A Style of Her Own:
The Patronage of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge
In his review of a concert sponsored by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (1864–1953) in Paris in 1931, Henry Prunières characterized her as "an American Maecenas." No doubt the analogy was well meant, but a comparison of Coolidge's style with that of the epicurean Roman nobleman, sequestered in his luxurious palace on the Esquiline, with its lavish gardens and heated swimming pools, could hardly have been less suited. A far happier—though still imperfect—choice might have been the Renaissance princess Isabella d'Este, admired for her vitality and intelligence, a woman with the power to subpoena nearly any artist she wished to work for her. Fortunately, even flawed analogies can raise important questions that need to be asked: in this case, if Coolidge had a style of her own, what made it unique? Had she a role model? And above all, what motivated her characteristically swift and purposeful actions?
The ardor with which Coolidge guarded her privacy complicates any effort to answer these questions. Her work as a patron of music was actually a second career, begun in her early fifties, and the publicity generated by her magnanimous support of music and musicians is in almost inverse proportion to the public's knowledge of her life up to that age—a period that might be described as her apprenticeship. She began with the familiar route of the women's club and settlement house, but very soon moved beyond it into a position that ultimately challenged the U.S. government to take on the cause of the arts.
Although the circle of Coolidge's friends was vast and included practically every major composer and performer of chamber music from the first half of this century—as well as such literary figures as Gabriele D'Annunzio and Paul Claudel—very few were admitted to her confidence or knew anything of her private life. It is in her personal letters to a few intimate friends that some understanding of her motivation and style of giving begins to emerge. A case in point is a letter written in 1930 to Persis Coleman. Although it was ostensibly intended to
I wish to express my thanks to Dr. John C. Coolidge and Elizabeth Coolidge Winship for their generosity in providing unlimited access to documents relating to ESC's early life. Thanks are due as well to James Pruett, chief of the Music Division, and to members of the staff of the Library of Congress for their unfailing assistance. Research for this essay was supported in part by a grant-in-aid from the American Council of Learned Societies and a faculty research grant from The Catholic University of America. The following abbreviations are used in the notes:
offer advice, it in fact reveals a good deal about Elizabeth's own philosophy. In it she declares the absolute necessity of:
having an objective interest in life which entirely excludes dwelling upon the thought of one's self. When I say "objective" I do not necessarily mean impersonal, for this great interest may be in some friend or acquaintance, and in fact, I really think that such an interest is the only thing which can take the place in the lives of such women as you and I, of a responsibility and devotion usually given to one's own family. . . . But whether it be to a person or cause, or to any outside enthusiasm, I think it should be animated not by what you want for yourself, but by what you want for it.
There is no question as to the identity of the "it" in Coolidge's life, for music was in her words, "the high priestess in the service of the only religion which I know." However altruistic her advice may seem, there is no denying that her early commitment to her art sprang from very personal experiences, and that it only later approached the objectivity suggested in the letter to Coleman. Some knowledge of the tragedies of her private life is essential to understanding the manner in which music became her lifeline in times of sorrow. Her own words, spoken on the occasion when her String Quartet was performed in 1936 as part of an NBC broadcast entitled "Music Is My Hobby," explain how she perceived her life to be divided into three periods differentiated from each other by the manner in which music served her:
First, stands the character discipline of a long course of piano study. My teacher's exaction from me, throughout my girlhood, of reverence for duty; of co-ordinated self-control, of uncompromising fidelity to standards. This laid the foundation of whatever mental and moral strength may be mine, and as an influence of lasting force was second only to that of my Mother.
During the second period of my musical life, this habit of wrestling with impersonal difficulties stood me in life-saving stead as I encountered many painful and insoluble personal problems. Without the mechanical stabilizer of hard piano practise and its concomitant sense of power and balance, my emotional equilibrium would have been wrecked.
The third and still present period includes my amateur efforts at composition. The need thus ministered to is that of self-expression, as a spiritual refuge from my increasing deafness. This, if anything, I must consider my hobby, and as such I modestly share it with the radio audience as a suggestion that making music, by either playing or writing it, is not the exclusive pleasure of the professional musician.
Although these words beautifully express the centrality of music in her life, they reveal nothing of the exercise by which she developed her skills as a patron and refined the characteristics that would become her trademark. The letter to Coleman, however, clearly outlines three high-minded qualities that over the years became noticeably more operative in her work: (1) refusal to dwell upon one's own difficulties; (2) installation of one's "objective cause" in the exalted position of devotion usually reserved for family; and (3) genuinely altruistic sublimation of that cause above and beyond the personal interests and satisfaction of the patron.
The admonition to avoid indulgence in self-pity is unquestionably a reference to the "painful and insoluble personal problems" alluded to in connection with that second period of her musical life. Coolidge was above all a survivor, and she heroically exemplified her own good counsel in this case. Her youth, lived in the privileged environment of Chicago's "Gold Coast," could hardly have prepared her for the tragedies that lay ahead. It was after the requisite grand tour of a year in Europe, eighteen months of study in an exclusive French and English boarding school in New York City, and her official entry into society back in Chicago that she met and married Frederic Shurtleff Coolidge, then a young medical student at
Harvard. His pedigree was easily the equal of hers: he was the scion of a prominent Boston family whose ancestors had been active in colonial government.
After a period of study in Europe, they settled into a comfortable life in the home that her parents built for her on Prairie Avenue. Shortly after the birth of their only child, Fred—through an accident in surgery—contracted syphilis. His condition was further complicated a few years later by the onset of tuberculosis; this necessitated their moving to Saranac Lake, where he spent two years in the sanatorium of Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau. As the syphilis progressed through the secondary and tertiary stages, he submitted to intensive bromide treatments and aggressive arsenic and mercury therapy. He sustained several debilitating strokes, which left him partially paralyzed and eventually demented. Their idyllic life together had quickly turned into a pilgrimage from one medical shrine to another in quest of healing, which tragically eluded him. With each affliction and every setback, Elizabeth's defense was to lose herself in her music. She well knew what it meant not to dwell upon one's misfortunes.
