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Music, Theater, Dance: An Illustrated Guide

Public Events and Publications

The information in this guide is based on a 1993 publication and has not been updated.

For almost seven decades, the Music Division of the Library of Congress has presented an extraordinary series of chamber music concerts that have literally made music history, setting international standards for performance, composition, and broadcasting. Our concerts have featured artists whose names are now legendary--Gregor Piatigorsky, Artur Rubinstein, the Budapest String Quartet, George Szell, Nadia Boulanger, Clifford Curzon, Nathan Milstein, Leopold Stokowski, Claudio Arrau, Leonard Bernstein, Leontyne Price, the Juilliard String Quartet, the Beaux Arts Trio, and many others. Our broadcast series is the nation's oldest, and the first of its kind to be heard nationwide; commissions from Music Division foundations have become standards of the international concert repertoire. Lectures, symposia, and festivals sponsored by the Music Division have attracted participants from around the world and enlarged the art and scholarship of music. In recent years, the scope of these public programs has expanded to include exhibits, facsimile publications, and recordings.

While the last quarter century has seen an astounding blossoming of chamber music of all kinds in the United States, it is the Library of Congress that claims just title as the first national venue for creating, presenting, and preserving chamber music--an unbroken and continuing tradition of excellence. That tradition has encouraged present-day benefactors to join earlier philanthropists in supporting further commissions, concerts, and collections of musical manuscripts and documentary archives.

Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge founded the Library's concert series in 1925 with the gift of funds to build the Coolidge Auditorium, the site of more than 2,000 concerts to date. Her vision, dedication, and generosity opened the way for the Library to establish a tradition of excellence in the performance of chamber music in America. Mrs. Coolidge was noted for her patronage of chamber music competitions, performances, and festivals throughout the United States and Europe; since 1925, Coolidge Foundation presentations have helped to place the Library of Congress at the forefront of American cultural institutions.

In 1935, Gertrude Clarke Whittall gave the Library a quartet of Stradivari instruments; later, with the addition of a fifth instrument, she endowed a foundation to ensure their use in public concerts; through radio broadcasts, these instruments would soon be heard by a large national audience, played first by the Budapest String Quartet, and later by the Juilliard String Quartet, which inherited the Budapest's legacy as artists-in-residence. In 1982 the Beaux Arts Trio became the second ensemble to take up residence at the Library.

Throughout its history the Music Division's chamber series has balanced strong commitments to both the traditional repertoire and to music by American composers, with an emphasis on new compositions. Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, and Ned Rorem are but three of the many composers who have appeared at the Library as performers in premieres of their own works. The McKim Fund, established by the violinist Leonora Jackson McKim, has commissioned forty-five works for violin and piano from American composers. Since 1984, concerts celebrating the Division's Special Collections have showcased music by George and Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, and other important figures of the American musical theater. The 1992-1993 season inaugurated a new jazz series, with a concert devoted to the music of Charles Mingus.

The Music Division's is the oldest chamber music broadcast series in the United States, with a long and distinguished history going back more than sixty years to the early days of broadcasting in this country. Trial broadcasts began as early as 1930, from the NBC studios in New York; the first live, national broadcast from the Coolidge Auditorium came three years later, on April 24, 1933: the first American appearance of the Adolf Busch String Quartet, performing works by Beethoven, Busch, and Pizzetti. By the early 1940s the Music Division had established the first international broadcasts of chamber music, with Canada and Latin America as the first recipients. Regular weekly broadcasts began with the 1948 season, and have continued without interruption to the present.

Concerts from the Library of Congress now reaches millions of listeners around the world, distributed via satellite to 120 U.S. cities each season through the American Public Radio Network. Since 1990, a special series of archival broadcasts has featured some of the historic moments from Library concerts--Leontyne Price performing with Samuel Barber, the American debut of Béla Bartók, the premiere of Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring by the Martha Graham Company in 1944, among dozens of others. These archival broadcasts have been aired by networks in France, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Bulgaria, and the former Soviet Union.

Recordings are becoming an increasingly important element in the Music Division's public programs; four separate series are now being produced. Our Musical Past features reissues of Karl Krueger's recordings of American orchestral music, originally released by the Society for the Preservation of the American Musical Heritage; the repertoire highlights unusual or lesser-known works: nineteenth-century brass band music, conducted by Frederick Fennell, William Grant Still's Afro-American Symphony, and the Gaelic Symphony of Mrs. H. H. A. Beach.

Chamber Music from the Library of Congress, distributed by Koch International, offers performances recorded in the Coolidge Auditorium by the American Chamber Players--a mixture of classic and modern works, including John Harbison's Twilight Music, for horn, violin, and piano, and the two piano quintets of Ernest Bloch. Classic Performances spotlights the Music Division's concert archives, with legendary performances by such artists as African-American soprano Dorothy Maynor, Leopold Stokowski and The Symphony of the Air, and Zino Francescatti performing with Robert Casadesus.

The Music Division is a collaborator in The Leonore Gershwin/Library of Congress Recording and Publishing Project, a new series of recordings of vintage musicals by George and Ira Gershwin, produced by Elektra-Nonesuch and Roxbury Recordings, established by Leonore Gershwin. Girl Crazy, Strike Up the Band, Lady, Be Good!, and Pardon My English have been carefully restored using original sources in the Division's collections; performers for these recordings are specialists in the musical styles of the Gershwin era. New recordings of works commissioned by the Library of Congress also receive support from the McKim Fund and other Library foundations.

Publications issued by the Music Division include facsimile reproductions of important manuscripts in its collections: the Brahms Violin Concerto; the Mozart Gran Partita, K.361 (Serenade for 13 Instruments); and the Mendelssohn Octet. The most recent facsimile, "Johannes Brahms: Three Lieder on Poems of Adolf Friedrich von Schack," was published in 1983, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the composer's birth--part of a celebration that included an international Brahms Conference and Festival. Other publications include bibliographies (The Music Manuscripts, First Editions, and Correspondence of Franz Liszt in the Collections of the Music Division, Library of Congress), and Louis Charles Elson lectures given by some of the world's leading musical scholars--Karl Geiringer, Jacques Barzun, Jaap Kunst, Donald Grout, and Egon Wellesz, among others.

Foundations such as the Coolidge, Elson, Moldenhauer, Sonneck, and Whittall support the publication of scholarly books, monographs, editions, and essays. Recent publications of this nature include Brahms Studies: Analytical and Historical Perspectives: Papers Delivered at the International Brahms Conference, Washington, D.C., May 1983 (Oxford University Press); The Complete Works of William Billings (The American Musicological Society and the Colonial Society of Massachusetts); A Celebration of American Music: Words and Music in Honor of H. Wiley Hitchcock (University of Michigan Press); and American Sacred Music Imprints, 1698-1810: A Bibliography (American Antiquarian Society).