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Frank R. Bohnhorst, Works from 1941-1962

Identifier: 14-3: Bohnhorst, Frank

Scope and Contents

This is a comprehensive collection of works composed by Frank Bohnhorst. Spiral bound books containing his original scores for vocal/choral and piano/organ. Orchestral arrangements comprise the bulk of the collection; however, unfinished works, early sketches, organ pedagogy, speeches, personal correspondence; as well as, his thesis, written in1948, to fulfill a Master of Sacred Music degree from the Union Theological Seminary. A number of music scores by other composers are included as well.

The collection is organized into the following series:

    1. Vocal-Choral Scores

    2. Instrumental Piano-Organ Scores

    3. Sketches, Notebooks & Unfinished Works

    4. Master of Sacred Music Thesis (1948, Union Theological Seminary)

    5. Speeches

    6. Biographical information, Clippings & Correspondence

    7. Music by Other Composers

    8. Special Formats


  • Works from 1941-1962


Biographical / Historical

Formative years & education: A native of Springfield, Illinois, Frank Runyan Bohnhorst (b. June 24, 1923 – d. May 20, 1956) attended the Illinois Wesleyan University Jr. College of Music (Springfield) 1940-1943, and completed the Bachelor of Music Degree in organ performance and music theory from Illinois Wesleyan University (Bloomington) in 1946. He subsequently attended the School of Sacred Music of Union Theological Seminary in New York City, earning the Master of Sacred Music degree in organ performance, choral conducting, and musical composition in 1948. Thesis title: The rhythmic setting of texts: a practical guide to textual analysis for composers. Among his teachers were Horace Grant Fletcher, George Scott, and Hugh Porter. He married Janet Whitey (IWU ’46) on June 24, 1947.

Upon completion of his graduate studies he served as organist and choir director at various churches in New Jersey, Ohio, Missouri, and the Unitarian-Universalist Church in Bloomington, Illinois. He also taught organ and composition briefly at Westminster College (New Wilmington, Pa.), Hanover College (Indiana), and the University of Missouri (Columbia) prior to returning to Illinois Wesleyan University in 1951 as Associate Professor of Organ and Composer in Residence. In the same year he organized the Symposium of Contemporary American Music at Illinois Wesleyan, a concert series that continues annually to the present day.

Musical Compositions: Frank Bohnhorst’s compositions number approximately fifty completed works (mostly unpublished) for solo voice, chorus, keyboard, chamber music, and orchestra. His compositional style is in common with much mid-twentieth century American concert music: frequently neo-classic in forms, with extensive use of counterpoint, expanded harmony and liberal use of dissonance. His sacred choral music intended for church use, employs a more traditional harmonic palate.

With his strong literary interests, and his concerns for the musical setting literary texts, the composer drew liberally from the work of American authors in his secular vocal compositions, and especially authors with ties to the American Midwest. Included among these were Abraham Lincoln (Air Held Her Breath), Vincent Stephen Benet (John Browns Prayer), Francis Grierson (Promised Land: A Folk Opera), James Weldon Johnson (Go Down Death), Vachel Lindsay (General Booth Enters into Heaven), and Walt Whitman (Song of Liberty). At the early age of 17, Bohnhorst was founding member of the Vachel Lindsay Association (Springfield, Illinois).

Dedications & Commissions: Given his regrettably short career and limited exposure, Frank Bohnhorst’s scores bearing dedications are directed principally toward family members, personal friends, and colleagues, or in commemoration of milestone events at institutions to which the composer had a personal connection. Examples include his Te Deum (1950) written for the centennial celebration of Illinois Wesleyan University, a Song of Praise (1952) for the 125th Anniversary of First Presbyterian Church, Springfield, Illinois, and The Promised Land: a Folk Opera in One Act with Four Scenes (1953), also dedicated to Illinois Wesleyan University “for its historical position as a shaper of prairie conscience for its support of contemporary creative efforts," the libretto of which, was drawn from the writings of the eccentric Anglo-American, concert pianist, essayist, spiritualist, and bon vivant Francis Grierson, who passed a portion of his youth in Sangamon County, Illinois.1 Among his commissioned scores were the Faces of Fear: A Ballet (1954) at the request of the League of Choreographers & Composers, Springfield, Illinois, and the oratorio Go Down Death (1956), for the Springfield Oratorio Society, Donald Allured, director. In 1954 Bohnhorst was awarded a summer fellowship to the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, NH, during which time he completed his orchestral score to Faces of Fear: a Ballet; Hymn Variations and Fuguing Tune for woodwind quintet; a Sonata for Viola and Piano; and Three Choral Folk-song Sketches for SATB chorus with piano. Finally, just weeks prior to his death, the young composer received a commission from the Chicago based, Fromm Music Foundation to compose a work for the foundations’ upcoming concert series. Only preliminary sketches of a proposed sonata for piano-four hands remain.

