Writer, editor, and composer Claire Brook was born in New York to Russian immigrant parents. She studied music in high school and college and earned a master’s in composition from Columbia University. After publishing several songs in the late 1940s and early 1950s, she gave up her career in composition in favor of publishing, in part because of the difficulties faced by women composers. She served as vice president at W.W. Norton, one of the most prestigious publishing firms in the United States. Her appointment as the sole music editor at Norton in 1973 was a significant accomplishment for a woman at that time. After her retirement from Norton, she founded Pendragon Press, a small press focused on musicological books, with her husband and brother.
Claire Brook was a writer, editor, and composer whose career was most distinguished by her work in publishing. She was managing editor of RILM Abstracts of Music Literature from 1968 to 1969. She became associate music editor at W.W. Norton in 1969, followed by promotion to music editor in 1973. In 1979, she was named vice president at W.W. Norton, a post she held until her retirement in 1992. After her retirement from Norton, she served as executive editor at Pendragon Press, a small press focused on musicological books that she founded with her husband, Barry, and brother, Robert Kessler. At Pendragon, Brook oversaw several significant series, including Lives in Music, the Xenakis series, and the French Opera in Facsimile series.
Family and Education
Brook was a native of New York, born to Russian immigrant parents, Sonya and Frank Kessler. In her early musical training, Brook focused on piano and composition, attending the High School of Music and Art. She received her undergraduate education at the City University of New York, earning her bachelor’s degree in 1945. She earned a master’s degree in composition from Columbia University in 1947. Following her university education, she studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris in 1947-1948.
Brook was married to musicologist Barry S. Brook for 35 years, from 1958 until his death in 1997. She had two children with her first husband, Seymour Mann. Though Brook was not raised in an observant Jewish home, she described her upbringing as culturally and politically Jewish, and she raised her own children to be aware of their Jewish heritage.
Composition and Publishing
Brook published several songs in the late 1940s and early 1950s. However, in the 1950s, in part because of the difficulties faced by women composers, she gave up her career in composition in favor of publishing. She returned to composition in 1995 and published “Four Songs from ‘Six Significant Landscapes” as part of the series Art Songs by American Women Composers.
In addition to her songs, Brook’s publications include a series of musical guides to European countries (coauthored with Elaine Brody) titled Music Guide to Austria and Germany, Music Guide to Great Britain, Music Guide to Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland and Switzerland, and Music Guide to Italy. She also coedited (with E. Clinkscale) A Musical Offering: Essays in Honor of Martin Bernstein.
Brook’s contributions are most notable in publishing. She attained the position of vice president at one of the most prestigious publishing firms in the United States. In addition, her appointment as the sole music editor at Norton in 1973 was a significant accomplishment for a woman at that time. Brook championed the continued publication of music books by commercial publishing houses because of their significant contribution to the field and despite their marginal commercial potential. Throughout her career, she sought to strike a necessary balance between specialized and commercial music books as well as recognizing the potential of changing technologies for publishing, such as the inclusion of recordings with music textbooks. In founding Pendragon Press and overseeing musicological publications, Brook assured her continued legacy of publishing scholarly works in music, music theory, and musicology.
In 1982, Brook received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College. She was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree by the New England Conservatory of Music in 1999. In 2018, the Barry S. Brook Center for Music Research and Documentation (The Graduate Center of The City University of New York) established the annual Claire Brook Award for outstanding monograph, dissertation, edited collection, or exhibition catalogue in music.
Brook was a notable patron of numerous arts organizations, including American Music Center, the College Music Society, the American Institute of Verdi Studies, the American Musicological Society, and the Music Library Association. She served on the boards of the Barry S. Brook Center for Music Research and Documentation, of Répertoire International de Littérateur Musicale (RILM), and of the Tannery Pond Concerts, a chamber music series, in the Berkshires (NY).
Selected Works by Claire Brook
Words and Music: Essays in Honor of Andrew Porter, ed. with David Rosen. Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press, 2004.
“The Book Publisher and Recordings.” In The Phonograph and Our Musical Life, edited by H. Wiley Hitchcock. New York: Institute for Studies in American Music, 1980.
Music Guide to Italy, with Elaine Brody. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1977.
A Musical Offering: Essays in Honor of Martin Bernstein, with E. Clinkscale. New York: Pendragon Press, 1977.
Music Guide to Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland and Switzerland, with Elaine Brody New York: Dodd, Mead, 1976.
Music Guide to Austria and Germany, with Elaine Brody. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1975.
Music Guide to Great Britain, with Elaine Brody. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1975.
“Music Publishing Today—A Symposium.” Notes 32, no. 2 (December 1975): 2243–2248.
“Four Songs from ‘Six Significant Landscapes.’” In Art Songs by American Women Composers (1995)
“God be in my head.” New York, 1956
“Lauds.” New York, 1956
“Autobiography.” New York, 1955
“Chanson innocente.” New York, 1955
“Chanson.” New York, 1954
“The friendly beasts : a Christmas carol.” New York: 1954-1956
“If I have made, my lady ...” New York, 1954
“Cradle song.” New York, 1949
“Love is more thicker than forget.” Paris, 1947
“Pour les enfants et pour les raffinés.” Paris, 1947
“Fulfillment.” New York, 1946
“Art songs by American Women Composers.” Perf. Deborah Bussineau-King and Ruth C Friedberg. Southwest Texas State University, San Marcos, TX, 2001
“Dreamin' Town: A Recital of Songs by Women Composers.” Perf. Sheila Kearney Converse; Roger Cole; Meg Kelley. Washington State University, Pullman, WA, 2002.
"From France to America: Songs of Nadia Boulanger and Her Pupils" Perf. Marietta Dean and Leonora Suppan. Western Illinois University, Macomb, IL, 2006.
“Claire Brook.” Obituary. New York Times, June 17, 2012.
“Claire Brook: In Memoriam.” www.pendragonpress.com/claire_brook.php, 2012.
Who’s Who in American Music: Classical. 2d ed. (1985).