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Theodore and Rose Fay Thomas in 1903

Wishing our friends at The Anti-Cruelty Society a very happy 120th anniversary! And a tip of the hat to the society’s first president, Rose Fay Thomas, wife of Theodore Thomas, founder and first music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra!

During Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, nearly twenty-eight million people visited our fair city, to “marvel at man’s progress and visions for the future,” according to the society’s website. “Yet the utopian ephemeral White City was a sharp contrast to the poorer neighborhoods that lay a short distance from the fairgrounds. The United States was in the midst of an economic depression. Hoards of immigrants, spurred by the industrial revolution, flocked to Chicago and other urban centers in search of work only to find themselves poor, starving, and huddled in crowded tenements. Raw sewage ran through the streets and epidemics of typhoid and other diseases often ravaged the city. The social unrest that would lead to the deadly Pullman Strike in 1894 was on the rise.

“As the century drew to a close, this grim climate and a deepening fear of these growing urban masses lead to the rise of progressive social reforms in Chicago and other urban centers. The middle and upper class women of the day were the driving force of this movement. Since the rise of the Suffrage movement in the 1850s, many women had become increasingly dissatisfied with their designated place in society and wished to play a more active role in bringing about needed change. In Chicago, many such women took the lead in establishing ground breaking social institutions and reforms. Jane Addams opened Hull House in 1889 to provide social services to immigrants and the working poor. Chicago’s women’s clubs formed charitable organizations and reform committees in response to the needs of the city’s poor, neglected and abused. In 1899 a small group of Chicago women turned their attention to a forgotten group of suffering creatures—the city’s animal population.

Rose Fay and Dickey, the Thomas family’s Springer Spaniel, in the late 1890s (George Glessner photo, courtesy of Glessner House collections)

“These humanitarians faced an uphill struggle to overcome the hardship, neglect, and cruelty all around them. A large percentage of the city’s estimated 50,000 workhorses were old, sick, and ill cared for. Many dropped under heavy burdens, only to be savagely beaten by insensitive drivers. The burgeoning Union Stock Yards and the slaughterhouses demonstrated little concern for the livestock they handled and incidents of inhumane butchery practices were common. Homeless dogs and cats wove their way through crowds of people in the streets in search of morsels of food and temporary shelter.

“A deep concern for the welfare of these helpless creatures led five Chicagoans to the home of Mrs. Theodore Thomas, wife of the city’s symphony conductor, on the evening of January 19, 1899. A second larger meeting at the residence of Mrs. Joseph Winterbothom on March 7, 1899, led to the formation of The Anti-Cruelty Society. This meeting saw the adoption of by-laws and election of Mrs. Thomas as the group’s first president. As the president of The Anti-Cruelty Society, Mrs. Thomas became one of the first women to head a humane society.

Chicago Tribune, March 6, 1904

“This small band of dedicated volunteers set high goals: to suppress cruelty to animals, to educate the public on humane treatment, and to create a refuge for strays. The Anti-Cruelty Society opened its first small animal shelter in 1904 at 1898 North Clark Street. By 1905, it had placed watering troughs throughout Chicago for thirsty workhorses. On December 6, 1906, The Anti-Cruelty Society received a charter from the State of Illinois to conduct protective work with animals and children. In addition to its work with animals, the Society was directly involved in the handling of child welfare cases for the next decade. The Society also instituted a humane education campaign organizing children’s chapters, distributing humane literature, and providing lectures.”

The Anti-Cruelty Society—Chicago’s oldest and most comprehensive animal welfare organization—continues its mission today, “building a community of caring by helping pets and educating people.” Happy, happy anniversary!

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Theodore Thomas

The opening of the first season of the Chicago Orchestra in October 1891 was a momentous occasion not only for the city whose name the Orchestra bore, but also, as the collections in the Rosenthal Archives show, for towns all over the Midwest. Founder and first music director Theodore Thomas was passionately devoted to bringing music to people of all means, not just those who lived in the metropolitan centers and could afford tickets. This isn’t to say, of course, that Thomas wasn’t interested in the opinions of those same well-off people. Part of the reason for the expansive tour schedule the Orchestra observed that first season was to spread the word that Chicago was no longer a backwards slaughterhouse town, a stereotype the city was actively fighting in the lead up to, and even after having won the privilege of, hosting the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Thomas eagerly, and ambitiously, sought to show off the talents and achievements of his new hometown, while also sharing those accomplishments with smaller cities around the Midwest and the South.

