Skip to main content

John Alden Carpenter papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Carpenter

Scope and Content of the Collection

Most of the correspondence relates to Carpenter’s musical activities, and includes letters written not only to him but also to his wife, Rue, and his daughter Genevieve (Ginny). There is one folder of drafts or carbons of Carpenter’s outgoing correspondence and one folder of correspondence with his music publisher, G. Schirmer, Inc. Among the well-known correspondents of Carpenter, his wife and daughter are John Barrymore, Sarah Bernhardt, Marcel Duchamp, Percy Grainger, George Herriman, Langston Hughes, Serge Koussevitsky, Fernand Leger, Vachel Lindsay, John McCormack, Pierre Monteux, Gerald Murphy, Sir William Nicholson, Eugene Ormandy, Serge Prokofieff, Artur Rodzinski, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, John Philip Sousa, Adlai Stevenson, Igor Stravinsky, George Szell, Alice B. Toklas, Louis Untermeyer, Bruno Walter and Thornton Wilder.

Also, material regarding Carpenter’s ballet music, including a printed copy of the score of Krazy Kat and sketches of the costumes and staging of Skyscrapers by Robert Edmond Jones; a small collection of autographs including four with cartoons by Clare Briggs, Charlie Chaplin, George Herriman and Charles Schulz; clippings and miscellaneous programs, financial records both personal and professional, a radio interview, and information on his memorial in 1960. There is one folder of material relating to Rue Winterbotham Carpenter, including a lock of her hair. Also, one box of photographs of family and many celebrities, the most interesting of which are shots of Picasso and Stravinsky and one group photo featuring Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks. In an oversize box are photos of Arthur Rubinstein and of a vast banquet given for Frederick A. Stock, plus a few designs for Skyscrapers.


  • Creation: 1890-1964
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1900 - 1950



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The John Alden Carpenter papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 5 folders at a time maximum, and items in each folder will be counted before and after delivery to the patron (Priority I).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The John Alden Carpenter papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of John Alden Carpenter

American composer.

John Alden Carpenter was born in Park Ridge, Illinois in 1876. His first piano teacher was his mother and he later studied in Chicago with Amy Fay, who was a student of Liszt’s, and W.C.E. Seeboeck, who had been a pupil of Brahms and Rubinstein. After graduating from Harvard, Carpenter returned to Chicago to work for George B. Carpenter and Company, a family shipping-supplies company of which he eventually became vice-president. He then began dividing his time between business and musical composition.

Carpenter studied briefly with Edward Elgar, and from 1909-1912 with Bernhard Ziehn in Chicago. In 1913, he established his reputation with his song-cycle Gitanjali, based on poems of Rabindranath Tagore. In 1915 he produced his first major orchestral work, Adventures in a Perambulator – inspired in part by his only child, Genevieve (Ginny) and Concertino for piano and orchestra. Carpenter composed ballet scores: The Birthday of the Infanta in 1919, Krazy Kat, based on the cartoons of George Herriman, in 1922, and Skyscrapers in 1926.

Carpenter is perhaps most famous for his great output of piano pieces and songs, among which are Looking-Glass River, with lyrics based on the poems of Robert Louis Stevenson, Two Night Songs, with lyrics by Siegfried Sassoon, and Four Negro Songs, based on poems of Langston Hughes. His work in general has an impressionistic lightness, but ranges widely in expression from light and humorous to the poetic and moody, from jazz-inspired to patriotic, and from the popular to the non-Western. After 1937 Carpenter devoted himself mainly to revising and rearranging earlier scores. One of his last compositions was The Seven Ages (1945), based on the Shakespearean soliloquy.

Carpenter married Rue Winterbotham, a designer and interior decorator, in 1900 and following her death in 1931, he married Ellen Borden. Besides his composing, he was active in the Chicago musical scene, guiding the musical activities of the Chicago Arts Club, and directing the Chicago Allied Arts, which staged dances by Ruth Page and Adolph Bohm. Although Carpenter had great success in his lifetime – his concert music was presented by leading conductors and his songs performed by acclaimed singers – by the twenty-first century the majority of his scores have fallen into obscurity. However, he remains an important figure for creating works which are recognized as distinctly American.

Carpenter died in Chicago in 1951, after spending much time in his Sarasota, Florida, home.


3 Linear Feet (3 boxes and 1 oversize box)


Correspondence, mostly incoming, to American composer John Alden Carpenter, wife Rue W. Carpenter and daughter Genevieve; also material relating to Carpenter’s works; a miscellany of personal records; and a collection of photographs, many of them of well-known musicians.


Papers are organized in the following series

Series 1: Correspondence, 1904-1963
Boxes 1-2
Series 2: Works, 1915-1945
Box 2
Series 3: Miscellaneous, 1917-1961
Box 2
Series 4: Photographs, 1890-1964
Box 3

Collection Stack Location

1 8 7, 1 16 3


Gift of Mrs. Patrick Hill (daughter Genevieve Carpenter), 1977; gift of Mrs. Ivor LeClerc (Joan Pirie LeClerc, granddaughter of Carpenter’s second wife Ellen), 1979, 1987.

Processed by

Virginia H. Smith, 2004.

Inventory of the John Alden Carpenter papers, 1890-1964, bulk 1900-1950
Virginia H. Smith
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2011-08-17: Revisions, additions, and updates were made.

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States