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Heroes of the Marne 117th Infantry Regiment, Georges Scott, France, 1915

The poster at left, from the Pritzker Military Museum & Library collections, shows French soldiers who fought in the First Battle of the Marne between September 6 and 12, 1914.

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In the years leading up to the United States entering World War I, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra gave a number of premieres, featured prominent guest soloists, and made its first commercial recording. Additionally, Orchestra Hall hosted an extraordinary variety of events, several of which are illustrated below (all events in Orchestra Hall unless otherwise noted).

Albert Spalding (Moffett Chicago photo) and Arnold Schoenberg (Egon Schiele, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

On December 8, 1911, Albert Spalding is soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the U.S. premiere of Sir Edward Elgar’s Violin Concerto. Frederick Stock conducts.

Albert Capellani’s film Les misérables (parts 1 and 2)—starring Henry Krauss as Jean Valjean and billed as “the greatest motion picture ever made”—is screened from August 21 through October 10, 1913.

Frederick Stock leads the Orchestra in the U.S. premiere of Arnold Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra on October 31, 1913. (On February 8 and 9, 1934, the composer returns to Chicago to lead the work as guest conductor.)

Helen Keller (Library of Congress)

On February 5, 1914, the North End Woman’s Club presents Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller in a demonstration of the technique used by Sullivan to teach Keller—blind and deaf since she was nineteen months old—how to speak.

William Henry Hackney presents a Colored Composers’ Concert featuring music by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Harry Burleigh, J. Rosamond Johnson, Will Marion Cook, and R. Nathaniel Dett on June 3, 1914. The Chicago Defender article (from June 6, 1914) describing the concert is here.

The Orchestra gives the U.S. premiere of Gigues from Claude Debussy’s Images for Orchestra on November 13, 1914. Frederick Stock conducts.

Apollo Club’s Messiah and Edith Lees with Havelock Ellis (Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science)

The Apollo Club of Chicago presents its annual performances of Handel’s Messiah at the Auditorium Theatre on December 27 and 28, 1914. Harrison M. Wild leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Edith Lees, author and the openly lesbian wife of Havelock Ellis, gives a lecture on February 4, 1915, advocating for the general acceptance of “deviants” (i.e. homosexuals). Offering Oscar Wilde and Michelangelo as examples of what the “abnormal” could accomplish, this is one of the earliest public calls for the acceptance of gay people.

On March 5, 1915, Frederick Stock leads the Orchestra in the U.S. premiere of Alexander Scriabin’s Prometheus.

Stock’s Festival Prologue

Celebrating the opening of the Orchestra’s twenty-fifth season on October 15, 1915, Frederick Stock leads the world premiere of his Festival Prologue, which he had written while in California for the Panama–Pacific International Exposition. Stock considered the work “an expression of his esteem not only for that noble band of artists which for a quarter of a century has uplifted and upheld the musical culture of our city, but also for those who have permitted themselves to be thus uplifted and upheld—the music-loving people of Chicago.”

Amy Beach and Percy Grainger (Library of Congress)

On February 4 and 5, 1916, Amy Beach is soloist in her Piano Concerto in C-sharp minor. Frederick Stock conducts.

Percy Grainger is soloist in the world premiere of John Alden Carpenter’s Concertino for Piano and Orchestra on March 10, 1916. Frederick Stock conducts.

Otterström’s American Negro Suite

On December 15, 1916, Frederick Stock leads the Orchestra in the world premiere of Thorwald Otterström’s American Negro Suite, incorporating melodies from Slave Songs of the United States—the first and most influential collection of African American music and spirituals, published in 1867.

Bengali poet and the first non-European recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Sir Rabindranath Tagore reads from his own works on December 19, 1916.

On May 1, 1916, Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra record for the first time (in an unidentified Chicago location): Mendelssohn’s Wedding March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Columbia Graphophone Company.

Violinist Maud Powell and pianist Arthur Loesser (half-brother of Broadway composer Frank Loesser) appear in recital on February 18, 1917.

On March 25, 1917, Walter Damrosch leads the New York Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Efrem Zimbalist and Brünnhilde’s Immolation from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung with Julia Claussen.

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A Time for Reflection—A Message of Peace—a companion exhibit curated by the Rosenthal Archives of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in collaboration with the Pritzker Military Museum & Library—will be on display in Symphony Center’s first-floor rotunda from October 2 through November 18, and the content also will be presented on CSO Sounds & Stories and the From the Archives blog.

This article also appears here. For event listings, please visit cso.org/armistice.

This exhibit is presented with the generous support of COL (IL) Jennifer N. Pritzker, IL ARNG (Retired), Founder and Chair, Pritzker Military Museum & Library, through the Pritzker Military Foundation.

Additional thanks to Shawn Sheehy and Jenna Harmon, along with the Arts Club of Chicago, Newberry Library, Poetry Foundation, and Ravinia Festival Association.

December 16 & 17, 1892, program book cover

December 16 & 17, 1892, program book cover

During the Chicago Orchestra‘s second season, music director Theodore Thomas programmed Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9 for the first time with his new ensemble. The performances were given on December 16 and 17, 1892, at the Auditorium Theatre.

According to an account in the Chicago Daily Tribune on December 18: “Like whistling winds broken by the blare of trumpets and the crash of cymbals and again like a sigh breathed upon the strings of a harp, Beethoven’s ninth symphony and his music to Goethe’s Egmont were listened to by nearly 4,000 music-lovers at the Auditorium last night. . . . The highest social circles of the city were in attendance. Chicago’s cultured and fashionable classes enjoyed a musical festival in honor of the 122nd anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. For the first time in the history of the city the great composer’s birth was fittingly celebrated. In 1870 the 100th anniversary was observed with a concert in old Farwell Hall, but as compared with the event of last evening it was insignificant.”

