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From Cather Studies Volume 13

A Collegial Friendship: Willa Cather and Ethel Herr Litchfield

In November 1912, an esteemed Pittsburgh pianist published an essay, “Why Should Our Children Study Music?,” alerting readers to “the absolute necessity in the human life for a leavening proportion of happiness.”[1] The author, Ethel Herr Litchfield, advised that children should study the arts and sciences because the “intellectual enjoyment” of such studies would “help them through the times of depression or monotony or loneliness that are sure to come later” (“Why Should”). For support, Litchfield turned to an essay on education by Harvard psychologist Hugo Münsterberg, who, as a boy, had eagerly studied botany but years later was unable to “discriminate a mushroom from an apple tree” (Münsterberg 49). “But what matter?” asked Litchfield. “The enthusiasm for botany served its purpose at the time; it stimulated and brought into play the capacities of the young mind” (“Why Should”).

Litchfield may have known of Münsterberg through her friend, Willa Cather, under whose guidance his essays appeared in McClure’s Magazine beginning in 1907 (Woodress 208; Urgo 62–64). However Litchfield discovered Münsterberg, her essay, full of observations Cather likely would have endorsed, supports the claim Cather made late in her life that she and Litchfield “melted together” early in their friendship (Selected Letters 602). Yet Litchfield has received little attention from Cather’s biographers beyond token references to her abandonment of a music career after marriage to a distinguished physician (Woodress 119; Byrne and Snyder 49–50; Lee 49). Questions of who Litchfield was or what drew her to Cather and vice versa have remained unanswered in Cather studies.

In fact, Cather and Litchfield grew close because they had followed similar paths. Enormously gifted and precocious music lovers, both had attracted critical notice early in adolescence and appeared destined for success, but they became trapped in long apprenticeships and artistic doldrums. Both sought reinvigorated careers at the same time, and both discovered distinguished mentors to guide them. With so much shared history between them, it is not surprising that the two remained close friends for life.

Furthermore, David Porter’s claim that Cather saw painters Earl and Achsah Brewster “not just as friends but as fellow artists,” even as “colleagues,” applies to the Cather-Litchfield friendship, too (Marks and Porter 94). In fact, Cather likely borrowed from Litchfield’s extensive musical knowledge and experience for her fiction, and Litchfield in turn relied on Cather’s skill in poetry, as evidenced by the song “The Swedish Mother” that unexpectedly surfaced in 2001 (Ford and Bybee).[2] Moreover, “The Swedish Mother” was not Litchfield’s only composition. According to newspaper coverage of Litchfield’s performances, discussed later in this essay, Litchfield composed other works, some of them vocal settings of unattributed texts, and I suggest the titles of these song texts reflect Cather’s influence or authorship. Therefore, exploring Litchfield’s life and career not only will illuminate an important, collegial friendship between two successful artists but also may encourage a reexamination of the interplay between the personal and the professional throughout Cather’s friendships.

Ethel Herr Jones was born 2 April 1876 in New Brighton, Pennsylvania.[3] She was the seventh of eight children of Sarah Ada Herr (1835–1930) and David Jones (1835–1920), the Welsh-born pastor of Pittsburgh’s Fifth Avenue Methodist Protestant Church and later president of Adrian College (“Obituary News—Rev. David Jones”). Jones began piano studies at age ten with Joseph H. Gittings (1848– 1920), and, in December 1889, when she was only thirteen, Gittings showcased her at the convention of the Pennsylvania State Music Teachers’ Association in Philadelphia (“The Music World”). Critics there praised her “strength of mind and grasping power of intricate musical forms” in performances that were “a natural outburst of young genius. . . . Her manner was devoid of all affectation, natural and child-like, yet not in the least childish. . . . We predict for this young talent a brilliant future” (“The Music World”).

Billed as “the wonderful child pianist,” Jones toured Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota in January and February 1891 with Chicago oratorio soprano Genevra Johnstone-Bishop (1857–1923) and received excellent reviews (“Congregational Church”; “Mrs. Bishop Cheered by 800”). Jones’s pièce de résistance, the solo part of Mendelssohn’s G Minor Concerto, shared programs with shorter works, including a ballade for solo piano by Carl Reinecke and the aria “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth” from Handel’s Messiah, the same pieces that young Thea Kronborg plays in The Song of the Lark (“Music in St. Paul”; “Among the Musicians”; Song of the Lark 67, 296).