The suggestion to seek an "objective interest" capable of taking the place of the devotion usually given to one's family is also a poignant reference to Elizabeth's own situation, for between January 1915 and March 1916, her father, husband, and mother all died; and in June her only child, Sprague, graduated from Harvard, married, and moved from home. She had indeed lost her family and was suddenly left alone—alone, not only to pick up the pieces of her personal life, but also to administer the Sprague fortune in a society that provided little opportunity for a woman to acquire the necessary knowledge to enter the world of finance and management. Moreover, the deeply ingrained Puritan values, work ethic, and moral rectitude that she had inherited from her parents' example brought with it a sense of accountability to society that more or less foreordained her entry into the arena of philanthropy.
Patronage in one form or another has existed throughout history, from antiquity to the present—most often associated with an affluent, politically well connected, and typically male-dominated society. The concept of an individual artistic patron within a democratic society presented a new set of challenges in the pre-income tax era, when industrialists like Carnegie, Ford, and Vanderbilt acquired fortunes so vast that their surplus wealth could not be disposed of even by the most conspicuous consumption. In one year alone, Andrew Carnegie gave more than $6,000,000 for the restoration of organs in churches and civic buildings. Coolidge's entire inheritance was less than that amount, yet she managed to establish her patronage on a sound basis, which continues to this day.
If anyone might be singled out as a role model, it must be her father, Albert Arnold Sprague (1835–1915), who made his fortune in the wholesale grocery business he established in Chicago just when the transcontinental railway was being completed. Recognizing that Chicago would be a major distribution center, he
began in 1862 with a capital investment of $2,300 borrowed from his father. By the time of his death in 1915, the company was grossing over $14,000,000 annually. Her father's last official act—just four days before his death—was the establishment of a very generous and unique pension fund for his employees. It was his example that inspired Elizabeth's first act of philanthropy, a gift of $100,000 to the Chicago Symphony for the establishment of a pension fund as a memorial to her father—an action unprecedented in the history of American symphony orchestras. She had inherited an estate of approximately $2,000,000 and a personal fund of $200,000. So the gift to the orchestra, given just one week after her father's death, was a generous half of her discretionary fund. Upon the death of her mother the following year, she inherited the remainder of the estate, totaling over $4,000,000, and promptly added another $100,000 to the pension fund. Two marks of the style that would ever after characterize her more important undertakings were already noticeable in this first magnificent gesture: the speed with which she acted once she had determined the object of her largesse, and her desire to be an example to other would-be patrons. The Chicago press was quick to recognize that "someone was required to take the first step, and to take it in such a manner as would challenge attention. It has been done. On the honor rolls, not merely of the orchestra but of the community at large, the names of Mr. Sprague and Mrs. Coolidge will be written in letters that no man will forget."
On hearing news that Bryan Lathrop had added $25,000 to the pension fund, Elizabeth wrote to her old friend Frances Glessner: "How nice it is that a fresh spirit has been infused into the musical public, assuring the ultimate completion of the fund and arousing new loyalty to the interests of the orchestra. I think that it
is, more valuable to music than the fund itself, and am correspondingly delighted, for it seems to vindicate my device."
Although Coolidge knew all along that her work should be in support of music, she did not suddenly emerge a seasoned patron in the society of the Mellons and Whitneys—like Athene, springing fully armed from the brow of Zeus. Rather, in the period immediately following the loss of her family, she seemed at times to scatter her bounty abroad with a kind of generous, even indifferent, abandon, while she was preoccupied with refining the precise form that her principal work should take. Because her husband had been a physician, many of her early bequests were to the medical profession. She gave her Chicago home and that of her parents as nurses' residences, established a $200,000 trust fund to build a hospital for the care of consumptives as a memorial to Fred, endowed modest medical research fellowships at Columbia University, gave $200,000 to the Berkshire County Society for Crippled Children, and then donated her beautiful house in the Berkshires as a school for them.
With her mother, she built Sprague Music Hall at Yale, her father's alma mater, and soon after her mother's death, she promised her cousin Lucy Sprague Mitchell $50,000 for her recently established New School for Social Research, which would later become the Bank Street Establishment in New York. Coolidge's only condition was that she not be pressured to understand or even be interested in the group's work, an arrangement that stands in marked contrast to her intimate involvement in her musical endeavors.
Two years after her father's death, Elizabeth embarked upon her major career as a patron of chamber music when she formed her Berkshire Quartet, established the Berkshire Festival, and inaugurated the Berkshire Competition for the composition of chamber music. Her reasons for devoting herself so exclusively to this intimate medium stemmed partly from her eagerness to participate in the music making herself and partly from a desire to retain a degree of control that would not be realistic in the case of opera or symphonic music. Moreover, she could simply do more with less money by sponsoring small ensembles. The speed with which she acted in the case of the Chicago Symphony pension fund would be duplicated numerous times, but perhaps none so dramatic as the action that had brought about the beginnings of her Berkshire enterprise.
