In the world of modern classical music, there are few composers whose works shine as brightly as those of Steven R. Gerber ’69. Known for his atonal style and minimalistic tendencies, with a shift towards more melodic pieces later in life, Gerber’s contributions to the classical realm are best seen through the Steven Gerber papers, housed right here in Haverford’s Quaker and Special Collections.
“The Steven Gerber papers are exciting because they give us a holistic picture of Gerber’s life,” said Sarah Horowitz, Curator of Rare Books & Manuscripts and Head of Quaker & Special Collections, noting that his papers include musical compositions, letters, photographs, and recordings of his work.
“The collection allows us to study and understand Gerber’s work in different ways. For instance, a number of the pieces he wrote are present in a variety of drafts, showing how he changed the music as he worked on it,” she said. “This could provide important information on Gerber’s composition process to a researcher. Because the collection also includes pieces Gerber wrote during his time as a student at Haverford all the way through the end of his life, someone could also study the way his music changed over the course of his life. Finally, you can also get a sense of Gerber’s personal and professional lives in his papers. There are letters to friends purely about family matters, and there are also lots of letters about the publication of his music, rights issues, and performances.”
The papers, which were acquired by the College in early 2018 following Gerber’s 2015 death, have been newly organized and made more accessible to the public through the work of Alice Berry BMC ’19, who interned with Horowitz to organize and compile the collection this past summer.
“Putting Gerber’s papers in order and describing what information is found in them makes it possible for researchers—students, faculty, musicians, scholars—to access those papers,” Horowitz said. “Anyone with a computer can look at the online guide to the collection, and the research that Alice did about Steve Gerber, and this will help them make a decision about whether these materials are something they want to work with.”
It seems only fitting that the Steven Gerber papers have returned to Haverford in light of the influence that his time at the College had on his learning and music education.
“Haverford was a huge influence on Gerber,” said Horowitz. “He credits the reception of one of his own compositions, which he performed in his first year at the College, as part of what encouraged him to become a professional composer. It was because of the influence of Haverford, and Haverford professors such as John Davison, that the Gerber Trust decided to place these materials at Haverford after Gerber’s death.”
With the Steven Gerber papers now an exciting and integral piece of Special Collections, the possibilities for projects by faculty, students, and other researchers seem endless. You can find Berry’s research on the papers and a biography of Gerber at gerber.sites.haverford.edu.
Portrait of Steven Gerber ’69 by Robin Holland.