuted with the New York Philharmonic at age 11, joins the USC Thornton faculty. Midori is widely recognized as an extraordinary performer, a devoted and gifted educator, and an innovative community engagement activist. In 2007, she was named a Messenger of Peace by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma works with a Thornton student during a master class at Bovard Auditorium. Mr. Ma also appeared with the USC Thornton Chamber Orchestra in November 2004.
Members of the student group New West Guitar Quartet are interviewed during their tour of Japan. The group, part of the USC Thornton Protege Program, also released a CD under the Thornton School’s Flora Records label.
Morten Lauridsen, three-time USC alumnus and USC Distinguished Professor of Composition, is awarded the National Medal of the Arts for “his composition of radiant choral works combining musical power, beauty and spiritual depth that have thrilled audiences worldwide.”
USC Thornton establishes the Popular Music Performance major, the first of its kind at a major research university. The unique Bachelor of Music in Popular Music Performance required building an entirely new curriculum from the ground up, offering its students rigorous musical training in addition to study in production, music technology, and entertainment law.
Having opened in 1884 and remained the oldest continually operated cultural institution in Southern California, USC Thornton celebrates its 125th anniversary with major events throughout the year. Highlight performances included a concert with the USC Thornton Symphony conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, renowned conductor Helmuth Rilling guest-conducting the USC Thornton Symphony and Choral Artists, and a benefit concert with The Steve Miller Band.
Alice Schoenfeld, holder of the Alice and Eleonore Schoenfeld Endowed Chair in String Instruction and a professor of violin instruction and performance for more than half a century at the USC Thornton School of Music, commits $3 million to create a new symphonic hall for the school — the Alice and Eleonore Schoenfeld Symphonic Hall.
After 32 years as concertmaster for the New York Philharmonic, Glenn Dicterow steps down to accept the position as Robert Mann Chair in Strings and Chamber Music at USC Thornton.
The Hollywood Reporter listed the USC Thornton School of Music as one of the top music schools in the country, and a “springboard to the industry.”
Gimel “Young Guru” Keaton, Grammy Award-nominated engineer, DJ and music producer best known for his work with rapper Jay-Z, joins the USC Thornton faculty as an artist-in-residence for the 2013-14 academic year.
USC Thornton students perform with Elton John in Bovard Auditorium in September 2013. Later that same week, the performers reprised their roles onstage with Sir Elton John — this time on national television during the 65th annual Emmy Awards.
Michael Tilson Thomas, one of the world’s most prominent musicians and a two-time alumnus of the USC Thornton School of Music (’67 and MM ’76), is named a Judge Widney Professor of Music at USC. The appointment gives USC Thornton students the chance to work directly with Thomas through mentorship and other educational opportunities that will further enhance their developing careers.
The USC Thornton School of Music is named the first official university affiliate of The GRAMMY Museum. As a GRAMMY Museum university affiliate, USC will have access to GRAMMY Museum content for educational purposes, curriculum resources, research programs, internship opportunities, professional development seminars, collaborative marketing and promotions, project-based learning and more.