Just as she was contemplating what form her work should take, she received a letter from Hugo Kortschak, a young Austrian violinist whom she had neither met nor heard of. He had recently left the Chicago Symphony in order to devote himself to chamber music and, with three of his colleagues who were still in the orchestra, had formed a quartet. But the demands of a rigorous orchestra schedule made it impossible for them to devote the necessary time to rehearsal. Knowing of Coolidge's dedication to the art of chamber music, Kortschak sent a deferential, but heartfelt, appeal, addressing her as one "who love[s] art sufficiently to lend . . .
help for art's sake." The kind of idealism suggested by his well-chosen words found a willing ear in Elizabeth, for she was well acquainted with the Kneisel and the Flonzaley quartets, which had been brought into being by enlightened acts of patronage, and she knew their founders intimately. In her response to Kortschak, written the same day that she received his letter, she said, "It is a strange thing that your proposition is exactly what I have been having in mind for some time." Within days she went to Chicago, heard the quartet, and immediately offered them a contract, which stipulated that they should at once move to New York, where she provided lodging for them and attended their rehearsals, which took place in the music room of her Park Avenue apartment. She reserved the right to perform with the group when piano was required, and became intimately involved in the selection of repertoire and scheduling. Commenting on this much later, she remarked, "You can imagine what an education this was for me, whose musical idiom had hitherto been so largely formed by keyboard standards. I had never before so well understood the possibilities of abstract music."
During that same summer Frederick Stock, conductor of the Chicago Symphony and an old friend of the Sprague family, was in New England to attend the Litchfield County Festival in Norfolk, Connecticut, which was under the direction of his friend Gustave J. Stoeckel (see Vignette E). Stock was enthusiastic about the music shed that Stoeckel had built and suggested that Elizabeth's new quartet ought to play there. Her immediate reply was, "Why go so far? Why not have our own festival in our own home?" With the dispatch that was becoming her signature, she set about building a festival hall and cottages for her musicians at the foot of South Mountain on her son's property at the edge of Pittsfield, and her work soon began to attract attention both in the United States and abroad. It was her desire that by "inviting thousands of listeners from everywhere instead of a few friends from New York or Pittsfield," she should be able to "free [the] concerts from the deadening influence of social fashion, and to stamp them with true artistic significance and authority." Many years later she reflected on the wonderfully international character of her first festival, which took place two months before the armistice, while some of the nations represented by the performers were actually still at war with one another.
The success of her Berkshire venture taught Coolidge that if her work were to survive her own lifetime, it must be made "impersonal and institutional, dependent upon no single life or good will." It was at this juncture that Carl Engel came into her life. He had just become chief of the Music Division of the Library of Congress in 1922 and had attended the Fifth Berkshire Festival that year. He was brilliant, sensitive, urbane, and witty, and she was attracted to him in a kind of May and December friendship that would strongly influence her decision to endow the Library of Congress.
By 1924 she began testing the waters of possible federal support for her work. In February she made her first musical offering in Washington, a festival that had
to be presented in the auditorium of the Freer Gallery owing to lack of a suitable performance space at the Library of Congress. Before the euphoria of success could diminish, she confided to Engel her ideas for the Library of Congress and wrote officially to Herbert Putnam, Librarian of Congress, of her intention to endow a foundation and to build an auditorium in the Library. By mid November she had met privately with Engel and handed him a check for $60,000 for construction of the auditorium. However, there were formidable obstacles to the realization of her intentions, and only someone with what Engel later characterized as her "enlightened obstinacy" could have persevered and achieved them in such a short time.
The gift of the auditorium was not the issue, but a serious problem was posed by the inability of the Library of Congress to accept the trust fund, for there existed no legislation enabling it to accept and hold in trust the principal of a fund whose income might be applied to its operational expenses and acquisitions. It necessitated an act of Congress. Such an offer to the government from a private citizen was unprecedented, doubly remarkable since the patron—as a woman—had, but a few years before, still been denied a vote. Coolidge's plan was a boldly innovative challenge to the U.S. Congress to undertake a new role in government. The legal procedure was complex, but, with Putnam's wisdom, Engel's tact, and some brilliant legal negotiations by her attorney, Richard Hale, donation of both the auditorium and the trust was accomplished in the record period of only five months from the time of Elizabeth's letter of intent to the final signing into law by President Calvin Coolidge.
Construction began at once, and the auditorium was officially dedicated with a three-day festival ending on 30 October—Elizabeth's birthday—thus beginning the tradition of the so-called Founder's Day Festivals, which would later become the occasion for the presentation of the Coolidge Medal, as well as for the premieres of some very important twentieth-century works.
The determination with which she undertook her plans was unfaltering (some would say stubborn), once she had made up her mind on a course of action. When Hale expressed concern over the possibility that with the Library of Congress project she might be financially overextended, she wrote to him: "[Y]ou say that if I understand the risks about which you are hesitating, you will let me run those risks. I hasten to tell you that I am perfectly willing to run them." She was generous but never foolish or frivolous where money was concerned, and she quickly learned to stretch a dollar like the most frugal housewife.
During the Depression, when the city of Chicago defaulted on bonds in which she was heavily invested, her income was considerably curtailed. Even in her most serious retrenchment, however, she never sacrificed quality but instead economized on her various festivals by moving the concerts out of expensive theaters and salons and into the homes offered for that purpose by such distinguished musical friends and associates as Toscanini, Malipiero, Prunières, and even the reclusive D'Annunzio. Similarly, she modified the social aspects of her festivals, espe-
cially her famed post-concert parties, which had previously been de rigueur . They were often occasions of noisy gaiety, which sometimes even found the ample-bodied Coolidge dancing the Virginia reel. That her soirées were not always appreciated by weary musicians is reflected in Hindemith's comment that trying to escape from one of these gatherings, where she positioned herself on a chair by the door, was like trying to escape from Polyphemus's hellish cave.
