Alice Swanson Esty

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Alice Theresa Hildagard Swanson Esty (November 8, 1904 – July 21, 2000) was an American actress, soprano and arts patron who commissioned works by members of Les Six and other French composers, and American composers such as Ned Rorem, Virgil Thomson and Marc Blitzstein, among others.


She earned an A.B. degree from Bates College in 1925. She then moved to New York City to study singing and acting. She was hired as an actress with the Group Theater, which was directed by Lee Strasberg and Harold Clurman, and with the Provincetown Players, an avant-garde theater. Her Broadway credits include Come of Age, with Judith Anderson, and L'Aiglon, with Ethel Barrymore.

She married William C. Esty, founder of the William Esty Advertising Agency in the 1930s.

Esty continued her interest in the arts, and she began to commission works by many noted composers, poets, and visual artists. In the late 1950s and early 1960s she spent considerable time in Paris, where she befriended many important composers and artists. Between 1955 and 1969 she regularly commissioned musical compositions, and then performed them in major recital halls, including The Town Hall and Carnegie Recital Hall. If Mrs. Esty's talent as a singer was not perhaps perfect (Ned Rorem referred to her as "a soprano of style and means if not especially of temperament..."[1]), her importance as an arts patron is certainly notable.

Esty lived in Paris frequently in the 1950s and the 1960s and between 1955-1969 she commissioned musical compositions from many French composers including Germaine Tailleferre, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, Henri Sauguet and others which she performed in her Town Hall and Carnegie Recital Hall concerts. In addition, she also commissioned Poulenc's Sonata for Two Pianos for the American piano duo Gold and Fizdale. In 1964, she commissioned works by French and American composers for a special memorial concert for the recently deceased Francis Poulenc, which she performed in Carnegie Recital Hall.

In 1994 and 1995, Mrs. Esty donated the manuscripts for many of her commissioned works to the Library of Bates College where they are located today. Esty died of cancer in New York. The Esty Professorship of Music at Bates was endowed by her.

Partial list of works commissioned by Alice Esty[edit]


  1. ^ Ned Rorem "Yesterday is Not Today: the American Art Song 1930-1960 a personal survey" in New World Records no. 80243

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