DR. GEORGE GAY III COLLECTION
Reminiscences of Dr. George Gay III by Benjamin F. Clymer
Talk given to honored guests at George Gay III memorial luncheon at Webb Center's Virginia Room, 12:30-2pm, 2/21/78. (Extant excerpt)
George Gay III Phonorecord Collection in the ODU Library
In 1962 I was introduced by a now deceased mutual friend and lover of classical music to Dr. George Gay III, the scion of a well-to-do Richmond family. Dr. Gay had resided in Norfolk since the death of his mother in 1960. Dr. Gay, then about 60 years old, was an avid collector of Persian rugs and phonorecords. He had started building his collections in his early teens and continued to expand them until the time of his death in February of 1972.
At his request during that 10-year period I introduced Dr. Gay, who after his mother's death had become almost a recluse, to members of Norfolk's musical and cultural community, such as Russell Stanger, Dora Short, Dr. Charles Vogan, Dr. John MacCormack, Clifford Hertzer, and Frances Marsh. People outside the music profession whom I introduced to Dr. Gay's musical evenings were Prof. Vincent Castagnacci of the ODU Art Department, Mrs. B. F. Taylor (Norfolk's leading bluestocking), Miss Janet Taylor and Miss Leslie Chisholm of the Norfolk museum, and Mrs. Cilla Nusbaum and Mrs. Dudley Cooper, leading Norfolk art patrons, Mr. Gene Hammett, artistic director of the Norfolk Ballet, and Mr. Brian Caldwell, Director of the Norfolk Museum. The "concerts" were played by George on his Fisher stereo system with rich and vibrant sound coming from almost everywhere in the room. The "concerts" convened at about 8:30 or so and often lasted until midnight with ice cream, cake, and coffee always being served. Any subject could be discussed in terms of music; any opinion of the music played or of the performer or the instruments could be stated. Conver- sation was out of order during the playing. Dr. Gay would growl "You can't criticize it if you don't listen to it." Over the years I attended over sixty such evenings -- nearly all rewarding, many memorable, several hilarious, and at least two painful.
The collection itself was identified by two real experts in such matters, Mr. Sydney Allsopp of Richmond, manager of W. P. Moses' music store for twenty-five years.and Miss Carrie Henderson, Music Librarian of the Richmond Public Library for many years, as "one of the most valuable on the East Coast, and one of the most comprehensive. A great number of Dr. Gay's records can be termed real collector's items and are of great historical value. In all probability many of them will never be reissued; this makes them actually priceless in that to any library, collector or musical archive they are irreplaceable." The collection consists of over 12,000 phonorecords (both 78's and "long plays"); most are in mint condition.
Dr. Gay's major musical preferences were clearly identified in his opening state- ment to his guests: "I like the three B's: Bach I Beethoven, and Bartok." Sometimes Bartok became, "Berlin, Irving,if or "Beecham, Sir Thomas," or even, when he felt very puckish "Boogie Woogie," but Bach and Beethoven -- always. Of course he did like Brahms too, as evidenced by a large number of Brahms works in the collection.
Mostly music of the West, the range of the collection is vast: Pre-Renaissance Gregorian Chants to the late 20th century tone clustered operas of Ginastera, from Monteverdi madrigals and the masses of Palestrina to Varese, Webern and Stockhausen. It is rich in Baroque music, with Vivaldi, Corelli, and Bach in profusion. George could become utterly blissful following the themes in the "Fantasia and Fugue in G minor" for example. He loved J. S. Bach and Handel but admitted that "G. F. just really did not try hard enough to become first rate, except maybe in the Messiah." The collection slims down a little in the Roccoco era but there is some C. P. E. Bach, Scarlatti, and Rameau. George took off again in the classic period with much Haydn and with his God, Beethoven, in great breadth and depth. There may be as many as thirty separate renditions of the symphonies, the earliest being on a 78's recording of 1922 with Sir George Henschel and the London Symphony. Of Mozart, George would pause and then say cryptically: "Twinkle, twinkle." Of course, he had Mozart in full flood, including almost all of the twenty operas, several in duplicate and triplicate.
Dr. Gay could never admit that he was a Romantic. Maybe he wasn't, after all, but he loved the music of the Romantic composers. He had their solo pieces, their chamber music, their ballets, tone poems, overtures, sinfonias, symphonies, concertos, their oratorios and their operas. All of the great romantics are there: Berlioz, Bruchner, Schumann and Schubert (all of the 600 lieder) and Chopin. He loved Chopin, especially when played by Cortot and Horowitz. He collected Franck, Mendelssohn Liszt and Tschaikowsky, whose Swan Lake he once referred to as "the Dead Swan music," thereby convulse guest Enrique Martinez of the American Ballet Theatre, who had just choreographed it for Nureyev and Fonteyn. Dr. Gay was very partial to the Russian composers of the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly Moussorgski, Prokofieff, and Shostokovitch. He saw that his collection included many of the lesser Russian and Slavic composers and was at home with Smetana, Janacek. and Dvorak. Of Sibelius, George could say only "He's cold and he makes me cold. " He admired Verdi and Wagner equally and collected multiple productions of their operas. He considered Verdi's Otello the greatest Italian opera. George tolerated Puccini and Massenet (whose renaissance he predicted years ago) but scorned most other opera composers of the period. Even so, the collection includes the operas of Mascagni, Cillea, Giordano, Montemezzi, Meyerbeer and others.