With the Library of Congress Festivals in Engel's capable hands, Coolidge began to scatter her good works to an ever-widening circle. Through the agency of the Coolidge Foundation, she inaugurated an outreach program that brought the finest of music and musicians into colleges, universities, and libraries from coast to coast, and always free of charge, for, like Engel, she believed that "nothing should be too good for the common man and . . . he should be the first to know how good it is." In the early 1930s, her activities reached new heights in the form of festivals both here and abroad, for which she commissioned new works, secured the services of the finest performers to premiere them, and paid all expenses for composers to attend. Alfredo Casella has left an amusing description of what it was like to travel with this indefatigable woman: "The arrival at the hotel of that tall, spectacled lady, followed by a retinue of twenty or thirty persons, most of them armed with musical instruments, was impossibly funny. The hotel was thus taken by assault by the cosmopolitan company, which was looked on with a certain amazement by other travelers who were not part of it."
Over the years, her activities abroad grew to full-fledged festivals in London, Oxford, Cambridge, Amsterdam, Paris, Brussels, Ghent, Bruges, Liège, Louvain, Vienna, Graz, Warsaw, Budapest, Moscow, Prague, Berlin, Frankfurt, Milan, Rome, Venice, Treviso, Asolo, and Naples. And when the war disrupted her European endeavors, she simply changed the venue to Mexico City, San Juan, and Honolulu.
Through her association with Ugo Ara, violist of the Flonzaley Quartet, she met Gian Francesco Malipiero, Alfredo Casella, and Gabriele D'Annunzio, who had only recently formed the Società per la musica moderna (under the acronym SIMM), an idealistic but penurious body whose goal it was to provide for Italy the best of contemporary music and thought. Coolidge came to the aid of the fledgling society by sponsoring ten performances of Schoenberg's Pierrot lunaire in seven Italian cities, with the composer conducting, twelve concerts of Stravinsky's Octet and L'Histoire du soldat , as well as assorted concerts devoted to Hindemith, Bartók, and Les Six. In addition she enabled the society to mount fully staged productions of early seventeenth-century Italian operas.
Reflecting on this association, Casella recalled that Coolidge "always acted with complete critical independence, and none of us have ever been able to exercise the slightest influence on her taste or her selection." Many close friendships with European composers were formed during this period, which also marked the beginning of one of her least well known enterprises, her enthusiastic support of
musicological endeavors. It was her subvention that enabled Malipiero to prepare the complete works of Monteverdi and Vivaldi, and Prunières to undertake his edition of Lully.
Among Coolidge's innumerable unsung gifts to musical causes was her sustained support of the MacDowell Colony. Beginning in 1916, and for more than twenty years thereafter, she was one of the largest single contributors to the work of the colony and became a close friend of Marian MacDowell's. The latter often acknowledged Coolidge's assistance, and she marveled that despite her own ambitious work, Elizabeth found time and interest to support that of others. MacDowell wrote Coolidge in 1918: "It has always been to me a sort of beautiful miracle, the wonderful help you have given us through all these years. Most people, with such a big interest [in] work of their own could never have even thought of helping along so splendidly another scheme. It first shows how big you are—without your help we could never have accomplished what we have."
Some of Coolidge's finest humanitarian efforts were quietly undertaken on behalf of displaced Jewish composers who sought her help to find positions in the United States, among them Ernest Bloch and Darius Milhaud. Because of her international reputation, many European artists appealed to her, especially during World War II. Perhaps the most dramatic example is that of the Belgian Pro Arte Quartet, her favorite of all the quartets that she supported (fig. 18). When Hitler invaded Belgium in 1940, they were stranded in America without their cellist, who had remained behind because of illness. Eventually, Coolidge was instrumental in his reaching the United States, but in the meantime their first violinist had died, and it appeared that this fine ensemble had come to an end. Largely through Coolidge's intervention and financial assistance, the quartet was able, not only to reform and continue under the name Pro Arte, but to become the quartet in residence at the University of Wisconsin, where it still continues. And although the concept of artist-in-residence is common today, this is believed to be the first example of it, and it was largely her invention.
From even a brief overview of Coolidge's work, there emerge two elements in particular that mark the unique style of her giving: first of all, she did not believe in the dole. To a young musician who appealed to her for money, she responded sternly, "I am writing rather strongly to you, for I think it is a great mistake for a young man to contract the habit of soliciting money, especially from strangers, and I want to tell you for your own good that I think you will go much further in your profession if you do not begin this habit." Instead of outright gifts, her method of endowment was usually designed to indoctrinate the recipient in the art of sound fiscal planning, by instituting a program and then gradually withdrawing support over a period of years, until the project was either being sustained by others—often recruited by her—or had become self-sufficient. Moreover, she frequently required some form of service in return, such as teaching or the organization of her European tours.
A second quality of her patronage, which sets it apart from that of others such as Isabella Stewart Gardner, for example, is that Mrs. Coolidge was herself a musician, an accomplished pianist. While still very young, she began to study piano with Regina Watson, who had been a student of Karl Tausig's in Germany, and thus belonged to the distinguished pianistic genealogy of Liszt, Tausig's teacher. Under Watson, Elizabeth made rapid progress and, in fact, appeared as soloist with the Chicago Symphony under the direction of Theodore Thomas at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, playing the Schumann Piano Concerto. She went on to study composition seriously with such eminent tutors as Daniel Gregory Mason, Percy Goetschius, Arthur Whiting, Rubin Goldmark, and Domenico Brescia. Her practical knowledge of repertoire was vast, and the respect that she earned from the professionals with whom she worked confirms Casella's assessment that "besides her great intelligence and her incomparable
generosity, she had been guided by a very solid musical culture and a first-rate artistic instinct."
The lofty attitude of detachment that places the integrity of art above the mere pleasure of the patron was the most hard-won of the principles that she outlined in the letter to Coleman. And although there is much evidence that Coolidge always derived a good deal of personal satisfaction from her work, over the years she did in fact develop a degree of detachment from it, endowing her music with a kind of sacral quality. It is not merely fortuitous that she should choose to call her auditorium at South Mountain "the Temple." Her professed desire was "to serve Art, and through Art, to serve humanity, [since] the survival of the human spirit largely depends upon its artistic freedom."
