“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 various 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 late May of 1957, the recently-retired Director of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, Francis Henry Taylor, sent a note to Laurance Roberts, Director of the American Academy in Rome, In praise of his friend, Taylor described Roberts’ paradoxical role as cultural Cold War warrior. “[D]uring the past five years American prestige at the cultural level has been rapidly declining,” he declared, “especially in regard to the barrage of propaganda to which the Italians have been subjected by official agencies of the U.S. Government.” Roberts, however, had presented a figure of “discretion, tact, and often calculated diffidence” to an Italian cultural elite, demonstrating “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.” While modeling American discretion, tact, and diffidence, Laurance Roberts and 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 papers of Laurance his wife, Isabel Roberts archived at I Tatti, this project documents the program of American soft power they initiated in 1950s Rome, especially as it shaped transatlantic alliances in musical modernism.