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University of Texas at Austin

Nicolas Nabokov:

An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator Nabokov, Nicolas, 1903-1978
Title Nicolas Nabokov Papers
Dates: 1907, 1950-1978
Extent: 46 boxes (19.25 linear feet), 1 oversize folder, 5 oversize boxes
Abstract: Correspondence, sheet music, original scores, financial and medical records, clippings, minutes and reports, brochures, and photographs document the life and work of Nicolas Nabokov from 1918 through his death in 1978.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-02981
Language: English, Russian, German, French
Access Open for research

Administrative Information

Acquisition Purchase (#10176) 1983, Gift (#2353) 1985
Processed by Stephen Mielke, 1998

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

A self described cosmopolitan, Nicolas Nabokov (cousin to novelist Vladimir Nabokov) was born April 4/17, 1903 (Gregorian/Julian), to a family of landed Russian gentry in the town of Lubcza near Minsk. Nabokov's parents divorced while he was still an infant, but this did not prevent the family from enjoying a life of privilege. Nabokov was well educated from an early age by private tutors (he was fluent in at least four languages), but did not show a strong interest in music until age 11. Fleeing the Bolshevik revolution, Nabokov moved to the Crimea with his family in 1918 and there received his first formal instruction in music composition from Vladimir Rebikov. In 1919, the family left Russia and Nabokov continued his music studies in Stuttgart and Berlin. In 1923, he joined the growing community of Russian émigrés in Paris and over the next three years attained the equivalence of a Bachelors and then a Masters degree from the Sorbonne.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Nabokov taught private lessons in music, language, and literature in Paris and Berlin. During this period he began to expand his many professional and personal friendships. Nabokov recounts these relationships in his book Igor Stravinsky (1964) and his two volumes of memoirs-- Old Friends and New Music (1951) and Bagazh (1975).
In 1928, Nabokov wrote his first major piece, the ballet-oratorio Ode, for Serge Diaghilev's Ballet Russes de Monte-Carlo. He wrote his first symphony, Lyrical Symphony in 1931. Two years later, at the invitation of the Barnes Foundation, he moved to the United States as a lecturer on western music. In 1934, Nabokov wrote what he called the "first truly American ballet,"Union Pacific, on a theme presented to him by Archibald MacLeish.
From 1936 to 1941, Nabokov headed the Music Department at Wells College in New York. He then took a position as the Director of Music at St. John's College in Maryland. He continued to write symphonies and other pieces while in these positions, and also published a number of articles and essays in magazines such as the Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, and New Republic. He became a US citizen in 1939.
In 1945, Nabokov traveled to occupied Germany as civilian cultural advisor in a series of positions with the American Military Government. He returned to the US in 1947 to teach at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. While at the Peabody he participated in seminars at several Universities, then became the Director of Music at the American Academy in Rome from 1950 to 1951.
In 1951, Nabokov became Secretary General of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), a position he held for the next 15 years. Living in Paris and New York, Nabokov gained widespread acclaim for planning and organizing numerous international conferences on politics, science, and the arts. His series of music festivals: Masterpieces of the XXth Century (Paris, 1952); Music in our Time (Rome, 1954); Eastern and Western Musical Traditions (Venice, 1956); East-West Music Encounter (Tokyo, 1961); and European and Indian Music Traditions (New Delhi, 1963), were some of the largest and most important music events of the time.
Nabokov continued to compose his own music while heading the CCF, scoring Stephen Spender's libretto for the opera Rasputin's End in 1958 and writing Don Quixote for the New York City Ballet in 1966. He also directed three annual arts festivals in West Berlin from 1964 to 1966.
When the CCF ceased functions in 1967 after revelations of secret CIA funding (of which Nabokov denied any knowledge or influence) he took a series of lecturer positions at Princeton, the City University of New York, and the State University of New York at Old Westbury. In 1970, he became resident composer at the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies in Colorado. In 1971, he composed the opera Love's Labour's Lost, to a libretto by W. H. Auden based on Shakespeare's play. After leaving the Aspen Institute in 1973 he continued to lecture and write.
Nabokov was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the Berlin Academy of Arts and Letters, the French Society of Composers, and Commander of the Grand Cross of Merit of the German Federal Republic. At the time of his death, on April 6, 1978, of a heart attack following surgery, he was working on a third volume of memoirs. He was survived by his fourth wife, Dominique, whom he married in 1970, and three sons from previous marriages--Ivan, Alexander, and Peter.

