Today we honor one of America’s greatest patrons of chamber music, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, who died on this date in 1953.
Born in 1864, Elizabeth was a daughter of Albert Arnold Sprague, the founder of a prosperous wholesale grocery. She put her inheritance to good use. In 1924, she proposed to the Library of Congress that an auditorium be constructed in Washington DC, which, as she put it, would be “planned for and dedicated to the performance of chamber music.” A year later it was built, and Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress still stands today.
Not content with just a superb venue for chamber music, Mrs. Coolidge was every bit as diligent to fill it with specially commissioned new works. The list of important chamber pieces her Foundation commissioned is impressive, and includes Bartok’s Fifth and Schoenberg’s Third and Fourth String Quartets, the original chamber versions of Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” and Stravinsky’s “Apollo” ballets, and modern works by American composers as diverse as Samuel Barber, Milton Babbitt, George Crumb, and John Corigliano.
Mrs. Coolidge was herself an amateur composer and accomplished pianist. Her passion for music and enthusiasm for the creation of new works was all the more remarkable considering that tragically she herself battled deafness from her mid-thirties.