Of the neo-Romantic and most of the moderns Goerge would quietly observe "Let's hear what, if anything, they have to say." He did like Debussy and Ravel, but to Delius he'd mutter "Get on with it."
Dr. Gay wondered often why Charles Ives, Roy Harris and Charles Griffes weren't better appreciated and purchased what there was in the catalogs. The collection contains much Racbmaninoff, particularly when played by the composer or by Horowitz. George was a bit in awe of Richard Strauss, particularly after Stanley Kubrick used themes from Thus Spake Zarathustra in his movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Of Der Rosenkavalier he said, "An unnecessarily prolonged orgasm." Yet he insured that his collection contained most of Richard's works and all of the operas available. George delighted in juxtaposing Romantics with atonalists. He loved to play selections from Berg's wild and wooly Lulu or Schoenberg's frenetic Pierrot Lunaire as a coda to any evening of Saint-Saens, Mendelssohn or Chopin or Field.
In his last year, George seemed hard pressed to fill in gaps in the collection. He purchased some American musical shows, operettas, and even Jesus Christ Superstar….
— Benjamin F. Clymer
Reminiscences of Dr. George Gay III by Bertha Fanning Taylor
NOTES ON MY FRIENDSHIP with DOCTOR GAY
FRIENDSHIP WITH DOCTOR GAY was indeed a most unique experience - for it meant sharing his devotion to his two great interests in living - his love for Oriental rugs, and his love for great music. I had heard accounts of this interesting personality from my good friend Benjamin Clymer who had formed the habit of attending George Gay's evenings devoted to the listening of recorded music, and thought that I, too, might enjoy them, and the Doctor himself, if we two could meet, and I become one of the few friends invited. (Women, I was told, were not often invited.)
So a time was arranged for, and I went, with Mr. Clymer, to be duly presented. What king of a man was Dr. George Gay, on first sight? Not very tall, but affable and stately but unpretentious, slightly bald, with jovial piercing eyes that seemed to seize you up with a kindly, sympathetic sparkle, slightly ironic at times, as were his remarks often. He was living in a suburban type house, with his devoted friend, John Doughty, both batchelors, John's love of gardening keeping glorious flowerbeds alive and flourishing all about the entrance to the house, while glorious Persian rugs made a rich background for Dr. Gay's hospitable greeting. Dr. Gay was, in fact, a graduate physician who had never practicied, perhaps for reasons of incipient bad health, so he had developed this peaceful existence of a genial collector and student, especially of music - for he had a growing library on the great composers and their works which was often referred to during these evenings of playing what had been chosen from a vast collection of the works of the great masters of many periods. It was, in fact, Dr. Gay's habit to ask those friends who came regularly, to tell him what they would like to hear, so as to give him time to search out the selected recording desired. Those evenings were indeed an education of a most delectable sort!
These more or less regular meetings every two weeks were sometimes varied by "live" music, for Doctor Gay had a magnificent Steinway grand piano, and a good friend not far away, in Virginia Beach, the well-inown Concert-Pianist Clifford Herzer. I well remember that Herzer one time gave a small assembly a "preview," (or hearing) of his Concert to be given at the Norfolk Museum the following Sunday. Herzer did indeed give us a gay, spirited rendering of works, or excerpts from, Mendelsohn, Scarlatti, Chopin and other composers. Not the least of the pleasures of these evenings were the discussions which followed or preceded the chosen works, given as they were, by alert minds, in love with the subject, and with discussing the relative merits. At another evening which I remember, Dr. Gay announced that he had something new for us, and proceeded to show us a recording recently acquired of a revival of Mozart's (was it?) early Opera "La Clemenza di Tito", which he proceeded to put on and which we found very curious and not like "Cosi fan Tutti" of later years. Dr. Gay was very fond of Hugo Wolf's famous Songs, and of certain Opera Recordings, which he would put on in deference to the taste of Mr. Clymer for their presentation of the glories of the female voice, But I felt that his great love was for the Beethovan recordings of the Symphonies, and especially of the series of Quartetts. He was fond also of the Quartett music of Schubert and of a few others. Dr. George Gay did indeed, by the range of his collection, leave a rich inheritance to the cultural life of the community, which his devoted friend, John Doughty, by his generous gift, has fittingly consecrated. We have great honor in suitably recognizing the value of their personalities as outstanding in the community of Norfolk.
— Bertha Fanning Taylor
The Dr. George Gay III Collection is a 12,360 volume record collection. It includes 4,661 long-play albums and 7,699 78rpm disc sets that date from the turn of the twentieth century through the early 1960s. The recordings are a broad collection of works by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and many other composers, and include more than 300 operas. The Gay Collection LPs do not circulate, but copies of the entire collection are available on cassettes which may be used for research in the Diehn Composers Room or circulate for a two week loan period.
When it was added to the University's other phonograph record holdings the Dr. George Gay III gift provided ODU with the largest collection of classical music recordings of any library in the state of Virginia. Sydney Allsopp, the music department manager for Walter D. Moses and Company in Richmond who worked with Dr. Gay for more than 25 years in assembling the records, described them as "real collector's items and of great historical value...."