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The Bonvin Collection

portrait of bonvinRev. Ludwig Bonvin, S.J. (1850-1939) was a well known Jesuit composer and teacher at Canisius College and Canisius High School from 1887 to 1913.  His talents were an important contribution to the College. 

To learn more about the life of Fr. Bonvin, you can read the biography below and also access this Powerpoint Presentation entitled "The Life and Music of Rev. Ludwig Bonvin, S.J."  The Powerpoint was created for Canisius's Fine Arts Week 2003 by Jane Cary, Associate Professor of Fine Arts.

In addition to this Powerpoint Presentation, Professor Cary also provided the Archives with digital sound performances of three of Bonvin's works which can be accessed here:

  • Abend Wird Es Wieder.  Melissa Thorburn, mezzo-soprano, Jane Cary, piano. 
  • Romanze, Opus 19.  Ansgarius Aylward, violin, Jane Cary, piano. 
  • Veni, Jesu, amor mi by Bonvin & Cherubini. Sung by the faculty choir Cantio Sacra, directed by Jane Cary.

The Rev. J. Clayton Murray, S.J. Archives also houses a large collection of Fr. Bonvin's music.  Fr. Bonvin's works available in Archives are listed below.


Ludwig Bonvin was born in Sierre, Switzerland on February 17, 1850.  As a young child, Bonvin took piano lessons for two years but eventually stopped - not because he was disinterested but because his music teacher failed to keep many of his appointments.  These were his only music lessons. 

As Bonvin grew older and it came time for him to choose a career, he decided to enter medicine, a field he was not particularly interested in but was the profession of his father.  One year into his studies, he became sick and was removed to the mountains of Switzerland for recovery.  There, while walking among the woods, he was inspired to write his first composition, "Das Voeglein", "The Little Bird".

After Bonvin's recovery, he decided to study law.  This he did for two years until his religious calling drew him to Exaten, Holland where he began his novitiate with the German Jesuits.  In the third year of his religious life, Bonvin was appointed organist and choirmaster.  It was at this time that Bonvin decided to study music theory, of which he was only able to do ten minutes every day due to the rigorous demands of the novitiate.  After completing his philosophical studies in Holland, Bonvin continued his theological studies in England and was received into the priesthood on August 30, 1885.  During this time, he continued writing his compositions and was in charge of the community choir and children of the parish school.

Sent by his superiors to America, Fr. Bonvin arrived in New York on July 31, 1887.  From 1887 to 1905, he directed the Canisius College choir, from 1888 to 1907 the Canisius College Orchestra, and from 1922 to 1929 the S.H.A. Orchestra at Sacred Heart Academy. 

In 1891, after attending a symphony orchestra concert, Fr. Bonvin decided that he, too, could write orchestration and composed his first orchestral work entitled "In Gehobener Stimmung" (Elevation).  So impressed was the conductor with this piece that he played it at his next concert.  The composition was a success.  A pupil of Lizst, who happened to be present, wrote to him immediately after the concert in an enthusiastic letter of congratulation.

Besides his compositions, Fr. Bonvin contributed extensively to the literature of his music.  His articles and essays were published in the periodicals of several European languages and in America.

After a long and fruitful life, Fr. Bonvin died on February 18, 1939 at the age of eighty-nine.

Kathy Liebner, April 2005.

Bonvin's Compositions

This collection, which is now kept in Miracle Boxes in Canisius’s Archives Storage Room, contains both published and handwritten music scores.  The types of music include:  Fuer Orchester, Hausmusik, Kammermusik, Fuer Violine und Orchestor, Fuer Violine und Pianoforte, Chorwerke, Fuer Singstimme und Pianoforte, Geistliche Chorwerke, Weltliche Chorwerke, Geistliche Lieder, Weltliche Lieder, Duette (orchestral music, chamber music, music for violin and orchestra, music for violin and piano, choral works, music for voice and piano, sacred choral music, secular choral music, sacred folk songs, secular folk songs, duets).

Bonvin’s works were published in both Germany and the United States between 1894 and 1931- his most prolific period being the late 1890’s and the very early 1900’s in Germany.  Publishers include Breitkopf und Haertel in Liepzig, A. Coppenraths Verlag in Regensburg, C.F.W. Siegel’s Musikalienhandlung in Leipzig, Anton Boehm und Sohn in Augsburg, Verlag von L. Schwann in Duesseldorf, The Maenner-Chor Publishing Company in Buffalo, the Dolphin Press in Philadelphia, and McLaughlin and Reilly Company in Boston.

About the Composer:  Ludwig Bonvin, S.J. was a Jesuit priest who taught music at both Canisius College and Canisius High School in Buffalo, New York.

The works were kept in the original order in which they were presented to Canisius College.  Many of the same works can be found in different Miracle Boxes.

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