Whatever happened to Mildred Dilling’s harps?

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    alexander-rider on #71913

    i was just browsing through the wonderful BYU library’s harp

    archives, and was looking at the photographs of Mildred

    Dilling…how can one human being have amassed such a vast amount of

    harps- it beggars belief! i could see-many golden lyon and healy

    harps, old erard grecians, gothic and Louis XVI styles, also single

    action harps and an insurmountable number of Irish harps, folk

    harps, diatonic harps , toy harps and ethnic harps.and that’s just

    looking at the photos! Can anyone tell me what happened to these

    wonderful instruments? i find it distressing but realise that this

    bewildering collection was probably broken up. Alex p.s visit the

    website and see!; http://music.lib.byu.edu/IHA/photogallery.html

    carl-swanson on #71914

    I knew Mildred quite well the last 10 years or so of her life, and I repaired a

    number of her pedal harps.

    alexander-rider on #71915

    dear Carl, thankyou for answering ANOTHER of my quandries-it is really very usefulful and its wonderful that you got to know her. Of course my harp “upbringing” began with her two genious books and I still play her arrangement of David of the white rock as it always pleases the welsh people I know!

    carl-swanson on #71916

    Hi Alex- What a sweet email.

    unknown-user on #71917


    I’m not a harpist, but did a google for Mildred Dilling and turned

    up your site.

    unknown-user on #71918

    Hello…I’m sorry to weigh in so late on this thread, but I wanted to report that six of Mildred’s harps are indeed at Indiana University–a Welsh triple, four early pedal harps, and an Egan Royal Portable. As a graduate student at Indiana specializing in historical harps, I kept hearing rumors that we had “some really old harps somewhere.” Eleanor Fell of Vanderbilt Music was instrumental (no pun intended) in tracking them down and exhibited them at HarpMania in Bloomington in 2001, just before I left IU. When I was back there for a concert last summer, I asked Eleanor whatever had happened to the harps…and she was off, tracking them down and finding them stored in a coat closet! She and I catalogued the harps, and over the last few months, Paul Knoke and I (both of the Historical Harp Society) have been working in close conjunction with Eleanor (who was once a student of Mildred’s) to get the harps cleaned, cosmetically restrung, and out of the coat closet on permanent exhibit at the university. Susann McDonald has also taken an interest in the project, and hopefully we will exhibit the Dilling collection at the USA International Harp Competition in Bloomington this July. Plans are also being made to exhibit them at the Bloomington Early Music Festival this May, in conjunction with a lecture on the history of the European harp.

    Looking forward to Carl’s bio of Mildred (read your blog posts and loved them!),

    All best–

    Paula Fagerberg

    unknown-user on #71919

    Well Carl, I certainly hope you haven’t forgotten your promise. Would you care to recommend any books that might elaborate on the biographies of some of the harpists of the last century? Good for entertaining summer reading and serious winter study.

    unknown-user on #71920

    Hi, I’m pleased to see that Mildred holds a special place in the hearts of many. She well deserves it.

    I don’t know if any of the members of this site have any copies of her annual Christmas letter. They were always a pretty good expression of Mildred’s vibrant personality and whirlwind life.

    If anyone has copies still–i would love to see them.



    HBrock25 on #71921

    Mildred had a very large 8 or 10 room flat in NYC on 61st St and 1st Ave. She always had young women living with her, my mother was one of the first. Mildred introduced my mother and father and they got married. I also stayed in her flat in 1981. Here harps were so many, there was hardly room to walk, I sometimes cleaned, helped shift or just admired them. Mildred’s father invented the chocolate covered cherry and introduced it in the Paris Chocolate show in about the 1890s. This is where the family wealth came from. When Mildred’s mother had her two children, she promised herself that one daughter would play violin and the other would play the harp. Mildred is the other one. She was erudite, articulate and unimpressed by money and power of which she had a lot of it around her.

    Perhaps Mildred would cringe if I say this, but she was a very objective and non-judgemental. The most bizarre experience of her professional life is when a very rich man paid her an unusually large sum to come to his home and play for him. When Mildred arrived, she realised that the man wanted her to serenade him while he made love to his girlfriend who had died. That is to say that he was engaging in necrophilia while being serenaded by the greatest harpist the modern world knows. Anyhow, she was a devout Christian Scientist and her spiritual life was important to her. Mildred got me a job as an usher at The Metropolitan Opera House so I could “get some real culture”. Later she told me the secret that the real connoisseurs sat at the score desks at the uppermost part of the building and the people who want to be seen sat in the boxes. She did not like pretension and would always knock the stuffing out of anyone with privilege who paraded their advantage.

    Now, as for her distinguished harp collection. After her estate manager, Faye Dean and Ingo von Boenig were closest to her and would probably know where they went. Faye lived with Mildred until she passed away worked/works for the Rockefeller Foundation and Ingo was/is the Founder President of one of the Richard Wagner societies in NYC. I had the great privilege to visit Mildred on her death be. We grew close enough where I can say that we were like family.

    BTW, the photo set at


    has Mildred’s hand written notes on the back of a photograph says: “One of my long-haired drivers…” It is not me, but I did drive a great deal for her before going on to do my degree at Columbia Univ. My greatest memory is when we were driving down from Westchester County into the north tip of Manhattan. I was a little confused and she said: “Follow that Bentley, rich people never get lost.” I dutifully followed her instruction and found ourselves in midtown.

    As for the harp she invented? Well, it is my understanding that she was rather badly burnt by the people involved who preferred hidden agendas.

    Mildred’s only desire was “to make the harp a respect solo instrument” and she made, in my opinion, a great contribution. She didn’t take any nonsense and was very firm with people and would tell them when they were talking nonsense. She had self-possession, she came fro man era where dignity was paramount. She was a real master. Well, she still is a Master.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #71922

    I think this was discussed elsewhere, but Geraldine Ruegg was Dilling’s secretary, I think, was the term, and she inherited or managed her harps that were rented out. That’s the last I heard about it.

    jessica-wolff on #71923

    That does not sound to me as if her gift was truly appreciated. A coat closet, indeed!

    barbara kraichy on #71924

    I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Mildred and spend a couple of days with her in 1966 when she was guest artist with the Bergen Symphony in Norway. At the time I was harpist with the Arrhus Orchestra in Denmark and I was subbing for the Bergen Symphony harpist for Mildred’s concert.

    Nancy Smith on #71925

    I have some original Mildred Dilling Christmas letters, as well as some photographs.

    carl-swanson on #71926

    Nancy- Somewhere I have one or two of Mildred’s Christmas letters too. I got put on her list in the last year or two of her life. They are several pages long. I would love it if you could put one or two of them up here. If that’s not too much work. If you can mail me a photocopy I would be willing to type them in here. They are a fascinating look into her world.

    barbara-brundage on #71927

    Yes, the Harp Archives would be the best place for them, Nancy.

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