J. Louis von der Mehden Papers
Scope and Content
The papers document the activities of the von der Mehdens from the period of 1908 through 1955. The collection contains diaries, newspaper clippings, correspondence, notes, financial records, photographs, musical manuscripts, scores, publications, and celluloid cylinders.
The entries in the diaries detail daily occurrences with few r eflective comments or notations. A large number of newspaper clippings are fastened to the pages, especially on birthday and wedding anniversaries in the later years. Also included are three dietary diaries kept by Susan von der Mehden between 1923 and 1925.
The second series contains loose materials removed from the diaries: correspondence (primarily 1953-1955), including letters of consolation following the death of J. Louis von der Mehden; notes (1909-1954); financial papers and newspaper clippings (1912- 1955), which include stock information and receipts; and biographical materials, including newspaper clippings of his fifty year membership in the Masons, of relatives and friends, and of his death. Also found in this series are ten photographs of Louis and Susan von der Mehden, von der Mehden's diplomas, and an unidentified scrapbook.
The musical compositions include manuscripts for fifteen works, including symphonies, concertos, quartets, and sonatas written between 1909 and 1924. Except for two of the orchestral works, Achilles and Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, there is a piano score in addition to the orchestral score. There are also sketches of several smaller works of which there is no final copy. There is also a waltz entitled Our Golden Anniversary Waltz, written for his fiftieth anniversary in 1949.
The bequest of Susan von der Mehden included three conditions: First, the music was to be made available to students and to be performed if possible; Second, a storage area for the music was to be provided; and Third, the unpublished compositions of J. Louis von der Mehden, Jr. were to be printed by the University. The compositions were published in a facsimile edition by University Publications and were distributed across the country. The six volumes and supplement include two male quartets, two volumes of piano pieces, a march song for solo and chorus, and an intermezzo for piano.
The wax cylinders found in the collection are from von der Mehden's own music collection. Eighteen cylinders are recordings of works either composed by or conducted by von der Mehden. The remaining eighty-six cylinders contain works composed and conducted by others as well as six vaudeville sketches. The identification of the cylinders [Box 18] is questionable because the lids had been separated from the boxes at some point.
In addition to the papers, Mrs. Von der Mehden bequeathed to the University $500,000, with the understanding that the funds would support the construction of a recital hall in memory of her husband.
- undated, 1894-1955
The collection is open and available for research.
Restrictions on Use
Permission to publish from these Papers must be obtained from the owner(s) of the copyright.
J. Louis von der Mehden, Jr. was born 20 July 1873 in San Francisco, California. He entered the Royal Conservatory at Leipzig, Germany, on 21 April 1892 and graduated in 1894, having studied music theory and composition, piano and cello. He had no formal high school education, and in 1915 began a high school equivalency correspondence course through the University of Chicago, which he completed in 1922. In June 1922, Oskaloosa College in Iowa conferred on him an honorary Doctor of Music Degree. He began studying music composition and history at Yale University in October 1922 and received a Bachelor of Music degree in 1924. In November 1923, he began correspondence courses at the Chicago School of Law and earned his law degree in 1927.
J. Louis von der Mehden married Susan Evelyn Bates (1874-1955) 26 March 1899 in Palo Alto, California. Susan graduated from the San José State Normal School. In later years she gave French and music lessons and also tried to publish children's verse. In 1908, Louis composed several series of Musical Pictures for the Young, piano pieces that were preceded by one of Susan's poems, and in 1909 they worked together in the creation of several sets of children's verses called Little Bagatelles.
Before the 1906 earthquake, the von der Mehdens lived in San Francisco, where Louis led band concerts at the Presidio. He was first cellist in a San Francisco orchestra for eight years, under the direction of Fritz Scheel and one year under the direction of Henry Holmes. After the earthquake, the von der Mehdens moved to New York City. Louis was steadily employed as a cellist or conductor with theatrical or commercial bands. Every year, from 1907 through 1912, von der Mehden conducted a small orchestra during business hours between Thanksgiving and Christmas at Hearn's Department Store. For several years, he played cello in Ahren's People's Symphony, a series of low- admission educational musical programs given in Carnegie Hall. In November 1908, he went to Cleveland on a one week tour with the Russian Symphony Orchestra.
Von der Mehden's early compositions were published by Carl Fischer, Inc. of New York. Several of his compositions were reviewed in the February and April 1909 issues of Musical Observer. In addition to composing, von der Mehden arranged and orchestrated music of other composers, which was also published by Fisher. Arranging and orchestrating constituted the major part of his work at Fisher after 1910, although several of his own pieces were published that year. In 1911, he began arranging and orchestrating music for the New York office of the Italian publishing house, Ricordi.
On 8 November 1910, von der Mehden was elected musical director of the Herald Square Theater, where he was conducting operettas. He had several labor disputes during his experience as operetta conductor and a quarrel with the manager of the Theater on 26 May 1911 prompted him to give up his position and move with his orchestra to the Winter Garden [a Schubert Theater]. An incident on 5 July 1911 resulted in his resignation from this position as well as his resignation from the musician's union.
