Wishing a very happy birthday to our founder and first music director Theodore Thomas on the occasion of his 179th birthday!

Thomas at his desk

Theodore Thomas at home and at work in March 1896. (His desk, pictured here, currently resides in the CSO Association office of the president.)

Almost a year before the Chicago Orchestra (as we were then called) played their first concert, Thomas signed his first contract with the newly formed Orchestral Association in December 1890. Under the heading “The rights, powers, and duties of the Musical Director,” was the following clause:

The Musical Director is to determine the character and standard of all performances given by the Association, and to that end make all programmes, select all soloists, and take the initiative in arranging for choral and festival performances. The intention of the Association being to lodge in the hands of the Director the power and responsibility for the attainment of the highest standard of artistic excellence in all performances given by the Association.

“This clause delighted Thomas, and he exclaimed, ‘I never expected to see the day when I would be told I would be “held responsible” for maintaining the highest standard of artistic excellence in my musical work. All my life I have been told that my standard was too high, and urged to make it more popular. But now, I am not only to be given every facility to create the highest standard, but am even told that I will be held responsible for keeping it so! I have to shake myself to realize it.'”

How’s that for a gift? Happy birthday, Maestro!

— excerpt from Memoirs of Theodore Thomas by Rose Fay Thomas, 1911.

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