Frederick and Alice Slee
Alice Slee, March, 1908
Frederick Caldecott Slee was born September 25, 1870 in Skaneateles, N.Y. He earned his undergraduate and law degrees at Harvard University and was admitted to the bar in 1897. Mr. Slee returned to Buffalo and had a very successful career as a corporate lawyer. He married Alice MacDonald in 1905. Mrs. Slee was born August 20, 1875 in East Aurora, N.Y.
Frederick Caldecott Slee, 1910Photograph by Nussbaum
Mr. and Mrs. Slee were great admirers of chamber music and built a music room in their house at 59 Saybrook Place to accommodate the many chamber music performances they hosted. Frederick Slee was a trained, amateur musician who studied music at Harvard, in New York City, and in Paris. He played as violist in a string quartet that he formed to perform locally in Buffalo and composed more than three dozen works.
Frederick Caldecott Slee died May 19, 1954 and Alice Slee followed two years later to the day, May 19, 1956. (Click on the images below to read the entire obituaries for Frederick and Alice Slee as they were printed in the Buffalo Evening News).
The Slee/Beethoven String Quartet Cycle
The Slee/Beethoven String Quartet Cycle is one of the longest-running concert traditions in Buffalo. It was inaugurated by the Budapest Quartet in 1955 and has continued to the present with performances by some of the finest string quartet ensembles in the world. It is very likely the only concert series in the world to present the cycle of Beethoven string quartets on an annual basis.
The series was established by the estate of Frederick Caldecott Slee (1870-1954). Following the instructions in Mr. Slee’s will, Mrs. Alice Slee (1875-1956) set up a bequest at the University of Buffalo to fund an annual cycle of six concerts of all the Beethoven string quartets. The bequest also stipulates the order in which the quartets are to be performed.
Slee/Beethoven Quartet Cycle Concert Schedule
- Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 127
- Quartet in F Major, Op. 18, No. 1
- Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3
- Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 74 ("Harp")
- Quartet in G Major, Op. 18, No. 2
- Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131
- Quartet in D Major, Op. 18, No. 3
- Die Grosse Fuge, B-flat Major, Op.133
- Quartet in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1
- Quartet in F minor, Op. 95 ("Serioso")
- Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6
- Quartet in A minor, Op. 132
- Quartet in A Major, Op. 18, No. 5
- Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 130
- Quartet in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4
- Quartet in F Major, Op. 135
- Quartet in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2
Quartets in order by opus number
- Quartet in F Major, Op. 18, No. 1 - Concert 1
- Quartet in G Major, Op. 18, No. 2 - Concert 2
- Quartet in D Major, Op. 18, No. 3 - Concert 3
- Quartet in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4 - Concert 6
- Quartet in A Major, Op. 18, No. 5 - Concert 5
- Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6 - Concert 4
- Quartet in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1 - Concert 3
- Quartet in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2 - Concert 6
- Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3 - Concert 1
- Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 74 ("Harp") - Concert 2
- Quartet in F minor, Op. 95 ("Serioso") - Concert 4
- Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 127 - Concert 1
- Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 130 - Concert 5
- Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131 - Concert 2
- Quartet in A minor, Op. 132 - Concert 4
- Die Grosse Fuge, B-flat Major, Op.133 - Concert 3
- Quartet in F Major, Op. 135 - Concert 6
A November 12, 1954 Buffalo Evening News article about the estate of Frederick Caldecott Slee disclosed the financial details concerning the establishment of the Slee/Beethoven String Quartet Cycle and the Slee Professorship in the Music Department at the University of Buffalo.
Budapest String Quartet: Joseph Roisman, Alexander Schneider, violins; Boris Kroyt, viola; Mischa Schneider, violoncello
The first cycle of Beethoven quartets was performed by the Budapest String Quartet beginning in September 1955. The ensemble remained the Slee Quartet-in-Residence until 1965 and served on the faculty of the Music Department. The quartet was also a significant participant in the concerts of the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, performing forty-five times 1931-1965. The Society would have completely cancelled the concert season of 1934-35 due to a lack of the financial means to pay performers. The Budapest Quartet waived its usual fee to give the only performance for the Society that season.
University of Buffalo Treasurer Claude E. Puffer wrote to Mrs. Alice Slee on September 20, 1955 thanking her for the $4800 check she provided to pay the Budapest String Quartet for the performance of the first cycle of Beethoven string quartet concerts in 1955-56.
Alice SleePhotograph by Leon Freres
The following quote is from John Dwyer's January 24, 1976 article in the Buffalo Evening News. It was written in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Slee/Beethoven String Quartet Cycle. The quartet in residence that year was the Cleveland Quartet. Dwyer's remarks are just as appropriate today as when they were written.
