Monday, October 27, 2014

Happy Birthday, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge!

Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (center) surrounded by the members of the Coolidge Quartet:
(L to R) Victor Gottlieb, Nicolai Berezowsky, Nicholas Moldavan, William Kroll
Thursday, October 30, will see the 150th anniversary of the birth of that great patron of 20th-century music, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (1864-1953). Her influence on music was incalculable. Her commissions include a number of works that became mainstream repertory, such as Bartók's Fifth String Quartet, Copland's Appalachian Spring, and Poulenc's Flute Sonata, as well as such important works as the first string quartets by Britten and Prokofiev, the last two by Schoenberg, and Stravinsky's Apollon Musagète. Less well-remembered is the fact that she was a pianist and composer in her own right. Her String Quartet in E minor, performed by the group that bears her name, is evidence of her gifts in the latter capacity:

Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge: Quartet in E minor
The Coolidge Quartet (Kroll-Berezowsky-Moldavan-Gottlieb)
Recorded January 22, 1940
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-719, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 70.75 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 46.42 MB)

I don't believe this piece has ever been recorded otherwise, nor does it seem to have been published. I don't even know when it was written; Victor's booklet of program notes (included as a PDF file, and from which the picture above is lifted) omit that seemingly important bit of information. The piece may not be an earth-shattering masterpiece, but it is well-crafted and pleasing to the ear, in a solidly post-romantic idiom. There are three movements: a sonata allegro, a "Funeral Lament" as a slow movement, and a finale called "Divertimenti" - variations and a fugue on the Quartet's opening melody.


  1. I´ve got only this info: her String Quartet was performed in 1936 as part of an NBC broadcast entitled "Music Is My Hobby,"
    Thanks! Gabriel

  2. Dear Bryan: I am looking for an old LP by Bernstein/NYPO: William Schuman´s Concerto on Old English Rounds for Viola, Women's Chorus and Orchestra. Maybe you´ve got it. Thanks!! Gabriel

  3. Thanks, Gabriel! I do have that LP but it's not in very good shape. Word is that it's finally being reissued in any case, as part of the new Bernstein Edition 80-CD box of concertos and other orchestral works.

    1. Thanks, Bryan, for your kind reply! Gabriel

  4. Dear Bryan, Thank you very much indeed for this - I never thought I'd hear it! I too would love to know what's on that Poltronieri disc... Looks like a serious rarity! Best wishes, Nick

  5. Thanks so much for this!
    According to Cyrilla Barr's biography of Coolidge, the Quartet was composed around 1913. Frederick Stock performed an arrangement of the middle movements for string orchestra with the Chicago Symphony in 1916. Barr also writes that the Quartet was recorded by the Manhattan Quartet. I haven't tried to confirm any of this yet.
    Thanks again for this!