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University of Texas at Austin

George Lessner:

An Inventory of His Papers in the Manuscript Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

Creator: Lessner, George, 1904-1997
Title: George Lessner Papers
Dates: 1915-1989, undated
Extent: 16 document boxes, 13 oversize boxes (osb) (11.10 linear feet)
Abstract: George Lessner was a Hungarian-born American composer who wrote music for films, television, and the stage, as well as classical concert pieces and popular songs. The George Lessner Papers consist primarily of original music manuscripts. Also present are published scores and personal and professional papers.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-05271
Language: English, French, German, and Hungarian
Access: Open for research

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Gift, 2012 (12-01-013-G)
Processed by: Ancelyn Krivak, 2012

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

George Lessner (1904-1997) was a composer of music for films, television, and the stage, as well as classical concert pieces and popular songs. Lessner graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest, his native city, where he was a pupil of composers Zoltan Kodaly and Bela Bartok. In 1926, Lessner immigrated to the United States, and eventually settled in Hollywood where wrote popular songs and composed music for Deanna Durbin films and Walter Lantz cartoons. In 1939, Lessner??s symphony "Sunrise" was performed in a national radio broadcast. The following year, Lessner moved to New York City, and was commissioned by NBC to write an opera for radio broadcast--The Nightingale and the Rose, based on the prose poem by Oscar Wilde--which was performed in 1942 by the NBC Symphony. In 1944, Lessner’s symphony "A Merry Overture" was performed at Carnegie Hall.
Lessner orchestrated or composed music for three short run Broadway musicals, Night of Love (1941), Mr. Strauss Goes to Boston (1945), and Sleepy Hollow (1948). In the 1950s, he composed music for television series, including The Billy Rose Show and a children’s program, Bobo the Hobo and His Traveling Troupe.
George Lessner died on May 12, 1997 in New Rochelle, New York. He was survived by two sons, Alford and Robert.


In addition to material found within the George Lessner Papers, the following sources were used:
"George Lessner." Internet Broadway Database. (Accessed April 2012).
"George Lessner, 92, Film and TV Composer."New York Times, 25 May 1997. (Accessed April 2012).

Scope and Contents

The George Lessner Papers, 1915-1989, undated, consist primarily of music manuscripts. Also present are published scores, scripts, correspondence, programs, and clippings. The papers are organized into two series: I. Music Manuscripts, 1915-1982, undated; and II. Personal and Professional Papers, 1937-1989.
Series I. Music Manuscripts (15 document boxes, 13 oversize boxes) contains the majority of the Lessner papers and is further divided into four subseries: A. Composed by George Lessner, 1915-1982, undated; B. Composed by Alford Lessner, 1948-1954, undated; C. Works by Others, 1935-1949, undated; and D. Fragments and Unidentified Works, undated.
The works in Subseries A. are arranged under four headings according to the genre of work: 1. Classical Music Scores, 1915-1982, undated; 2. Film, Radio, and Television Scores, 1937-1953, undated; 3. Musical Theater Scores, 1945-1952, undated; and 4. Popular Songs, 1930-1941, undated. The classical music scores are further broken down into original compositions by Lessner and works that are transcriptions or arrangements of works originally composed by others. Some of the classical scores are titled in Hungarian and transcriptions of Lessner’s handwriting may not be accurate. Classical works by Lessner include his opera The Nightingale and the Rose, works for full sympony orchestra such as "The Merry Overture", art songs based on texts by poets such as Paul Verlaine and Sándor Petöfi, and short compositions for solo piano. Among the film, radio, and television scores are a large number of complete scores for episodes of the 1950’s children’s television show Bobo the Hobo and His Traveling Troupe, and one score for a Walter Lantz cartoon starring Oswald the Rabbit, "The Dumb Cluck." Lessner’s musical theater scores include two shows that had brief runs on Broadway, Sleepy Hollow (1948), and Mr. Strauss Goes to Boston (1945). In the 1930s, Lessner composed several popular songs that were printed as sheet music, including a song written for Blanche Calloway, "Honey, I’se Cold, I Is."
Subseries B. consists of works composed by Alford Lessner, George Lessner’s son, including classical compositions, popular songs, and an unfinished work for jazz band. Subseries C. contains works by other composers, such as Harry Revel and Robert Stolz. Subseries D. contains fragments of scores and unidentified scores, which may be the work of George or Alford Lessner.
Series II. Personal and Professional Papers (1 document box) includes correspondence, programs, and clippings from performances of George Lessner’s works, and correspondence, clippings, and programs related to his wife, Lorraine Lessner, and son, Alford Lessner.
Condition Note
The score of The Nightingale and the Rose in Boxes 17-18 is coated with debris from deteriorating adhesive tape. Researchers may wish to wear gloves while handling individual leaves.

Separated Material

Sound recordings were transferred to the Ransom Center's Sound Recording collection and are described individually in a list at the end of this finding aid and in a searchable database.

Container List

Oversize materials Container 17-29   
Request entire Container 17-29