Remi Gassmann (1908-1982) was an American avant garde composer and pioneer of electronic sound and music. The Remi Gassmann Papers (MS-P004) have recently been processed, and the finding aid is now available. The collection is now available to researchers in Special Collections and Archives.
For six years Remi Gassmann was classically trained by Paul Hindemith in composition and theory. He founded and directed the Composers Concerts at the University of Chicago, showcasing composers such as Stravinsky, Milhaud, Bartol and Schoenberg. Concurrently he was Music Editor and Critic of the Chicago Times from 1940-1947. In 1945 he premiered along with Ruth Page as choreographer and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, Billy Sunday or Giving the Devil His Due. The controversial ballet-drama about American baseball player turned celebrated and influential evangelist required the dancers to speak and act as well as dance. The world-famous Russian ballerina Alexandra Danilova, who had the lead role, broke her stage silence and was quoted in several newspapers with the crack, “Look, Ma, I’m talking!” Gassmann enlisted artist Alexander Calder to design the grand circus-like stage sets and colorful and appropriately gaudy theatrical costumes.
In 1960, Gassmann collaborated with choreographer Tatjana Gsovsky and premiered Paean, one of the first ballets set to electronic music. Shortly after, with the choreography of George Balanchine and The New York City Ballet, he premiered in the U.S. the same production under the title Electronics. In 1963, with partner Oskar Sala and the use of an innovative electronic instrument, the Mixtur-trautonium, Gassmann composed and produced the unique and completely electronic soundtrack for Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds. Cue sheets and production notes describe which natural and electronic bird sounds were needed for particular climactic and often times horrifying scenes in the highly acclaimed film.
The Remi Gassmann Papers document all phases of Gassmann’s career and professional relationships with composers, musicians, choreographers and artists. While the collection is predominately comprised of musical scores, sound recordings and published musical compositions, many treasures can be found within the correspondence and publicity files. Sketches from artist Maholy-Nagy’s set decorations for the Composer’s Concerts and the complete Alexander Calder Billy Sunday sketches are included. Additionally, Calder portrayed Gassmann in several painted portraits; obvious personal favorites of Gassmann as he was photographed in his home office with the sketches lovingly framed around his piano and work areas.
Gassmann devoted his later work almost exclusively to research and the development of electronic sound. Gassmann died March 2, 1982, in Strasbourg, France.
[MS-P004. Remi Gassmann Papers. Special Collections and Archives, The UC Irvine Libraries, Irvine, California.]