“It is always very encouraging to find personalities like Paul Fromm who are entirely oriented towards the music of our century. He devoted his time and his efforts to this cause, with considerable success, and in spite of all the difficulties one generally encounters in this field.”
—Pierre Boulez, February 24, 1988
Born in Kitzingen, Germany, in 1906, a fifth-generation member of a family of vintners, Fromm was early an amateur of music. Given piano lessons as a child, he delighted in playing the four-hand repertoire, and transcriptions of the standard repertoire with his brother Herbert, who later pursued a career as a composer. Fromm became aware of contemporary music in the early 1920s when he first heard a performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring: “It made a twentieth century man of me.” From 1921 to 1926 he attended concerts of contemporary music in Germany's Black Forest at die Donaueschingen Festival, where much of the advanced music of the period could be heard.1
Fromm first hoped to become a patron of music in Germany; he was planning the establishment of a music foundation in his native land when he was forced to flee the Nazi pogroms in 1938. Settling in Chicago, he went into business as a wine importer, co-founding the Geeting and Fromm Corporation in 1939, founding the Great Lakes Wine Company in 1943. In 1944 he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.2
Fromm’s background made him a unique patron of contemporary music. As Elliott Carter explained, “Maybe Paul’s professional familiarity with the world of wine gave him hope that music, like winemaking, could be transplanted here. For like music, wine has its very elaborate European methods of growing, pruning, pressing, fermenting, aging, and bottling. And like music, its various years, locations, and producers have very different characteristics.”3
David Gable described Paul Fromm as a modest and generous patron, and he re-quoted the following statement Fromm made to composer Arthur Berger in 1959:
I can now buy happiness for others. The employer can now serve his employees by giving them spiritual leadership in return for their service. Otherwise we shall succumb in the next twenty-five years to a new lonesomeness, a spiritual bankruptcy. I don’t want to be thanked for what I do. Nothing embarrasses me more. The composer is the one who deserves our thanks. I despise the relationship between Santa Claus and deserving child. This is not social work. Ours is not an aid society. I fulfill my obligations to social work by running a therapeutic nursing service for mentally disturbed children.4
Paul Fromm was dearly beloved by composers for his unprecedented support of their work. After Fromm's death on July 4, 1987, a documentary memorial volume of essays by and about Paul Fromm as well as memorial tributes was published by the Harvard Music Department titled A Life for New Music. In the preface to this volume, Christoph Wolff wrote, “‘A Life for New Music,’--no other phrase could capture more appropriately and meaningfully the deep enthusiasm, inspiring dedication, vigorous efforts, and generous benefactions that have marked Paul Fromm’s lifelong commitment to the cause of contemporary music... We mourned the loss of a close friend--to some of us a personal, to all of us a congenial one.”5
1. Excerpted from David Gable, “Paul Fromm in American Musical Life” in A Life for New Music: Selected Papers of Paul Fromm, ed. David Gable and Christoph Wolff (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), ix.
2. Gable, x.
3. Elliot Carter, "In Memoriam Paul Fromm," 1. Paul Fromm, "The Fromm Music Foundation: Past, Present, Future" in A Life for New Music: Selected Papers of Paul Fromm, ed. David Gable and Christoph Wolff (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), 9.
4. Originally quoted in Arthur Berger, “What Mozart Didn’t Have: The Story of the Fromm Music Foundation,” High Fidelity, IX/2 (1959), p. 43.
5. David Gable, “Paul Fromm in American Musical Life” in A Life for New Music: Selected Papers of Paul Fromm, ed. David Gable and Christoph Wolff (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), vii.