Material Connections: Music and Modernism Across the Arts in the Bruce Goff Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago

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Benjamin Levy


The architect Bruce Goff (1904-82) is often associated with Frank Lloyd Wright and Organic Architecture, but his concept of organicism was equally influenced by the work of Claude Debussy and by music more generally. Goff maintained correspondence with musicians throughout his life—including with composers Edgard Varèse and Harry Partch—and in the 1920s and 1930s, he actively composed works for piano and player piano. In Tulsa and then Chicago, Goff developed connections to other writers, artists, and musicians including Richard San Jule and Ernest Brooks, who cultivated modernist sensibilities across the arts. Examining his papers at the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries at the Art Institute of Chicago, this article looks at Goff’s approaches to music and architecture as expressed not only through his correspondence, pedagogical writing, and architectural designs but also through the analysis of several of his musical compositions, as well as a piece by Burrill Phillips, inspired by a house Goff designed for John Garvey, violist of the Walden Quartet. By investigating the manifold contexts of these artworks, as revealed by archival research, we can shed light on the sometimes-divergent use of the term organicism as it is applied across the arts.

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