Music and Art inspire a romance, a dream, and a place.
A banker and eclectic collector marries a fiercely independent and unconventional woman, together they create a unique haven for culture, artists, and the arts. A fairy tale? No, Caramoor! Learn how we came to be by understanding the story of Walter & Lucie Rosen, Caramoor, Lucie’s Theremin, and the Arts & Culture Collection.
Walter & Lucie Rosen
Caramoor, the enchanting estate tucked away in Katonah, New York, was the country estate created by Walter T. and Lucie Bigelow Rosen to express their passion for music and the arts. To understand the many components that make the estate so exceptional one has to learn about its founders, their love for each other, and their passion for music, the arts, and all things beautiful.
Walter Tower Rosen, a successful international banker, musician, and art collector, met Lucie Bigelow Dodge in July 1914, at her parents’ summer home in Saint Anne de Bellevue, Québec, Canada. Lucie, also a gifted musician, came from a prominent New York family. It was love at first sight for Walter, 39, and Lucie, 24; they married just six weeks after meeting.
Walter Rosen was born in Berlin, Germany in 1875. To pursue the family banking business, his parents, Max Tower Rosen and Flora Thalmann Rosen, moved their family to New York City when Walter was 10 years old. Walter was a very intelligent young man, entering Harvard at 16 and graduating in three years. Soon after, Walter received his law degree from New York Law. After graduating, Walter Rosen started his own law firm. Shortly after founding the firm, Walter decided to join the family business — the international banking firm of Ladenburg, Thalmann and Co. — as a partner; he later became the senior partner. Walter was a specialist in railroads, serving on several boards, and for many years was the Chairman of the Board of the Mexican National Railways.
By the time Walter was in his thirties, he was successful, well-traveled, wealthy, sophisticated, fluent in several languages, and a lover of music and the arts. He was a very talented musician and even considered a career as a professional pianist at one point. Throughout his life, Walter Rosen remained devoted to the arts and was a patron of several cultural institutions. He was a charter member of the Society of Friends of Music in New York City, founded in 1913, and was a director of Stage Society later known as the Theater Guild. However, his biggest contribution to the arts and music, in particular, was the creation of the Walter and Lucie Rosen Foundation, now Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts.
Lucie Bigelow Dodge was born in 1890 to a socially prominent New York family. Her maternal grandfather, John Bigelow was an author, editor and co-owner of the New York Evening Post and Minister to France under President Abraham Lincoln. Later in his long life, Mr. Bigelow was one of the co-founders of the New York Public Library. Lucie’s paternal grandfather was Charles Cleveland Dodge, a General during the American Civil War, and later a partner in Dodge Phelps Company. In 1902, Lucie’s mother, Flora, decided to divorce her husband, Charles S. Dodge, and moved with her two children, Lucie and Johnny, to Sioux Falls, South Dakota— one of the few states at the time granting divorces. Flora had fallen in love with Lionel Guest, an English subject several years her junior, who was the fourth son of the 1st Baron of Wimborne and through his mother, Lady Cornelia Spencer-Churchill, a first cousin to Winston Churchill.
In 1905, shortly after the divorce was granted, Flora married Guest and the family moved to Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue on the island of Montreal, Canada, where Lionel had settled. Lucie enrolled at the Royal Victoria College and at the Royal Conservatory studying the violin. She later enrolled at McGill University studying French, German, the classics as well as modeling [sculpture]. Flora started a working farm, raising cows, chickens and ducks, as well as vegetables, and the family made time to work on the farm—work Lucie enjoyed. In addition, Flora authored books and wrote articles to be published in Canadian magazines.