Stories of Jones’s successful tour would have impressed Cather, a prodigy herself whose earliest writing exhibited “the range, felicity, and braggadocio of the music reviews” she would later write (Porter 254). Cather would have remembered Jones’s touring partner, too. On 18 April 1895, Cather heard Johnstone-Bishop, accompanied by Theodore Thomas and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, sing selections by Gounod, Weber, and Chaminade at Lincoln’s Funke Opera House. Cather long remembered the occasion as “a great day,” too, for Thomas’s program that evening also included the Lincoln premiere of Dvořák’s New World Symphony (Selected Letters 216; “Theatre”).

Seemingly unbeknownst to Cather’s biographers, Jones studied in New York in 1895–96 with Hungarian pianist Rafael Joseffy (1852– 1915) and was one of his favorite pupils (“Music”). Perhaps Cather drew on Jones’s memories for the story “Double Birthday” (1929), in which Pittsburgher Albert Englehardt, a former protégé of Joseffy, speaks warmly of him (Uncle Valentine 55; 61–62). Another pianist friend of Jones’s from this period aided the mature Cather in more tangible ways. On her way to Vienna in August 1896 to study with renowned teacher Theodor Leschetizky (1830–1915), Jones traveled with his prospective pupil Lucy Parsons Hine (“Society”). Twenty-one years later, while renting Woodbine Farm (High Mowing) near Jaffrey, New Hampshire, Hine and her partner, Ethel Buchanan Acheson, loaned a tent and the use of a meadow to Cather where she wrote much of My Ántonia (1918) (Byrne and Snyder 112; Lewis 104–5; Selected Letters 619).[4]

Jones enjoyed life in Vienna and extended her stay to two years (“In Society”). In spring 1897 she wrote to colleagues at Pittsburgh’s Tuesday Musical Club, sharing amusing accounts of learning German and of Leschetizky’s habits, and expressed the hope that chamber music would become popular in America, “for it is one of the most enjoyable forms of concert music” (Harding,“In the Realm of Women’s Clubs”). (Later, this hope would become a driving force in Jones’s life.) Jones’s postponed return home induced her suitor, Dr. Lawrence Litchfield (1861–1930), to sail for Europe, and, on 9 June 1898, Leschetizky gave the bride away as Litchfield and Jones were married at the American legation in Vienna (“In Society”). The Pittsburgh Post reported that the wedding had been expected and concluded with the laconic—and unprophetic—comment,“The marriage presumably ends further European study” (“In Society”).

In April 1899 the Litchfields settled in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood at 5431 Fifth Avenue, the house outside which Cather, before she knew its owner, often stood “listening to the music that streamed from it at all hours of the day and night” (“Real Estate”; Byrne and Snyder 49–50; Lewis 49). Litchfield and Cather met in 1902, and the latter discovered “something intimate, congenial, and extremely enriching” in her friend’s family that influenced the short story “The Garden Lodge” (1905) and its characters Howard Noble and his pianist wife, Caroline (Byrne and Snyder 49–50; Lewis 49; Woodress 178). The Nobles’ sixteen-year age difference mirrors the nearly fifteen-year gap between Litchfield and her husband (Troll Garden 49). And the Litchfields, who invited French artist Edmond Aman-Jean (1858–1936) to rest at their home for six weeks in March and April 1903 while he painted his Portrait of Mrs. Lawrence Litchfield, clearly prefigured the Nobles, who host French tenor Raymond d’Esquerré for a month’s rest before his London opera engagement (“A Distinguished Visitor”; Troll Garden 49, 46).[5]

Beginning in 1902, her responsibilities as president and vice president of the Tuesday Musical Club allowed Litchfield limited opportunities to concertize (Harding, “The Club Woman’s World”; “The Week’s Doings”). And the births of three children, Ethel Carver (1899–1976), Lawrence Jr. (1900–1967), and Margaret (1903–90), all of whom received lessons in the arts, further restricted her appearances.[6] When she did perform, it was usually at private musicales and club meetings, of which the program for 14 January 1902 is typical: salon pieces, light songs, and truncated versions of the standard repertoire, on this occasion Litchfield’s performance of the first movement only of Chopin’s B-flat Minor Sonata, followed by tea and ices (“Happenings in Society’s Realm”).

