Did you know that the name “Chicago Symphony Orchestra” was not the original name of the ensemble? Or even the second?

The Chicago Orchestra’s first program book cover, October 1891

October 1891

Our first name was actually the Chicago Orchestra. According to Philo Adams Otis in his book The Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Its Organization, Growth, and Development, 1891–1924: “The first meeting for the incorporation of The Orchestral Association was held at the Chicago Club, December 17, 1890, and a Board of five Trustees elected . . . The first season (1891–1892) of the Chicago Orchestra will consist of twenty concerts, each concert preceded by a public rehearsal, to be given a the Auditorium under the direction of Theodore Thomas. The talent engaged to make up the Chicago Orchestra is of the very finest order.”

Following Thomas’s unexpected death on January 4, 1905, Frederick Stock temporarily assumed the duties of music director as the Association began a search for a permanent replacement. But after a few months, it was evident that the more-than-capable successor to Thomas had already been in place.

First program book with the Theodore Thomas Orchestra name, from the beginning of the 1905-06 season

October 1905

“April 11, [1905] Tuesday: Meeting of the Trustees at 4 p.m. Frederick Stock unanimously elected Conductor. Trustees voted that the Orchestra should now be known as ‘The Theodore Thomas Orchestra.’ . . . During the ten years Mr. Stock had been with the Orchestra, first as viola player, later as Assistant Conductor, he had shown himself to be a thorough musician, a composer of unusual attainments, and as a Conductor, the logical successor to Theodore Thomas.” The final subscription concert programs for the fourteenth season on April 14 and 15 still indicated “Chicago Orchestra” on the cover (perhaps they already had been printed), so the first program of the fifteenth season in October was the first appearance of the ensemble’s new name.

First program book cover with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra name, February 1913

February/March 1913

Otis’s account of the twenty-second season completes the saga: “During the winter of 1912-1913 [Association] President [Bryan] Lathrop interviewed or wrote to every member of the Board of Trustees, suggesting important reasons for changing the name ‘The Theodore Thomas Orchestra’ to ‘The Chicago Symphony Orchestra.’ Mr. Lathrop had always held to the belief that an institution depending largely on the public for its support suffers in bearing the name of its founder or benefactor, however honored or distinguished that name may be.”

The Board’s executive committee met on Friday, February 21, 1913, and adopted the following: “Resolved, that hereafter the official name of the Orchestra shall be The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, founded by Theodore Thomas . . . indissolubly connect[ing] the name of our first great Conductor with that of the Orchestra, and indicat[ing] to the world what the present name fails to do, that he was the founder of our Orchestra, and it will commemorate the great work which he did in America for the cause of good music. The new name will also associate the Orchestra with the city and people of Chicago, and insure for it their continued aid and support.” The following week, the cover of the program book made it official.

A digital, searchable version of Otis’s book is available here.

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