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Article Gertrude Clarke Whittall

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Gertrude Clarke Whittall, 1867-1965. Prints and Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress.

Gertrude Clarke Whittall, another musical philanthropist and a contemporary of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge's, expressed her interest in supporting musical activities in the Library in very different, but complementary, ways. Mrs. Whittall preferred to concentrate on the classic tradition. Her generosity began in 1935 when she donated the first of a total of five Stradivari instruments to the Library, each accompanied by a Tourte bow, and in 1936 she established the Gertrude Clarke Whittall Foundation at the Library to maintain these instruments and to support their use in concerts. It was Mrs. Whittall's wish that they "be played by many different musicians," and for several years "the Strads" were played by guest string quartets, generally in only one or two concerts. This made it difficult for players to become familiar with these magnificent instruments.

To resolve this problem, Dr. Harold Spivacke, then-Chief of the Music Division, suggested to Mrs. Whittall that the Library invite a prominent string quartet to become a resident ensemble at the Library. In 1940 the Budapest String Quartet settled into the Library's first residency, followed by the Juilliard String Quartet in 1962. The Beaux Arts Trio became a resident group, too, although its members did not use the Whittall Strads in their performances.

Image of Stradivari violinsEmulating Mrs. Coolidge's donation of the Coolidge Auditorium, Mrs. Whittall donated the Whittall Pavilion'a drawing room adjacent to the Coolidge Auditorium. Its main purpose remains today what it has always been: to be a "beautiful sanctuary of the precious Stradivari."

Mrs. Whittall also presented the Library with several remarkable original musical manuscripts by classical composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms. In addition, the Gertrude Clarke Whittall Foundation has supported the Music Division's acquisition of autograph manuscripts and other documentary holdings of prominent European composers, as well as an annual concert on December 18 commemorating Antonio Stradivari.

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