The J. Merrill Knapp Endowment Fund was established in 1995 with a $20,000 bequest from the estate of our long time conductor and supporter, Merrill Knapp. The Board resolution establishing the goals of the Knapp Fund states that it should be used to maintain and expand our music library, or to rent music for our sessions. Prior to having the Knapp Fund, the Program Committee was often restricted to scheduling works already in the library or that we could borrow for free. The Knapp Fund has allowed us to select works without regard to cost. Over the life of the Fund, we have made major progress in achieving the goal of acquiring complete sets of orchestral and vocal scores for the works we perform most often.
John Merrill Knapp (May 9, 1914 – March 7, 1993) was an American musicologist and academic, who was considered an authority on the life and works of George Frideric Handel. Born in New York City, Knapp graduated from the Hotchkiss School before entering Yale University where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1936, and was a member of Skull and Bones. He then taught briefly at The Thacher School in Ojai, California before returning to Yale to assume the post of assistant director of the Yale Glee Club. Eventually, Knapp left Yale to pursue graduate studies at Columbia University where he earned a Master of Music degree. He served as an operations officer in the Third Fleet of the United States Navy during World War II (1942-1946); earning two service stars and a commendation ribbon.
In 1946 Knapp was hired as a music instructor at Princeton University. He remained at Princeton for the next 36 years, working as an assistant professor (1947-1953), associate professor (1953-1961), and full professor (1961-1982). He was chairman of Princeton’s music department from 1949-1951, and served as Dean of the whole college from 1961-1966. He served as director of the Princeton Glee Club from 1941-1943 and 1946-1952. Upon Knapp’s retirement in 1982 he was named a professor emeritus of music at Princeton. He died of prostate cancer in 1993 at Princeton Medical Center.
Professor Knapp started conducting PSMA early in his time at Princeton. For many years, he conducted all the sessions. During his time with the PSMA, he was gradually “coerced” into letting someone else conduct “occasionally”. By the mid-1960’s about half of the Society’s sessions were being conducted by someone else. Even after the Society switched to using different conductors for each session, he continued to conduct every Messiah. Knapp’s last session with PSMA was in December of 1992 when he conducted Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. Between 1965 and 1993 Professor Knapp conducted PSMA 63 times. We have no records before 1965 but it is likely that he conducted most of the sessions from 1950 onward, so his total may well have been over 100!