Nicholas Longworth and The Friends of Music in the Library of Congress

The following is a guest post from Lara Szypszak of the Music Division.

On Friday, January 12, 2018 at 8pm, Italian ensemble Europa Galante will perform in the Coolidge Auditorium. Presented in collaboration with the Embassy of Italy and the Italian Cultural Institute in Washington, DC, this concert honors Nicholas Longworth, former Speaker of the House, 1925-1931. A gifted violinist with a love for music of the Italian Baroque, he served as president of The Friends of Music at the Library of Congress. Tickets are free and available on Eventbrite, and a live stream of the event will also be available here.

Established in 1928, The Friends of Music in the Library of Congress have done much to contribute to the collections and concerts of the Music Division. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is essentially a gathering of people interested in music,” begins the first stenographic report of The Friends first meeting. These words, said by Chairman Mr. Walter Bruce Howe at 3:05 pm on December 11 before 127 attendees, exemplify the group’s passion and purpose.

In early decades of The Friends gatherings, the objectives of the group were three-fold:

1. To provide a link among serious music lovers all over the country by associating them, through our national library, in musical activities devoted wholly to artistic and educational ends.
2. To provide funds for the purchase and gift of additions to the music collection in the Library of Congress, such as historical rarities, significant publications and manuscripts, old and contemporaneous.
3. To provide, for members of the association, concerts to which the richness of the national music collection will contribute unusual musical significance.

The group’s contributions complemented and supported the work of the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation in its early years. While concerts were a priority for the enrichment and joy of The Friends members, much emphasis also rested on the monetary gifts that could allow the Library to purchase rare and valuable items. Member Miss Frances Wister, in addressing the group, wrote “We must give our young people a chance to study in the Library. They learn many ‘ologies’; why not musicology? I speak from the heart about this and from the need of my soul, on account of all the things I wanted to know and still want to know and never shall know and those things are in this library.”[1] She continues at length to implore the group to support the procurement of resources and rarities for the Library, to ultimately enable the Chief of the Music Division to continue developing strong collections.

W.A. Mozart: Minuets, K.461, holograph manuscript

One such rarity that has been acquired using The Friends of Music funds is a holograph of W.A. Mozart, with the complete fifth minuet of KoĢˆchel 461 and the first eight measures of the incomplete and unpublished sixth minuet.

The first president of The Friends of Music was Speaker of the House and Ohio Congressman Nicholas Longworth, a well-liked and distinguished man. Since his youth he showed great enthusiasm for music. During his time on Capitol Hill, when Congress was not in session, he would gather with musically inclined friends for memorable evenings of performances.

 

 

Photo of young Nicholas Longworth, photographed by Judge Longworth, from The Making of Nicholas Longworth, by Clara Longworth de Chambrun. Ray Long & Richard R. Smith, Inc., New York: 1933.

A violinist himself, he would skillfully lead small ensembles on his Stradivarius violin (1690).[2] Longworth would perform for and with friends and acclaimed musicians such as pianist Dr. Karol Liszniewski, conductor Fritz Reiner, and violinists Paul Kochanski and Eugene Ysaÿe . He was also close personal friends with the renowned Efrem Zimbalist, and the two would often play together. Zimbalist at one point even likened Longworth’s vibrato skills to a similar quality of Fritz Kreisler’s and it was the impression of several that rather than sounding like an amateur, he had a professional skill that merely seemed out of practice. His enthusiasm and respect for chamber music propelled him to lead, as president, first the Chamber Music Society of Washington and later The Friends of Music.

After Longworth’s passing, friends of the congressman established The Nicolas Longworth Foundation in his honor in 1932, to remember those musical evenings.

 

 

Nicholas Longworth and Alice Roosevelt Longworth. White House, Washington, D.C. Photography by Harris and Ewing, 1927.

Perhaps a direct correlation to the congressman’s moonlight life in the musical realm, The Friends of Music recognized that in the Library of Congress Music Division “lies the most serious connection that music has with the government and it should have high-powered allegiance.”[3]  The relationship to the chief of the Music Division was always in the foreground of the group’s meetings, even beyond each leader’s tenure at the Library. According to a June 15, 1940 Bulletin documenting the annual Friends meeting, the Vice-President and former Chief of the Division of Music Mr. Carl Engel was unable to attend but sent a voice recording to be played. In regards to the inception of The Friends of Music in the Library of Congress, Engel stated:

“In a world in which the ancient storehouses of art and culture are again threatened with destruction, it is all the more necessary that we should add our mite [sic] to the treasures of the mind garnered in our own national library. In a world too full of hatred and horror, we can find no better, no more benign friend than music, I envy you the joy and solace that the music … and the artists … of this afternoon must bring you.”[4]

Recently revitalized, The Friends of Music at the Library of Congress will hopefully continue to be a beacon for the continued support of music performance and study at the national library.

The Budapest String quartet, performing in the Coolidge Auditorium, from a film on the Library of Congress, produced by the U.S. Office of War Information. Photograph by U.S. Office of War Information, 1945.

[1] The Friends of Music in the Library of Congress stenographic report, No. 1. 1928. Page 10.

[2] The Making of Nicholas Longworth, by Clara Longworth de Chambrun. Ray Long & Richard R. Smith, Inc., New York: 1933. Page 210.

[3] The Friends of Music in the Library of Congress annual report, 1930.

[4] The Friends of Music in The Library Of Congress, Bulletin June 15, 1940. Page 7.