Lucie soon followed in her mother’s footsteps and by the time she turned seventeen she was writing articles and being paid for her work. In 1907 Lucie was very busy in Montreal attending theater, opera, dance performances, and museums. She become a big hockey fan, attending most of the games on the newly built arena. Lucie and her brother would spend most of the summers with her grandfather either at his New York City residence at Gramercy Park or at the “Squirrels,” his estate in Highland Falls, NY, where Lucie would type her late grandmother’s journals. These vacations were a welcome rest from Lucie’s daily life, as living with her mother became increasingly difficult. In January 1908 the family made a trip to New York during the debutante season to present Lucie to New York society, where her Grandfather Bigelow was then known as the “Grand Old Man.” Eighteen-year-old Lucie had a marvelous time attending many debutante parties including Mrs. C. Vanderbilt’s dance party, Mrs. Jack Astor’s ball and many more.
In 1911 the family moved to London, keeping the house in Ste Anne-de-Bellevue as a summer home. Lucie was 21 years of age. Lucie’s mother was a very controlling woman and could not understand her daughter’s fierce independent streak, and the relationship between mother and daughter became very strained. Distressed, Lucie ran away from home in 1913, renting a room in a rooming house in the West End while trying to find a job to support herself. Her mother alerted Scotland Yard and a week later she was found. It made news on both sides of the Atlantic and the front page of The New York Times. As a condition of her returning to her mother, Lucie stipulated that she wanted to sail at once to New York and live with her beloved aunt Grace Bigelow. Her mother agreed and Lucie soon sailed for New York.
In the summer of 1914, with some trepidation, Lucie ventured to visit her mother and stepfather at their summer home. Johnny Dodge had invited Walter Rosen, an acquaintance of his, to drive to Canada to spend the weekend at the family’s summer home in Ste. Anne de Bellevue. Walter and Lucie met in July 1914 and it was love at the first sight. He was 39 and she was 24. Six weeks later they were married in New York City.
Remarkably, Walter and Lucie shared the same interests, especially music and the arts, and had a loving, happy life together. They honeymooned in Oyster Bay at the Rosen’s family homestead and settled in New York City in the townhouse Walter had been sharing with his brother, Felix. In 1915 a son was born, Walter Bigelow Rosen (young Walter) and two years later a daughter, Anne Bigelow Rosen. That same year the Rosens moved to a newly restored townhouse at 35 West 54th Street, a residence they maintained throughout their lives. Soon they started hosting soirées for their vast number of friends, many of whom were in the art world: sculptors, painters, authors, directors, actors and of course composers and musicians. They loved to entertain and enjoyed dressing up in costume, many of which are still in the Caramoor collection.
Lucie was an unconventional woman and was very interested in anything new the art world had to offer, be it fashion, dance, visual arts or music. In the late 1920s the Rosens met a young Soviet scientist named Leon Theremin, who had caused a stir in Europe before arriving in New York. He had invented one of the first electronic instruments, called the theremin. Lucie Rosen was mesmerized by the unusual instrument. She became Theremin’s pupil and an accomplished thereminist in her own right, performing throughout the tri-state area and on three European tours.
The Rosens traveled often to Europe where Walter had many friends and business associates, but they treasured Venice, where they spent every September at the Grand Hotel in an apartment facing the Grand Canal and equipped with a Steinway piano. Walter was an avid collector and every summer he would embark on shopping sprees throughout Europe. One summer he met an art and antique dealer called Adolph Loewi, and this long-lasting relationship intensified Walter’s passion for collecting. Through Loewi, Walter acquired most of the collection at the Rosen House, from architectural elements, doors, ceilings, windows and of course entire period rooms, to sculptures, paintings, tapestries and furniture, spanning many centuries and countries.
In the summer of 1928 while in France, the Rosens decided that time had come to purchase an estate near New York City where they could visit on weekends and spend the summers. Upon their return, Walter mentioned this to his former law partner Charles Hoyt, to which Mr. Hoyt replied his late mother’s estate in Katonah — a hamlet in the town of Bedford — was for sale and encouraged the Rosens to take a look. The estate, “Caramoor,” was named after his mother, Caroline Moore Hoyt. Charles Hoyt, a collector like Walter, knew of his love for all things Italian and thought it would be a perfect fit. The Hoyt estate was over 100 acres, and included an arts and crafts house, which did not suit the Rosens, but they absolutely loved the gardens. Soon after purchasing the estate, the Rosens began to enjoy country life, playing tennis, horseback riding, reading, listening to and creating music and entertaining friends.