Litchfield’s dissatisfaction with this pattern would soon become apparent. A harbinger of change came in April 1907 when she appeared at the National Arts Club in New York with composer and pianist Giuseppe Ferrata (1865–1928) of the Beaver College and Musical Institute and others in an unusual concert devoted entirely to Ferrata’s works (“Notes of Musical Events”). It was Litchfield’s only known New York appearance and probably a welcome opportunity for ensemble playing. Another event around this time had far greater importance for her: meeting Russian pianists Josef Lhevinne (1874–1944) and his wife, Rosina (1880–1976), who visited Pittsburgh in March 1907, became her teachers, mentors, and lifelong friends, and, as will be seen, broke the mold of Litchfield’s musical life. Although both Lhevinnes had been gold medalists at the Moscow Conservatory, Rosina abandoned a solo career to avoid competing with her husband (Wallace 50–51, 61). They both so impressed Litchfield, however, that, shortly after Josef’s Pittsburgh debut, she helped arrange a joint recital for the couple on 2 May 1907 (“Lhevinne Wins Triumph”; Suydam).

Both gifted teachers, the Lhevinnes attracted many American students to their home in Wannsee, near Berlin (Wallace 120), and among them were Litchfield’s friends Lucy Hine and Ethel Acheson, who traveled there in 1908 (U.S. Consular). Litchfield, too, moved to Germany in October 1908 with her children, and the latter attended schools in Berlin and Lausanne, Switzerland (U.S. Passport [Ethel Herr Litchfield]; U.S. Passport [Margaret Litchfield]; Tudor). Her activities around this time are unknown, but she did not immediately begin studies with the Lhevinnes, for, the same month she arrived in Europe, they began another American tour and were away from Wannsee until May 1909 (Wallace 116).

Very likely, Litchfield’s plan to study overseas was negotiated amicably with Dr. Lawrence Litchfield, who pursued his own professional interests in spring and summer 1909 surveying venereal disease clinics in European cities, including Berlin, for a paper he later published (“A Plea for the Establishment”). The entire Litchfield family reassembled in Pittsburgh in September 1909, but Ethel and her children were in Europe again between June and October 1910 and made a final sojourn between June 1911 and September 1912 (Hamburg Passenger Lists; U.S. Passport [Margaret Litchfield]; New York Passenger Lists). Pittsburgh’s newspapers were silent about her absences except for a May 1913 advertisement for piano rolls touting her as “one of Josef Lhevinne’s most prominent pupils, having spent four years under the tutelage of this master in Berlin” (“The S.Hamilton Company”).[7] The ad writer exaggerated her time overseas, for she probably was in Berlin for no more than twenty-eight months between 1908 and 1912.

But there is no exaggerating her gratitude to the Lhevinnes for their assistance during some crisis around this time. The timing of her article “Why Should Our Children Study Music?,” quoted at the beginning of this essay and published only weeks after she returned to Pittsburgh in September 1912, indicates that recent experiences had opened her eyes. The article, too, alludes to a possible loss of her confidence, claiming that the happiness yielded by the arts “is ours to keep if we wish. . . . But it is necessary to reach out and seize and hold it, for it will not come unbidden and will not stay without cherishing” (“Why Should”). Having juggled family, social, and musical responsibilities in the years after her marriage, she may have forgotten to “cherish” the happiness that concertizing gave her and paid a high price for her neglect.

In any event, as late as 1954—ten years after Josef’s death—Litchfield still recalled her debt to the Lhevinnes in one of two surviving letters to Rosina and borrowed language from her 1912 essay to describe their legacy: “I owe so much to you and Josef, I’m glad to tell you again how much you enriched and broadened my musical experience. You both came into my life at a time when I felt rather starved musically and what I learned from you both is a cherished possession” (letter to Rosina Lhevinne, 6 December 1954).