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents

Correspondence, sheet music, original scores, financial and medical records, clippings, minutes and reports, brochures, and photographs document the life and work of Nicolas Nabokov from 1918 through his death in 1978. The papers are organized into two series: I. Correspondence, 1918, 1950-1978 (32 boxes, 1 oversize folder) and II. Works, 1907, 1933-1978 (14 boxes, 5 oversize flat boxes).
The Correspondence Series comprises the bulk of the materials and consists mainly of incoming and copies of outgoing letters. Nabokov was a prolific correspondent and would sometimes send and receive over twenty letters a day related to the various organizations and projects with which he was involved. This correspondence provides a good account of his movements, thoughts, and activities. Nabokov's involvement with music festivals in Israel, Edinburgh, and Berlin are particularly well documented as is his work for the Congress for Cultural Freedom. Personal relationships with particular individuals are also well represented. Correspondents in the collection include: George Balanchine, Isaiah Berlin, Willy Brandt, Jean Cocteau, Pierre Emmanuel, Aldous Huxley, George F. Kennan, Robert Oppenheimer, Eugene Ormandy, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and Igor Stravinsky. Small amounts of correspondence document Nabokov's own family life, health, and musical work, but not in great depth relative to other topics.
The Works Series consists almost entirely of Nabokov's original musical scores. Included are manuscripts for Don Quixote, Job, Love's Labour's Lost, Symphonie Lyrique, Rasputin's End, and Union Pacific. Also included are copies of works by Igor Stravinsky and several large files of clippings and notes related to performances of Nabokov's works and other topics of interest to Nabokov.
The bulk of the material is in English, but there is also French, German, and Russian, as well as lesser amounts of Italian, Spanish, and Japanese material.

Series Descriptions

Series I. Correspondence, 1918, 1950-1978, (32 boxes, 1 oversize folder)
Series I. contains Nicolas Nabokov's personal and professional correspondence from 1918 to 1978, with the bulk dating from 1950 (there are only two folders of material that predate 1950). The original filing schemes have been maintained, as have the original file headings, except for those supplied in brackets. Misspellings in the original file headings have been corrected.
Arrangement is chronological, either by an individual year or a range of years. There are some overlaps in this system due to Nabokov's maintenance of files at different locations. He maintained residences in New York, Paris, and Berlin, and also sent and received materials through various academic institutions and the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) offices. There are many duplicates of incoming correspondence--CCF materials in particular--addressed to different places, apparently because the senders were unsure of Nabokov's location at the time and sent signed copies to multiple addresses to ensure they were received. Nabokov also had mail forwarded to him while he traveled and filed it at locations other than where it was addressed.
Within the chronological order, files are arranged alphabetically. There are inconsistencies in this arrangement due to filing over extended periods by various persons at the different locations previously mentioned. Letters are sometimes filed by personal name and sometimes by corporate name, even when it is the same correspondent. Correspondence is also filed under generic letter headings in some years then under specific subject heading in others, and sometimes both in the same year. Materials are in chronological or reverse chronological order within each alphabetic file. The 1961 correspondence has only two files: "Tokyo East-West Music Encounter," and "Jan.-Dec." Groupings by a date range may also be subdivided topically, e. g., files for the years 1962-66 are grouped under "General,""Israel,""Miscellaneous," and "Personal" subheadings.
The largest chronological grouping in the series, 1970-78 (14 boxes) has the most consistent and accurate order, but the container list and the Index of Correspondents should be checked carefully to determine all possible locations for specific correspondence.
Topics represented in the Correspondence Series include the Congress for Cultural Freedom, musical works by Nabokov and others, festivals, Nabokov's family, finances, and health, and official business with academic, government, and private organizations. In addition to typed and handwritten correspondence, the files contain telegrams, news clippings, conference papers, reports, minutes, brochures, photographs, and small amounts of written music. The 1967 "Biography" file contains cursory information on Nabokov's life up to that time.
Files labeled "1962-66 Miscellaneous" have suffered water damage and are in some instances very brittle and stained. These letters have been placed in protective sleeves and should be handled with care.
Large amounts of correspondence from Igor Stravinsky are located throughout the series with some located in the Bob Craft files (and vice versa). Most of the Stravinsky letter are in Russian. There is also a large volume of correspondence from A. Z. Propes. Correspondence identified by Nabokov as being from his cousin Vladimir is usually signed by Vladimir's wife, Vera.
Series II. Works, 1907, 1933-1978 (14 boxes, 5 oversize flat boxes)
The Works Series consists of copied and original handwritten sheet music, printed materials, notes, clippings, and photographs. The bulk of the series contains various drafts and copies of scores and librettos for over 40 of Nabokov's musical works. The pieces date from the early 1930s through the late 1970s. The ballets La Vie de Polichinelle (1933), Don Quixote (1966), and the opera Love's Labour's Lost (1973) are the most documented pieces in the series, each filling several boxes. The remaining works are represented by one to three folders each. The materials are arranged alphabetically by title, with variant titles of the same piece grouped together (e. g., Rasputin's End, The Death of Rasputin, Des Tod des Gregorij Rasputin). In addition to Nabokov's music, there are works by Igor Stravinsky, many containing written notes and commentary by Nabokov, and a 1907 book of popular piano pieces.
Three folders of notes and clippings document openings and reviews of Nabokov's works-- Don Quixote, and The Death of Rasputin in particular. These folders also contain clippings on non-musical topics and articles by Nabokov's son Peter, who worked as a journalist in New Mexico.
Also present in this series are printed poems, articles on the USSR written by Nabokov and others, a portion of a book draft on Stravinsky written by Nabokov, and a velobound, unrevised proof of Arthur Miller's play The Price.

