A Legacy of Music.
Who would ever dream of a music school where students are accepted on the basis of merit alone? Where tuition is completely free? Where members stay anywhere from two to ten years? Where all keyboard, conducting, and composition students are lent Steinway grand pianos for use throughout their studies?Mary Louise Curtis Bok (later Zimbalist) had such a dream--and turned it into reality with the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia more than 75 years ago. But the story actually begins earlier. Louisa Knapp Curtis, wife of magazine mogul Cyrus Curtis, died in 1910, bequeathing her own considerable fortune to her husband. He, in turn, gave the inheritance to their only child, Mary Louise, who was married to Edward Bok, a journalist from the Netherlands and editor of the Ladies' Home Journal. Both the Journal and Curtis' other publication, The Saturday Evening Post, were riding high at the time. Mrs. Bok (which is what everyone always called her) was herself a serious amateur musician. At age 48, she became involved with the Philadelphia Settlement School, which provided musical training to young immigrants. Her first public gift to music, in 1917, was $150,000 for a Settlement Music House. The music house's goal was "Americanization among the foreign population of Philadelphia." The Boks' best friend, pianist Josef Hofmann, played a recital at the school's dedication. Fortunately for the dream, the Boks also were on a friendly basis with other leading musicians of the day, including Leopold Stokowski, then musical director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. After much discussion with Stokowski, Hofmann, and other friends on how best to help musically gifted young people, Mrs. Bok again dipped into her inheritance and bought three splendid turn-of-the-century mansions on Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square. After having them joined and renovated, she formed a faculty of renowned performing artists and opened the Curtis Institute of Music in October 1924. She eventually supplied the institute with a magnificent endowment of $12 million and spent the rest of her life making her dream the best possible place for exceptionally gifted students to study and learn. The criterion for acceptance to the institute has always been unsurpassed musical talent. In fact, a violin student of Yehudi Menuhin and a daughter of Itzhak Perlman were each denied admission to the school. In one semester, only 5 out of 300 applicants were accepted into the vocal department. "Small but...
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