The Library of Congress > Wise Guide > November 2010 > A Cool(idge) Celebration
A Cool(idge) Celebration

The legacy of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, founding patron of the Library’s concerts, reflects the breadth of her vision: from her advocacy of early music long before it became fashionable to her passionate support of music by living composers through innumerable commissions, many of which have entered the canon of chamber music.

Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge and her son Albert. Music Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction Information not available. Four members of a string quartet, performing in the Coolidge Auditorium, from a film on the Library of Congress produced by the U.S. Office of War Information. 1945. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-135722 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: LOT 2288 [item] [P&P]

In 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. Since 1925, the Coolidge Auditorium has been a venue for world-class performers and world premieres of commissioned works.

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 ‘n’ roll. One of the basic definitions of chamber music is one instrument or player to a part, which applies to most genres of music.

During its first two decades, the Coolidge Foundation commissioned most of the leading composers of the time, including Béla Bartók, Paul Hindemith, Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky, and the composers' autograph manuscripts for the commissioned works became part of the Library's collections.

As noted in a recent Library blog post, not only is the auditorium a storied hall of music, but it is also a “live” hall with phenomenal acoustics, thanks in part to the cork floor, the empty space below the stage, the design of the roof and the the sound-reflecting angle of the back wall.

The season was launched in October with some of today’s distinguished early music groups – Ensemble 415, The English Concert and the U.S. debut of Helsinki Baroque.

The second half of the season features three period instrumentalists – the harpsichordist Trevor Pinnock, virtuoso gambist Paolo Pandolfo with Thomas Boysen on theorbo and guitar, and Baroque cellist Tanya Tomkins, in the first ever performance in Coolidge Auditorium of the complete unaccompanied suites by J.S. Bach.

At the other end of the musical spectrum, this season sees a number of distinguished and rising composers representing the rich fabric of 20th- and 21st-century music across genres, from classical, jazz and pop to postclassical, postrock and electronica: John Adams, Louis Andriessen, Tyondai Braxton, Philip Glass, John Harbison, Missy Mazzoli, Brad Mehldau, Bright Sheng, Wadada Leo Smith, and composer collectives.

This season also turns the pages of an ever-growing American songbook with works by Samuel Barber, George Crumb and the Gershwins; Broadway musicals; and a new Country Music Association Songwriters' Series showcase.

The Library continues its successful collaboration with the Atlas Performing Arts Center (1333 H. St. N.E., Wshington, D.C.), offering four diverse concerts, featuring the West African harmonies and jazz rhythms of the Lionel Loueke Trio; a Broadway cabaret with vocalist Sue Mathys and pianist John Bell; music for the 21st century with the NOW Ensemble and Victoire; and the roots of the American Songbook with chamber musicians from the U.S. Army Band, "Pershing's Own."

In addition, the Library and the Dana Foundation bring the two-year Music and the Brain lecture series to a close with three presentations in the Library's Whittall Pavilion.