Interestingly, around the same time that Litchfield was “starved musically,” Willa Cather was hungry, too. She complained to Sarah Orne Jewett in a December 1908 letter that her irritating editorship at McClure’s had given her “as much food to live by as elaborate mental arithmetic would be” (Selected Letters 119). And echoing Litchfield’s apparent frustration with a life that consumed energy formerly devoted to music-making, Cather told Jewett,“Everything leaks out as the power does in a broken circuit” (Selected Letters 119).

At almost simultaneous junctures in Cather’s and Litchfield’s lives, Jewett and the Lhevinnes intervened in their respective mentees’ stalled careers. By inviting Cather to “find [her] own quiet centre of life, and write from that to the world,” Jewett helped point her away from magazine work toward a life devoted to writing fiction (Lewis 66–67). And shortly after returning from Berlin, Litchfield embarked on a successful career as concert arranger, chamber artist, and vocal accompanist while occasionally studying under both Lhevinnes after they moved to New York in October 1919 (“The Fillion Violin Studios”; Wallace 167).

No correspondence between Cather and Litchfield has surfaced, but surely two friends who had “melted together” would have known of each other’s artistic roadblock and breakthrough. Such knowledge would explain, too, why Litchfield introduced Josef Lhevinne to Cather and why the latter “hardly ever missed one of his concerts” (Lewis 173). She may well have attended the gala Carnegie Hall performance of Saturday afternoon, 14 January 1939, at which both Lhevinnes, by then distinguished professors at the Juilliard School, celebrated their fortieth wedding anniversary (Wallace 242– 44). Cather perhaps sat with Litchfield, who went backstage afterward to offer congratulations.[8] Cather would have understood, too, the exhilaration Litchfield felt and expressed again a few days later in a letter to Rosina: “I was as proud as if we were blood relations or something. I always feel like saying to everybody,‘Listen to them! Those are my people!’ Wonderful people, you two. . . . Thank you again for all you have meant to me and been to me” (Litchfield’s emphasis; letter to Rosina Lhevinne, 16 January 1939).

Litchfield also studied with the brilliant virtuoso Leopold Godowsky (1870–1938), probably around March 1913, and occasionally performed his famously difficult piano transcriptions (“The Fillion Violin Studios”; “Members Give Program”). In fact, Litchfield never entirely gave up performing solo works, but she clearly preferred playing in ensembles. And in January 1914, her career as a chamber artist took off in earnest when she combined the roles of impresario and performer and launched a series of chamber concerts (“Mrs. Litchfield’s Concerts”). Her intelligent programming and booking of local talent were lauded by critic Glendinning Keeble, who reminded Pittsburghers that “we only rarely had opportunity to hear chamber music of any sort” before these performances (Keeble, “Music”).

Keeble, whom Cather trusted to read proofs for The Song of the Lark, admired Litchfield and encouraged her venture into composition (Selected Letters 204). At her second chamber concert at the Schenley Hotel, on 16 March 1914, Litchfield premiered her trio, Romanza in D Major, with violinist Vera Barstow (1891–1975) and cellist Sara Gurowitsch (1889–1981), earning Keeble’s praise: “We do not as a rule look forward with any particular degree of pleasure to the ‘Opus 1’ of a composer, especially of a fellow citizen perhaps, nor have we usually much reason to do so. This ‘Romanza,’ then, must be called an exception.” Keeble found the work “an excellent and very enjoyable composition which promises well for other things to come from this writer” (Keeble, “Mrs. Litchfield’s Trio a Musicianly Work”). But despite Keeble’s encouragement, she composed few, if any, chamber compositions besides the Romanza and instead composed songs and transcriptions while exploring the chamber repertoire and frequently accompanying singers’ recitals.

A famous vocal collaborator of hers, too, left his mark on a late Cather novel. On 14 May 1915, Litchfield performed solo works and played accompaniments for the distinguished American baritone David Bispham (1857–1921) at a concert at the Schenley Hotel celebrating the inauguration of the president of the Pennsylvania College for Women (“Music News of the Week”). Jane Dressler recently identified Bispham as the likely model for baritone Clement Sebastian in Lucy Gayheart (1935), and Bispham’s hitherto unknown connection to Litchfield suggests that the latter’s firsthand recollections of rehearsing with and accompanying Bispham could have influenced Cather’s portrayal of Sebastian’s rehearsals with Lucy (Dressler).