Bohnhorst on Music: In a letter to a non-musician friend2 Bohnhorst sharply criticized the popular New York music critic Winthrop Sargeant for touting the dominant “modern status-quo” concert repertoire (characterized by Bohnhorst as “ticket-selling,” “Europe-as-usual,” “Schœ nbergian 12-tone disciples,” “Stravinsky-Boulanger” or “Eastman-trained Americans”) at the expense younger and “non-bandwagon composers” [such as himself], thereby preventing the latter from getting adequate hearings in major performance venues. The underlying raison d’être for the Symposium of Contemporary American Music at Illinois Wesleyan was to provide such exposure, and serve as a bridge between contemporary composers and their audiences. In Bohnhorst’s words:

“For a culture to be creative musically, there must be a close relationship between composer, performer, and listener. This Symposium was organized as a means of bridging the gap between today's composers and their audience. The hearing of representative con­ temporary works and the interchange of ideas are directed to the purpose of encouraging active participation in the creative currents of our time.”3 In addition to his composition and teaching, Bohnhorst appeared regularly at Illinois Wesleyan and other central Illinois venues as an organ recitalist, accompanist, and lecturer, on musical composition, pipe organ design, and church music in general. During his tenure at I.W.U. he served as organist at the Bloomington Unitarian-Universalist Church. Throughout his life he retained membership in the First Presbyterian Church, “the Lincoln Church” of Springfield, Illinois. Professional affiliations: Frank Bohnhorst retained memberships in numerous National and regional professional organizations: Association of American Composers and Conductors; American Federation of Musicians, the Illinois Federation of Music Clubs, the American Guild of Organists; the Vachel Lindsay Association, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.), Phi Kappa Phi National Scholastic Fraternity, and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America.

In Memoriam: Frank Bohnhorst died pre-maturely of leukemia just shy of his 33rd birthday, having served only three years on the faculty of the Illinois Wesleyan University School of Music. He left behind a widow, Janet Whitely-Bohnhorst, and two young daughters. In the days and weeks that followed his death numerous tributes appeared in local and regional newspapers lamenting the loss this young composer-musician. One year later (May 13-15, 1957), the Sixth Annual Symposium of Contemporary American Music at Illinois Wesleyan was dedicated to memory of Frank Bohnhorst, and included performances of several of his compositions. Shortly thereafter on May 21, 1957 the Spring Choral Concert of the University Choir at the University of Illinois-Champaign, featured a commemorative performance of Bohnhorst’s oratorio Go Down Death, conducted by his close friend and colleague Lloyd Pfautsch, who was on leave from Illinois Wesleyan during the 1956/57 academic year. The performance, which took place in Smith Music Hall on the Champaign campus, was recorded and broadcast over WTAX-FM (Springfield, IL) on May 27. The oratorio’s premiere had taken place on March 27 of the previous year, two months prior to the composer’s death. Lloyd Pfautsch conducted and recorded at least one further performance of the work with the Dallas [Texas] Civic Chorus on May17, 1976.4 Perhaps the chief legacy of Frank Bohnhorst however, was his creation of the Symposium of Contemporary American Music, the oldest, continuing academic symposium of its type in the United States.

The academic year 2014/15 marked the sesquicentennial anniversary of the School of Music at Illinois Wesleyan University. Among the numerous events held in conjunction with this celebration, was a concert performance of music by composers affiliated with the school during the decades of the1950s through 1990s5 including several works by Frank Bohnhorst. Concurrently, the remaining heirs of the Bohnhorst estate presented the Ames Library with a substantial archive of fair-copy musical manuscripts, compositional sketchbooks, selected papers, and correspondence of the composer. Performance copies based on these manuscripts were used in above concert. The music manuscripts are in the process of being digitized and will be made available for study through the Ames Library Digital Commons.

1. Harold P. Simonson, “Francis Grierson: A Biographical Sketch and Bibliography.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984), vol. 54, no. 2, 1961, pp. 198–203.

2. Frank Bohnhorst, Personal letter addressed to “Doc & Sue” [no surname] dated February 1, 1956, Bloomington, Illinois.

3. Frank Bohnhorst, Illinois Wesleyan University, School of Music, Symposium for Contemporary American Music. March 20-21, 1952.

4. A digital audio recording of this performance is held by the Ames Library.

5. Illinois Wesleyan University School of Music, Composers from IWU’s Past: Music from the 1950s through the 1990s by former faculty and friends. (January 22, 2015).


3 Linear Feet : 4 document boxes

Language of Materials


Physical Description

Collection is located in Special Collections.


A folder containing an Excel spreadsheet of retired Fine Arts Librarian Bob Delvin’s research is included in this collection. His research includes the title of each piece in the collection, titles for compositions discovered elsewhere, and notes on other important aspects of these works.

Repository Details

Part of the Illinois Wesleyan University Archives Repository

P.O. Box 2899
Illinois Wesleyan University
Bloomington IL 61701 US