In 1940, Columbia University established a fund to provide support for composers, performers, and performances of new American music through a bequest from Alice M. Ditson, wife of the noted Boston music publisher Oliver Ditson. Mrs. Ditson's selection of Columbia University to oversee the Ditson Fund was fitting, for Columbia was home to one of the oldest and most distinguished departments of music at any American university.
The creation of the Ditson Fund came at a critical juncture in the history of American classical music, as the baton was passed from the "elder statesmen" -- such as George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, and Virgil Thomson -- to the next generation, whose prominent representatives included Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber, and William Schuman. Many from this generation rejected the notion that music should cater to popular tastes, or be written to be performed by non-professional musicians. Hence, while many of their works are not as well known in the concert halls, their music attracted the attention of intellectuals and artists centered in academic departments.
Included in this collection are important works commissioned by the Ditson Fund during its early years, by Samuel Barber, Jack Beeson, Walter Piston, and Wallingford Riegger, among others. From 1945 to 1952, the Fund sponsored the week-long Columbia Festival of Contemporary American Music. Along with significant orchestral concerts, the Festival mounted productions of commissioned operas, including Norman Lockwood's Scarecrow and Virgil Thomson's The Mother of Us All. These and other operas premiered by the Ditson-supported Columbia Opera Workshop are to be found here.
In addition to a rich collection of live-performance recordings, the Archive includes many of the master recordings released through the American Recording Society, another of the diverse activities in support of American music sponsored by the Ditson Fund.