August 12, 2015 "Chamber Music: The Life and Legacy of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge" Exhibition at Library of Congress Opens Aug. 13

Press Contact: Donna Urschel (202) 707-1639
Public Contact: Robin Rausch (202) 707-8450; Caitlin Miller (202) 707-1783

Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge was an accomplished pianist and avid composer whose passion was chamber music. In pursuit of her vision to make chamber music available to all, she built at the Library of Congress in 1925 an intimate, finely tuned auditorium that bears her name and established a foundation at the Library, ensuring that her support for contemporary music would continue for many generations. For the last 90 years, world-class artists have appeared on the auditorium’s stage in free public concerts, many of which are broadcast on radio and, today, webcast online. Coolidge also sponsored concerts across the United States and abroad, befriending countless performers and composers and commissioning some of the most important new chamber music of the 20th century.

Coolidge’s achievements are celebrated—on the 150th anniversary of her birth—in the Library of Congress exhibition, “Chamber Music: The Life and Legacy of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge.” The exhibition opens Thursday, Aug. 13 in the Performing Arts Reading Room Gallery, on the first floor of the James Madison Memorial Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C.

“Chamber Music” is free and open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. It can be viewed online starting Aug. 13 at The exhibition closes on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016.

The Library’s 90th anniversary concert season kicks off Saturday, Oct. 10, with more than 90 concerts, films, lectures, workshops and a special anniversary presentation: a re-creation, by the Martha Graham Dance Company, of its historic premiere of “Appalachian Spring” seven decades ago in the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium. For more information on the concert series, visit

Coolidge’s musical philanthropy began in earnest after the deaths of both her parents and her husband between January 1915 and March 1916. She sought solace in music. Coolidge agreed to provide financial support to a newly formed string quartet on the condition that the musicians relocated to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to be near her home. The Berkshire String Quartet became the nucleus for her Berkshire Music Festivals. She built a summer colony for them, with a performance venue known as the Temple of Music, and established a composition award, the Berkshire Prize, for new chamber-music works.

Carl Engel, chief of the Library’s Music Division from 1922 to 1934, attended Coolidge’s Berkshire Festivals in the early 1920s. He invited her to consider the Library of Congress as a possible home for her growing collection of music manuscripts. She agreed to Engel’s proposal and suggested bringing her festival to Washington, D.C., as well. Engel had long dreamed of concerts at the Library, but there was no performance venue. Coolidge offered to build one, and set up a trust for performances and commissions of new music. It was a radical idea and it took an act of Congress before it could be realized.

Coolidge and her foundation have been responsible for the creation of such incomparable classics of chamber music as Béla Bartók’s monumental “String Quartet No. 5” (1934), Samuel Barber’s “Hermit Songs” (1953), and George Crumb’s “Ancient Voices of Children” (1970), all of which were premiered onstage in the Coolidge Auditorium. She was a pioneer in commissioning dance, from the 1928 “Apollon Musagète” by Igor Stravinsky, with choreography by Adolph Bolm, to several new ballets in the 1940s for Martha Graham, undoubtedly the most famous of which is Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.”

The 40-item exhibition is drawn primarily from the Coolidge Foundation Collection in the Music Division of the Library of Congress, and features “The Great Lady of Music: Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge,” a biographical film by Marjorie Short. Coolidge herself can be heard on a radio broadcast recording from 1944, in which she recounts the history of the festivals and wishes that the federal government included a cabinet position for Secretary of Fine Arts. Throughout the exhibition, labels will include QR codes that will allow visitors, both at the Library and online, to listen to performances of music commissioned by the Coolidge Foundation.

The Library of Congress Music Division, with more than 21 million items, holds the world's largest music collection. Particular areas of strength include opera (scores and librettos), stage and screen musicals, chamber music, jazz and American popular song. The Music Division is home to approximately 600 archival collections, most of them the personal papers (including music scores as well as correspondence, photographs, legal and financial documents, programs, clippings and other materials) documenting the lives and careers of stellar composers and performers. For more information, visit

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, holds more than 160 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its award-winning website at


PR 15-140
ISSN 0731-3527