Index Terms


Adorno, Theodor W., 1903-1969.
Alsop, Joseph, 1910-1989.
Arndt, Adolf, 1904-1947.
Arrau, Claudio, 1903-1991.
Auden, W. H. (Wystan Hugh), 1907-1973.
Bahr, Egon, 1922-2015.
Balanchine, George.
Bellow, Saul.
Berlin, Isaiah, Sir.
Bernstein, Leonard, 1918-1990.
Bertuccelli, Jean-Louis.
Bessie, Simon Michael.
Bhatia, Vanraj.
Bieber, Marion.
Blacher, Boris, 1903-1975.
Blake, Patricia.
Bogianckino, Massimo.
Bohlen, Charles E. (Charles Eustis), 1904-1974.
Bois, Mario.
Bomhard, Moritz.
Bond, Alison.
Bornoff, Jack.
Boulanger, Nadia.
Boulez, Pierre, 1925-2016.
Brankca, Vittore.
Brandt, Willy, 1913-1992.
Bundy, McGeorge.
Burnier, Raymond.
Byrns, Harold, 1903-1977.
Cage, Betty.
Charter, Elliot, 1918- .
Chagall, Marc, 1887-1985.
Chiaromonte, Nicola.
Cocteau, Jean, 1889-1963.
Craft, Bob.
Danielou, Alain.
Diamond, Peter.
Dubuis, Gisele.
Einem, Gottfried von, 1918-1986.
Emmanuel, Pierre.
Frugoni, Orazio, 1921-1997.
Heller, Anatole.
Hiller, Lejaren Arthur, 1924-1994.
Hilpert, Viola.
Horgan, Barbara.
Hunt, John C.
Jaudel, Etienne.
Jelenski, Constantin, 1922-1987.
Josselson, Michael.
Kallin, Anna.
Kennan, George Frost, 1904-2005.
Kissinger, Henry, 1923- .
Kollek, Teddy, 1911-2007.
Labroca, Mario, 1896-1973.
Lasky, Melvin J.
Lieberman, Rolf, 1910-1999.
Mansouroff, Paul, 1896-1983.
Markevitch, Igor, 1912-1983.
Masani, Minocheher Rustom, 1905-1998.
McGhee, George Crews, 1912-2005.
Menuhin, Yehudi, 1916-1999.
Moseley, Carlos.
Nabokov, Peter.
Nabokov, Vladimirovich, 1899-1977.
Nestler, Peter, 1937- .
Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967.
Ormandy, Eugene, 1899-1985.
Pablo, Luis de.
Padhye, Prabhakar, 1909-1984.
Perdigao, Jose de Azerado.
Propes, Aron Zvi.
Roberts, Laurence P.
Robin, Jean.
St. Aubyn, Frederic C. (Frederic Chase), 1921-2004.
Schlesinger, Authur Meier, 1917-2007.
Seefehlner, Egon, 1912-1997.
Sellner, Gustav Rudolf.
Slater, Joe E.
Spender, Stephen, 1909-1995 .
Stajanovic, Josip.
Stone, Shepard.
Stravinsky, Ivan, 1882-1971.
Stuckenschmidt, Hans Heinz, 1901-1988.
Thomson, Virgil, 1896-1989.
Wakefield, Rowan Albert, 1919-2000.
Watanabe, Akeo, 1919-1990.
Weidenfeld, George Weidenfeld, Baron.
Westerman, Gerhart von.
Akademie der Kunste, Berlin, Abteilung Darstellende Kunst.
B. Schott's Sohne (Mainz, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany).
Boosey and Hawkes, Inc.
Bote and Bock.
M. P. Belaieff Musikverlag (Frankfurt am Main, Germany).
Societe des Auteurs, Compositeurs et Editeurs de Music (France).
Weidenfeld and Nicolson (Firm).


Nabokov family.
Congress for Cultural Freedom.
Music--Twentieth century.

Document Types

Christmas cards.
Sheet Music.

Nicolas Nabokov Papers--Folder List