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Leo Sowerby Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: –
Date: 1966

Biographical History

Leo Sowerby (1895-1968), the son of John and Gertrude Sowerby, was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He moved to Chicago at the age of fourteen, studied piano with Calvin Lampert and Percy Grainger, composition with Arthur Olaf Anderson, and later received his Master of Music degree in 1918 at the American Conservatory, Chicago.

He began his performing career as piano soloist at the Norfolk (Conn.) Festival in 1917 and was later to perform with many other American and European orchestras. In 1917, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. After serving in several ranks including that of bandmaster, with duty in the United States, England, and France, he was discharged in 1919. In 1921 Sowerby was appointed the first American composer to the Rome Prize (Prix de Rome) established in music by the American Academy in Rome. He returned to America three years later.

Sowerby held the position of instructor in theory and composition at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago from 1925-1962 and organist and choirmaster at the(Episcopal) Cathedral of St. James (1927-1962). He later became director of the College of Church Musicians, Washington Cathedral, Washington, D.C. in 1962, a position he held until his death.

Sowerby won a Pulitzer Prize for "distinguished musical composition" in 1945 and became a fellow of the Royal School of Church Music in London in 1957. His memberships include the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, the American Institute of Arts and Letters, and the Cliff Dwellers club of Chicago.

Sowerby's harmonic style of musical composition was modern though he remained within the limits of traditional tonality, employing a strict, formal design. Over his career he produced more than 500 works in every genre but opera, including chamber works, choral pieces, organ pieces, piano pieces, and songs. His outstanding compositions include Comes Autumn Time (1916), Set of Four "Suite of Ironics" (1918), ballad for two solo pianofortes (King Estmere, 1923), Suite "From the Northland" (1927), Symphonic poem "Prairie" (1929), and "Canticle of the Sun," for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1945.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Leo Sowerby Papers is divided into six series and includes correspondence, subject files, manuscripts, photographs, published material, and memorabilia.

Correspondence is divided into three parts. Incoming correspondence includes personal letters, post cards and telegrams received by Sowerby. Outgoing correspondence covers letters and postcards written by Sowerby, many during his army career. Correspondence of others concerns letters of other people regarding Sowerby or his music.

Subject files consists of material such as army papers, certificates, financial papers and legal papers.

Manuscripts includes materials by and about Sowerby such as musical diaries, poems and ballads, and speeches

Photographs document many scenes of Sowerby alone, Sowerby with others including Queen Elizabeth II of England, and Sowerby's summer place.

Published materials contains of a range of magazine articles about Sowerby as well as some by him and a few concerning others. Scattered material relates to biographical information about him and music hy him. A large section of musical programs cover those in his honor, those mentioning him, those in which he performed or conducted, and those in which pieces by him were performed. Newspaper clippings about him follow, dealing mainly with reviews of premieres and performances of his works as well as articles about him. The series concludes with press releases.

The collection also contains one item of Memorabilia, an oversized scrapbook belonging to Sowerby and containing musical programs and newspaper clippings.

Arrangement of the Collection

Incoming correspondence and Correspondence of others are arranged alphabetically by name of sender. Outgoing correspondence is arranged chronologically. Subject files, Manuscripts, and Photographs are arranged alphabetically by subject content. Published material is arranged alphabetically by type; within this, musical compositions are arranged chronologically.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Sowerby, Leo, 1895-1968.


Composers -- United States.
Music, 20th century.
Musicians -- United States.
Pianists -- United States.

Genres and Forms

Clippings (information artifacts)
Programs (documents)
Speeches (documents)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Leo Sowerby Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Leo Sowerby.

Table of Contents

Biographical material


Subject file



Published material