Sonneck Society for American Music

Bulletin, Volume XXV, no. 3 (Fall 1999)

Obituary: Dr. Everett B. Helm



The American composer, musicologist, and music journalist Dr. Everett B. Helm, born on 17 July 1913, passed away in his Berlin home on 25 June 1999. He is survived by his second wife Elisabeth (Alber) Helm in Berlin and his daughter in California.

Helm was born in Minnesota and attended Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. After graduating with a Bachelor of Music degree in 1934 he went on to study composition with Walter Piston, counterpoint with A. Tillman Merritt, conducting with Archibald T. Davison, and musicology with Hugo Leichtentritt at Harvard University. In 1936 he was awarded the John Knowles Paine Traveling Fellowship and studied composition with Gian Carlo Malipiero for two years in Asolo, Italy. After additional study with Ralph Vaughan Williams and Alfred Einstein in England, he returned to the United States. In 1939, Helm earned a doctorate in musicology from Harvard ("The Beginnings of the Italian Madrigal and the Works of Arcadelt").

After WWII, Helm became involved with the League of Composers. In 1948, thanks to his association with the New York composer Harrison Kerr, Helm was appointed Music Officer for the Music and Theater Branch of the U.S. Military Government in occupied Germany. First stationed in Stuttgart and then in Weisbaden, Helm oversaw the region of Greater Hesse in the American zone, an area that included the town of Darmstadt and Wolfgang Steinecke's legendary Holiday Courses for New Music. During the next decades, Helm participated regularly in Darmstadt activities. In 1951, his first Piano Concerto was commissioned and premiered by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Other prominient commissions came from the West German radio station Sdwestfunk in Baden-Baden (Concerto for Five Solo Instruments, Percussion adn String Orchestra, 1953) and from the Louisville Orchestra (Second Piano Concerto, 1956).

Helm was an employee of the U.S. occupation only until 1950; by then he had established sufficient ties in Germany to work as a music critic. Helm established himself as somewhat of an expert on American music and musical history. He reviewed hundreds of new music concerts in Europe, submitting manuscripts for newspapers, journal articles, and radio broadcasts in English, German, and Italian for radio stations throughout central Europe. As a foreign correspondent, Helm represented the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, among others. During the early 1960s, Helm served as a correspondent and editor for Musical America.

In 1963, Helm and his wife Elisabeth, moved to Asolo, Italy, where they remained until 1997. Helm continued to be active in UNESCO projects and also published monographs in German on Bartok, Liszt, and Tschaikovsky. In 1997 Helm moved to Berlin, where he passed away shortly before his 86th birthday. Many years ago, Helm established the Everett Helm Visiting Fellowship for scholars conducting research at the Lilly Special Collections Library at Indiana University in Bloomington, where Helm's private papers and manuscript collections are now held.
--Amy Beal
Bates College

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Updated 12/15/99