Mannes, Clara Damrosch (1869–1948)

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Mannes, Clara Damrosch (1869–1948)

American pianist and educator who co-founded the Mannes College of Music . Born on December 12, 1869, in Breslau, Prussia (now Wroclaw, Poland); died on March 16, 1948, in New York City; daughter of Leopold Damrosch (a musician and musical conductor) and Helene (von Heimburg) Damrosch; sister of Walter Damrosch (1862–1950) and Frank Damrosch (1859–1937), both musical directors; attended private schools in New York City, to which her family moved in 1871; began study of piano at the age of six; continued her musical studies in Dresden, Germany, during 1888 and 1889; married David Mannes (a violinist), in June 1898 (died 1959); children: Leopold Mannes; Maria von Heimburg Mannes (1904–1990), known as Marya Mannes .

Best known as co-founder with her husband of New York's David Mannes Music School (now the Mannes College of Music), where she served as co-director until her death in 1948.

Clara Damrosch was born in Breslau, Prussia, on December 12, 1869. Two years later, her family moved to New York City, where her father Leopold Damrosch, a musician, played a key role in promoting music appreciation in the New York area. While attending private schools in New York, Clara began taking piano lessons at the age of six. From 1888 to 1889, she returned to Europe where she continued her musical studies in Dresden, Germany. Upon her return to New York, she began giving private music lessons. In addition to her continued work on the piano, she sang occasionally with the New York Oratorio Society, which had been founded by her father. While singing for the Society, she met violinist David Mannes, a member of the New York Symphony Orchestra, which also had been founded by her father.

David and Clara became engaged in 1897, while both were pursuing their music studies in Germany, and married in June 1898. For the first years of their marriage, the two musicians had separate careers. In 1901, however, they began performing together in public as a violin and piano sonata duo. Two years later, after studying with Eugene Ysaÿe in Belgium, the couple performed a series of sonata recitals that received both critical and popular acclaim. In addition to their concert schedule, they taught music at the Music School Settlement at East Third Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. David Mannes served as director. He was also concertmaster of the New York Symphony Orchestra, which was conducted by Walter Damrosch, Clara's brother. Clara and David's concert appearances took the couple all over the United States and to the United Kingdom in 1913. Clara also made occasional appearances as an accompanist to such popular artists as Pablo Casals and the Kneisel Quartet. The Manneses continued their joint concert appearances around the country until 1917, introducing both classic and contemporary sonata literature to many corners of the country previously unfamiliar with it.

As their careers in professional music matured, the Manneses began to feel the need to create a school of music to shape the musical growth of others. In the fall of 1916, they founded the David Mannes Music School on East 70th Street in Manhattan, which soon outgrew its original facility. In 1919, three contiguous brownstone apartment houses on East 74th were acquired and converted into new quarters for the school. The college moved to its present location on West 85th Street in 1984. Granted a provisional charter from the University of the State of New York in 1933, in 1934 it was incorporated as a tax-exempt, nonprofit institution, administered by a board of trustees with Clara and David as co-directors. It is now a division of the New School.

After the end of her concert career, Clara devoted most of her time and energy to her responsibilities as co-director of the music school. Both she and her husband were decorated in 1926 by the French government for their contributions to music education. Together, they edited with Louis Untermeyer a collection of songs for children entitled New Songs for New Voices. Clara Mannes died in New York City on March 16, 1948, age 78.


McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Don Amerman , freelance writer, Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania

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Mannes, Clara Damrosch (1869–1948)

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