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Home / Authors, Composers and Clinicians / DRINKER, Henry(1880-1965)
DRINKER, Henry(1880-1965)
Picture About DRINKER, Henry(1880-1965)

 

Drinker, Henry (15 Sept. 1880-9 Mar. 1965), attorney, author, and musicologist, was born Henry Sandwith Drinker, Jr., in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Henry S. Drinker, Sr., and Ernesta Beaux. Henry Sr. was an engineer and attorney who became general counsel of the Lehigh Valley Railroad when Henry Jr. was five years old; he later served for many years as president of Lehigh University. The Drinkers were a prominent Philadelphia Quaker family whose roots extended back to colonial times. Ernesta Beaux's background was quite different: The daughter of an impoverished French émigré painter, she had grown up in genteel poverty in Philadelphia, supported by an aunt and by her older sister, Cecilia Beaux, who became a noted portrait artist. Following Ernesta's marriage, her sister painted numerous portraits of the Drinker family.

Ernesta Beaux Drinker was musically gifted, and she passed on her love for Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and other composers to her six children. The eldest, Henry Jr., known as Harry, was especially receptive, becoming an accomplished pianist at an early age. Music as well as the law would become twin passions throughout his life. Harry Drinker's siblings followed other avenues to equal prominence: His sister Catherine Drinker Bowen became a prize-winning biographer; another sister, Ernesta, a much-sought-after beauty, married the diplomat William Bullitt; and his brothers Philip and Cecil Kent Drinker became noted scientists at Harvard.

Harry Drinker grew up in a house on the campus of Haverford College in suburban Philadelphia. Though Henry Sr. had no connection to the Quaker college, he was a good friend of the president, Isaac Sharpless, who reportedly had the house built for the Drinker family. Life in the Drinker household, managed by Ernesta Drinker with affectionate discipline, was cultured and comfortable. Art, music, literature, and sport were part of the daily routine. As in every pursuit he undertook, Harry Drinker was a skilled ice skater and a proficient sailor; sailing became a lifelong hobby.

After attending local schools, Drinker entered Haverford at the age of sixteen and distinguished himself as both an athlete and a scholar. Though he might have hoped to make a career of music, he did not seem to object to his father's insistence that he study law. Drinker duly enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, graduating in 1903. With his father's reluctant blessing he spent part of the three-year course attending classes at Harvard Law School.

In 1904 Drinker joined the firm Dickson, Beitler, and McCouch in Philadelphia, where he practiced corporation law. He became a partner in the firm in 1918. Over the years Drinker rose to senior partner, and the firm was renamed Drinker, Biddle, and Reath. In his late twenties Drinker married Sophie Lewis Hutchinson, a member of one of the city's most distinguished families. His wife was also musical--they had courted by playing four-hand Mozart duets--and the marriage was reportedly a happy one. The couple had five children.

During a legal career that lasted more than six decades, Drinker successfully argued numerous cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, representing J.P. Morgan and Company, General Foods, U.S. Steel, and other major corporations. Beginning in 1927, he also served as counsel to the University of Pennsylvania. By his own admission, Drinker, a specialist in interstate commerce law, was not especially interested in legal philosophy; what engaged him were the fine points of legal argument. A master of the brief--to him, it was akin to the finest literature--he reveled in the construction and presentation of meticulously prepared cases.

In addition to his memorable briefs, Drinker wrote several major books on the law. These included A Treatise on the Interstate Commerce Act and Digest of Decisions Construing the Same (3 vols., 1909-10) and Legal Ethics (1953); both were considered standard texts in their respective fields. He was also the author of Some Observations on the Four Freedoms of the First Amendment (1957).

Drinker's passion for music was nearly as great as his enthusiasm for the law. During his lifetime he was recognized as a leading musicologist and published numerous music-related books. These included translated and annotated scores of most of Bach's choral works and all of Mozart's choral music, Robert Schumann's songs, Franz Schubert's and Hugo Wolf's solo songs, and Johannes Brahms's vocal works. Drinker also published a major study of Brahms's chamber music.

A talented baritone, Drinker was especially interested in choral music, and during the 1920s he organized "singing parties" that gathered regularly at the spacious Drinker home in Merion, a Philadelphia suburb, to sing choral masterworks. Formally named the Accademia dei Dilettanti di Musica (the Academy of Musical Dilettantes) in 1930, the group included as many as 150 singers, gifted amateurs as well as the occasional professional. The Accademia was accompanied by an orchestral ensemble that often included his pianist wife, his sister Catherine (on violin), and other family members. It continued for three decades before disbanding in 1960.

Drinker's reputation as both a musicologist and a music lover won him a wide circle of friends in the world of music, including the Trapp Family Singers, a popular singing ensemble that emigrated from Austria. Their relationship began in 1939, when Georg von Trapp, the patriarch, arrived with his family at Ellis Island and needed assistance with their visas. He called upon Drinker to help them, and a lifelong friendship was born. The von Trapps, along with other noted singers and ensembles, were frequent attendees at the singing parties and other events at the Drinker home.

By all accounts Drinker had a larger-than-life personality. An intense and jovial extrovert, he laughed and cried with equal ease--he was often moved to tears by music, especially Bach--and he was an avowed sentimentalist. On one memorable occasion, when his wife was traveling west by rail with one of their children, he had a box of orchids--then a relatively rare flower, not widely available--together with effusive messages of love delivered to her at every station along the route.

An aficionado of the British writer Anthony Trollope, Drinker wrote the introduction to a modern edition of Trollope's novel Orley Farm, published in 1950 by Alfred A. Knopf. In addition, two addresses that he presented to the Grolier Club in New York City--"Trollope's America" and "The Lawyers of Anthony Trollope"--were published together in book form in 1950. Drinker also prepared, wrote, and edited The Paintings and Drawings of Cecilia Beaux (1955), a catalogue raisonné that includes an essay on his aunt's work.

Drinker was active in professional organizations, including the American Bar Association, serving for many years as chairman of its committee on professional ethics and grievances. During his lifetime Drinker also served on the boards of Haverford College, the University of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Juilliard School, and the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences. In 1938 he founded the Drinker Library of Choral Music, a collection numbering some twenty thousand volumes that he later donated to the Free Library of Philadelphia. In 1962 the Henry S. Drinker Music Center at Haverford College was dedicated in his honor.

Drinker died at his home in Merion, Pennsylvania.