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Elaine Shaffer collection (MSS 68)

Identifier: MSS 68
The collection primarily spans Shaffer's time as a student at the Curtis Institute of Music through her international career as the first female flute soloist. Included are personal diaries, correspondence, photographs, performance reviews, and scrapbooks compiled by Shaffer. It also contains items related to William Kincaid, Shaffer's teacher at Curtis and lifelong friend.


  • Majority of material found in 1943 - 1973

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.


4 Linear Feet

Biographical / Historical

American flutist Elaine Shaffer was born in Williamsport, PA on 22 October, 1925. Showing an interest in music from a young age, she began playing the cello before moving onto the tympani and, finally, the flute. In an interview with the International Herald Tribune in 1968, Shaffer gave the very simple reason for her choice saying, "I noticed that the flutes were being played more than any other instruments. So I decided to learn how to play the flute."

After high school Shaffer decided to formalize her flute study and auditioned at the Curtis Institute of Music. She was accepted by, and studied under, Curtis faculty member and Philadelphia Orchestra principal flutist William Kincaid. The next four years at Curtis proved to be truly formative for Shaffer who, through formal instruction with Kincaid and occasional performances with the world renowned Philadelphia Orchestra, was able to harness her natural talent and imbue it with both masterful technique and artistry. She and Kincaid also developed a strong respect and affection for each other that lasted until Kincaid’s death in 1967. This relationship would prove a cornerstone in Shaffer’s personal and professional life, leading to her being regarded by many as Kincaid’s “foremost disciple.”

After graduating from Curtis in 1947, Shaffer accepted a position as second flute with the Kansas City Philharmonic. Though she only stayed for one season, it was her acceptance of the job – and the terms she demanded before doing so – that made her an unwitting trailblazer for future female musicians. In the late 1940s women had few inroads into the male dominated world of professional orchestras, so for a woman to not only delay her start date to accommodate another performance but also demand, and receive, higher pay - was unprecedented.

However, after playing for six years with the Kansas City Philharmonic and then the Houston Symphony Orchestra, Shaffer realized being part of a large ensemble was not the career she desired. The same mentality that had once pushed her to play the most visible instrument now pushed her even further to front an orchestra as the first female soloist on the flute.

Her career quickly gathered momentum, and by the early 1950s she was performing to great acclaim with orchestras around the world. Her marriage to conductor Efrem Kurtz in 1955 and their subsequent move to Gstaad, Switzerland further enhanced her international profile and cultivated collaborations with renowned musicians such as harpsichordist George Malcolm, violinist Yehudi Menuhin, and pianist Hephzibah Menuhin.

In 1971 Shaffer, along with Hephzibah Menuhin, performed the world premiere of Aaron Copland’s Duo for Flute and Piano, a commissioned piece written in memory of Shaffer’s mentor and close personal friend William Kincaid (she later completed the first recording of the piece in 1972). One year later, on her 47th birthday on 22 October 1972, Shaffer performed all six Bach Flute Sonatas from memory at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. At the time, only those closest to her knew that she was in remission from inoperable lung cancer, the disease that would take her life just four months later, on 19 February 1973.


The primary arrangement within each series is that of the creator, Elaine Shaffer. The exception is the photograph series which has been reorganized chronologically as required.
Arrangement The collection is organized into the following series, with materials generally in chronological order.

1. Personal materials

2. Curtis Institute of Music

3. Performances

4. Correspondence

5. Photographs

6. Scrapbooks

7. Interviews and articles

8. Obituaries and remembrances

9. Autographs

10. Wm. Kincaid material

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Beverly Shaffer Gast and Robert W. Shaffer

Related Materials

'Angel in Black' by Beverly Shaffer Gast can be found in the Curtis Library
Elaine Shaffer collection (MSS 68)
Kristina Wilson
September 2017
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Curtis Institute of Music Archives Repository

1720 Locust St
Philadelphia PA 19103 United States