The Library of Congress >> Performing Arts Reading Room
Welcome (Concerts from the Library of Congress, 2003-2004)
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Janos Starker and Manahem Pressler rehearsing, 1989American composer Milton Babbitt, whose works will be heard this season, once said that he “cared a great deal [about] who listened, but above all how they listened.” Today, we have virtually unlimited access to musics of all types--on CDs, mp3, the Internet, television, radio, and online--music to wake us up, to fill long hours of commuting, to serve as background for practically everything we do. Concerts such as the Library’s series provide an opportunity for listeners to engage interactively with music makers. What sets the Library apart is our extensive collections of manuscripts, first editions, and commissions--music from all ages, styles, and cultures--in short, America’s musical heritage. In bringing this heritage to life, the Library fulfills its role of preserving creativity for future generations.

James H. Billington
The Librarian of Congress

Oil Painting of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge and son Albert by Gari Melchers, n.d.Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, who gave us a marvelous concert hall and Gertrude Clarke Whittall, who donated a priceless set of Stradivari instruments shared a common vision: to foster the classics and to support new music. Their aim and ours was and is to make possible free live performances of music by outstanding artists that might otherwise not be affordable. Today, artists as diverse as Dave Brubeck, Chen Yi, and Frank Zappa--three of the composers featured this season--cross lines that once separated one kind of music from another. As the embodiment of the American musical tradition, the Library’s concert series has increasingly broadened the path to the enjoyment of an eclectic range of musical styles.

Jon Newsom
Chief, Music Division

The Coolidge Auditorium

“No one should live as you and I do without devoting a part of our opportunities to the world.”

-- Letter of February 20, 1924 from Mrs. Coolidge to her son Albert

Photo of the Coolidge Auditorium, from back looking at the stageIn October 1924, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge offered Congress a gift of $60,000 (about $632,000 in today’s dollars) to finance the construction of an auditorium for the Music Division at the Library of Congress. Mrs. Coolidge might not have imagined it would cost more than a million dollars to renovate her gift in 1989-1997. But it is not inconceivable that she could have envisioned the multifarious tapestry that music in America has become since the first concert in October 1925.

Originally designed and built for chamber music, the Coolidge Auditorium today reflects the diversity of American music, featuring artists from a wide range of musical genres: classical music of the past and the present, jazz, gospel and spirituals, blues, traditional and contemporary folk, popular songs and musical theater, soul, dance music, bebop, and rock-and-roll.

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  The Library of Congress >> Performing Arts Reading Room
  August 27, 2004
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