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Henriette Speiser materials related to Rudolf Serkin


Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Henriette Speiser was born on February 19, 1922 in Basel, Switzerland to banker and amateur violinist Theophil Speiser and Elisabeth Riggenbach. According to the donor, Speiser studied piano and joined her local Girl Scout troop, where she became friendly with Irene Busch, who later married Rudolf Serkin. She became an executive secretary and worked for the head of psychiatry at the University of Basel. She later went on to serve as secretary to influential artists, authors and musicians including Wilhelm Furtwängler, Raffael Kubelik, Oskar Kokoschka, Hermann Hesse and Carl Jacob Burckhardt.

In 1969, Speiser was hired as the executive and private secretary to pianist Rudolf Serkin. She worked 9 months in Philadelphia at the Curtis Institute for Music and 2 months at the Marlboro Music School and Festival, which Serkin was one of the founders. She had to resign in 1970 due to health reasons and returned to Switzerland. Serkin and Speiser corresponded frequently after her resignation and in 1979, he offered her a position as his European coordinator and personal secretary. Speiser accepted the position despite having reservations. She wrote to Serkin, "I have to draw your attention to the fact, that I haven't been active in the musical world for a long time..." (undated letter).

It is unclear how long Speiser remained as Serkin's European coordinator. She passed away in 1998.

This collection primarily contains letters, written in German, from Rudolf Selkin to Henriette Speiser. There are a few items written in English. The content of a majority of the letters seems to discuss Serkin's European concerts but they do contain bits of personal information, revealing a friendly relationship between Speiser and Serkin. There are also several photographs of Pablo Casal taken at the Marlboro Music School and Festival in 1964. Casal taught master classes and conducted the chamber orchestra during the first two weeks of the 1964 season.

There are a few personal items including a photo card of her parents, an invitation to a performance of Adolf and Frieda Busch, a program from a charity concert for migrant children and letters from childhood friend, Irene Busch Serkin.

Gift of Ruth Speiser-Bëhr, 2017.

University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
Finding Aid Author
Kristine McGee
Finding Aid Date
2023 February 15
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Collection Inventory

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Curtis Institute of Music: employment, 1970.
Box 1 Folder 1
Marlboro Music School and Festival: letters and photographs, 1964-1966.
Box 1 Folder 2
Serkin, Irene: letters, 1938-1990.
Box 1 Folder 3
Serkin, Rudolf: clippings, 1973-1991.
Box 1 Folder 4
Serkin, Rudolf: letters, 1967-1979.
Box 1 Folder 5
Serkin, Rudolf: letters, 1980-1981.
Box 1 Folder 6
Serkin, Rudolf: letters, 1982-1990.
Box 1 Folder 7
Serkin, Rudolf: miscellaneous notes, undated.
Box 1 Folder 8
Speiser-Riggenbach, Theophil and Elisabeth: miscellaneous personal items, 1938, undated.
Box 1 Folder 9

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