Grand Opera House in Rockford, Illinois, October 19, 1891

Following the inaugural concerts at the Auditorium Theatre on October 16 and 17, Thomas and the Chicago Orchestra traveled to Rockford, Illinois for a concert at the Grand Opera House on October 19, and through end of May 1892, they journeyed to eighteen different cities. While there was significant overlap in the repertoire performed, the Orchestra rarely played the same exact program twice, requiring them to have a large amount of music prepared for performance at all times.

Academy of Music in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, December 22, 1891

Many of these concerts were a mix of “high” and “low” repertoire, with the Orchestra performing standards, like Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, along with lighter fare, including Arthur Goring Thomas’s A Summer Night. Neither were these light affairs; one concert in Milwaukee on March 22 featured an extended Wagner-only second half with many of the most difficult pieces in the orchestral repertoire, including overtures to The Flying Dutchman and Lohengrin and the infamous Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walküre. Other common works in the repertoire included Thomas’s orchestral arrangement of the third movement—the slow Marche funèbre or Funeral March—from Chopin’s Piano Sonata no. 2, Mendelssohn’s Overture to The Fair Melusina, and the intermezzo from Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana (fresh from its September 1891 U.S. premiere in Philadelphia).

The first known image of the Chicago Orchestra on the steps of the Saint Louis Exposition Hall on March 14, 1892

The Orchestra’s ability to perform such demanding music becomes even more astonishing upon looking at the tour schedule, where players were frequently given only one day off between concert sets, and likely that time was spent traveling by train from city to city. Many of the same musicians regularly were featured as soloists—concertmaster Max Bendix, along with several principals: cello Bruno Steindel, clarinet Joseph Schreurs, and flute Vigo Andersen—sidestepping the issue of finding local talent or soloists willing to travel, while also giving Thomas the chance to showcase the tremendous talents at his disposal.

Chicago Orchestra tour schedule, 1891-92 season

Many of the theaters that welcomed the Orchestra were themselves quite new, many calling themselves “opera houses,” since opera was considered more “respectable” than mere theater. While opera was sometimes performed in these venues, more often than not they welcomed touring music groups like the Chicago Orchestra, as well as vaudeville and minstrel shows. Many of these theaters have since been demolished, but in their day, they were architectural jewels, as many of the surviving photos and drawings can attest. In the first season, it seems that the Orchestra relied on local event organizers to print up programs, leading to occasionally humorous mis-hearings of titles. For example, Delibes’s suite from the ballet Sylvia frequently concluded a program, and its last movement is Les chasseuses or The Huntresses; the name of this movement was subjected to many different spellings, including Les chesseresses, Les chausseures, and even The Shoes.

Temple Theater in Alton, Illinois, March 16, 1892

By the second season (1892-93), many of these rough edges had been smoothed out. Having noticed the inconsistencies in the titles, Chicago Orchestra management began printing the program books, each bearing Thomas’s face on the front cover and with standardized titles. The concerts themselves also became more consistent, with much less variety in programmed music from city to city. However, the Orchestra’s out-of-town trips would soon become far less frequent: from a grand total of fifty-five concerts in the first season, to forty-five in the second, and a mere fifteen in the third season. Deficits that hounded the Orchestra’s early seasons are most likely to blame, as the expense of such frequent tours could no longer be justified; though the exhaustion of the musicians surely had an effect as well.

DuBois Opera House, Elgin, Illinois, November 1, 1892

Thomas’s personal drive to bring music to the masses soon found other outlets. Having been named the the director of the Bureau of Music for the World’s Columbian Exposition, he was ready to become the city’s chief musical ambassador to the millions of people who would visit. Thomas also implemented a series of “workingmen’s concerts,” where ticket prices were significantly reduced in order to allow those who could not otherwise afford to attend the Orchestra’s subscription concerts.

But wait, there’s more . . . stay tuned for part 2 of this dive into the Orchestra’s early touring days, which will focus on female guest soloists!