Lucie and Walter’s son, “Young” Walter, graduated from Harvard University, followed by Yale Law School. Shortly after graduating from law school, Germany was at war with the rest of Europe and he felt compelled to participate in the war efforts. He volunteered for the Royal Canadian Air Force, before the US involvement, and was stationed in England upon completing his training. On August 16, 1944, returning to England from a successful mission over Germany, his plane crashed and Walter died two days later of his wounds. He is buried at Harrogate, Yorkshire, England.
It was then that his parents decided to go ahead with the idea to bequeath Caramoor after their deaths as a center for music and the arts in memory of their son. Like most of the great houses of Europe, the Rosens already had the practice of opening Caramoor to anyone who would ask to see the house and collection, and in 1946 the first public concert took place in the Music Room. Also to celebrate their son’s life, the Rosens decided to create the Walter Bigelow Rosen Professor of Music at Harvard. After many years of arduous work, Walter Rosen was able to see it come to fruition just a few months before he died. The first appointed professor was the composer Randall Thompson. Chaya Czernowin, professor of composition, currently holds the post.
Just before his death, Walter Rosen was looking into having a new, larger theater built on the estate, a task he wasn’t able to accomplish. Lucie Rosen made it her mission to see her late husband’s wish carried out, and in 1958 the Venetian Theater was inaugurated with a performance by the contralto Marian Anderson. Even though in great pain from a terrible car accident just a couple of months prior, Lucie personally greeted all in the audience, a practice she continued throughout her life. Under her leadership, the Music Festival flourished and she continued to be a major force in the intellectual life in New York City, maintaining a keen interest in the arts and artists. Lucie Bigelow Rosen died in 1968 at her residence in Manhattan.
The Rosens’ daughter Anne was for many years on the Board of Trustees at Caramoor and when her mother died she was instrumental in getting her parents’ country home opened to the public. She brought in curators from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to catalogue all the objects in the collection and was influential in the construction of the New Wing to accommodate three period rooms and important objects from the Rosens’ townhouse. Anne Stern died in Maine in 2009 at the age of 92.
Caramoor is the legacy of Walter and Lucie Rosen, who established the estate and built a great house as its centerpiece, filling it with treasures collected on their travels. Walter Rosen was the master planner, bringing to reality his dream of creating a place to entertain friends from around the world. Their legendary musical evenings were the seeds of today’s Summer Music Festival, held annually on the estate.
Walter Rosen’s friend Charles Hoyt first introduced the Rosens to the property. Hoyt’s mother had an estate in Katonah, a village in the town of Bedford, New York that she was looking to sell. It was named after her – “Caramoor” for Caroline Moore Hoyt. Charles Hoyt, a collector like Walter, certainly knew of his love for all things Italian. The Hoyt estate, which was more than 100 acres, had a beautifully laid-out Italianate garden, with rows of tall cedars mimicking the ubiquitous cypresses of Italy. The Rosens fell in love with this garden, still found at Caramoor today, and bought the property. From 1929 to 1939, Mr. Rosen designed and built the rambling stucco villa now known as the Rosen House.
In 1945, the Rosens bequeathed the Caramoor estate as a center for music and art in memory of their son who had died the previous year. In 1946, the Music Room was opened to the public for three summer concerts. The Summer Music Festival grew from those intimate concerts the Rosens shared with their friends at their home. After Walter Rosen died in 1951, Lucie Rosen continued to expand the Festival. During the 1950s, outdoor concerts were presented in the Spanish Courtyard. Caramoor’s fame continued to grow and seats became impossible to obtain. Prompted by The New York Times critic Howard Taubman, Lucie Rosen decided to make Caramoor more available to the public, and she had a larger space – the Venetian Theater – constructed. The theater opened in 1958.
