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Otto Ortmann papers

Identifier: PIMS-0077

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Scope and Contents

The Otto Ortmann papers contain materials related to his career as a music researcher, composer, and administrator. The papers include manuscript and printed scores of Ortmann's compositions, writings by Ortmann for lectures and publication, research notes, collected research publications by peers, subject files, concert programs, photographs, correspondence, teaching materials, sound recordings, and three-dimensional laboratory equipment.


  • Creation: 1900 - 1979


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is unprocessed, but parts of it may be open for use at the Peabody Archives at the archivist's discretion. Contact for more information.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright. All requests for permission to publish or perform materials in this collection must be submitted in writing to the archivist of the Arthur Friedheim Library.

Biographical / Historical

Otto Ortmann (1889-1979) was a music researcher, composer, educator, and administrator. He was the director of the Peabody Conservatory of Music from 1928 to 1941, chairman of the music department of Goucher College from 1942 to 1957, and author of The Physiological Mechanics of Piano Technique.

Baltimore-born Ortmann inherited his musical gifts from his parents. His father, Richard Ortmann, was a singer, organist, and music critic. His mother was a singer who performed as soloist for many of the city's leading churches and temples.

Ortmann earned a teacher's certificate and the artist's diploma in composition from the Peabody Conservatory and later served on the school's faculty from 1917 to 1928, founding the research department in 1925. In the spring of 1928, Ortmann succeeded the late Harold Randolph as director of the conservatory, but with some trepidation. Years later, he explained to a colleague that when he agreed to take on the post, he made it clear to the Peabody's trustees that he "was not to lead any social life, with cocktail parties, debutante balls" or "appear as concert artist or as conductor," which, he acknowledged, were things his predecessor did very well. Nor did he maintain the Peabody's close relationship with the Baltimore Symphony, which Randolph helped to found.

Ortmann believed that some music training was needed by everyone and that it should begin early. He cited the problems of the musically illiterate adolescent with vocal potential and ordinary citizens living in an increasing complex world whose "appreciation of the beautiful does for the heart and mind what healthful exercise does for the body." Ortmann concluded that music education must include instruction on the aesthetic value of tone, how tone is produced on the instrument being taught, and how the body of the player contributes to the production of that tone. To that end, he conducted research on acoustics, music pedagogy, and performance physiology. Ortmann was a pioneer in the study of the psychological effect of music on the learning process. He and his colleagues in the department of research published many articles on the physiological aspects of music performances in scientific and educational journals. Using advanced photographic techniques, oscillographs, resonoscopes, and the new Fairchild's Recording and Reproducing apparatus, they undertook studies of violin bow movements, trumpet embouchure, vocal timbre, and the mechanics of piano technique.

While Ortmann won distinction for establishing the research program at Peabody and producing an impressive number of studies, he was less successful as director of the conservatory and was asked to resign in 1941. After leaving Peabody, Ortmann became chairman of the music department of Goucher College, where he turned his talents toward developing studies in music for liberal arts students. He continued teaching at Goucher and at his home on St. Paul Street.


20 Cubic Feet (approximately 20 cubic feet of material in 58 containers and loose items)

Language of Materials



Otto Ortmann was the director of Peabody Conservatory of Music from 1928 to 1941 and founder of the conservatory's department of research, where he conducted studies on the education, psychology, and physiology of music. His papers include scores of original compositions, writings on music research, research notes, administrative files, concert programs, photographs, and teaching materials.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Dorothea Ortmann Seletsky in 1996 and Sallie E. H. Scruggs Lange in 2017.

Related Materials

The Peabody Archives also holds the papers of Ortmann's daughter, Dorothea Ortmann-Seletzky, who was a pianist and music teacher. Contact the archivist for more information.

Processing Information

This collection is unprocessed. Contact the Peabody Archives for more information.

Guide to the Otto Ortmann papers
Kerri Sheehan
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Peabody Archives Repository

Peabody Institute
1 E. Mount Vernon Place
Baltimore MD 21202 USA