Since the series began in 1955, forty-seven different ensembles have performed either part or all of the Beethoven string quartet cycles. Among those ensembles are some of the foremost string quartets in the world. The following is a chronologically arranged list of all the quartets that have participated in the series.
|1971||Cleveland / Juilliard / Guarnieri|
|1972||Cleveland / Juilliard / Guarnieri / Lenox|
|1976||Tokyo / Juilliard|
|1977||Guarnieri / Orford / Rowe|
|1978||Juilliard / Rowe / Fine Arts / Prague|
|1979||Rowe / Orford / Amadeus|
|1980||Guarnieri / Rowe / Concord / Fresk|
|1982||Emerson / Melos|
|1983||Sequoia / Cleveland|
|1984||Juilliard / Concord / Vermeer|
|1987||Colorado / Orford|
|1988||Orford / Lindsay|
|1990||Fine Arts / Muir / New World / Chester / Lindsay /Vermeer|
|1991||Colorado / Muir|
|1992||Emerson / Lydian / Chilingirian / Cherubini / Voglar/ Cavani|
|1995||American / Manhattan / Takacs|
|1997||Arcata / Cassatt / Amernet / Magellan / Brentano / Borromeo|
|2002||Ying / Alexander|
|2002-2003||Da Ponte / Endellion / Muir / Colorado / Quatuor Bozzini|
|2003-2004||American / Muir / New Zealand / Vermeer / Ives|
|2004-2005||Cassatt / Pacifica / Orion / Cavani / Miami / Daedalus|
|2005-2006||Muir / Guarneri / Tokyo|
|2006-2007||Colorado / Avalon / Vogler / Alexander / Ives|
|2007-2008||Tokyo / Orion / Pacifica / Mendelssohn|
|2008-2009||Ying / Lydian / Ives / Penderecki / Formosa|
|2009-2010||Brentano / Daedalus / Borromeo / Pacifica / Miami / Miro|
|2010-2011||Borealis / Talich / Ysaye / Leipzig / Vogler / Henschel|
|2011-2012||Jupiter / Borromeo / Ying|
|2012-2013||American / Jupiter / Bergonzi|
|2013-2014||Parker / Alexander|
|2015-2016||Escher / Jupiter|
Frederick Caldecott Slee: Amateur Musician
Frederick Caldecott Slee was more than an avid supporter of the musical scene in Buffalo, he was also an active participant. He, like his contemporary Charles Ives (1874-1954), elected not to pursue music as a profession. However, he was highly trained in composition, theory, and performance with studies at Harvard University, private studies in New York City, and in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. He was an amateur musician in the best sense of the word amateur. He was talented, knowledgeable, and clearly passionate about music.
During the years that Frederick Caldecott Slee attended Harvard and Harvard Law School, he also found time to pursue his musical interests by studying music theory and composition. He wrote in his recollections that he went to Harvard particularly to study with composer John Knowles Paine. The following Boston Symphony Orchestra program for the April 26, 1894 performance at Sander's Theatre at Harvard University was included among Frederick Slee's papers. The program includes John Knowles Paine's composition, Prelude to "Oedipus Tyrannus" of Sophocles, op. 35.
Slee performed as violist in the orchestra of the Pierian Sodality while he was a student at Harvard. The Pierian Sodality, precursor of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, was established in March 1808 making it one of the earliest orchestras in the United States.
The compositional output of Frederick Caldecott Slee includes several songs, works for string quartet and other chamber ensembles, a choral work, a work for solo organ, and an orchestral work. The Music Library possesses over forty manuscript scores by Slee and one published song. The program for the May 23, 1895 performance by the Pierian Sodality shows what was most likely the premiere of Slee’s arrangement of Navarro’s Danse Espagnole.
Of the four songs by Frederick Caldecott Slee that were published in 1900 by New York music publisher Luckhardt and Belder only this copy of The Rose is known to have survived.
(Click on the image of the cover to view the entire score of The Rose).
Program for the Boston Theatre performance of Richard Wagner's opera, Die Walküre by the New York Symphony conducted by Walter Damrosch.
In addition to his studies at Harvard, Frederick Caldecott Slee also studied in New York with Ernest Schelling (1876-1939; pianist, composer, and conductor, best known for his Young People's Concerts of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra 1924–39) and Walter Damrosch (1862-1950; composer and conductor of the Metropolitan Opera and New York Philharmonic). It was Damrosch who recommended that Slee continue his musical studies at the Sorbonne in Paris under Nadia Boulanger.