Furthermore, Cather probably inserted into Lucy Gayheart a song from Bispham and Litchfield’s May 1915 concert. At that event, Bispham had sung “Lungi dal caro bene,” a melancholy song by Antonio Secchi (1761–1833), in an English translation as “When Two That Love Are Parted” (Secchi; “Music News of the Week”). In the novel, Sebastian sings an encore,“When We Two Parted,” “a sad simple old air which required little from the singer, yet probably no one who heard it that night will ever forget it” (Lucy Gayheart 34). The resemblance between the titles of Secchi’s song and Sebastian’s encore seems too close to be coincidental, implying that the haunting effect on Lucy of Sebastian’s singing, too, may have had its source in Litchfield’s memories (34).[9]

Perhaps Cather drew on Litchfield for other details as well. The sole pianist among Cather’s main characters, Lucy is thwarted by a taboo that lingered well into the 1960s and of which her teacher, Paul Auerbach, reminds her: “For the platform, they always have a man” (Katz 4–5; Lucy Gayheart 141). Lucy would have faced this insurmountable obstacle even had Sebastian lived, but Litchfield conquered it with the Bispham recital. It appears that, by emphasizing Lucy’s restricted opportunities, Cather is gesturing toward both Litchfield’s landmark achievement and the futility of Lucy’s desire for the same distinction.

The turn to chamber music fostered new musical friendships for Litchfield, one of which intertwined with Cather. Vera Barstow, the violinist in the Romanza’s premiere, had known Litchfield for several years, and, after 1913, became her longtime collaborator. In 1914, Litchfield invited Barstow and cellist Boris Hambourg (1885–1954) to her family’s summer home on Lake Erie to rehearse as a trio for the coming season (“Music of the Week—Chamber Music Concert”). The following summer, she hosted Hambourg and his violinist brother, Jan (1882–1947), and that autumn the three announced the formation of the Litchfield-Hambourg Trio (“Music of the Week—Notable Trio Coming”).

The trio’s first performance, featuring works by Handel, Mozart, and Rachmaninoff, took place at the Twentieth Century Club on 15 November 1915 (Keeble, “Music—The Litchfield-Hambourg Trio”). Cather was in Pittsburgh that day for the funeral of Isabelle McClung’s father, Judge Samuel McClung, and may well have attended the performance (Woodress 276). It was enthusiastically reviewed by Keeble, who praised Litchfield’s “admirable control of rhythmic and dynamic values,” a skill no doubt contributing to her distinction as “an ideal interpreter of chamber music” (Keeble, “Music—The Litchfield-Hambourg Trio”; “Vera Barstow”). Later that week, the trio performed in Indianapolis and, on 21 November, in Chicago at the Fine Arts Building, a venue well-known to readers of The Song of the Lark and Lucy Gayheart (“Trio Will Give First People’s Concert”; “Concert Calendar”).

Litchfield may have assisted the romance between Jan Hambourg and Isabelle McClung, as Byrne and Snyder posit (51). Certainly, Litchfield shared Rosina Lhevinne’s well-known penchant for matchmaking, for, in the 1939 letter quoted above, Litchfield asks Lhevinne for help finding “a nice husband” for a mutual friend (Wallace 309–10; letter to Rosina Lhevinne, 16 January 1939). The Litchfields probably attended the Hambourgs’ wedding on 3 April 1916 in New York, too, and Ethel Litchfield remained close to the Hambourgs and to Jan’s brother Boris, but if Litchfield encouraged the marriage, there is no evidence that Cather held it against her (“Jottings About People”).

