Program for the Library’s First Festival of Chamber Music

While Coolidge traveled to Europe during the summer of 1925, Engel oversaw preparations for the first festival of chamber music, which would take place that fall. Engel drew a mock-up program for the festival, including a logo for the concert series—a patriotic eagle carrying a lyre in its talons instead of arrows. As he described to Coolidge in a letter, “All the world knows that the American Eagle has a voice . . . what will be news to most people, is that the Eagle’s voice has of late acquired suaver and more melodious accents.”

Carl Engel. Mock-up program for first Coolidge Foundation Festival of Chamber Music at the Library of Congress, 1925. Holograph manuscript. Coolidge Foundation Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress. (024.00.00)

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Engel and Coolidge, “Michel” and “Line”

Coolidge and Engel developed a dynamic working relationship built upon respect and trust; however, their correspondence also reveals a genuine friendship infused with humor. The French tire manufacturer Michelin boasted the slogan, “Il boit l’obstacle.” (“It devours obstacles.”) Engel thought this description applied perfectly to Coolidge and her perseverance, hence they assumed the nicknames Michel and Line. Engel includes a charming drawing of the pair in the style of the Michelin Man, identified by their nicknames.

Carl Engel to Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, August 14, 1926. Holograph letter. Page 2. Coolidge Foundation Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (025.00.00)

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Stravinsky’s Apollon Musagète

The first Coolidge Festival that included dance music, held in 1928, featured one of the foundation’s most notable commissions—Igor Stravinsky’s ballet Apollon Musagète. Engel arranged for the commission while traveling in Europe in 1927, where he met with Stravinsky’s publisher to secure exclusive performance rights for a period following its world premiere in the Coolidge Auditorium, as well as the autograph manuscript for preservation in the Library’s collections. However, working with Stravinsky was not an easy experience for Engel and Coolidge as the composer missed deadlines, was slow to respond to cables, and reported the title and instrumentation for the ballet to a British journal before informing Engel. As a result of the unease and frustration this collaboration involved, Engel deemed the April 1928 festival “the most Michelinesque yet.”

Igor Stravinsky. Apollon Musagète. Holograph piano score, 1927. Page 2. Coolidge Foundation Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (026.00.00)

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Premiere of Apollon Musagète at the Library

The premiere performance of Apollon Musagète in the Coolidge Auditorium was choreographed by Adolph Bolm, who also danced the role of Apollo. To the dismay of the Coolidge Foundation, Stravinsky was unconcerned with the United States premiere on April 27, 1928—he instead focused on the upcoming Serge Diaghilev European production with the Ballets Russes, choreographed by George Balanchine. Stravinsky conducted the European premiere in Paris on June 12, 1928. Apollon Musagète was Balanchine’s first great public success and is regarded as one of his greatest works.

Coolidge Festival of Chamber Music. Program, April 27, 1928. Coolidge Foundation Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (028.00.00)

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Adolph Bolm

Adolph Bolm as Apollo in Apollon Musagète. Photograph, 1928. Adolph Bolm Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (027.00.00)

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Coolidge Reaches out Radically with Radio: “I told you so.”

In her effort to share chamber music with as large an audience as possible, Coolidge insisted that the Coolidge Auditorium be equipped for radio broadcast. She asserted that “practically everyone loves chamber music who understands it; and . . . almost everyone understands it who hears it enough.” By broadcasting her concert series on the Columbia, National, and Mutual Broadcasting Companies, Coolidge made it possible for the American public to enjoy chamber music in their own living rooms. She received a deluge of letters from listeners around the country expressing deep gratitude for the radio broadcasts. She occasionally offered a greeting at the beginning of a broadcast, such as she did for a 1936 NBC broadcast when she celebrated the success of her broadcasting efforts and gloated, “I told you so.”

Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, Walter Koons, and the Manhattan String Quartet in an NBC recording studio. Photograph, ca. 1935. Coolidge Foundation Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (029.00.00)

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Library of Congress Chamber Music Hour

Comments by Mrs. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge on Library of Congress Chamber Music Hour, WJZ. Typed transcript, January 14, 1936. Coolidge Foundation Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (030.00.00)

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Coolidge Speaks to a Radio Audience

The radio broadcast of the Tenth Festival of Chamber Music in 1944 opened at the Library of Congress with remarks by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge herself. Listen to Coolidge tell the history of the festival in her own words. She notes her desire for music to secure “the same governmental protection that is given to hygiene, education, or public welfare. How wonderful if we could have in the cabinet a Secretary of Fine Arts.”

Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge recorded on October 29, 1944, at the Coolidge Auditorium and broadcast over radio station WTOP (CBS), Washington, D.C. Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (030.02.00)

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