These were not merely noble platitudes but lived convictions, perhaps best exemplified by the courageous manner in which she spent the income from her investments down to the last penny and passed the last years of her life in accommodations of almost Spartan simplicity at the Hotel Continental in Cambridge.
But even more convincing is the intellectual detachment that enabled her to distance herself gradually from purely personal likes and dislikes. She never allowed differences of opinion to get in the way of friendship. Nor did she permit herself to become involved in the petty arguments that inevitably arose within some of the ensembles that she sponsored. When tensions within the Coolidge Quartet threatened its dissolution, she wrote to the complaining violist, "Your relations to Kroll [the first violinist] are of no interest to me. . . . I consider [him] . . . as the leader of the Coolidge Quartet, and must leave it to you both to decide whether you wish to play together. To me it is a matter of indifference. Please do not re-open this useless discussion."
Above all, her acceptance of the new and unfamiliar in the music she commissioned was remarkable. She not only fostered the contemporary but spoke out boldly on its behalf. "My plea for modern music is not that we should like it, nor necessarily that we should even understand it, but that we should exhibit it as a significant human document." It mattered not whether she liked the music that she commissioned, for she recognized the importance of extending the boundaries of knowledge. On hearing the theremin for the first time, she wrote to Carl Engel, "Time and space are on their last legs, I think and we shall all have to reeducate our senses to interpret a new set of sensory impressions." And when Jerzy Fitelberg's Fourth Quartet won the Coolidge Prize in 1936, the seventy-two-year-old Elizabeth wrote, "I must confess that his idiom is as yet too strange to me to enable me to understand his work: therefore, I have not yet really enjoyed it. But I have recently received the score which I intend to study in the hope of being able to respond to his message." And although she enthusiastically offered Roy Harris a commission for a quartet in 1933, she quietly acknowledged to Engel, "I do not expect to like it much myself, but I consider that of no importance and am sin-
cerely glad to have assisted in bringing to notice another . . . serious American composer."
This conscious distancing of herself from her work is nowhere more evident than in her truly visionary desire to perpetuate it beyond her own lifetime through the agency of the U.S. government. Unfortunately, some of her plans for governmental involvement were never realized. She strongly urged the creation of a cabinet post to administer the arts, and worked for the establishment of a National Conservatory in Washington. It was her belief that with this kind of government financing, "private patronage would then become unnecessary and, as a temporary means, would have served its ultimate purpose." This is in decided contrast to Andrew Carnegie's belief that "the greatest patronage of music should come from a paying public."
Nowhere is her attitude on this subject more clearly articulated than in a letter to the editor of the Washington Post , written at the time of the establishment of the National Symphony. To the widely publicized criticism of the conductor Hans Kindler over some peripheral issues concerning the orchestra's policies, she injected her unique viewpoint:
Not as between local or visiting musicians, nor as to costly and fashionable concerts versus wide-spread support of the best music do I wish to enter this discussion; but rather as a champion of excellence versus "compromise with mediocrity" do I wish to express my admiration for the standards toward which Mr. Kindler is striving. . . . In addition to the artistic prestege [sic ] which should attract the whole country to its national Capital, I believe that the citizens of Washington themselves, and the cause of music in general, would gain by the numerous secondary results which follow the establishment of a leading symphony orchestra in any community. . . . Is it too much to hope that one day the National Orchestra may become so in fact, as well as in name, and that, like other imperative needs of our country, the best music should be guaranteed to its citizens by the government, and exemplified by its maintenance at the governmental center of the Nation?
She was visionary as well in her early recognition of the immense potential of radio, and one of her most notable pioneering efforts was an outreach effected through broadcast concerts, which were carried at first by the Navy Broadcasting Service in 1925. When she began her affiliation with commercial broadcast companies, she mustered all of her considerable influence in objecting to their policies, and fired off many a salvo chastising them for truncating concerts and playing single movements of works in order to fit into a limited time slot. Of this problem she wrote in 1937: "I do hope that the time may come when our government will superintend this business as they do in England in order that the vast influence of the radio may some time be exercised in behalf of culture, rather than a private profit. However we do not at present seem headed in any such direction."
Her prognostications proved correct, and seven years later we still find her complaining—this time, like Queen Victoria, in the majestic plural. "We have protested. . . . The radio companies have grown so commercial that they are selling almost every minute of their time, leaving the more altruistic and cultural broadcasting in favor of advertising rich sponsors."
But this brief recitation of Coolidge's good works and noble motives is not meant to enthrone her in some illusory pantheon of patrons. She was not perfect, and she would undoubtedly have been the first to object to such a pastel portrayal of her colorful and imposing personality. Not without reason did she earn—even from some of her best friends—such epithets as Victorian autocrat, benign dictator, and Empress of South Mountain. To disallow her any faults would be to fashion a dull icon out of a unique personality endowed with unusual vision and indomitable energy; she was a patron who did not shrink from challenging traditions and sacrosanct establishments.
Coolidge was, like her prose, benign and perfunctory when she chose, but she could rise to great magisterial heights when her most autocratic nature was provoked. She learned to handle large issues with equanimity; however, petty annoyances often aroused her impatience. But her Amazonian physical presence and sometimes imperious behavior belied the sensitivity and forebearance of which she was truly capable. What Daniel Gregory Mason said of patronage in 1915, before Coolidge had even begun her major work, might well have been written as the epilogue to her story:
To be a good patron one must have not only money and an interest in music, but what is rarer, tact, imaginative perception of other points of view, complete freedom from the wish to be personally conspicuous, and a greater love for art than for artists. . . . It is not enough to "abandon your money" to people, . . . your heart must go with it—that is your sympathetic understanding of their artistic aims. Otherwise, however you may try to gloss the matter, you are a dispenser of benefits, a king with a court, a patronizer rather than a patron. You are substituting a feudal relation of lord and vassal for the democratic one of the cooperation of equals variously endowed, for the realization of the ends desired by all.
