“Our Most Important Unofficial Embassy in Europe”: the Cultural Cold War at the American Academy in Rome
Martin Brody is Catherine Mills Davis Professor of Music (Emeritus) at Wellesley College. He served as the Andrew Heiskell Arts Director at the American Academy in Rome from 2007-10 and as Fromm Resident in Musical Composition at the Academy in 2001. He has received numerous awards for his musical compositions, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Academy-Institute Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and commissions from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Fromm Foundation, and numerous ensembles. He has written extensively about post-war modernism in music and currently serves on the editorial board of Perspectives of New Music and as President of the Stefan Wolpe Society.
In May 1957, Frances Henry Taylor, recently retired Director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum, sent a note to his friend, Laurance Roberts, Director of the American Academy in Rome. “[D]uring the past five years,” Taylor wrote, “American prestige at the cultural level has been rapidly declining, especially in regard to the barrage of propaganda to which the Italians have been subjected by official agencies of the U.S. Government.” By contrast, Roberts offered his Italian counterparts a model of “discretion, tact, and often calculated diffidence.” Thus, he demonstrated “that there still exists in the United States a hard core of people who value art and learning for their own sakes and who have no ulterior motive in their exploitation.” The American Academy in Rome, Taylor concluded, “is perhaps our most important unofficial embassy in Europe.” However, even as he exemplified American “discretion,” Laurance Roberts, along with his wife and collaborator, Isabel, wove together a vast network of cultural agents in the service of the post-war Pax Americana—from Nelson Rockefeller and Clare Boothe Luce to Igor Stravinsky and Bernard Berenson. Drawing on the Laurance and Isabel Roberts papers archived at I Tatti, this project documents the program of American soft power they effected in 1950s Rome, especially as it shaped transatlantic alliances in musical modernism.