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Barbara Troxell (Soprano)

Born: September 10, 1916 - Easton, Pennsylvania, USA
Died: September 23, 1984 - Ithaca, New York, USA

The American soprano an voice teacher, Barbara Troxell, was born in Easton, Pennsylvania, the only child of Edgar and Eleanor Troxell. Her early education was in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, where she studied the piano and sang in her school and church. Her scholastic achievement in high school won for her a four-year Senatorial Scholarship to attend Pennsylvania State University, from which she received the Bachelor of Science and Master of Music Education degrees. With strong support and encouragement from Professor Willa Taylor, with whom she had struck up a close friendship since her freshman year, she decided to pursue a career as a singer. In 1939 she was accepted as a scholarship student to study with the world-renowned soprano Elisabeth Schumann at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she remained until her graduation in 1942. She won the “New Voices” and the ‘Town Hall Presents” contests in New York City in 1944 and 1945 respectively; the American Federation of Music Clubs contest in Pennsylvania and the Lucius Pryor Award in 1945.

Barbara Troxell's studies were followed by a decade of concertizing and additional work with Elisabeth Schumann and illustrious vocal coaches such as Paul Ulanowsky, Tibor Kozma, and Fausto Cleva. Important events in those years included a debut in 1943 with the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Ormandy in Debussy's La Demoiselle Elue; her New York City debut in W.A. Mozart's C-Minor Mass at Carnegie Hall in 1944; an appearance in the role of Pamina in the W.A. Mozart's Magic Flute, under the baton of Sir Thomas Beecham, with performances in Mexico City (at the Mozart Opera Festival, singing W.A. Mozart's Donna Elvira and Pamina) and Montreal in the summer of 1944; a role as soprano soloist in J.S. Bach's B-Minor Mass (BWV 232), under Leopold Stokowski, in 1945; the role of the Marschallin in a New York Concert performance of Der Rosenkavalier, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, in 1946; a New York Town Hall recital debut in 1947; a role as soloist in W.A. Mozart's C-Minor Mass and J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) with the Cathedral Choral in the Washington Cathedral in 1948 and 1949 respectively; and a role as soloist in the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) with the Cantata Singers in New York, Arthur Mendel conducting, in 1950. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1950 and remained with the company for one season (1950-1951) in two roles: Ines in Verdi's Il Trovatore and an orphan in Der Rosenkavalier. During the 1953-1954 season, while on a concert tour in West Germany with the Mozart Trio, sponsored by the United States Information Service, she was invited to join the Flensburg Opera as a leading soprano. She stayed in Germany as an operatic singer for seven years, first in Flensburg and then in Wurzburg, Ulm, and Wiesbaden, until her appointment at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in 1961.

Thus Barbara Troxell joined the Cornell music faculty after having gained recognition as a soloist in operas and concerts. Her vocal artistry was then at its height, and in the decade that followed she gave numerous exquisite performances at Cornell. Among them were song recitals in collaboration with faculty pianists and with the University’s performing organizations in works such as, in 1962, Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem, conducted by Nadia Boulanger; in 1963, the premiere of Maximilian Albrecht’s Requiem, conducted by Thomas Sokol; and, in 1965, L.v. Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, performed in Ithaca and at Lincoln Center in New York City, conducted by Karel Husa as part of Cornell’s centennial celebration. Most memorable was her singing of lieder by Wolf, Robert Schumann, Schubert, and other German composers. But her interest and knowledge extended beyond the standard repertoire of great operas, cantatas, oratorios, and lieder. The music of Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Alban Berg, and other 20th-century composers interested her more than most of her friends and students might have supposed. When some of Anton Webern’s early songs were published for the first time in the 1960's, she studied them patiently, chose a few that suited her best, and performed them wonderfully, in a program that included solo songs by Poulenc and Finzi, framed by arias of W.A. Mozart. Works by Charles Ives, Elliot Carter, and other American composers were also part of her large repertoire.

Barbara Troxell made the transition from professional singer to university professor with aplomb. This transition meant devoting less time to performing while concentrating on the teaching of Cornell voice students. She inherited a vocal program developed by her distinguished predecessors, Sir Keith Falkner and the late Dame Isobel Baillie, which she molded into Cornell’s modern singing program based on her unique and keen analytic insight into the vocal process. She dedicated her energy and expertise to her students, who were drawn from across the University. They included novices as well as advanced singers. She was able to bring forth the best from all her students, whether they were eager preprofessionals, enthusiastic choristers, or budding actors learning to project their voices. But Barbara’s teaching was not limited to giving voice lessons. With her vast experience and knowledge of opera, she quickly became the keystone of opera production in Ithaca. At Cornell, under her guidance, students in her opera workshop gave exciting performances of operas such as W.A. Mozart's Cosi fan tutte and Leonard Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti. In 1973 she became artistic director of the Ithaca Opera and with this group provided Ithaca with its semiannual gala operatic performances.

Barbara’s contribution to Cornell was not limited to music. Her astuteness, common sense, and forthrightness could be counted upon in the deliberation over departmental affairs. She also took part in college and University affairs, serving on the admissions committee of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1975 to 1978 and as a member of the Faculty Council of Representatives from 1978 to 1981. She served as Professor of vocal music at Cornell University, Ithaca for 23 years until her death in 1984. She was also the Artistic Director of the Ithaca Opera Association, the longest running small opera company in the USA. For her accomplishments she She received the Pennsylvania State University Woman of the Year Award in 1962.

Solo recordings include W.A. Mozart's Exsultate Jubliate and Zaide on the WCFM label, song cycles by Benjamin Britten and Paul Hindemith, and opera arias on the Halo label.

Source: Liner notes to the LP 'Sacred S' (Plymouth) & other recital LP jackets; Find A Grave Memorial Website; Obituary in The Morning Call (September 24, 1984); Cornell University Faculty Memorial Statement (Authors: William W. Austin, Thomas A. Sokol, John Hsu)
Contributed by
John Carroll (July 2006); Aryeh Oron (August 2017)

Barbara Troxell: Short Biography | Recordings of Vocal Works under her name

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works




Alfred Greenfield


V-1 (1945): BWV 232

Links to other Sites

Barbara Troxell (Find A Grave Memorial)
Barbara Troxell, 68 Obituary in The Morning Call
Obituary of Barbara Troxell in ECommins &Cornell [PDF]

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