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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 1907, 1950-1978
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.
RLIN Record # TXRC98-A21
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, 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

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

Index Terms


Adorno, Theodor W., 1903-1969
Alsop, Joseph, 1910-
Arndt, Adolf, 1904-1947
Arrau, Claudio, 1903-
Auden, W. H. (Wystan Hugh), 1907-1973
Bahr, Egon, 1922-
Balanchine, George
Bellow, Saul
Berlin, Isaiah, Sir
Bernstein, Leonard, 1918-
Bertuccelli, Jean-Louis
Bessie, Simon Michael
Bhatia, Vanraj
Bieber, Marion
Blacher, Boris, 1903-1975
Blake, Patricia
Bogianckino, Massimo
Bohlen, Charles E. (Charles Eustis), 1904-
Bois, Mario
Bomhard, Moritz
Bond, Alison
Bornoff, Jack
Boulanger, Nadia
Boulez, Pierre, 1925-
Brankca, Vittore
Brandt, Willy, 1913-
Bundy, McGeorge
Burnier, Raymond
Byrns, Harold, 1903-1977
Cage, Betty
Charter, Elliot, 19108-
Chagall, Marc, 1887-
Chiaromonte, Nicola
Cocteau, Jean, 1889-1963
Craft, Bob
Danielou, Alain
Diamond, Peter
Dubuis, Gisele
Einem, Gottfried von, 1918-
Emmanuel, Pierre
Frugoni, Orazio, 1921-
Heller, Anatole
Hiller, Lejaren Arthur, 1924-
Hilpert, Viola
Horgan, Barbara
Hunt, John C.
Jaudel, Etienne
Jelenski, Constantin, 1922-
Josselson, Michael
Kallin, Anna
Kennan, George Frost, 1904-
Kissinger, Henry, 1923-
Kollek, Teddy, 1911-
Labroca, Mario, 1896-1973
Lasky, Melvin J.
Lieberman, Rolf, 1910-
Mansouroff, Paul, 1896-1983
Markevitch, Igor, 1912-1983
Masani, Minocheher Rustom, 1905-
McGhee, George Crews, 1912-
Menuhin, Yehudi, 1916-
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-
Perdigao, Jose de Azerado
Propes, Aron Zvi
Roberts, Laurence P.
Robin, Jean
St. Aubyn, Frederic C. (Frederic Chase), 1921-
Schlesinger, Authur Meier, 1917-
Seefehlner, Egon, 1912-
Sellner, Gustav Rudolf
Slater, Joe E.
Spender, Stephen, 1909-
Stajanovic, Josip
Stone, Shepard
Stravinsky, Ivan, 1882-1971
Stuckenschmidt, Hans Heinz, 1901-
Thomas, Virgil, 1896-
Wakefield, Rowan Albert, 1919-
Watanabe, Akeo, 1919-
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