In fact, soon after the Hambourgs’ marriage, Litchfield resumed composing and probably asked Cather’s advice about poetry and perhaps even tapped Cather’s texts for material. During a concert on 5 April 1917 at the Twentieth Century Club, Litchfield played her own transcription of “Dixie” and premiered two songs, “The Bankrupt Bunnies” for four women’s voices and “The Land of Lost Content” sung by Helen Horne House (“Twentieth Century Club”). No author for the text of “The Bankrupt Bunnies” has been identified, nor has a manuscript copy of either song been located. But given that Litchfield’s concert took place three days before Easter and that Cather once had penned a whimsical poem “The Easter Rabbit” (1896) that remained unpublished in her lifetime, the possibility exists that the lyrics for “The Bankrupt Bunnies” are Cather’s (April Twilights 153). Surely, Cather influenced Litchfield’s choice of A.E. Housman’s evocative poem “The Land of Lost Content” for the companion song of the April 1917 concert. Cather’s “worshipful” admiration of Housman’s poetry would have been well-known to Litchfield, and she certainly would have known from the earliest days of her friendship with Cather of the latter’s awkward 1902 meeting with Housman (Nettels 285–86).

At the 3 February 1920 meeting of the Tuesday Musical Club, Litchfield, Margaret Horne (violin), and Hubert Conover (cello) reprised Litchfield’s Romanza, and Litchfield accompanied her two-part songs, “Bankrupt” (perhaps a revised version of “The Bankrupt Bunnies”) and “The Purple Cows” (Tuesday Musical Club Members Book 1920–1921 35). Three songs unveiled 5 February 1924 by Litchfield and soprano Genevieve Elliott Marshall (1893–1988) during a Woman’s City Club musicale at the William Penn Hotel most strongly suggest collaboration with Cather (“Woman’s City Club”).[10] The first song’s title, “The Sea Is Very Kind to Me,” resembles Cather’s claim that she did not suffer from seasickness when traveling (Selected Letters 507). The second song title, “The Shropshire Lad,” recalls Housman again and repeats Cather’s misquote in a 1908 letter to Jewett of the title of Housman’s 1896 A Shropshire Lad (Selected Letters 112). And the third, “To Edith,” written for soprano and addressed to a woman, invites speculation that its text is an unpublished poem dedicated to her partner, Edith Lewis.

Fig. 8.1. Mrs. Lawrence Litchfield, pianist, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh—Music Department, The Musical Forecast, vol. 16, no. 4, June 1929, p. 8.

In fall 1926, Litchfield joined the piano faculty of the Fillion Music Studios and taught there until she and her husband moved to Northwest Philadelphia in December 1929 (see figure 8.1) (“The Fillion Violin Studios”). Dr. Litchfield died the following month, and, within a few years, she relocated to Manhattan’s East Side, where her daughter-in-law and son, later president of Alcoa Corporation, lived after their marriage (“Dr. Litchfield Dies in East”; U.S. City Directories; Byrne and Snyder 102n66). Her eldest child, Baroness Ethel van Boetzelaer, had married a Dutch diplomat in a June 1923 Paris wedding attended by Cather and Isabelle Hambourg, and, during a visit to the van Boetzelaers in summer 1936, Litchfield also spent a week in Paris with the Hambourgs (“Pittsburgh Girl Marries Baron van Boetzelaer in Paris”; Hambourg). Isabelle wrote to Cather that August and believed Litchfield was adapting well to widowhood: “It seems to me that Ethel loves to be entirely alone, or, with whom she deems good company. . . . Having real freedom and being able to feel and appreciate it seems to make Ethel young” (Hambourg).[11] Apparently solitude was as essential to Litchfield as it was to Cather characters Godfrey St. Peter and Myra Henshawe and to Cather herself (Porter 281).

In November 1938, Litchfield attended the Tuesday Musical Club’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations and played Mozart’s Sonata in F Major, K. 332, at the University of Pittsburgh’s Stephen Foster Memorial, perhaps her last public recital (Tuesday Musical Club Members Book 1939–1940 41). In the 1930s and ’40s, she “dined . . . nearly every week” with Cather and Lewis in New York and enjoyed listening to Cather’s phonograph records (Lewis 173). Litchfield and Cather also met regularly in the winter of 1946–47 for meals and brief walks in Central Park (Brown 328–29). And when Cather died in April 1947, Litchfield traveled from Philadelphia to New York to attend the funeral service at Cather and Lewis’s apartment (Selected Letters 674).