Walter Damrosch once characterized Andrew Carnegie's attitude as an "admiration for music [that] never crystalized into as great a conviction regarding its importance in life as that which he had regarding the importance of science or literature." Although Coolidge's resources appear dwarfed when compared to Carnegie's fortune, her patronage went far beyond admiration for music; it was fueled by an absolute passion for the art that had sustained her throughout her life, and is characterized by an intensely personal commitment to and involvement in the details of her work up to the very week before her death at the age of eighty-nine. The full extent of her influence can perhaps never be measured, but among her most notable achievements is the Coolidge Foundation, which not only provided the best in chamber music to audiences throughout this country and much of Europe as well, but also created the legal machinery by which the Library of Con-
gress could accept and use all manner of gifts and bequests in the future. Today more than 150 such funds exist, well over 20 of them dealing specifically with music. In addition, the manuscript holdings of the Library have been vastly enlarged by the deposit of the holographs of all of the Coolidge commissions, works dedicated to her, and prize-winning compositions from the Berkshire Competition, which total over 500. Her legacy to the nation and to the public at large was her career. Yet this career is far from that which she had envisioned earlier in life. On the occasion of her fortieth birthday in 1904, her father wrote commenting on this milestone in her life. Her disconsolate response reveals her great disappointment over the failure of the career that she would have chosen had not fate intervened:
I wish I could rejoice more over my anniversaries, as I should if they seemed to me to mark off the years of a satisfactory life. But I started out with such impossible ambitions that I cannot help feeling the forty-year milestone to mark a very insignificant career whose highest powers are already gone. I suppose this is only egotism, for my "career" matters so little. Still, it was dear to me. . . . In the meantime, the symphonies are still dumb, the pictures still unpainted, the radiant family of children unborn (save for the one dear exception), the home, center of hospitality to all that is happiest and most brilliant—a shifting, rented affair! Oh well, doubtless the effort is the chief joy.
To measure her career against the ideals that she expressed to Coleman, and in light of her personal motivation, raises the question of what might have been had her life followed the comfortable and untroubled course that she no doubt anticipated at the time of her marriage. Would there be a Coolidge Foundation, a Coolidge Auditorium, the hundreds of commissions and dedications, and the countless other benefactions that inspired Walter Wilson Cobbett to christen her "The Lady Bountiful" when he awarded her the Cobbett Medal in 1925? Her real career was most aptly and prophetically characterized by Andrew W. Mellon on the occasion of the Fifth Library of Congress Festival, when he described how she, a private citizen, "induced a government complacent in the efficiency of its operations to adopt an entirely new role. . . . And then, having inspired the necessary convictions, she herself provided the resources for giving them practical effect. She did all this without organization, without the exercise of any political influence—did it single handed. That is her habit—except that when she gives, she gives with both hands. The consequences of all this may be such as no man can foresee—and only one woman!"
Coolidge on Gowns, Dedications, and American Musical Chauvinism
Annotated by Cyrilla Barr
The following excerpts are drawn from the extensive collection of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge's correspondence now housed at the Library of Congress. The three brief opening excerpts—to a concertgoer who had admired her gown at one of the many concerts she sponsored, and to two composers—reveal some of the private pleasures and frustrations of one of the most prominent public figures on the American "new music" scene and give some sense of her professional frustrations in carrying out her patronage. The long and frank exchange between the "Faerie Queene" and "Mike"—Coolidge and Carl Engel, the longtime head of the Music Division of the Library of Congress—gives particular insight into Coolidge's considered views on the relative merits of European and American music and on what the proper role of the patron—or, in this case, the foundation that she established and funded—should be in promoting local versus international talent. The paired nicknames "Mike" and "Line" allude to an ad for Michelin tires that claimed "Il boit l'obstacle" (It devours all obstacles), something that Coolidge and Engel did very well together.
To Mrs. Hortense Berry, 6 October 1940
. . . I am sure that you must realize that to speak of my becoming gown and youthful appearance [at the concert] was a feminine touch that gladdened my heart; for I love to be thought of not as an impresario exclusively, but also as a woman with the usual foibles of her sex.
To the composer Roy Harris, 26 January 1932
It is nice to be reminded of something else that I can do other than with my check book! That is only the hired servant, whereas the love and fidelity which I feel toward Art are high priestesses in the service of the only religion which I know. . . . Thank you, my dear boy, for telling me this and for letting me know that I have contributed a little to you, not by what I am doing but perhaps by what I am.
To the composer Tibor Harsányi, 28 July 1930
At least three times I have had offered me, in the expectation of a gift of money, compositions which were openly intended for certain artists, and even accompanied by the re-
quest that I should arrange to give them the first performance. This also has been hard, as it did not always coincide with my plans, and moreover, I could not always secure the artists (who were supposed to have a monopoly on these works) at a time which coincided with my own plans, and I fear it has resulted in some annoyance and perhaps resentment, on the part of the players who regarded these compositions as their own special property, although wishing to gain for the composers the cachet and the brilliant audience which they were hoping to attain from me. I have, therefore, come to the conclusion that I cannot well accept the multitude of dedications which have recently been offered to me, unless with this acceptance goes the intention and ability to arrange for a first hearing and subsequent rights of performance by such artists as I may choose to engage, and at such times as suits my convenience. . . . I have been driven to this by the impossible situations in which I have found myself half a dozen times by becoming responsible for compositions, without the corresponding control and authority which should go with such a commission.
