On your birthday, I bet you love getting cards in the mail, e-cards in your inbox, texts full of emojis, and Facebook posts from faraway friends. Imagine if you received handwritten musical scores full of birthday wishes, too!
On October 30, the Music Division musically celebrates the birthday of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (October 30, 1864-November 4, 1953) as Founder’s Day. Mrs. Coolidge was the grand patron of 20th-century composers, founder of our concert series, and namesake of the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium. Frequently, you read about commissions from the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation in the Library of Congress and that the original scores are held by the Music Division. In addition to these invaluable scores, musicians who befriended Mrs. Coolidge also sent her birthday greetings as musical scores!
For Mrs. Coolidge’s 53rd birthday in 1917, American composer – and future Pulitzer Prize winner – Leo Sowerby (1895-1968) sent a special holograph score to Mrs. Coolidge. Sowerby’s Serenade in G major for string quartet bears the inscription, “To my friend – Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. A birthday gift for October 30, 1917.” Sowerby’s score indicates that he began the piece in Chicago, Illinois from September 22-23 and completed it in Palisades Park, Michigan from September 24-25.
In 1934, English composer Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953) sent Mrs. Coolidge a holograph score of his Octet for horn, piano, two violins, two violas, cello, and double bass for her 70th birthday. The inscription on the score’s first page in the composer’s hand reads, “To Mrs. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge with kindest birthday wishes.” An enclosed note with good wishes is from both Arnold Bax and his wife Harriet. Mrs. Coolidge’s 71st birthday in 1935 was musically acknowledged by another English composer, Frank Bridge (1879-1941). The inscription in his holograph score of Divertimenti for flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon reads, “For Oct. 30, 1935 with affection from me.” However, Bridge worked on the composition from 1934-1938, and Mrs. Coolidge then donated the holograph score to the Music Division on November 9, 1938. The world premiere took place in the Coolidge Auditorium on April 14, 1940. Some of the most extensive correspondence in the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation Collection is from Frank Bridge, jointly from Frank and his wife Ethel, and from Ethel after the death of her husband. In Bridge letters and other dedicated scores, Mrs. Coolidge is addressed as “Souzie” and “Souzanne.” The letters date from 1922 to 1953, the year of Mrs. Coolidge’s death, evidence of long and meaningful friendships.
On Mrs. Coolidge’s 75th birthday in 1939, she received a string quartet arrangement of “Happy Birthday to You” from the Viennese violinist Rudolf Kolisch (1896-1978). Kolisch’s holograph arrangement of “Happy Birthday to You” contains the inscription, “To my dear Mrs. Coolidge with all my admiration and love.” You can learn more about Kolisch – brother-in-law of Arnold Schoenberg and first violinist of the Kolisch and Pro Arte Quartets – in the Rudolf Kolisch Collection.
Mrs. Coolidge received two scores for her 76th birthday in 1940. Sir Eugene Goossens (1893-1962) composed his String Quartet No. 2, op. 59 from July 31-September 12, 1940. His inscription in the holograph score reads, “Dedicated to my dear friend Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, for her birthday, 1940.” The second score was from French composer Darius Milhaud (1892-1974), who subtitled his String Quartet No. 10 the “Birthday Quartet.” The best part of this double birthday gift? Both of these string quartets received their world premieres on October 30, 1940 by the Coolidge Quartet in the Coolidge Auditorium!
After two birthday string quartets, Mrs. Coolidge received a piano sonata for her 77th birthday in 1941 from the Polish composer Alexandre Tansman (1897-1986), Sonata No. 4. This is especially meaningful because Mrs. Coolidge was also a pianist, and could have played the musical gift for herself. Tansman’s inscription in the margin of the sketches reads, “Mrs. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Birthday sonata, Oct. 30, 1941. To Mrs. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge and the Library of Congress in remembrance of the first performance in Washington, Oct. 30, 1941, with the heartiest devotion and gratitude.” The world premiere he mentioned was the Founder’s Day concert, performed by none other than the composer himself. In fact, the Music Division holds holograph sketches, the first version, and the revised version from which Tansman played at the premiere. Two years later, Tansman send Mrs. Coolidge a 79th birthday present, Serenade No. 3 for orchestra. The inscription in the holograph score reads, “To Mrs. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge with my cordial wishes on Oct. 30, 1943.”
The two final birthday scores for Mrs. Coolidge were both canons for solo voices. For Mrs. Coolidge’s 81st birthday in 1945, German composer Erich Itor Kahn (1905-1956) composed Canon per modum speculi for unaccompanied SATB (soprano, alto, tenor, and bass voices). Kahn’s inscription in the holograph score reads, “To Mrs. Elisabeth Sprague Coolidge, October 30th, 1945.” This canon, like Rudolf Kolisch’s 1939 gift, is based on “Happy Birthday to You.” Mrs. Coolidge’s landmark 85th birthday in 1949 was marked with a musical gift from German composer Paul Hindemith (1895-1963). The holograph score - which is a painted wooden box! – of Canon a tre for three equal voices contained a note with birthday greetings from both the composer and his wife Gertrud from their home in Boston. An alternative title to this work is Birthday Canon for Mrs. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge.
I hope that this impressive and endearing list of musical birthday greetings inspires you to explore the wealth of musical primary sources available in the Music Division because of Mrs. Coolidge’s enduring generosity.