After their mutual friend May Willard’s death in April 1941, Litchfield had begged Cather not to die first, claiming she could not endure another death, feelings that Cather reciprocated (Selected Letters 602). Nevertheless, Litchfield survived Cather by twenty-eight years. In the 1950s, she lived at 200 East Sixty-sixth Street, very near Edith Lewis, and Cather would have been pleased to know that Lewis and Litchfield remained good friends, too, as the inscription in a copy of Lewis’s 1953 Cather biography indicates: to “Ethel—dearest and truest of friend[s]—with love from E. L.” (letter to Rosina Lhevinne, 6 December 1954; Ford and Bybee 33). Litchfield’s only known letter to Lewis, written from Arnhem, Holland, in July 1955, is similarly heartfelt, containing the same salutation—“My darling Edith”—that Cather had used in October 1936 in her one surviving letter to Lewis (letter to Edith Lewis; Selected Letters 519). In her letter, Litchfield asks Lewis to address mail to the American embassy because she “couldn’t bear it if all of your letters failed to reach me” and wonders if Cather and Lewis’s friend Stephen Tennant has visited recently. She concludes,“We will have much to say to each other when we meet,” indicating that the two saw each other in New York (letter to Edith Lewis). Around 1960, she moved to the home of her daughter Margaret Denton in Bethesda, Maryland. Litchfield died there on 31 May 1975, two months after her ninety-ninth birthday and almost three years after Lewis’s death, and is buried with her husband at Marshfield, Massachusetts (“Litchfield Obituary”).

Throughout her life, Cather surrounded herself with accomplished people—musicians, artists, journalists, authors, playwrights, critics, booksellers, publishers, and so on—but many of these friends proved transitory. Some, such as George Seibel, Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, and Olive Fremstad, drifted away over time. Much-loved friends, including Ethelbert Nevin, Annie Adams Fields, and Jewett, died not long after Cather met them. Distinguished artists Myra Hess, Sigrid Undset, and the Brewsters saw Cather occasionally but lived overseas. The Menuhin children were faithful companions and rejuvenated Cather with their musical brilliance, intelligence, and charm, but she was nearly sixty when they first met.

Surely, Cather’s friendship with Ethel Herr Litchfield deserves a place among the most satisfying of all these relationships. Her closeness to Isabelle Hambourg and Edith Lewis enabled her to inhabit Cather’s innermost circle. She also was one of the few musicians with whom Cather could discuss music and attend concerts, activities that remained vital for her until her death (Brown 325). Further research may confirm how much Cather absorbed from Litchfield and wove into her fiction and to what extent Litchfield relied on Cather texts for song settings and what Cather thought of these compositions. But evidence already available indicates the two formed an exceptionally durable and collegial friendship, shared similar career paths and pitfalls, enjoyed each other’s friends, and provided intellectual stimulation for each other. And, recalling a phrase from Litchfield’s 1912 essay, each certainly brought into the other’s increasingly lonely life a much-needed “leavening proportion of happiness.”