Jenna Harmon is a doctoral candidate in musicology at Northwestern University and an intern in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association’s Rosenthal Archives.

Cover of one of four World’s Columbian Exposition pop-up books

On April 28, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed an act of Congress awarding Chicago the honor of hosting a world’s fair—the World’s Columbian Exposition—to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World. Architects Daniel Burnham and John Wellborn Root were charged with oversight of the design and construction, but following Root’s unexpected death in January 1891, Burnham became the sole director of works. He engaged several other architects—including Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles Follen McKim, and Louis Sullivan—to design a classical revival–themed city with grand boulevards, elaborate building façades, and lush gardens. Beaux Arts design concepts—based on symmetry, balance, and grace—were employed, and the 200 new, but intentionally temporary, buildings were mostly covered in plaster of Paris and painted a chalky white, giving the fairgrounds its nickname, the “White City.”

Chicago World’s Fair 1893 by Harley Dewitt Nichols (1859–1939)

The fairgrounds stretched over nearly 700 acres in Jackson Park and officially opened to the public on May 1, 1893—125 years ago. Over the next six months, nearly fifty countries would exhibit and close to twenty-eight million people would visit. Juicy Fruit chewing gum, Cream of Wheat, Quaker Oats, Shredded Wheat, Aunt Jemima pancake mix, and the Ferris Wheel were introduced, along with the first U.S. Post Office–issued picture postcards and commemorative stamps and U.S. Mint–issued commemorative quarter and half-dollar coins. Following its blue ribbon–win as “America’s Best” at the exposition, the Pabst Brewing Company officially changed the name of its signature beer.

One visitor was poet and author Katharine Lee Bates, who would later include “Thine alabaster cities gleam” in her poem America the Beautiful. Herman Webster Mudgett (a.k.a. Dr. Henry Howard Holmes) traveled to the fair with two of his eventual victims (later described by Erik Larson in his book The Devil in the White City). And natives bragging about the fair likely contributed to the popularity of Chicago’s nickname as the “Windy City.”

Theodore Thomas

Soon after Theodore Thomas agreed to lead the new Chicago Orchestra, the exposition’s executive committee (many of whom were the same men who were helping to finance his new orchestra) offered him the job of director of music for the fair. Inspired by Burnham’s imagination and drive—not to mention that the committee was prepared to spend nearly one million dollars on music and two performance halls—Thomas accepted shortly after his new orchestra’s inaugural concerts on October 16 and 17, 1891, in the Auditorium Theatre.

Thomas laid out an extensive plan for all types of concerts and issued a proclamation in the spring of 1892 setting forth many lofty goals, among them “the hearty support of American musicians, amateurs, and societies, for participation on great festival occasions of popular music, and for the interpretation of the most advanced composition, American and foreign.” He made his new orchestra the foundation of the resident ensemble, the Exposition Orchestra, augmented to over one hundred players, and he invited the most important musicians in the world to participate: Johannes Brahms, Antonín Dvořák, Joseph Joachim, Piotr Tchaikovsky, Jules Massenet, Camille Saint-Saëns, Giuseppe Verdi, Pietro Mascagni, Charles Gounod, Anton Rubinstein, and Hans Richter, among others.

Music Hall, designed by Charles Atwood

Two music buildings were constructed for a combined cost of $230,000. Music Hall, designed by Charles Atwood, had two performance spaces, seating 600 and 2,000. Festival Hall, designed by Francis M. Whitehouse, had a stage that was reportedly larger than the entire Metropolitan Opera House and seated 4,000 with standing room for more than 2,000.

The inaugural ceremony on October 21, 1892, was given in Festival Hall and included 5,500 singers in the chorus, an orchestra of 200, two large military bands, and two drum corps of fifty players each. In order to for everyone to see, Thomas used a large white handkerchief to conduct, rather than a baton. The event opened with the American composer John Knowles Paine’s Columbus March and Hymn, and continued with Carl Koelling’s World’s Columbian Exposition Waltz and George Whitefield Chadwick‘s Ode for the Opening of the World’s Fair held at Chicago 1892 (set to a poem by Harriet Monroe).

