When a New York judge recently decided that the manuscripts of Igor Stravinsky should be sold to the University of California at Los Angeles for $1.5 million (as his widow wished) and not to the University of Texas for $2 million (as his children preferred), he argued that the national interest and the cause of scholarship would be better served in that way. His heirs lost half a million dollars.
If there is a national interest in such matters sufficient to prevent sale of manuscripts to the highest bidder, there is a greater national interest in bringing together a great author's or composer's manuscripts for study in one institution where the creator wanted them to remain. Americans should be reminded that legislation in 1969 deprived creators of their right to claim the value of such donations as tax deductions when they gave their manuscripts to research libraries or universities.
The Stravinsky case is a classic demonstration of the social costs of the present tax policy. In the disposition of the Stravinsky archives, there were other losers: the Library of Congress and the people of the United States.
The Library of Congress acquired its first Stravinsky manuscript in 1928, as the result of a commission by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. Stravinsky's ballet, Apollon-Musagete, received its premiere in the Coolidge Auditorium, which had been constructed at the library with Coolidge's generosity just three years earlier. As was customary, the manuscript of the commissioned work was added to the collections of the library's music division. In 1940, the library purchased for $1,000 another work by Stravinsky, his Symphony in C.
In 1962, Stravinsky began to donate manuscripts to the library on a systematic basis: two manuscripts in that year, two more the next, nine additional manuscripts in 1964, four in 1965, and so on through the 1960s. By 1969, the great composer, then in his late 80s, initiated discussions with the chief of the library's music division, Harold Spivacke, concerning the disposition of the entire body of his works, and there can be little doubt that, but for the enactment of the tax reform of 1969, the complete archive would have been placed in the national library.
Instead, the greatest portion of the papers is now divided between Los Angeles and Washington, and scholars must travel coast to coast to compare preliminary sketches with finished projects. Photocopying accomplishes little because Stravinsky used many inks in drafting his intricate masterpieces.
The president's task force on the arts and humanities, of which I was a member, recommended a revision in the tax law to restore the incentive to artists, composers and writers that existed before 1969. Legislation before the Senate-- S2225-- would accomplish this. These benefits would ensue: libraries and museums would acquire creative works without cost; artists, composers and writers would choose the institutions where their works in progress would be displayed and studied. The record of American civilization would be preserved and enriched by discouraging the dispersion of manuscripts for commercial reasons and by encouraging the prompt deposit of these works by their creators in institutions competent to preserve them.
Inflation and shrinking assistance by city, state and federal appropriations reduce the resources of libraries and museums. The $1.5 million committed by UCLA to the Stravinsky papers will not be available for other necessary university purposes.
We thrive on our heritage. Restoration of the tax incentive for gifts of literary, musical and artistic works to cultural institutions will benefit all Americans, present and future.