Kelley, Edgar Stillman, 1857-1944Alternative names
Edgar Stillman Kelley was a distinguished American composer of the early 20th century. A pianist, conductor, scholar, teacher, lecturer and author he captured the hearts and minds of audiences and critics around the world. Born in 1857 in Sparta, Wisconsin, he was surrounded by music, art and literature. His mother was an accomplished musician who gave Edgar his first piano lessons and inspired Edgar to pursue a professional career in music. He received formal lessons from noted musicians and was given opportunities to perform with recognized orchestras. In 1874, he moved to Chicago where he studied piano with the Director of the Chicago Conservatory of Music. He went to Germany in 1876 where he entered the Stuttgart Conservatory. There Kelley studied with instructors of international renown and in 1883 earned national attention when he performed his "Macbeth" overture in Chicago.
During his career Kelley worked as an interim conductor of a light opera company, a church organist, a music critic for the San Francisco Examiner, a lecturer at New York University, a teacher at the New York College of Music and an interim professor and conductor at Yale University. In 1891, he married Jessie Gregg, who would play a role in his success. An accomplished pianist and singer, she continued to perform but sacrificed much of her career to promote her husband's. He received notable acclaim for his composition "Aladdin Suite," based on his study of Chinese music in San Francisco in 1894, and in 1899 composed music for a dramatization of the Lew Wallace novel Ben Hur.
When friends in Prague and Berlin persuaded the Kelley's to launch careers in Europe, they moved to Germany for eight years. In 1910 they left Berlin to accept positions at Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, where Jessie served as director of music theory and Edgar held the first resident fellowship for creative work ever given by an American college. His national reputation helped recruit students to the college where Kelley was able to devote himself exclusively to creative work. Kelley composed music for the Western College alma mater and continued work with orchestras, publishing companies, and conservatories. He published Chopin the Composer in 1913 and conducted the first performance of his "New England Symphony" at the Norfolk (Connecticut) Festival of Music that same year. A special train transported the entire Western student body to Cincinnati when the work was performed by the Cincinnati Orchestra.
While Jessie continued as an associate professor at Western, they both served on the faculty of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music at the same time. In 1914 Jessie lectured, and Edgar performed in Germany at the invitation of the Duke of Saxe-Altenburg for the Liszt Society Festival. The couple was so highly regarded at Western College that the Class of 1916 spearheaded a campaign to build them a studio cottage on the campus where they could live and compose music. Where there, he composed among others, "Pilgrims Progress" and "The Pit and the Pendulum." In 1931 Western's Presser Hall was dedicated, and its auditorium was named in their honor. In addition, honorary degrees were conferred upon Edgar by the University of Cincinnati, on Jessie by Western College for Women, and on both of them by Miami University.
After twenty-four years in Oxford, the couple moved to New York, where they continued conducting and performing, but they returned each year to visit Western College. Edgar continued to compose music and collaborate with musicians. His symphony, "Gulliver in Lilliput," was first presented in Cincinnati in 1937 and performed on radio by the NBC Symphony Orchestra in honor of Kelley's eightieth birthday. When Edgar Kelley died in 1944 at the age of eighty-seven, the New York Times called him "Dean of Music Composers."
From the guide to the Edgar Stillman Kelley Collection, 1860-2008, 1860-2008, (Miami University)
|correspondedWith||Dellenbaugh, Frederick Samuel, 1853-1935||person|
|associatedWith||Gilbert, Henry F. B. (Henry Franklin Belknap), 1868-1928.||person|
|associatedWith||Keeler, Charles Augustus, 1871-1937||person|
|associatedWith||Lucy Prindle Love and Helen Love Scranton||person|
|associatedWith||Meyer, E. Olga.||person|
|associatedWith||Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.||person|
|associatedWith||Sousa Archives for Band Research.||corporateBody|
|associatedWith||Sousa Preservation Project.||corporateBody|
|associatedWith||String-orchestra music, Arranged||person|
|associatedWith||The Yale School of Music||person|
|associatedWith||University of Wisconsin. University Extension Division. Dept. of Debating and Public Discussion.||corporateBody|
|associatedWith||Yaddo (Artist's colony)||corporateBody|
|associatedWith||Yale School of Music.||corporateBody|
|Place Name||Admin Code||Country|
|Orchestral music, Arranged--Scores|
|Band music, Arranged--Scores and parts|
|Songs (High voice) with orchestra--Vocal scores with piano|