George Whitefield Chadwick’s Ode for the Opening of the World’s Fair held at Chicago 1892 (Theodore Thomas collection)

Carl Koelling’s World’s Columbian Exposition Waltz (piano reduction, Theodore Thomas collection)

As excitement mounted for the official opening of the fair, nearly one hundred piano manufacturers began to vie for the opportunity to exhibit. Some exposition officials began to take sides with different manufacturers, and Thomas attempted to steer clear of the growing controversy. East-coast builders, most notably Steinway, felt the planners were giving unfair advantage to Midwest piano manufacturers, and, as a result withdrew their participation. It was decided that only pianos made by exhibiting companies could be used at the fair. The press had a field day, criticizing both Thomas and the exposition planners, accusing all of conspiring for personal advantage.

Ignace Paderewski

The Exposition’s inaugural concert was scheduled for May 2, 1893, and Thomas’s first choice for soloist was the famous Polish pianist Ignace Paderewski. He had performed with the Chicago Orchestra and had even offered to waive his usual $5,000 per concert fee. He would perform his Piano Concerto in A minor for the first concert and Schumann’s concerto for the second; Theodore Thomas would conduct the Exposition Orchestra (the Chicago Orchestra expanded to 114 players).

Paderewski was unofficially an exclusive Steinway artist and if he was going to perform, it had to be on a Steinway. With Burnham’s help—and unbeknownst to Thomas—workers were able to sneak Paderewski’s Steinway concert grand into Music Hall the night before the first concert.

May 2, 1893

“Those who sat beneath the potent spell [Paderewski’s] mighty genius weaves could but acknowledge his unrivaled greatness and congratulate the exposition upon having secured him for the assisting artist at the inaugural concert,” reported the Chicago Tribune, praising the “surpassing beauty and matchless artistic greatness” of his performance.

By the time the committee discovered Paderewski’s use of a Steinway, it was too late to react. Thomas was falsely accused of conspiring against the committee, and despite the musical success of the concert, again, he was roasted in the press and public debate and criticism increased.

Theodore Thomas’s Exposition ticket book

Other problems included the cavernous acoustics in the Music Hall, Chicago’s May weather was bitter cold and the halls were not heated, and ticket sales for concerts were significantly less than anticipated. Thomas had difficulty hiding his disappointment, which only added to the mounting criticism against him.

Stubs from Thomas’s ticket book

After having conducted nearly seventy concerts in little more than three months, distraught over poor attendance, and mired in controversy, Thomas resigned as musical director in early August. His ticket book for the fair confirms his attendance; the last admission stub removed is for August 11, and at noon that day in Festival Hall, he led his Exposition Orchestra in one last concert.

August 12, 1893

Of all of the musicians Thomas invited to participate in the fair, only one actually made the journey to Chicago—Antonín Dvořák. August 12—the day after Thomas’s last concert—was designated as Bohemian Day, and according to the Chicago Tribune, “Bohemia ruled the World’s Columbian Exposition yesterday. It was the special date set apart for that nationality, and its citizens invaded the White City at every entrance by the thousands.”

Nearly 8,000 people packed into the fair’s Festival Hall to hear the Exposition Orchestra under the batons of Vojtěch I. Hlaváč, professor of music at the Imperial University in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and Dvořák, then the director of New York’s National Conservatory of Music in America.

August 12, 1893

The Tribune reviewer continued. “As Dvořák walked out upon the stage a storm of applause greeted him. For nearly two minutes the old composer [age fifty-one!] stood beside the music rack, baton in hand, bowing his acknowledgements. The players dropped their instruments to join in the welcome. Symphony no. 4 in G major [now known as no. 8], considered a severe test of technical writing as well as playing, was interpreted brilliantly. The Orchestra caught the spirit and magnetism of the distinguished leader. The audience sat as if spell-bound. Tremendous outbursts of applause were given.” On the second half of the program, Dvořák conducted selections from his Slavonic Dances and closed the program with his overture My Country.

For the next several weeks, the concerts given were primarily organ recitals. Concertmaster Max Bendix would lead the Exposition Orchestra in most of the remaining scheduled symphonic concerts, and the repertoire was modified to feature lighter, more popular works.