Between 1912 and 1918, von der Mehden had virtually a full-time career in the recording industry, working at different times for five different phonograph studios: U.S. Phonograph, Pathé Frère, Columbia, Lyraphone and the Victor Talking Machine Company. On some recordings he played cello in the orchestra; more regularly, he would conduct performances, often arranging the music the night before the recording session. He also had some of his own compositions recorded.
As an arranger for Ricordi, von der Mehden was brought into close contact with James Reese Europe in 1915-1916. Europe was the creator of the foxtrot and was a very important transitional figure in the pre-history of jazz on the East Coast. Von der Mehden arranged and orchestrated some of Europe's music at Ricordi, often taking the music from dictation. Also in 1915, von der Mehden played cello in the production of George M. Cohan's Hello, Broadway! At this time, von der Mehden returned to the traditional European models in his compositions, giving up efforts to incorporate the current trends in popular music. Most of the works written in 1915 were composed specifically to be recorded.
In 1911, the von der Mehdens had purchased property in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, where they built a house. Until 1926, they retained both an apartment in New York City, where Susan was a representative at a toy manufacturing company, and the house in Connecticut. Susan's position was terminated in 1925 and they moved permanently to Old Saybrook. The couple spent a great deal of time working in their garden, which eventually became their major activity and a source of pride. From this time until his death, von der Mehden gave piano lessons to one or two students a year. He no longer composed steadily, and he spent considerable time practicing the piano, having given up the cello.
During the 1920s, von der Mehden was active in the local Republican party, and served for a while as special constable. He was a thirty-second degree mason and was awarded a medal in 1954, commemorating his fifty years of membership in the San Francisco lodge.
J. Louis von der Mehden, Jr. died 27 August 1954, in Middlesex Memorial Hospital and was buried in Cypress Cemetery at Saybrook Point. Susan von der Mehden died on 20 June 1955.
[Biographical information provided by the contents of the collection and James P. Pareakilas, "The Life and Works of J. Louis von der Mehden, Jr., 1873-1954" (M.A. thesis, University of Connecticut, 1974.]
10.5 Linear Feet
Language of Materials
J. Louis von der Mehden, Jr. was born 20 July 1873 in San Francisco, California. Von der Mehden held several positions in San Francisco before moving east to New York City after the 1906 earthquake. He was steadily employed as a cellist or conductor with theatrical or commercial bands. Von der Mehden worked for a year as the musical director of Herald Square Theater before becoming involved full time in the recording industry, working at different times for five different phonograph studios: U.S. Phonograph, Pathé Frère, Columbia, Lyraphone and the Victor Talking Machine Company. On some recordings he played cello in the orchestra; more regularly he would conduct performances, often arranging the music the night before the recording sessions. In 1926, the von der Mehden's moved to Old Saybrook, Connecticut, full-time, having purchased a house in 1911. J. Louis von der Mehden, Jr. died 27 August 1954 in Middlesex Memorial Hospital and was buried in Cypress Cemetery at Saybrook Point.
Series I: Diaries (1908-1954) consists of forty-nine diaries written by J. Louis and Susan von der Mehden, Jr. The diaries are arranged chronologically by author.
Series II: Personal Papers (undated, 1909-1955) consists of loose material removed from the diaries and are arranged alphabetically.
Series III: Music Manuscripts (1894-1949) contains hand written manuscripts of fifteen major works and are arranged chronologically by date of composition.
Series IV: Published Works (undated, 1906-1915) consists of individual works which were published during the composer's life time, as well as a facsimile of his collected works printed posthumously by the University of Connecticut. The series is arranged chronologically.
Series V: Wax Cylinders (undated) contains the wax cylinders owned by von der Mehden.
The materials are arranged by format.
The J. Louis von der Mehden, Jr. Papers were bequeathed to the University of Connecticut by his widow. The collection was originally housed in the Music Library and was transferred to Special Collections [now Archives & Special Collections]in 1975. The photocopies of von der Mehden's 1915 musical arrangements were donated in 2006.
The following materials have been separated from the collection and cataloged:
US Everlasting 1979-0019.cd1
- Concertos Subject Source: Fast
- Correspondence Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Diaries Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Financial records Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- New York (inhabited place) Subject Source: Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names
- Notes Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Old Saybrook (inhabited place) Subject Source: Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names
- Photographs Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Publications (documents) Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Quartets Subject Source: Fast
- Scores Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Secret societies Subject Source: Fast
- Sonatas Subject Source: Fast
- Sound recordings Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Symphonies Subject Source: Fast
- United States (nation) Subject Source: Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names
- Vaudeville Subject Source: Fast
- Violin and cello music Subject Source: Fast
- manuscripts (document genre) Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- J. Louis von der Mehden Papers
- Archives & Special Collections staff
- 2002 September
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for undetermined script
- Language of description note