Upon his return to Buffalo, Slee remained active as a violist. He formed the Saybrook String Quartet (taking the name from the location of his house on Saybrook Place) with Isabelle Workman Evans, George Kogler, and Nicholas D'Addio. The quartet performed a series of public concerts for invited guests as well as their regular reading sessions.
The Saybrook Quartet in rehearsal in the music room at the Slee residence in Buffalo, ca. 1908.
Frederick and Alice Slee encouraged feedback from their select audience as evidenced by this typescript list of repertoire and questions about listeners’ preferences for the upcoming season. Among the replies are notes from Oscar Silverman (member of the University of Buffalo faculty since 1926, Chairman of the University of Buffalo Department of English 1955-1963, and Director of Libraries 1960-1968) and Grace Capen, wife of Samuel P. Capen (University of Buffalo Chancellor 1922-1950).
Frederick Caldecott Slee’s Writings about Music
Frederick Slee left behind a small number of writings about music, including his program notes for performances by the Saybrook Quartet, a typescript for a lecture entitled From Wagner to Schoenberg, and incomplete personal recollections written to be presented as a talk.
From Wagner to Schoenberg (1914)
Slee wrote the lecture From Wagner to Schoenberg in 1914. The essay is generally conservative in bent, but Slee also makes some prophetic remarks about Arnold Schoenberg's potential impact on music. This is especially significant since the remarks were written before Schoenberg gained his greatest attention by developing his method of composing with twelve tones. The fact that Slee was already familiar with Schoenberg's music and hadexpended much thought about it reveals his serious interest in the music of his time and his ability to analyse complex music. Slee made the following statement about Schoenberg's music:
Similarly [to Wagner] Schoenberg is either nothing at all or epoch making. His music is radically different from his predecessors'. If it shall establish itself, then Music has entered upon a new career -- just as with Wagner it entered upon a new career thirty years ago.
While recognizing Schoenberg's potential impact on the musical world, Slee still labels his music as "cacophony". Slee closed his lecture with a performance of an unidentified piano composition by Schoenberg (possibly op. 11 or 19, based on the 1914 date). He prefaced his performance with the following remark:
In the interest of candor it should be said that after repeated playings of these piano pieces I find myself with the uneasy sense that they do contain some design, and plan which I lack the wit to discern.
Program Notes for Concerts by the Saybrook String Quartet (1931-1936)
The length and style of Slee's program notes for the Saybrook Quartet performances suggest that Slee alsointended the musical evenings to educate his audiences about a variety of musical matters. For example, there is an entire section of the notes devoted to the characteristics of string instruments and violin makers. It seems likely that Slee created many of the programs with specific topics in mind that could be illustrated through the music to be presented at that concert. One example of this approach can be seen in the following excerpt from Slee's program notes for a Saybrook Quartet performance in December 1931.
Comment was made last month on the shortcomings of the early quartets, and a Haydn wasplayed to exhibit them. Grieg furnishes the horrible example today. Prout used to tell his pupils in quartet writing to “think quartet”. Grieg could not think quartet, - he thought orchestra. His picture is too big for its frame. In an effort to get orchestral sonority he has loaded up the four solo instruments with double stopping. The result of pressing down two, three or even all four strings and sounding the notes so obtained simultaneously is not the sonority of a large body of strings such as is found in the orchestra, and less still the sonorities of the wind instruments. Neither is it quartet. Mendelssohn is an offender of the same type. As an illustration may be mentioned his Third Quartet, characterized by the critics as a symphony in disguise. The fast repeated chords in the second violin and viola, a sturdy bass and a brilliant solo passage for the first violin are in admirable orchestral style, but bad quartet style. "At the fourth bar the ear yearns for kettle drums and horns".
In the program notes of February 1932 Slee discusses the issue of musical development as it applies to different genres of music. The quote below follows a discussion of César Franck's String Quartet and what Sleeviews as Franck's ability to successfully devlop musical ideas over the course of the quartet's movements.
Perhaps this quality of sustained invention is what distinguishes the great composers from the little ones. Hundreds of short-form piano pieces and songs can be cited as works of merit, like the songs of Mrs. Salter, Mrs. Beach, Chadwick, Foote, Payne [i.e. Paine], Augusta Holmes, Guy D’Hartelot. These composers and hundreds of others are able to sustain themselves for a short flight, but confronted with the big frame of the symphony or quartet their imagination falters and the result is either indifferent or bad. Paucity of invention in orchestral composition can be covered by tone color. Chords in wood-wind answered by the horns, oboe and cello duets, will often atone for lack of matter by the sheer beauty of color. In quartet writing any faltering of the imagination is disastrous. The very limitation of the means brings out the matter in bold relief, and no manner of treatment will overcome subject deficiencies.