Caramoor’s historic house opened to the public in 1971, three years after Lucie Rosen’s death. The Rosens’ daughter, Anne Stern, and many professionals continued the task of cataloguing, conserving and interpreting its collection for several years afterward. In 1974 a new wing was added to include rooms and objects d’art from the Rosens’ New York City residence.
What is now known as Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts was originally created by a foundation established by the Rosens to operate the estate in perpetuity. Lucie Rosen once said that people feel they have gone to another country and another time when they visit Caramoor. Because the Rosens were touched by this, by the obvious pleasure their friends took in Caramoor’s beauty, they decided to leave their home as a legacy for all to enjoy after they had gone. It is to the vision and energy of this inspirational couple that thousands owe their enjoyment of Caramoor each year.
Since January 2010, consultants have been hired and a thorough examination of the house and its contents, including the Rosens’ correspondences, has begun. Already many long-forgotten or unknown facts about the Rosens and their lives have been revealed. Through these discoveries, large and small, the role of the Rosen House continues to evolve.
Caramoor founder Lucie Bigelow Rosen (1890-1968) was a daring maverick. In the late 1920s she was smitten with “a new sound in the world” – produced by the futuristic electronic musical instrument named after its inventor, Soviet scientist and spy, Leon Theremin (Lev Sergeyevich Termen -1896-1993.)
Walter and Lucie Rosen met Theremin at a soirée in 1929 in New York City. The couple were so impressed by this new music and the ground-breaking instrument – a wooden box with two antennae, played by the waving of the hands through the electromagnetic fields and without actually touching the instrument – and they were also so taken by its inventor that they offered Theremin the use of one of their five brownstones on West 54th Street, as his studio and residence. At the time Theremin was in a financial bind so the idea of a very small rent appealed to him and immediately accepted the offer.
Shortly after, Lucie Rosen set out to master the instrument becoming one of Theremins’ pupils as well as a patron and advocate. Her first performance was as a member of Theremin’s Carnegie Hall ensemble.
By 1932 Mrs. Rosen was frequently performing in New York as a soloist, but it wasn’t until 1935 that she made her official New York debut recital at Town Hall, with Frank Chatterton as her accompanist. “Mrs. Rosen wove with eloquent hands the magical-seeing spell,” the New York World-Telegram wrote, “and the theremin responded to her summons with some of the most strictly musical sounds it has yet produced in our concert rooms.” The New York Times conceded “the instrument got out of gear and its inventor, Leon Theremin, was called onto the stage to set it right…Mrs. Rosen was in command of its resources all evening. She plays the theremin, not only with an awareness of its possibilities, but with a knowledge of music.”*
That same year, Lucie Rosen gave a very successful concert in London, deciding then to follow up the following year on a European tour. She played to enthusiastic reviews in Naples, Rome, Venice, Zurich, Munich, Budapest, Hamburg, Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and London.
Lucie Rosen also continued performing in the United States giving numerous concerts in New York City and throughout the Northeast again to rave reviews “Lucie Rosen is one of the most original women in New York’s social world,” the New York Evening Journal observed. “She has a very curly blond hair which fuzzes out into a wide halo around her delicate and ethereal face…her robe de style evening gowns are said to be designed by Mr. Rosen.”(February 3, 1936)*
By late 1938 the Rosen’s support for Theremin was vanishing. He had a significant amount of unpaid taxes and the FBI was monitoring him. He was also seriously behind in his rent payments. Later that year Mr. Rosen wrote Theremin a letter demanding him to vacate the brownstone, and to take all of his possessions with him.
