About the Music Division
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.
For more information about the Music Division, see Music,
Theater, Dance: An Illustrated Guide.
Special Foundations in the Music Division
Two extraordinary American women, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge and
Gertrude Clarke Whittall, by their generosity toward the Library
of Congress Music Division, had a profound influence on the history
of music in the United States and laid the cornerstone for all
subsequent musical philanthropy in the Library. They were born
within three years of one another, and their support of music in
the Library overlapped for several decades, beginning in the 1930s.
Although their devotion to music was equal, they expressed that
devotion in divergent but complementary ways, Mrs. Coolidge focusing
largely on the new, Mrs. Whittall on the classic tradition exemplified
by the repertory of the string quartet.
Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (1864-1953), one of the most notable
patrons in the history of American music, seized an opportunity
in 1924 to expand the vision and mission of the Library of Congress
through underwriting concerts, commissioning new music, and encouraging
musicological scholarship. Having already won international prominence
by sponsoring chamber music festivals in Pittsfield, Massachusetts,
and for commissioning and inspiring compositions by eminent contemporary
composers in the United States and abroad, she sought to establish
a permanent base for these activities as well as a permanent musical
In 1925 the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation
was established in the Library for the promotion and advancement
of chamber music
through commissions, public concerts, and festivals. Mrs. Coolidge's
ultimate aim, as stated in a letter dated February 4, 1925, to
the Librarian of Congress, Herbert Putnam, was profound as well
to make possible, through the Library of Congress, the
composition and performance of music in ways which might otherwise
be considered too unique or too expensive to be ordinarily undertaken.
Not this alone, of course, nor with a view to extravagance for
its own sake; but as an occasional possibility of giving precedence
to considerations of quality over those of quantity; to artistic
rather than to economic values; and to opportunity over expediency.
The Library of Congress Trust Fund Board, the first of its kind
in the federal government, was established in 1925 to administer
the funds of the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation and all
future endowments. With an additional gift, also in 1925, Mrs.
Coolidge financed the construction of the 511-seat Coolidge Auditorium
in the northwest courtyard of the Jefferson Building. Designed
according to her preference for "severe and chaste beauty" rather
than "ornate display," the Coolidge Auditorium was completed just
in time for the first Coolidge Festival, which successfully inaugurated
the new hall on October 28, 1925. This structure has become world
famous for its magnificent acoustical properties, for the caliber
of the artists and ensembles who have played there, for newly commissioned
works premiered, and for the individually scheduled concerts interspersed
among concert series, retrospectives, and festivals.
Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge's legacy lies not only in the Foundation,
auditorium, and concerts, but also in the collections she presented
to the Library of original manuscripts and papers that she had
received through her philanthropic activities. As a result of the
Coolidge commissions executed by eminent composers, a steady stream
of notable holographs has reached the Library through the years;
many composers maintained a special relationship with the Library
and continued to make generous donations of their own manuscripts.
Following the standards set by Mrs. Coolidge's generosity, Gertrude
Clarke Whittall (1867-1965), another great philanthropist, presented
to the Library in 1935-1936 five incomparable Stradivari instruments,
as well as a Tourte bow for each instrument. (See The
Collections of Musical Instruments for details on these instruments.)
In February 1936, the Gertrude Clarke Whittall Foundation was established
at the Library to maintain the Stradivari instruments and to support
their use in concerts. For several years, guest string quartets
played on the instruments for one or more concerts until the Library
settled on the idea of a resident ensemble: the Budapest String
Quartet was the Library's resident quartet from 1940-1962, and
from 1962 to the present, the Juilliard String Quartet.
Continuing her generosity to the Library, in 1938 Mrs. Whittall
provided funds for the construction of the Whittall Pavilion, a
drawing room intended as a "beautiful sanctuary of the precious
Stradivari," adjoining the foyer of the Coolidge Auditorium. To
complete her gift and to enhance the value of the Stradivari, Mrs.
Whittall also presented to the Library a remarkable assemblage
of original manuscripts by composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven,
Brahms, and Schoenberg.
Since 1925, when the Coolidge Foundation was established, additional
foundations have been created through gift or bequest, permitting
the Library to extend significantly its influence in the musical
world. Throughout the years, the generosity of donors has enabled
the Library to render exceptional service to the public and the
world of music through performances, commissions, acquisitions,
broadcasts, recordings, exhibits, lectures, and publications, as
well as other related activities.
Information on additional music foundations that perpetuate the
art and scholarship of music at the Library of Congress can be
found in the "Foundations for Music" chapter of Music,
Theater, Dance: An Illustrated Guide.