Frank E. Taplin

By Goheen, Robert F. | Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, September 2005 | Go to article overview

Frank E. Taplin


Goheen, Robert F., Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society


22 JUNE 1915 * 11 MAY 2003

ON 11 MAY 2003 the American Philosophical Society lost in Frank E. Taplin one of its most versatile, gifted, devoted, and generous Class V members-a person with an elegant mind, wide-reaching interests, a passionate involvement with music, and a keen zest for life.

Following Frank's death, his friend and frequent companion, George Kennan, singled out "the sheer abundance of his interests and enthusiasms" and went on to say, "He indulged many of these as extensively as he could within the limits of time and strength available. But this implied, indeed demanded, a wide fragmentation of his energies, and ruled out the long-term professional pursuit of any of them. If there was any single field that might be seen as an exception to this situation it was with music. To this he gave exceptional devotion, both as scholar and as a practicing musician."

Frank Taplin's musical life was rich and varied. His love of music and engagement in its performance had been fostered in his boyhood by his mother, Edith Smith Taplin, and further exercised in his collegiate years as a writer of music and lyrics and sometimes as an orchestra conductor for Princeton Triangle Club musical comedies. Later he developed a close relationship with the Marlboro Music School, and throughout his life he continued to practice zealously and on occasion to perform in public with chamber music groups in Princeton and New York. When in 1984, while president of the Metropolitan Opera Association, he performed at the Church of St. John the Divine, Harold Schonberg, music critic of the New York Times, recalled other presidential pianists like Truman and Nixon and reported, "The difference is that Mr. Taplin plays the piano well. Really well-well enough to play things like Elgar or Dvorak piano quintets with professional musicians and hold his own." At the same time Frank was an ardent jazz pianist of whom Schonberg went on to write, "He plays hot jazz without arousing the scorn of critics."

In the same vein, another associate and admirer in New York commented, "Classical music was the fiber of Frank's being. He worked hard at it, and his discipline and resolve to improve his technique challenged him to the end of his life-culminating in a stunning performance of the Schumann Piano Quartet with members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in 2000. The pure joy of jazz, improvisational and newly created 'hot doggerel'-fractured lyrics that were outrageously funny that he set to music by Porter and Berlin-were contagious to everyone who heard him, and all wanted to be part of the fun."

Yet, Frank's musical involvements had still other important dimensions. Most notable perhaps was the invigorating leadership he provided to the Metropolitan Opera Association as its president and CEO from 1977 to 1984, during which time he organized a drive that raised $100 million for the Met. But numerous other musical organizations benefited from his interested involvement, fund-raising talent, and personal generosity over the course of his adult years. Among them were the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra (which he served as president), the Cleveland Institute of Music, the Marlboro School of Music (trustee), the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (trustee), the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (trustee), and the Third Street Music School Settlement, while for Princeton he provided a special auditorium for chamber music.

Notable but largely unheralded was his interest in and assistance to upcoming musicians no one knew about. He made gifts to students to buy instruments they could not afford. He quietly commissioned more than twenty works by new composers, many of which have been performed and recorded. To sponsor other new work annually, he established in the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center a commissioning fund that bears his name.

Frank Taplin's interests and enthusiasms extended far beyond music. …

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