What the reviewer recounted next is nothing short of jaw-dropping: “Mr. Thomas had his men play the last movement of the Symphony a full tone lower than it is written—a proceeding without precedent in the entire history of the great work and which bids fair to call down upon him the wrath of musical purists and classicists. The subject was vigorously discussed by musicians present at the concert last night, and, although many liberal minds defended the director in his action, conservatives who bitterly assailed him were not wanting. The men of the orchestra covered themselves with glory by playing the movement with entire accuracy a tone lower than was indicated by the notes on the music parts before them. . . .

December 16 & 17, 1892, program page

December 16 & 17, 1892, program page

“When the Apollo Club chorus of 200 voices [prepared by William L. Tomlins], together with Miss Minnie Fish and Mrs. Minna Brentano and Charles A. Knorr and George E. Holmes, joined with the orchestra . . . the majesty and grandeur of the music were highly appreciated and greeted with almost boundless applause. The words of the ‘Ode to Joy‘ were sung with such precision and distinctness they they could be heard and appreciated in every part of the house. When the notes of the Choral Finale had died away the vast audience applauded for several minutes.”

The reviewer described Thomas’s “innovation”—surprisingly, not mentioned at all in Adolph W. Dohn’s program note (the complete program book is here)—as follows: “The last movement of the Symphony Mr. Thomas gave in C minor instead of D minor, the key in which Beethoven wrote it. It was an act which demanded no slight courage on the part of the great leader, and there were not lacking last evening musical conservatives who indignantly accused him of ‘taking unwarrantable liberties with music’s masterpieces,’ and ‘marring the works of the great composers.’ Mr. Thomas did not make the change, however, save after long and serious consideration. To make the change meant to break one of the ironclad, time-honored rules governing symphonic form, and possibly to lessen slightly the brilliancy of certain passages. On the other hand, the change freed the sopranos from the necessity of singing numerous high Gs and As, and could but result in marked gain in the volume and quality of the tone produced. He weighed these matters and decided upon the transposition, a decision that liberal thinkers in the musical world will uphold him in and approve of.”

Even with the modification, the reviewer was moved to write: “The rendition accorded the Symphony last evening by Mr. Thomas and his forces was worthy of the work itself, of the master whose greatest power it represents, of the event the concert celebrated, and of the great leader to whom musical Chicago is indebted for so much. The orchestra was in its best condition, and upon it Mr. Thomas played as does a master upon some perfect instrument. The result was a performance technically flawless, interpretatively superb. . . . And last night the choral finale brought with it no disappointment. A larger chorus might have been wished for, perhaps, but in the Allegro energico and the great climax that follows, but in the other portions of the work—and it is in these that the chorus after all finds opportunity for effective singing, the voice parts in the climax being buried under a mountain of orchestral tone—in these portions, the 200 singers from the Apollo Club acquitted themselves most creditably, their work being satisfactory and deserving of sincere praise.”

There is no evidence to indicate that Thomas’s later performances of the Ninth Symphony were performed in a similar manner.

(The complete Chicago Daily Tribune article—courtesy of Proquest via the Chicago Public Library—is here.)

To open the 124th season in September, Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The concerts currently are sold out, but check the website as last-minute tickets may become available.

One of my favorite Chicago institutions—the Newberry Library—is celebrating their 125th anniversary this year. To commemorate the event, they have mounted a spectacular exhibit called The Newberry 125, which highlights 125 artifacts from their collections divided into five sections: families, politics and commerce, religions, travel, and arts and letters. The exhibit is paired with a second installation, Realizing the Newberry Idea, 1887–2012.

The arts and letters section includes a Chicago Symphony Orchestra–related artifact: a letter and calling card from Antonín Dvořák to Theodore Thomas, our founder and first music director.

The Chicago Orchestra and the Apollo Club present Dvořák’s Requiem in April 1893

A beautiful book accompanies the exhibit (The Newberry 125: Stories of Our Collection), and the article for the Dvořák artifacts explains that Thomas had conducted Dvořák’s Requiem at the Cincinnati May Festival on May 28, 1892, and again the following year in Chicago on April 10 and 11, 1893 (program page pictured at right). The article continues: “News traveled fast to Dvořák, who wrote on April 14, ‘You have taken much pains and trouble in preparing and performing my work, and therefore I feel it my duty to extend to you my heartfelt thanks.'”

The article also mentions that the Newberry’s collections include “letters to Thomas and some personal materials [along with] scrapbooks of all of the programs Thomas conducted from 1864 through 1903. His personal classical-music library—once considered to be the largest of its type in the world—comprised first editions, rare full scores, and monographs, most of which Thomas’s widow and children gave to the Newberry in 1908.” Of course, a significant portion of Thomas’s collection is also here in the Rosenthal Archives.

The exhibit will be open through December 31, 2012, there are a number of special events, and you can also follow the exhibit’s blog. Don’t miss it!

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Agnes Thomson replaces an indisposed Martha Burckard-Werbke

A brief footnote: the program book on file for the April 1893 concerts contained this program insert. However, it is not clear whether Mrs. Thomson replaced Mrs. Burckard-Werbke for both performances or just one.

the vault

Theodore Thomas

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