The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s commercial recording legacy began ninety-nine years ago on Monday, May 1, 1916, shortly after the close of the twenty-fifth season. Those first recording sessions were led by our second music director Frederick Stock for the Columbia Graphophone Company at an undocumented location in Chicago. Four works were recorded that first day: Mendelssohn’s Wedding March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walküre, and Grieg’s Two Elegiac Melodies (Heart Wounds and The Last Spring).

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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first recording: Mendelssohn’s Wedding March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

“Stupendous recordings by entire Chicago Symphony Orchestra. By far the greatest achievement of the day . . .,” raved an October 1916 Columbia Records brochure. “The first offerings are two masterfully played compositions. The deepest glories vibrant in such a familiar composition as Mendelssohn’s Wedding March are unguessed until interpreted by such an orchestra as this. From the first trumpet fanfare to the great central crescendo is very joy and glory articulate! The resistless rhythm is filled with pulsing emotion and each instrument of the mighty orchestra throbs with life.

“Only a love of divine harmony is needed to appreciate the unrivaled beauties of the coupling, Grieg’s tone-sketch Spring. All the dream imagery of Grieg’s Norwegian soul seems to live in the exquisite modulations of this gem. There can be no pleasure beyond enjoying such music as the Chicago Symphony here brings to every music-loving home.”

The next day (Tuesday, May 2), Stock and the Orchestra recorded the following: Mendelssohn’s Nocturne from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Saint-Saëns’s Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah, Tchaikovsky’s Waltz from The Sleeping Beauty, Järnefelt’s Praeludium, and Stock’s arrangement of François Schubert‘s The Bee.

They returned to the studio the following week on Monday, May 8 for one more day of recording in 1916: Dvořák’s Largo from the New World Symphony, Bizet’s Entr’acte to Act 4 of Carmen and the Farandole from L’arlésienne, and Wagner’s Procession of the Knights of the Holy Grail from Act 1 of Parsifal and the Prelude to Act 1 of Lohengrin.

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