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Tanglewood Online Exhibits

Most Thrilling: A Student View of the Inaugural Class of the Tanglewood Music Center

In 1940, Koussevitzky's Music Center welcomed its first class of students to the Tanglewood grounds. Students such as Leonard Bernstein and Lukas Foss catapulted to the limelight, but what about the perspective of women students from that first year? What made this music school, where students worked and played with orchestra members, different from the conservatory education of the time? Violinist Frances Breed wrote numerous letters home to her family during her summer at Tanglewood, and offers a unique peek into the day-to-day intensity of practicing, socializing, and soaking in music during that first summer of Koussevitzky's grand experiment.

Note: Transcripts of letters include editor clarifications in brackets.

This exhibit was created as part of the Koussevitzky 150 celebrations at Tanglewood.

Color postcard of the Music Shed at Tanglewood

Color postcard of the Music Shed at Tanglewood, sent by Frances Breed to her family while she was a student at Tanglewood in the summer of 1940

Headshot of Frances Breed with her violin, ca. 1940
Frances Breed (1918-1985), violinist, ca. 1940. Photograph by J. Goresch (Columbia Artists)
Wide photograph of the students and faculty of the 1940 Tanglewood Music Center class
The inaugural class of the Tanglewood Music Center (then known as the Berkshire Music Center), 1940. Frances Breed stands in the back by the Tappen Manor House window. Photograph by E. J. Curtis

Everything Most Promising

Frances enthusiastically describes her initial meeting with BSO concertmaster Richard Burgin and the opportunities that await her this summer, but is confronted with a grueling schedule.

The Pace is Terrific

Frances has both good and challenging experiences with members of the BSO. Her opinions about a fellow classmate.

We Really Had a Marvelous Time

Frances swims with Sanromá and Hindemith, attends a luncheon party, and watches a film in Pittsfield.

Gems, Fizzles and Titans

Frances expresses disappointment over unwanted romantic advances, criticizes a conducting student, assists an absent-minded English horn player, and is enthusiastic about Koussevitzky's conducting and further performance opportunities.

 It was swell to see H. [Henry Breed, her brother]

Frances describes her attire for attending BSO concerts, mourns a tragedy, assists a fellow student, receives a visit from home, and discusses social dynamics at the music center.