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Music, Theater, Dance: An Illustrated Guide

This guide highlights the most unique and diverse treasures of the Music Division and provides additional links to primary source materials available online.


The information in this guide is based on a 1993 publication and has not been updated.
Geraldine Farrar Portrait by Friedrich Augut von Kaulbach. Oil on canvas. Geraldine Farrar Collection. Library of Congress Music Division.
In later life, Farrar wrote of this painting: "I hated to sit for this picture; even a quick photo was a chore. As I recall with von Kaulbach, we enlivened the sitting hours with matters of the moment, musical and artistic .... These sittings lasted from an hour to three or four, according to the light and discretion of the artist. I was then of such lively temperament that an induced position after a time would get artificial to my mind, and I would beg for a little diversion and walk about the studio."

The Music Division—formally created in 1896 and established in quarters within the Library's Jefferson Building upon its completion in 1897--traces the origin of its collections to the thirteen books on music literature and theory that were contained in Thomas Jefferson's library, purchased by the Congress in 1815. At that time, the cultivation and development of a music library were scarcely matters of great importance. By the closing years of the century, however, some 400,000 music items had been added to the Library's collections, largely effected through the deposits under the Copyright Act. Today, the Music Division's collections number close to eight million items, including the classified music and book collections, music and literary manuscripts, microforms, and copyright deposits.

In his annual report for 1897, Librarian of Congress John Russell Young wrote that "This [music] department is as yet an experiment, but there is reason to believe that with proper care ... it may become one of the most important...." A year later, in his report for 1898, Mr. Young said that the new department of music's "... growth thus far has resulted in the foundation of what is destined to be one of the great musical libraries of the world...," and that "Music in its best sense is a science belonging to all ages, as well as all nationalities and conditions of men, and the Library of Congress should contain its earliest as well as its latest and most complete expression." These prescient remarks have been, and continue to be, fulfilled, and indeed have provided touchstones for the Library's cultivation of the art and study of music in all its aspects.

As the vision of Librarian John Russell Young was remarkable, so was that of Oscar George Theodore Sonneck, appointed chief of the now recognized Music Division in 1902. Through his extraordinary energy and wisdom, he charted a course for organizing the collections and for vigorous acquisitions programs that has been sustained for nine decades.

Benjamin Britten. Photograph by Andrée Griffin.Undated. Aaron Copland Collection. Library of Congress Music Division.

Beyond showing the highlights of the collections of music that have been assembled over the years, this guide also reveals the single most important change in the Music Division's mission that has evolved since the opening of the present century: the addition of musical performance and the creation of new music. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge and Gertrude Clarke Whittall, within the span of a decade, 1925-1935, established through their philanthropy to the American people unrivaled means for concerts and commissions that continue to flourish, and indeed have spawned similar foundations in the Library for the art of music. The Library of Congress is unique among national libraries in that it embraces the complete range of music--from creating new works to having them performed and placing the original manuscripts in the collections in perpetuity, for the use of succeeding generations. The circle is complete in many cases when the new work is chosen for recording, and thus for even wider dissemination to artists, scholars, and music lovers.

Mrs. Coolidge and Mrs. Whittall, beyond their foundations created for musical performance, commissioning, and scholarship, gave magnificent collections of manuscripts that they had collected in the course of their devotion to music. With their gifts of musical materials--including Mrs. Whittall's Stradivari instruments--they instantly placed magnets in the collections that have drawn hundreds of other rich collections to the Music Division, additions that range from Aaron Copland's Rodeo to the Guarneri violin of Fritz Kreisler, from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story to George Gershwin's An American in Paris, from Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes to William Schuman's The Mighty Casey, and from Jerome Kern's Show Boat to Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! The generous spirits of Mrs. Coolidge and Mrs. Whittall continue to find expression in succeeding generations of benefactors.

Serge Koussevitzky. Photograph by Andrée Griffin. Undated. Serge Koussevitzky Collection. Library of Congress Music Division.

Not only is music research and study carried forward in the Music Division, but also research in theater and dance. Staff specialists in theater and dance guide readers to materials housed in the Music Division as well as elsewhere in the Library's collections. The sections on theater and dance in this guide reflect the Library's growing commitment to a broad interpretation of the performing arts.


Contributors of chapters to this guide comprise Gail L. Freunsch, Oxana Horodecka, Anne E. McLean, Robert E. Sheldon, Wayne D. Shirley, Raymond A. White, Vicky Wulff, and Walter Zvonchenko.