In September of that year, Theremin set sail on the Stary Bolshevik which took him back to the Soviet Union. When he arrived he was sent to a Siberian labor camp. Theremin was put to work on a secret project to create eavesdropping devices to be used by the soviets at the American Embassy. After his release from the camp he briefly took a teaching position at a music conservatory, but was soon expelled by the authorities. In 1991, two years before he died, he visited the United States giving lectures and once again demonstrated the theremin.
During the 30’s and beyond, the theremin was becoming very popular in the States and Europe. Mrs. Rosen continued to maintain a very active performing schedule here and abroad. She commissioned many works for the theremin (Jenö Szanto; Jenö Takács; Mortimer Browning; John Haussermann; Bohuslav Martinu.)
In April 1950 the Rosens traveled to Europe for Lucie Rosen’s third and last European tour, (her second tour took place in 1939,) again crisscrossing the continent…London, Amsterdam, the Hague, Zurich Geneva, Rome and Vienna. Her career lasted over a quarter of a century. Her last concert took place in 1953 in Celina, Ohio.
Just before Leon Theremin fled the country, he completed a new instrument for Lucie Rosen, which she called the September Theremin. It was the most advanced instrument Theremin had built to date. Today the September Theremin is on display at Caramoor’s Rosen House, alongside a Moog Music Etherwave Theremin.
The Arts & Culture Collection
“Caramoor’s Rosen House is really the most wonderful place…I was amazed by what is there, and what is unknown to the art world.” – William Rieder, Curator of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The magnificent rooms at the Rosen House are filled with the extraordinary collection Mr. and Mrs. Rosen amassed through the years: Renaissance, 18th century, and Eastern art objects and furnishings – sculpture, paintings, furniture, exquisite wall coverings, stained glass, Urbino Maiolica, and a robust Asian collection that includes a limestone Head of Kuan Yin, the goddess of compassion and mercy from the Tang dynasty, and an outstanding eight-fold Chinese screen with 40 panels of carved jade set in an original teak frame. The screen (pictured here) is considered unique and depicts the Hills of Immortality, the paradise of the Taoist religion. From Europe, the Rosens imported entire rooms from palaces and country manors.
The 17th century Burgundian Library, exceptional for its vaulted, periwinkle-blue ceiling decorated with 13 biblical scenes. Walls and doors are decorated with 65 additional paintings.
Of special note is the lovely Reception Room, with exquisite hand painted 18th century wallpaper from China, and a suite of 18th century furniture, from a Venetian dressmaker’s shop.
The restored Cabinet Room consisting of lacquered panels, created for the Palazzo Riccasoli in Turin in the middle of the 18th century. Very few of these once numerous lacquered rooms have survived, though they were very fashionable in England, France, Portugal and Germany as well as in Italy.
The Dining Room, lined in stunning 18th-century Chinese wallpaper, made for the European market, features 18th century doors that come from C’Rezzonico in Venice, and are thought to have been designed by Tiepollo.
The palatial Music Room contains sculptures, paintings, wrought iron, stained glass, carved pilasters, and an outstanding collection of Urbino Maiolica. Armchairs from the 17th and 18th century are upholstered in exquisite needlework. Wonderful wood carvings decorate the sgabelli, chests, credenzas, trestle tables, and a magnificent cassapanca created for the marriage of Piero di Bracio Alberti and Cassandra Dino in Florence in 1599. Among the fine artworks are a painting by Lucas Cranach (1472-1533), tin-enameled terra cotta reliefs from the workshop of Andrea della Robbia (1437-1528), a magnificent Birth Tray commemorating the birth of a child ca. 1420 with scenes from Bocaccio’s Teseide, and a great Franco-Flemish tapestry The Holy Family (The Three Maries) from the early 16th century.
In the Master Bedroom the huge gilded bed which once belonged to Cardinal Barberini, later Pope Urban VIII, (1568-1644) takes center stage. In this room, as elsewhere throughout the house, are photographs and portraits of family members, reminding the visitor that the Rosen House was originally a family home.