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Ernest Kanitz papers

Identifier: 0196

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Scope and Contents

Collection consists of the correspondence, music-related ephemera, musical scores, and recordings of émigré musician and former USC School of Music faculty member, Ernest Kanitz (1894-1978). The correspondence, both personal and professional, consist of letters between friends, family, and colleagues, official paperwork regarding his career as a composer including royalty checks, membership paperwork, and other such forms. The ephemera consists of the materials that Kanitz collected over the years in relation to his career (including programs, posters, magazines, and other music-related items), as well as his personal life. The scores are made up of both works by Kanitz and other musicians. The former constitutes the bulk of the collection. They include original musical scores, libretti, and other writings. Included are original, printed, and photocopied manuscripts, there are also different iterations of the same works. The scores by other composers are annotated by Kanitz and were retained for his personal reference. There is a large variety of scores within this series: some of them date from his time in Austria during the interwar period, some belonged to his wife, Gertrude Reif, and others were given to him by the people who had composed them (often these are inscribed to Kanitz with a note). The majority are published scores, but there are a few from friends that are manuscript/hand-written versions. The recordings (LPs and magnetic tapes) are of performances of Kanitz's own work. In general, the LPs are from 1940s-1950s while the magnetic tapes are from slightly 1960s-1970s.


  • Creation: c.1890-2008


Conditions Governing Access

Advance notice required for access.

Biographical note

Ernst Kanitz was born April 9, 1894, in Vienna. He studied law at the University of Vienna (J.D. 1918), but continuously devoted himself to the systematic study of piano theory and composition with Richard Heuberger (1912-1914) and Franz Schreker (1914-1920). Early successes as a composer (principally the premiere of the oratorio "Das Hohelied" in 1921) aided his musical career, which also led to teaching. Beginning in 1922, he was a Professor of Theory and Analysis at the New Vienna Conservatory and had numerous private students in composition. In 1930 Kanitz founded the Vienna Women's Chorus, with which he brought new choral music to the public in Vienna, Paris, Brno, and Budapest. The chorus remained in existence until Kanitz's emigration to the United States in 1938.

Kanitz was not alone when he came to the United States in July 1938. His wife, Gertrude Reif, came along with their three children, Elizabeth (born c. 1922), Tom (born c. 1924) and Mary Bridget (born c. 1926). Gertrude likely was also interested in the study of music, as many of the music scores in his collection originally belonged to her during the 1910s. Despite the complications that undoubtedly were involved in uprooting a family of five, they seem to have settled in quickly to a home in South Carolina. Also in 1938, Kanitz embarked on the first step in an extended teaching career, first at Winthrop College in Rock Hill (1938-1941) and then as Head of the Music Department of Erskine College (1941-1944). He also appeared as conductor of various women's choruses and student orchestras. By the early 1940s, almost all members of the family had obtained American citizenship. In 1943, Kanitz's daughter Elizabeth married an American soldier, and his son Tom joined the Army and worked as a photographer throughout World War II.

Things changed significantly for Kanitz after his wife passed away from Hodgkin's disease in 1944. Soon afterward, he went to Los Angeles in the summer of 1944. While it was initially intended to be a short vacation, after a brief time in the city he decided instead to resign from his position at Erskine and try to make a living as a composer and teacher in Southern California. His youngest daughter, Mary Bridget, joined him and found work in Los Angeles. It was a difficult first year as Kanitz tried to establish a career in the highly competitive field of film scoring, and he lived mostly off of some freelance work and private music lessons. But his persistence and diligence prevailed by 1945. When Ernst Toch took the summer off from teaching at USC due to illness, Kanitz was invited to take his place. By November 1945, he was appointed to the faculty at the USC School of Music, where he taught composition and counterpoint until his retirement in 1959 (he returned as a guest professor there in 1960/1961).

From 1961-1964 he taught at Marymount College in Palos Verdes, California. He then devoted himself exclusively to private teaching and composition; activities which were severely restricted in 1967 due to his diminishing vision. Kanitz died in Palo Alto, CA in 1978.

His compositions include:

Chamber operas (Room No. 12, Royal Auction, Perpetual)

Orchestral works (Gay Ouverture, Motion Picture, Concerto Grosso for wind instruments, strings and piano; Concert Piece for trumpet and orchestra or piano, Concerto for Chamber Orchestra (1955); Visions At Twilight for flute, piano and strings (1962); Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra (1962); Sinfonia Seria (first symphony, 1963), Second Symphony (1965); Sinfonia Concertante (third symphony) for violin, cello and orchestra (1967); Sinfonietta da Camera (1972))

Chamber music (works for solo instruments, 4 duos, 3 trios, 2 string quartets, 3 quintets and one sextet)

Works for voice (Das Hohelied (Christian Morgenstern), oratorio for four solos, mixed chorus and orchestra (1920; 1921); Music of Our Time, chamber cantata for baritone, women's chorus and chamber orchestra (1932); Evening Festival for Radio for soprano solo, two guitars, two pianos and orchestra (1934); Ballet Music for women's chorus and orchestra (1936); Gotthelf Schlicht, cantata for solos, mixed chorus and orchestra (1937); choral works and songs with piano accompaniment).

He also published A Counterpoint Manual: Fundamental Techniques of Polyphonic Music Writing (Boston, 1948).


61.125 Linear Feet (60 boxes)

Language of Materials



Collection consists of the correspondence, music-related ephemera, musical scores, and recordings of émigré musician and former USC School of Music faculty member, Ernest Kanitz (1894-1978).


The papers are organized into 6 series: Correspondence; Works by Kanitz; Recordings; Concert Programs and Ephemera; Works by Other Composers; Unprocessed materials

The organization of the collection was first and foremost by type of material (music scores, correspondence, recordings, etc.) and then chronologically as needed, particularly for the correspondence and ephemera. However, because of the various sizes of music scores and other materials in the collection, storage also played a major part in organization.

Finding Aid for the Ernest Kanitz papers
Emily Hodgkins
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the USC Libraries Special Collections Repository

Doheny Memorial Library 206
3550 Trousdale Parkway
Los Angeles California 90089-0189 United States