. . . I also want (for my own peace of mind) to add a word—or several—to what I said yesterday about Americanism! I should feel as you do about "America first" in any government undertaking (such as our Foundation and its functions) were it not that my idea of service to America does not fully embrace the Monroe Doctrine. In other words, it seems to me that one of our highest needs in this country is of an honest reverence for quality; the only way to know and revere musical quality is to hear it. So, it seems to me a more patriotic thing to supply the best than to protect the national "infant industry," and really, in the end, the only way to develop Art.
. . . Dear Carl, this is for you alone. No "document," please, but a credo; because I care so much for Art, and because I care so much for you, that I long to be self-expressed.
Also, because I like to put my shoulder to the American wheel when my artistic loyalty and self-respect do not forbid it, I want to tell you what you already know, if you are inclined to disapprove of my outspoken preference for the European attitude towards music. I have given, I should think, hundreds of free concerts to the colleges, libraries and music-loving communities from Massachusetts to California, have started the career and maintained the existence of more than one American artist or organization, have included American composers in dozens of programs here and abroad (the latter not always to the advancement of their "prestige") and have had very few but Americans in the juries which have awarded the prizes to Europeans. So you see, my dear, my "last cent" is not spent abroad in spite of a very advantageous rate of exchange, and quite independently of the Foundation in Washington.
I know that this sounds Messianic and bombastic and I ask you to burn it; it is just for you because we are partners and because I care!
Since dictating my letter, dear Mike, I have been thinking intensively. I believe I have seen a light, tho' probably not a great one. I have, for the first time, realized the Library not as a musical agent but as a part of America's machinery; and from this point of view I see differently the question of internationalism versus nationalism, I understand, as I have not before, that American music is logically the primary consideration of the governmental "Division of Music." Perhaps a high tariff and a Monroe Doctrine will serve a Library undertaking as well as they have served other infant industries, and when we are as grown-up artistically as we now are economically, we may, by this protective policy, have become independent enough to exchange our Art at par with other nations—or even to forget the racial distinctions.
This is not my own habitual opinion, as you know; but I think it might be, if I were a Government official; and so, du lieber Engel , I sympathize, more understandingly than I did, with your feeling of accountability to the American Muse, and will not place any international obstacles on your dinner table! Perhaps by fostering local (or at least National) art, we can, a little later most effectively contribute our share to the musical league of Nations and sound [a] significant note in the Altered Harmony of the world.
But if we thus accept our governmental limitations, all the more strongly do I feel a sense of private duty (privilege, rather) to serve Art and Humanity by listening (beyond the District of Columbia or the States of Massachusetts and California) for the music of the Morning Stars. (Vide William Blake!) As individuals we shall have to travel, unofficially if not incognito, in free-trade countries of an older culture. In later years the ESC Foundation may avail itself of these opportunities which now seem more advantageous for private endeavor. Meantime, I wish it might establish a "chair" of Musical Eugenics, for the engendering of native ability as well as native opportunity.
If this bores you, put it in the fire! (If there is a fire chez toi , Saint Michel!) I just had to write you that I am learning to see around the corner.
P.S. This is not final, but so vividly felt that I must write it. Don't hold me to it!
Sept. 8 
Dearest Faerie Queene,
Your magic power extends in every direction, including that of finding the right word for the right thing at the right moment. Your penciled "manifesto" which I have read and reread several times since it reached me, half an hour ago, is an inspired document. From the heart it came and to the heart it has gone. Therefore, I am brushing aside, for the moment, pursuing matters of routine (I've bolted my office door!) and let the heart speak in return. I knew you would "understand," and you always will. . . . A deep-seated skepticism leads me to believe that too much internationalism has its decidedly weakening influence. Nothing will further the ideal brotherhood of men—and women—as will a kinship of ideals. And of all the ideals that I know, none has the universality of appeal that belongs to the arts, particularly to the art of music. But there are racial limitations here as everywhere else. There are racial jealousies—and the urge to racial self-preservation. The latter has no stronger foe than internationalism. You may object that there is as yet (and perhaps never will be) an "American race." But there surely is an American Nation, which has national institutions—among them a National Library. Comparisons are lame, analogies always slip a cog, but I cannot think of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris or the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin going deliberately out of their way to offer subjects of foreign nationalities advantages which they are denying or curtailing, to their own countrymen. . . . and so, all things considered, I want to see the Library pursue the policy I was the first to suggest, that through government channels we extend invitations to foreign musicians; but I also want to see the ESC Foundation, as the only American governmental agency active in the furtherance of high class music, give every possible aid and encouragement to deserving American talent. This isn't really so far away from your own trend of thoughts. And you may be assured that so long as I am connected with the ESCF it shall never servilely cater to either nationalism or internationalism. Disagreement adds zest to life. The trouble is that there are so d——d few people worth disagreeing with. I'm not frightened by—I rather relish—any disagreeing voices that become articulate or scream in the "meeting" or in the press. I'm ready to defend everything I do. But I'm also ready to learn when I see the things from a different angle. Just as you are for that matter. (As to the possibilities of "hysteria" and its "easy cure" which you dismiss a little airily, I am not quite prepared to follow you. I think that "crowd hysteria" is the most dangerous thing imaginable. I would never deliberately
arouse it, but do all I could to side-step it, unless I was prepared to burn at the stake—which under the certain circumstance, I am prepared to do.) . . .
It takes a lot of patience to handle these situations, I know, and to "evade" difficulty is not in line with the reputation that our impatient team "Michel-Line" is trying to gain. But it's arisen and in the end more helpful. . . .
Bless your dear soul, and please tear up any letter you get from me—don't keep mine for the ESC archives!
