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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Thursday, April 8

A Bartok premiere (and patron)

Synopsis

On today’s date in 1935, the Kolisch Quartet gave the premiere performance of Bela Bartok’s String Quartet No. 5 in the auditorium of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. That performance was part of a chamber music festival sponsored by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, one of the 20th century’s great musical patrons.

In 1925, she created a Foundation to enable the Library of Congress to present concerts and commission new works in the nation’s capital Among the major American works commissioned by the Coolidge Foundation were Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” and George Crumb’s “Ancient Voices of Children.” Coolidge herself was an accomplished musician and amateur composer. One of her chief advisors was the Dutch cellist and conductor Hans Kindler, who once contacted Sibelius with a Coolidge commission for a new cello concerto, which, sadly, never materialized. It was Kindler who suggested commissioning a string quartet from Bartok, this time with success.

After its premiere, the critic for The Musical Courier wrote: “Mr. Bartok’s [new quartet] is impressionistic and well-wrought.” The critic for Musical America was less impressed: “It honestly treats folk melody with a healthy vigor . . . [but] there is … no subtle play of light and shade.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Béla Bartók (1881-1945) String Quartet No. 5 Emerson String Quartet DG 423 657

Additional Information

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