 1. Ten years later, the essay was reprinted in The Musical Forecast (Pittsburgh), vol. 3, no. 2, October 1922, p. 1. (Go back.)
 2. The manuscript of “The Swedish Mother” is undated, but it was written before 5 April 1921, when Litchfield and contralto Rosa K. Hamilton (1891–1993) performed the song, with no mention of Cather’s authorship, for the Tuesday Musical Club (Ford and Bybee 34–35; Tuesday Musical Club Members Book 1921–1922 31). (Go back.)
 3. I refer to the essay’s subject as “Jones” when discussing her life before marriage and thereafter as “Litchfield.” There is some confusion surrounding Litchfield’s preferred name. Litchfield used the middle initial “H.” in legal documents, but press notices of her musical performances variously refer to her as “Mrs. Lawrence Litchfield,”“Ethel Litchfield,”“Ethel Jones Litchfield,”“Mrs. Ethel Herr Litchfield,” and “Ethel Herr Litchfield.” I have adopted the last version for this essay, which is the version used in her 1975 obituary and, with the addition of “Mrs.,” for her 1912 essay referred to above. (Go back.)
 4. Hine (1867–1954) and Acheson (1871–1954) are the “old friends” Cather mentions in a 1943 letter to Harrison Blaine explaining the connection between High Mowing and My Ántonia (Selected Letters 619). Byrne and Snyder mistakenly give Acheson’s first name as “Edith” (112; “Acheson Obituary”). (Go back.)
 5. Aman-Jean’s portrait of Litchfield was loaned to the eighth annual exhibition of the Carnegie Institute in November 1903 (“Carnegie Art Exhibit”). (Go back.)
 6. Ethel Carver studied voice, Lawrence Jr., cello, and Margaret, dance (“U.S.Woman”; “Dr. Litchfield’s Son”; “Miss Margaret Litchfield”). (Go back.)
 7. With Selmar Janson, Litchfield recorded for Autograph three rolls of music for four hands by Moszkowski (“The S. Hamilton Company”). Litchfield’s 1924 Duo-Art piano roll of Paderewski’s Cracovienne fantastique can be heard on YouTube (“Ignacy Jan Paderewski—Cracovienne Fantastique”). (Go back.)
 8. In her congratulatory letter to Rosina Lhevinne, Litchfield writes that a mutual friend “sat beside us” (letter to Rosina Lhevinne, 16 January 1939). (Go back.)
 9. In Lucy, Sebastian sings a text by Byron, not the text sung by Bispham (Lucy Gayheart 34; Secchi). Cather may have had her own memories of Secchi’s song, too, for other singers familiar to her, such as Clara Butt and Ernestine Schumann-Heink, occasionally sang it (“London Ballad Concerts”; “Noted Singer in Fine Recital”). (Go back.)
 10. Marshall repeated the songs, now collectively titled Three Impressions, in a recital at her teacher’s studio on 21 February 1924. The accompaniments at this recital were played by Earl Mitchell (“Mrs. Martin’s Recital”). (Go back.)
 11. I am grateful to Elizabeth Burke, Program Specialist at the Cather Project, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, who kindly provided me with photographs of Hambourg’s letter and Litchfield’s letter to Edith Lewis (see works cited entry). (Go back.)


“Acheson Obituary.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 14 June 1954, p. 27.
“Among the Musicians.” Sunday Tribune (Minneapolis), 25 January 1891, p. 11.
Brown, E. K. Willa Cather: A Critical Biography. Completed by Leon Edel, U of Nebraska P, 1987.
Byrne, Kathleen D., and Richard C. Snyder. Chrysalis: Willa Cather in Pittsburgh, 1896–1906. Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, 1982.
“Carnegie Art Exhibit.” New York Times, 6 November 1903, p. 7.
Cather, Willa. April Twilights and Other Poems. 1923. Edited by Robert Thacker, Everyman’s Library, 2013.
—. Lucy Gayheart. 1935. Willa Cather Scholarly Edition, historical essay by David Porter, explanatory notes by Kari A. Ronning and David Porter, textual essay and editing by Frederick M. Link and Kari Ronning, U of Nebraska P, 2015.
—. The Selected Letters of Willa Cather. Edited by Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout, Knopf, 2013.
—. The Song of the Lark. 1915. Willa Cather Scholarly Edition, historical essay and explanatory notes by Ann Moseley, textual essay and editing by Kari A. Ronning, U of Nebraska P, 2012.
—. The Troll Garden. A Variorum Edition, edited by James Woodress, U of Nebraska P, 1983.
—. Uncle Valentine and Other Stories: Willa Cather’s Uncollected Short Fiction 1915–1929. Edited by Bernice Slote, U of Nebraska P, 1975.
“Concert Calendar.” Chicago Sunday Tribune, 21 November 1915, pt. 8, p. 3.
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—.“In the Realm of Women’s Clubs.” Pittsburgh Post, 6 June 1897, p. 19.
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—.“Music—The Litchfield-Hambourg Trio.” Pittsburgh Gazette Times, 16 November 1915, p. 9.
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—.“Why Should Our Children Study Music?” The Spectator (Pittsburgh), 29 November 1912, p. 11.
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