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The Sound of Music...at the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress has impressively comprehensive holdings in music, both sound recordings and printed scores and other related materials. But did you know that the Library's Jefferson Building is often filled with live music, in performances at the acoustically extraordinary Coolidge Auditorium?

Martha Graham and Erich Hawkins starred in the premiere of Appalachian Spring at the Library's Coolidge Auditorium in 1944. John Singer Sargent, artist. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, 1923. Prints and Photographs Division.

Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge was an intelligent, strong-willed woman who both benefited from and was limited by the Victorian upper class into which she was born. Though she was a talented young pianist, she was expected to marry well rather than perform. Following the death of both parents and her husband between January 1915 and March 1916, she channeled her considerable energy and inheritance into projects to aid musicians and foster new music. In 1922 she turned her attention to the Library of Congress and Carl Engel, chief of the Music Division, with whom she had deposited manuscripts from the Berkshire music festivals she had sponsored in Massachusetts.

During the next three years, Coolidge collaborated with Engel to build an auditorium and establish an endowment at the Library. On Nov. 12, 1924, she presented Engel with a check for $60,000 to build the auditorium, and on Jan. 23, 1925, President Calvin Coolidge (no relation) signed into law the bill enabling Congress to accept her gift. On March 3, 1925, Congress passed another bill that established the Library of Congress Trust Fund and created as its guardian the Library of Congress Trust Fund Board. Elizabeth Coolidge transferred $400,000 to the Library to establish the Coolidge Foundation, which has enabled the Music Division to further the study, composition and appreciation of music, commissioning dozens of new works and conducting periodic festivals. Her generous legacy continues today.

From 1989 to 1997, the auditorium was restored. The complete story and history of this auditorium, which has hosted premieres such as Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring," is in the Library's Information Bulletin. This monthly publication with news of the world's largest library is available online as part of The Library Today. From this gateway page you can also access links to the "Calendar of Events," "News Releases," "Video & Audio" and "Places in the News," which provides maps of areas relevant in today's headlines. The Music Division's Performing Arts Reading Room home page leads to the Library's online music collections as well as the schedule for free "Concerts from the Library of Congress."

 

A. Martha Graham and Erich Hawkins starred in the premiere of "Appalachian Spring" at the Library's Coolidge Auditorium in 1944. From Library of Congress Information Bulletin, June 1998. Reproduction information: Image not available for reproduction.

B. John Singer Sargent, artist. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, 1923. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ6-1186 (b&w film copy neg).


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