Mary Louise Curtis Bok Zimbalist (1876-1970)

Born August 6, 1876 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Died January 4, 1970 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Curtis with Barber

Curtis with Samuel Barber

Mary Louise Curtis founded the Curtis Institute of Music in
Philadelphia in 1924. She was the daughter of the publishing magnate
Cyrus H. K. Curtis, the founder and editor of the Ladies Home Journal
and the Saturday Evening Post.

For her 75th birthday in 1951, Philadelphia composer Samuel
Barber presented her with an album containing 26 manuscript settings
of “Happy Birthday” by well-known composers written especially for
her. Even the table of contents is interesting: it is Happy Birthday
in Barber’s hand with each composer represented by a note of the

Table of contents page by Barber

There is a wide range of styles and settings. Some were very
simple. Sibelius simply typed Happy Birthday and signed it! Milhaud,
Pizzetti, and William Schuman each provided just the melody. Walton
also wrote just the melody, but prefaced it with the beginning of the
“Star Spangled Banner”. Copland also wrote an angular bass passacaglia
theme marked “broadly, with a bang!”

There are several vocal settings, including those by Bax,
Chavez, and Honneger. Stravinsky wrote a 2 voice canon, and Menotti a
3 voice canon with second part marked “be sung standing on one’s
head.” Poulenc, and her second husband Efrem Zimbalist, wrote for
voice and piano.

Many are small ensemble works. Dohnányi set it as a (non
standard) brass quintet of trumpets, trombones, and tuba. Scalero
wrote a string quartet. Piston provided a violin solo accompanied by
oboes, clarinets, basoons, and timpani.

Virgil Thomson and Villa-Lobos wrote piano settings. Salzedo set
it in the style of Schubert. Harris used the date 8-6-1951 as scale
degrees. Finally, pianist Edith Evans Braun, who was a close friend of
Mary and with her became friend and patroness to composers including
Barber and Menotti, provided a piano setting with the melody in the