During the Cold War, American private foundations subsidized American modernist composers, supporting their work through commissions, underwriting recordings and concerts, and promoting their ideas in radio programs and periodicals circulated at home and abroad. From its establishment in 1952, the Fromm Music Foundation (FMF) acted as an important player in this field. Using archival material and interviews with people who worked with the founder Paul Fromm, I show how Fromm’s involvement in his foundation, and his reliance on professional advice, constituted a unique patronage model that enabled select composers to participate actively in the promotion of their music. Fromm’s relationship with Elliott Carter provides an especially complex example of a mutually beneficial and successful partnership.
Fromm’s goal was to integrate contemporary music into American musical life by supporting the production and dissemination of new compositions. Fromm sought to play the role of patron, fostering close relationships with composers who received funds and acted as his artistic advisers. Fromm’s partnership, and consequent friendship with, Carter illustrates the many ways the FMF served composers. In 1955 Fromm commissioned what became Carter’s Double Concerto for piano, harpsichord, and two chamber orchestras (1961). Fromm’s subsequent help, administered through his Foundation and personal connections, enabled Carter to secure high-quality premieres of this piece and other difficult-to-perform repertoire, helped facilitate repeat performances and recordings of these compositions, and allowed Carter, together with his wife Helen, to establish a system to fund musicians who performed his music—and also reap tax benefits. Among the recipients who benefited from Fromm’s largesse were Charles Rosen, Paul Jacobs, and Jacob Lateiner.
Fromm’s actions spawned a familiar fable. Carter’s career and the way he talked about it reinforced many persistent falsehoods about an artist’s relationship, or lack thereof, to potential listeners and audiences—a source of financial support for artists since the advent of public concert life. Fromm’s financial support and Carter’s ability to supplement it helped buttress the late-Romantic myth of creative autonomy. The details of this partnership—the words exchanged, the other figures involved, and its variegated benefits—harbor broad implications for the study of Cold War-era patronage networks and for our view of Carter’s career.