Today: McKeldin 8:00AM - 11:00PM - Late Night Study begins Sunday 2/6

William Kapell Collection

William Kapell was a brilliant American pianist whose life and career were cut short by the crash of an airplane on which he was returning from an overseas tour in October 1953. He was barely 31, but was already acknowledged as the leading American pianist of his generation; some have said he would have been the greatest pianist of the 20th century. Picture of William Kapell, pianist

Born in 1922, Kapell studied piano with Dorothea Anderson LaFollette at the Yorkville Settlement School in New York and with Olga Samaroff at the Philadelphia Conservatory and, later, at the Juilliard School. In 1941, he won both a Naumburg Award and the Philadelphia Orchestra Youth Concert competition. This gave him opportunities for major debuts both as a recitalist and as a player of concerti. In 1942, he was given the Town Hall Endowment Series Award, providing him with yet another Town Hall recital during the 1942-43 season. He then signed a contract with RCA Victor and recorded a wide variety of repertoire for that company. (All of Kapell's RCA recordings have been reissued in compact disc format.)

He toured North America annually thereafter, performing both with major orchestras and as a recitalist. He became an advocate of contemporary American piano music, and seems to have been especially prized by American composers. In 1945, he played a series of concerts in Australia, beginning to build an international reputation. He toured South America three times (1946, 1948, and 1951). He seemed to have a particular affection for music of South America that is reflected in his personal collection of piano music. He first played in Europe in 1947. In mid-1953 he performed in Tel Aviv, played at Casals's Prades Festival, and gave his final series of performances during the course of a three-month Australian tour. Returning from Australia, his plane crashed into a mountain moments before its scheduled landing in San Francisco.



Here are found programs, reviews, advertisements, promotional materials and like documents that are related to specific performances of Kapell. The materials are organized chronologically by performance date, and span the period 1936 through 1953. This series is located in boxes 1 through 7.


Here are found reviews, advertisements and promotional materials that are related to commercial sound recordings made by Kapell from 1947 to 1953. The materials are organized alphabetically by composer and are located in box 8. No Kapell recordings are included in this series.


This series consists of 63 items and is divided into four categories:

  • Incoming correspondence to Kapell
  • Outgoing correspondence from Kapell
  • Incoming correspondence to Anna Lou Kapell
  • Miscellaneous correspondence

The series is located in box 9.


Here are found various documents that have been divided into the following subseries:

Subseries 1: Memorials to William Kapell
Subseries 2: Kapell's Artistry and Profession
Subseries 3: Kapell's Academics and Writing
Subseries 4: Kapell's Personal Life
Subseries 5: Compositions and Other Studies
Subseries 6: Legal Issues
Subseries 7: Unrelated Articles

This series is located in boxes 10 and 11.


Here are found various documents that have been divided into the following subseries:

Subseries 1: Condolence related materials Subseries 2: Newspaper clippings, mostly about the plane crash and the lawsuit, miscellaneous documents of interest. 

This series is located in box 14.


This series consists of 213 photographs and is located in boxes 12 to 13. The series is arranged chronologically; a reference number appears on each photograph designating its approximate date (box 12 contains 192X.1-1947.14; box 13 contains 1948.1-XXXX.10). Negatives for a substantial number of photographs in this collections are contained in box 15.


This series consists of cassette recordings of interviews regarding William Kapell. There are also a number of transcripts to these interviews. This series is found in box 19.


This series consists of published scores and music manuscripts owned by William Kapell. Particularly notable here are the numerous Villa-Lobos pieces found in box 18. The other scores and manuscripts are found in boxes 16 and 17. All the scores have been divided into three categories: items that are virtually unmarked, items that are virtually unmarked but are inscribed to William Kapell by others, and items that bear markings in the music itself.