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Harry L. Kownatsky, formerly curator of the Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music.

Harry L. Kownatsky, formerly curator of the Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music housed in the Free Library of Philadelphia, died 23 June 2003 in Philadelphia, one day before his eighty-ninth birthday. Except for his military service during World War II, Harry was a career-long staff member at the Free Library and the Fleisher Collection. During the war, he was a member of the United States Naval Reserve and served with the Marines in the South Pacific.

When he graduated from high school, Harry had difficulty finding work because of the Depression. A friend told him about the U.S. Works Project Administration (WPA) copying project at the Fleisher Collection, where he was hired and trained to be a copyist. He worked under composer/conductor Arthur Cohn to create scores and parts for titles otherwise unavailable. When he returned after the war, there was no opening at the Fleisher Collection but library director Franklin Price assigned him to the Music Department. At the first opening in the Fleisher Collection, Harry became Cohn's assistant, cataloging and proofreading copied works. Harry was made curator of the collection in 1965. During his tenure as curator, the Ford Foundation approached him offering funds to prepare and publish a second edition of the catalog of the collection. Harry remained at the Free Library for some time after his retirement to direct the Ford Foundation project. The resulting catalog, The Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music in the Free Library of Philadelphia: A Cumulative Catalog, 1929-1977, was published by G. K. Hall in 1979.

The nature of his duties, placing him between publishers and composers, necessitated extensive knowledge of current copyright regulations. Harry was the acknowledged expert called upon by troubled MLA'ers. He contributed an article about copyright legislation to Notes ("Copyright Law Revision," 18, no. 3 [March 1961]: 197-208) and wrote again on the subject for my Reader in Music Librarianship (Washington, DC: Microcard Editions Books, 1973). At the time of his retirement in 1975, Harry was granted free access to the Free Library's administrative files so he could write a book-length history of Fleisher's benefaction to the city of Philadelphia. That manuscript was completed just days before Harry's unexpected death.

During his long and successful retirement, Harry was on the board of the Settlement Music School which has six branches throughout the city. He volunteered at the Germantown and Jenkintown locations where he worked in the library, repaired instruments, and played chamber music. He also worked in the library of the Concerto Soloists, a Philadelphia ensemble, and taught violin to children in his neighborhood.

When I arrived at the Free Library fresh from library school, Harry and his wife were among the first to befriend me. At the library, Harry would come to my office area in the stacks to say "Come on kid; I'll buy you a cup of coffee," which was accompanied by his delightful discourse. Over the intervening years we remained friends, visiting back and forth, and exchanging many phone calls. He could be depended upon to offer sound commentary on current affairs and sage advice when needed. Harry was a meticulous, courtly, gentle man much loved by his host of friends and colleagues.


State University of New York at Buffalo (emerita)
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Title Annotation:Notes For Notes
Author:Bradley, Carol June
Article Type:Obituary
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2004
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