Thomas never completely recovered from the disappointment of the fair, and in his 1904 autobiography, he made no mention of the exposition whatsoever. In Memoirs of Theodore Thomas, completed in 1911 by his widow Rose Fay, she described one silver lining: during the fair, the “the daily concerts and rehearsals of the Orchestra had brought it up to the very highest point of artistic proficiency, and given it an enormous repertoire of music, so that Thomas felt he now had an almost perfect instrument for the concerts of the coming winter . . . This was a great relief to his mind.”

The Chicago Orchestra’s third season began the day after Thanksgiving on November 24 and 25, 1893, at the Auditorium Theatre.

Portions of this article previously appeared here and here, and an abbreviated version will appear in the CSO’s May 2018 program book.

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August 12/1893

August 12, 1893

“Bohemia ruled the World’s Columbian Exposition yesterday. It was the special date set apart for that nationality, and its citizens invaded the White City at every entrance by the thousands,” wrote the reviewer in the Chicago Daily Tribune.

On August 12, 1893, 8,000 people packed into the fair’s Festival Hall to hear the Exposition Orchestra—the Chicago Orchestra expanded to 114 players—under the batons of Vojtěch I. Hlaváč, professor of music at the Imperial University in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and the director of New York’s National Conservatory of Music in America, Antonín Dvořák.

The Tribune reviewer continued: “As Dvořák walked out upon the stage a storm of applause greeted him. For nearly two minutes the old composer [age fifty-one!] stood beside the music rack, baton in hand, bowing his acknowledgements. The players dropped their instruments to join in the welcome. Symphony no. 4 in G major [now known as no. 8], considered a severe test of technical writing as well as playing, was interpreted brilliantly. The Orchestra caught the spirit and magnetism of the distinguished leader. The audience sat as if spell-bound. Tremendous outbursts of applause were given.” On the second half of the program, Dvořák conducted selections from his Slavonic Dances and closed the program with his overture My Country.

This article also appears here.

August 12, 1893

August 12, 1893

Maud PowellAnd more congratulations are in order for another very special member of the extended CSO family . . . kudos to violinist Maud Powell, who has just been named a recipient of the lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences! The news was announced earlier this week, and Powell’s fellow recipients are Clifton Chenier, The Isley Brothers, Kraftwerk, Kris Kristofferson, Armando Manzanero, and The Beatles.

Karen Shaffer, Powell’s biographer and founder/director of The Maud Powell Society for Music and Education, has written an extensive article for violinist.com, and Chicago-based violinist Rachel Barton Pine has written a tribute for grammy.com.

Powell was a frequent soloist with the Orchestra during the Theodore Thomas and Frederick Stock eras, appearing at the Auditorium Theatre, Orchestra Hall, and at the World’s Columbian Exposition‘s Music Hall.

A complete list of her performances is below:

July 18, 1893 (Music Hall)
BRUCH Violin Concerto No 1 in G Minor, Op. 26
Theodore Thomas, conductor
Exposition Orchestra (The Chicago Orchestra, as we were then known, expanded to 114 players)

August 4, 1893 (Music Hall)
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Theodore Thomas, conductor
Exposition Orchestra

July 18, 1893

Powell’s debut at the World’s Columbian Exposition on July 18, 1893

April 19 & 20, 1901 (Auditorium Theatre)
TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
Theodore Thomas, conductor

April 22 & 23, 1904 (Auditorium Theatre)
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Theodore Thomas, conductor

January 25 & 26, 1907 (Orchestra Hall)
SIBELIUS Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47
Frederick Stock, conductor

November 20, 1907 (Gray’s Armory, Cleveland, Ohio)
TCHAIKOVSKY Concerto for Violin in D Major, Op. 35
Frederick Stock, conductor

February 21 & 22, 1908 (Orchestra Hall)
BRAHMS Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
Frederick Stock, conductor

November 5 & 6, 1909 (Orchestra Hall)
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Frederick Stock, conductor

April 18 & 19, 1913 (Orchestra Hall)
TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
Frederick Stock, conductor

March 17 & 18, 1916 (Orchestra Hall)
MOZART Concerto for Violin No. 5 in A Major, K. 219 (Turkish)
SAINT-SAËNS Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for Violin, Op. 28
Frederick Stock, conductor

Post updated on January 23, 2014, to include links to recent articles.

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