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Image of Steve Swayne holding a record

Three Objects, Three Composers

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Steve Swayne’s lecture, titled “Three Objects, Three Composers,” is now available on the Library’s YouTube Channel. In a public event hosted on June 9, Swayne, the 2022 Kluge Chair in Modern Culture, discussed the lives of three composers he has studied at the Library, both currently and during his visits over the last twenty years: Stephen Sondheim, William Schuman, and David Diamond.

Steve Swayne with one of the Library artifacts he presented at his event, “Three Objects, Three Composers”

Among the artifacts he discussed, Swayne highlighted a lacquered disk (pictured above) from the Library’s Collections. As is evident from the photograph, the disk is “exuding,” a process of degradation of the lacquer due to the passage of time and high temperatures, which can eventually make the information stored on a disk unrecoverable.

Using the card catalog of Sondheim’s recordings, a Schuman manuscript showing his work on a 12-tone composition, and the degrading lacquered disk, Swayne wove together stories from the three composers with anecdotes from his own life and archival work.

Historians of music are often engaged in a race against time, attempting to glean information from artifacts before they degrade.

This race against time is a challenge the Library addresses daily. In 2012, the Library released its “National Recording Preservation Plan” which documents recommendations and guidelines for the preservation of audio. Using this plan, the Library has sought to preserve the world’s audial heritage and to prevent the degradation of current holdings, such as those in the Recorded Sound Research Center. To access some of the digitized recordings available to the public, have a listen to the National Jukebox.

Swayne’s meticulous archival work highlights the treasures that can be found in the Library’s collections and the profound ways they have influenced our shared cultural history.


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