Mildred Bliss Tells Nadia Boulanger to Think of Herself for Once
Annotated by Jeanice Brooks
Igor Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oaks Concerto was premiered as part of a program conducted by Nadia Boulanger on 8 May 1938 at the Washington, D.C., home for which the piece was named. The concerto was the result of a commission by the philanthropists Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss for a piece to celebrate their thirtieth wedding anniversary. The commission was apparently negotiated in the spring of 1937 by Boulanger, a passionate champion of Stravinsky's music. Early plans may have involved a first performance conducted by Stravinsky himself, but his poor health, which forced him to undergo a cure for tuberculosis in the spring of 1938, made the voyage to America impossible. The program was turned over to Boulanger, who presented the concerto with extracts from Bach cantatas (sung by the tenor Hugues Cuénod and bass Doda Conrad, who had both come from France with her for her American tour) and Stravinsky's own Duo Concertant violin and piano.
Mildred Bliss wrote the following letter to Boulanger (now in the Bibliothéque nationale, Paris) a week after the Dumbarton Oaks concert, in the fluent but somewhat idiosyncratic French she normally employed in communications with the musician. She explains that her letter was delayed because of the sudden death of a close friend, whose admirable qualities she describes; the highest praise she can imagine is that he was "a useful citizen," the emphasis reflecting her own strong commitment to public service and her belief in the necessity of contributing to society in practical ways. After explaining why her letter is late, Bliss discusses the arrangements for paying the composer and the participants in the concert. She wants Stravinsky's concerto to be named after Dumbarton Oaks, a gesture that seems to have had the desired effect of affording the mansion's owners at least a degree of anonymity (at its premiere in England later the same year the piece was identified as named "after the California house in which it was written"). Throughout the letter Bliss's deep affection and regard for Boulanger is evident. She is concerned about Boulanger's tendency to overwork, as well as her penchant for dispensing money to her students rather than keeping it for herself. And her reference to perfume and a negligé (which she did send to Boulanger's ship when she sailed for France, as a subsequent letter makes clear) seems to indicate a desire to help Boulanger to pamper herself more than she was generally inclined to do.
Bliss closes with a request for Boulanger's opinion on two letters, which she encloses; she does not discuss the content, but it is clear she values her advice greatly. Her trust in Boulanger's musical judgment worked to Stravinsky's advantage again the following year: Boulanger acted as Stravinsky's go-between with Bliss to arrange for the premiere of his Symphony in C during the fiftieth anniversary season of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Monday, May 16 
My very dear friend, what must you think of me? But listen to what has happened—it was downright cold in Wilmington, and the tours of gardens, museums and greenhouses left me with a cold that moved into my chest on my return. Thursday I worked with Beatrix Farrand (what an interesting woman, isn't she? you won her over completely) until I was ready to collapse, and since then I haven't been able to leave my bed. My husband left by himself on Friday morning, arriving in Long Island about 5:30 to hear some tragic news: the sudden death of a very dear friend, with whom we were planning to stay from the next day (Saturday) until today! All four of us were together in Wilmington from Monday to Wednesday, planning to meet again two days later; the couple came home from the theatre Thursday in perfect health. At six o'clock—a cry and then the end . . .
Seventeen years of harmony, of health, of happiness; of joyful and productive life; two sons and a daughter; civic and social responsibilities; two households, involving serious financial obligations; in sum a useful citizen. And now, the happiness over, and shock and immense sadness and the weariness of solitude. Poor woman, I feel this deeply and am heart-broken not to have been able to help her during the first days of her great grief—my husband accompanied hers to the end. Tomorrow he comes back from New York and once more I will thank God for his goodness to me.
There it is, dear Nadia, the reason for my silence, which must have surprised you.
I left you reluctantly. Every hour spent with you enriches one's life. You have not only a vast amount to give, but you are generous, and the poorer one is the more you offer of yourself.
And now, for business:
Stravinsky : second cheque, completing the fee as we agreed, sent May 4. Hope to write him tomorrow. Sam [Dushkin] is taking him program with signatures, etc. Sent a telegram the 9th as you know. We would like the Concerto to be associated with the name Dumbarton Oaks, not our name.
Dushkin : is leaving day after tomorrow the 18th on the Normandie —cheque sent.
Webster : all in order
Jacobsen : letter thanking him will go off tomorrow and cheque will be sent as soon as I know the sum of the fees and expenses of the orchestra.
Conrad : Wanted very much to send his fee before his departure on the Normandie , but can't, not knowing the sum. Will be very obliged to you, dear friend, to let me know what it is, as well as his address in Paris.
Cuénod : Ditto
The enclosed cheque is for the conductor. With a certain hesitation I ask her to keep it for herself, knowing that she is capable of emptying every penny into the pockets of others.
Even a postcard to tell me that you have been able to rest would be welcome. And be
good enough to tell me again the date of your departure and the name of the ship. I will send the pattern for the negligé and some perfume to you there! How frivolous!
But, my dear good friend, I beg you not to wear yourself out. I know in advance everything you could reply about the quality of life and not its length! But I object that quality and moderation are worth more sustained generosity! There! Am I ungrateful to preach to you when I should only tell you of my gratitude?
I felt so much all that you gave of yourself so that the the work of the Master would be properly performed. He will know of it and will be infinitely grateful. As for us, it is difficult if not impossible to tell you how grateful we are. If I add their part of our thanks for Sam and Sasha [Jacobsen]—how much they gave of themselves, those two.
The memory of that anniversary music is uniquely sweet. The music itself—the serenity of Bach, the vitality of Stravinsky; the vibration of your intelligence; the cooperation of the artists and the anima that enveloped you—and the dawn of awakening that etched itself in the soul of Schilling—all together will light the way for us for a long time to come.
Enclosed, two letters. After you have read them, please send them back to me with your comments. I am especially eager to have your opinion.
Good night, anniversary friend! It is pleasant to think that from now on you are part of Dumbarton Oaks, where my heart will always be—