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Conservation and the Koussevitzsky Collection

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As a conservation technician for the Library of Congress, Conservation Division, I work with numerous and varied objects of significant value. This work involves extensive planning and creating custom housings for objects of value for the benefit of communities and researchers both now and for future generations to appreciate, learn from, and enjoy.  The objects within the Koussevitzsky Music Foundation are no exception.

The Koussevitzsky Music Foundation was founded in 1942 by Serge Koussevitzsky. Throughout his lifetime he was passionate about supporting the arts, and contemporary music especially. Born in 1874, in Vishniy Volochek, Koussevitzky founded a publishing house in 1909 which issued music by notable composers including Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff. After he left Russia, he founded the Concerts Koussevitzky in Paris over a period from 1921-1929, with which he performed new music. Serge Koussevitzky died in Boston on June 4, 1951.

During his career he was a conductor for the Boston Symphony Orchestra from the years spanning 1924-1949. Over his career Koussevitzsky formed deep ties with many of the budding composers and musicians of the time, and this collection not only reflects his life and career in this way, but furthermore, chronicles the history of organizations and his participation with them, including the Berkshire Music Center, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the American International Music Fund.

Koussevitzsky was a strong advocate for supporting contemporary music, and throughout his career he commissioned composes including Béla Bartók, Arnold Schoenberg, and notably Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, and Stravinsky’s Symphonies Symphonies of Wind Instruments. Another great legacy was Tangelwood, of which well-known composers studied including Leonard Bernstein, Copland and Honneger.

In 1949 Koussevitzsky passed the operations of his foundation to the Library of Congress in order to continue his lifelong support and commitment to composers and contemporary music. This collection contains a valuable resource of original manuscripts which are a central part of the vast music collection here at the Library.

Today, the mission of the Music Foundation is actively upheld, with applications for commissions accepted annually. This process has been in place for decades and has kept Koussevitzsky’s passion for supporting contemporary music alive today. With the effects of the COVID pandemic however, in 2020 there were no commissions awarded, however winning composers for 2021 were selected. In this way these commissions, which are granted jointly by the performing organizations and the Foundation, are then presented through world premiere performances and continues on the legacy of Serge Koussevitzsky.

To look after such a valuable collection of musical history, the Conservation Division has worked closely with staff from the Music Division to plan for the most appropriate method of housing these objects.

The portion of the collection made up of commissions were looked at, with one section being the manuscripts commissioned by the Foundation, and the other section having been commissioned by Koussevitzsky himself. They were in various types of housings including oil-cloth 4-flaps, cloth-covered clamshells, board 4-flaps, portfolio-style wraps and some even had no housings at all. They were in varying conditions, some were in fine shape and needed no action, however some others that had no housings or damaged housings required custom housings to be made.

Open folder in three pieces laying on table
Constructing the Pamphlet Binder Board Pieces. Library of Congress. Photo: Chloe Genter, 2021.


Hand sewing with needle and thread into blue ribbon
Sewing the Ribbon Ties. Library of Congress. Photo: Jennifer Lewis, 2021.


Closed folder with blue cloth spine resting on table
The Completed Pamphlet Binder. Library of Congress. Photo: Jennifer Lewis, 2021.

Storage environments are one of the most important aspects of preservation. For this collection, it was decided that some of the taller items would be moved from vertical to horizontal shelving, that very small items would be put in housings that will be more stable next to the folio-sized items. For the shelves themselves, supportive dividers or book ends were recommended to be spaced throughout in order to prevent the weight of the heavy volumes from pressing against one another.

This housing project, and similar projects undertaken by the Conservation Division, are conducted on objects that are part of the Library collections. The Koussevitzsky Housing project is still ongoing, and will thus continue and protect not only the physical objects themselves, but the legacy of Serge Koussevitzsky.

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