Slee was not reticent to judge the quality of music. In the notes from the March 1932 program he brieflydiscusses the future of the string quartet as a genre and Debussy's contribution to the genre as compared tothat of Beethoven.
What is the future of the string quartet? Is it a complete and finished thing like the sculpture of Greece and Beethoven its Phidias? The terrific dissonances of modern writers make an effect in quartets foreign to their nature. The very limitation of means and the refinement of this form of music imposes restraints. A cameo requires a fine and delicate tool and may not be fashioned with a smith’s maul. It is true that great quartets have been written since Beethoven, -- Brahm’s three for example. Then there are the quartets like Debussy’s, with its curious fragrance, -- heavy-scented, exotic. There is Ravel. The literature of the quartet would be poorer without Debussy and Ravel. In recognizing their merit can we say they are to Beethoven as beautiful flowers found at the foot of a giant oak?
Frederick Slee's Personal Recollections
This incomplete typescript text contains many of Frederick Slee's personal recollections and views about music. These include his memories of his teachers, John Knowles Paine, Ernest Schilling, Walter Damrosch, and Nadia Boulanger, as well as his opinions about various musical topics.
One of the events that Slee wrote about in his recollections was his attendance at a dinner in London given by the Worshipful Company of Musicians July 8, 1924. The Company of Musicians was granted articles of incorporation in 1500 and a Royal Charter in 1604 by James I. The recollection is documented by the invitation to the dinner, the seating diagram showing where Slee was seated, and the program for the night’s musical performance. (Click on the images to view the complete invitation and seating diagram).
Slee makes several remarks about the differences between amateur and professional musicians. Hisopinions of professional musicians provide an interesting commentary on the status and training of professional musicians at the time.
The amateur makes his living in other callings so that music does not completely dominate and absorb him as it does a professional, who commences in infancy and works the live-long day acquiring technical facility. ... Music exacts sacrifices from its professional disciples. They have no time for general education. There are few college graduates among them. They have a child-like attitude towards the world and seem never to have learned to enjoy serious reading.
Slee continues his discussion about the place of music in a productive life with references to Aristotle,William James, and finally this quotation directly related to Slee's own legal career from John Cordy Jefferson’s A Book About Lawyers (1867):
That the pursuit of harmony is a dangerous pastime for young lawyers cannot be questioned, although a long list might be given of cases where musical barristers have gained the confidence of many clients, and eventually raised themselves to the bench. A piano is a treacherous companion for the student who can touch it deftly – dangerous as an idle friend, whose wit is ever brilliant; fascinating as a beautiful woman, whose smile is always fresh; deceptive asthe drug which seems to invigorate, whilst in reality it is stealing away the intellectual powers. Every persevering worker knows how large a portion of his hard work has been done ‘against the grain’, and in spite of strong inclinations to indolence – in hours when pleasant voices could have seduced him from duty, and any plausible excuse for indulgence would have been promptly accepted. In the piano these pleasant voices are constantly present, and it can always show good reason – why reluctant industry should relax its exertions.
The final impression from Slee's writings is of a man who had made music an integral part of his life. The closing paragraph of the recollections follows Slee's discussion of the importance of music. It reads:
The singer, like a bird, breathes song into the air. No trace remains. It transcends experience. It is impalpable, inexplicable, untranslatable. It has no concrete message for field, counting house or court. Even to its votaries it says nothing that be put in words.
Frederick Slee in Lake Erie
As noted in his obituary in the Buffalo Evening News, Frederick Slee was an avid sailor. One surviving document of this avocation is a typescript log of a sailing trip made by Slee, George T. Moseley, and Louis Wright Simpson July 11-August 1, 1914. The logbook is illustrated with thirty snapshot photographs. Mr. Slee and his companions left the Buffalo Yacht Club, beginning their trip on Lake Erie. The second day they traveled through the Welland Canal to Lake Ontario. Most of their time was spent sailing the northern shoreline of Lake Ontario. Many of the photographs show life aboard the Althea: hoisting the sails, cleaning up after cooking, and taking turns at the helm. The first world news the men saw after twenty-one carefree days was the newspaper headline, "Germany Declares War", the beginning of World War I.
The entire logbook can be viewed online.
The following is a selection of photographs from the logbook.