At the time The Juilliard School was founded in 1905 (as the Institute of Musical Art), the idea of establishing a music academy in America to rival the European conservatories was a novel one. But Dr. Frank Damrosch, the godson of Franz Liszt and the head of music education for New York City’s public schools, was convinced that American musicians should not have to go abroad for their training. Damrosch and his financial backer, James Loeb, modestly planned for 100 students, but found that they had greatly underestimated the demand for high-quality musical training. The School quickly outgrew its original home at Fifth Avenue and 12th Street, and, in 1910, moved to new quarters on Claremont Avenue.
But the Institute is only half the story of what is now The Juilliard School; Augustus D. Juilliard and the Juilliard Graduate School are the other half. When Mr. Juilliard, a wealthy textile merchant, died in 1919, his will contained the largest single bequest for the advancement of music at that time. In 1924, the trustees of that bequest founded the Juilliard Graduate School to help worthy music students complete their education. In 1926, the Graduate School and the Institute of Musical Art merged as the Juilliard School of Music under one president, the distinguished Columbia University professor John Erskine, but with separate deans and identities. Damrosch continued as the Institute’s dean, and Ernest Hutcheson was appointed dean of the Graduate School. In 1937, Hutcheson succeeded Erskine as president of the combined institutions. (Juilliard’s Evening Division — originally the Extension Division — was begun in 1933, offering continuing education for adults.)
Composer William Schuman, later to win the first Pulitzer Prize for music, became president of the combined schools in 1945. Under his administration, the merger process of the schools was completed. Schuman established the Dance Division in 1951 with Martha Hill as its first director. He also established the Juilliard String Quartet in 1946, the School’s teaching and performance quartet-in-residence. And in 1947 he created an innovative music theory curriculum, called Literature and Materials of Music (known as L&M), that changed the manner in which music was taught throughout the United States. He resigned in 1961 to become president of the newly constructed Lincoln Center.
Dr. Peter Mennin, another well-known composer, was Schuman’s successor. In 1968 Mennin created a Drama Division — with John Houseman as its first director and Michel Saint-Denis as consultant — and oversaw the move of Juilliard to Lincoln Center in 1969. The School changed its name to The Juilliard School to reflect its broader artistic scope. With the move also came the creation of the current Pre-College Division, offering intensive musical instruction to talented youngsters from 8 to 18. (Music lessons for young students had been provided through Juilliard’s Preparatory Division since 1916.)
After Mennin’s death in 1983, Dr. Joseph W. Polisi became the School’s sixth and current president, beginning with the 1984-85 academic year. Dr. Polisi’s term at Juilliard has been a time of vitality for the School, with the establishment of new student services, alumni programs, a revised curriculum, a new emphasis on the humanities and liberal arts, and the realization of two major goals: the completion of its first residence hall – the Meredith Willson Residence Hall – which opened in 1990, and the establishment of a jazz program – the Institute for Jazz Studies (a collaboration of The Juilliard School and Jazz at Lincoln Center) – which began in September 2001. This period of growth also has seen enhanced student and faculty financial support; the creation of an exchange program with Columbia University and Barnard College; a new emphasis on community outreach; creation of a CD-ROM to teach music to children; and a school wide initiative to develop interdisciplinary programs involving actors, dancers, and musicians.
During Dr. Polisi’s tenure, the Juilliard Orchestra has performed in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, France, and Bermuda, and participated, in 1992, as the Evian Festival’s resident ensemble. In addition, Dr. Polisi has led the process of developing a comprehensive long-range plan for the School that has resulted in a $300 million capital campaign dedicated to enhancing student financial aid and faculty compensation, as well as the development of school wide programs that will prepare Juilliard students for the demands of the 21st century.