Constance Keene Collection
The distinguished American pianist and teacher Constance Keene was born in Brooklyn, New York on February 9, 1921. Her early piano studies were with Kathryn Makin. At the age of 13, three years after her formal recital debut, she began working with Abram Chasins (1903-1987), the well-known pianist, composer and broadcaster, whose influence on the young pianist was decisive. Through Chasins's influence, Constance played privately for, and received encouragement from, such eminent figures of the day as Leopold Godowsky and Josef Hofmann. In 1943 she was named winner of the Naumberg Competition, appearing in her Town Hall debut recital later that year.
Chasins and Keene were married in 1949 and made a number of acclaimed recordings of duo-piano repertoire as well as performing together with the Boston Symphony under Serge Koussevitzky. On her own, Ms. Keene appeared as concerto soloist with major orchestras in the US and Europe, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, the Hallé Orchestra of Manchester, and the Berlin Philharmonic.
In 1946, Constance Keene replaced the indisposed Vladimir Horowitz at a recital before an audience of 4000 in Springfield, MA. She became the only woman pianist to have substituted for Horowitz at any of his frequent cancellations. In addition to her concert activity during the 1940s, Ms. Keene embarked on a second career as a teacher. Among her private pupils at the time were the two older children of Artur Rubinstein. In 1963, shortly after Ms. Keene's recording of the complete Rachmaninoff Preludes was released, Rubinstein warmly praised her interpretations: "I cannot imagine anybody, including Rachmaninoff himself, playing [the Preludes] as beautifully."
In 1969 Constance Keene joined the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music, eventually serving as chair of the school's piano department and becoming one of New York's most sought-after teachers. In 1997 she was named to the school's board of trustees, and in 2004 the MSM awarded her an honorary Doctor of Musical Arts degree. Ms. Keene gave master classes on many occasions in Europe, Asia and South Africa. In addition, she was in frequent demand as a judge for piano competitions, serving on the juries of the Cliburn and Naumberg competitions, among others.
Constance Keene was a fairly prolific recording artist whose first solo discs appeared on the Mercury label in the early 1950s. A number of compact discs on the Protone and Newport labels reflect the breadth of her repertoire, containing not only familiar works of Bach, Chopin, Mendelssohn and Rachmaninoff, but also rarely-played sonatas by Dussek, Hummel, Weber, and MacDowell.
Constance Keene died in New York on December 24, 2005 and was survived by her second husband, the attorney Milton Kean.
The Constance Keene Collection in IPAM contains a number of scrapbooks documenting her career as both performer and teacher. IPAM also holds Ms. Keene's personal score collection containing many comments and notations.