The WPA Music Copying Project

Musicians and composers working in the WPA Music copying Project.

The Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music in the Free Library of Philadelphia has maintained its unchallenged position as “the world’s largest lending library of orchestral performance material” for over three quarters of a century.  During the Depression, Fleisher, along with collection curator Arthur Cohn, and head librarian Franklin H. Price were able to “interest the Government and the State authorities in the desirability of preserving the works of American Com­posers . . . copying manuscript scores and making [orchestral] parts of unpublished works by contemporary American Composers.”

Fleisher assumed the expense for paper, ink and all other supplies and for transportation and insurance charges on music to and from the composers, while the Library furnished the necessary working quarters and equipment. President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Admin­istration (WPA) provided the salaries for project personnel.

Under the auspices of the WPA, Arthur Cohn spearheaded a staff that grew to nearly 100 workers. As word of the project spread, composers began contacting the library to offer their scores, and in a 1938 report to the WPA administrators, Cohn noted the impressive swath of genres and composers represented.

[Text excerpted from: The ABCs of the WPA Music Copying Project and the Fleisher Collection, by Gary Galván.   American Music Winter 2008, 2009 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois]

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