Ballets for Martha Graham

Coolidge and her foundation were pioneers in commissioning dance. The 1944 festival, billed in honor of Coolidge’s eightieth birthday, devoted an entire program to new works composed for choreographer Martha Graham (1894–1991). Graham called the commissions a “first” not only for her, but for American dance. The featured pieces were Darius Milhaud’s Jeux de Printemps (Graham’s Imagined Wing), Paul Hindemith’s Hérodiade (Graham’s Mirror Before Me), and, undoubtedly the best-known Coolidge commission, Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.

The sometimes tricky negotiations between composer and choreographer were facilitated by Harold Spivacke (1923–1984), who became Music Division chief in 1937. Under Spivacke’s direction, two additional dance commissions went to Graham: Dark Meadow, also from 1944, with music by Carlos Chavez; and Night Journey in 1947, with music by William Schumann.

Martha Graham to Elizabeth Coolidge, August 2, 1942. Letter. Page 2 | Page 3. Coolidge Foundation Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (036.00.00)

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Sketches of the Performance

Festival Program with sketches by artist Prentiss Taylor, 1944. Prentiss Taylor Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (037.00.00)

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Tea and Empathy

Coolidge and Music Division chief Harold Spivacke. Photograph, ca. 1949. Coolidge Foundation Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (039.00.00)

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Coolidge with Martha Graham

Martha Graham and Coolidge after premiere of Appalachian Spring. Photograph, 1944. Coolidge Foundation Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (038.00.00)

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Darius Milhaud’s Jeux de Printemps

Darius Milhaud. Jeux de Printemps. Holograph manuscript, 1944.Coolidge Foundation Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (040.01.00)

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