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Chicago Tribune, December 21, 1891

To close its seventh season on June 5, 1879, the Apollo Musical Club began its annual tradition of presenting Handel’s Messiah, under the baton of the ensemble’s second director, William L. Tomlins, in McCormick Hall. To celebrate the opening of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan‘s Auditorium Theatre on December 9, 1889, Tomlins led the Club in the “Hallellujah” chorus, and, later that month, presented the complete oratorio in the new hall. And two years later, the Chicago Orchestra spent its first Christmas holiday sharing the stage with the Apollo, collaborating in Messiah at the Auditorium.

December 25 and 26, 1891

“Every seat in the Auditorium was taken” for that first performance—opening the Apollo Musical Club’s twentieth season—given on Christmas Day 1891, according to the Chicago Tribune. “Every part of the choral singing last evening merited highest praise for the excellence of the body of tone, the fine balance of the different parts, the firmness, unity, and confidence in attack, and the spirit and artistic intelligence shown in the rendition of the various choruses.” The reviewer also praised the “capable orchestra. Some fifty-four members of the Chicago Orchestra played the accompaniments last evening, and delightfully indeed [and] one member of the orchestra merits special mention. Mr. [Christian] Rodenkirchen [the Orchestra’s first principal trumpet] played the music for the solo trumpet in the air ‘The trumpet shall sound,’ and played it faultlessly, a performance not experienced in this city in years.”

William L. Tomlins in 1900

The reviewer also noted the “marvelous” podium leadership of William L. Tomlins (1844–1930), who had led the Apollo Musical Club since its third season beginning in 1875. “His conception of the masterpiece is an inspiration, and his success in impressing his conceptions upon the chorus is only equaled by the latter’s ability to express them to the audiences. I do not believe it possible for any body of singers to first catch and then convey the full significance of every word . . . better than the Apollo chorus.”

Emil Fischer

The program was repeated the following evening for “wage workers . . . young men who measure out goods behind dry goods counters and daintily gloved fingers that daily touch the keys of the typewriters.” Again, the Apollo, “acquitted itself with even more credit [with] smoothness of tone and firmness in the rendition of parts.”

Jennie Patrick Walker in 1904

German bass Emil Fischer (1838–1914) was in town to perform with the Chicago Orchestra during the fourth week of subscription concerts on December 18 and 19. Under founder and first music director Theodore Thomas‘s baton, Fischer sang Schubert’s Der Wanderer and Ständchen (both orchestrated by Thomas, the latter performed as an encore) along with Hans Sachs’s monologue from the third act of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. A regular at the Metropolitan Opera from 1885 until 1891, Fischer appeared with the company in New York in the U.S. premieres of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Das Rheingold, Rienzi, Siegfried, Tannhäuser (Paris version), and Tristan and Isolde, along with Weber’s Euryanthe. Fischer also would later perform with the Orchestra, under both Thomas and Tomlins, in several concerts during the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.

Genevra Johnstone Bishop in 1907 (Bessie Bartlett Frankel Collection of Travel and Early Los Angeles Music, Scripps College)

American singers rounded out the rest of the cast of soloists. Soprano Jennie Patrick Walker (1856–1930) performed on December 25 but canceled due to illness for the second performance. She was replaced by soprano Genevra Johnstone Bishop (ca. 1860–1924), who later performed with the Chicago Orchestra on a number of occasions on tour, subscription concerts, and at the World’s Columbian Exposition. She also served as musical adviser at the White House during President Warren G. Harding‘s term.

Contralto Pauline Rommeiss Bremner (1859–1936) and tenor William J. Lavin (1856–1900, the first husband of soprano Mary Howe-Lavin) completed the cast.

For more than seventy years, the Orchestra continued to regularly collaborate with the Apollo in Handel’s Messiah, with performances at the Auditorium, at the World’s Columbian Exposition, and in Orchestra Hall, most recently on December 15, 1964.

This article also appears here.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus will present Handel’s Messiah on December 16, 17, 18, and 19, 2021, in Orchestra Hall with soloists Yulia Van Doren, Reginald Mobley, Ben Bliss, and Dashon Burton. Nicholas McGegan conducts.

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.


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.


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

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 14, 1904

December 14, 1904

On December 14, 1904, Orchestra Hall first opened its doors with a grand dedicatory concert, with Theodore Thomas leading the Chicago Orchestra along with the Apollo Musical and Mendelssohn clubs.

For nearly the first fourteen years of its history, the Orchestra had performed at Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan’s Auditorium Theatre. However, the hall was far too cavernous for an orchestra; filling 4,000 seats twice weekly was an overwhelming challenge; and there were constant scheduling conflicts with other ensembles. It was rarely a problem getting a ticket to hear the Orchestra, and as a result, season subscriptions were nearly unmarketable.

Thomas initiated a campaign for a new hall, and in 1902 the property at the site of Leroy Payne’s livery stable—on Michigan Avenue between the Pullman Building and the Railway Exchange Building*—became available. Daniel H. Burnham, John J. Glessner, and Bryan Lathrop, along with seven other trustees, initially carried the purchase price, while the Orchestral Association issued an appeal to Chicagoans to secure the $750,000 needed to build a new hall. More than 8,000 individuals contributed.

Orchestra Hall nearly finished in the late fall of 1904 (note "offices for rent" sign above a ballroom window)

Orchestra Hall nearly finished in the late fall of 1904 (note “offices for rent” sign above a ballroom window)

Ground was broken on May 1, 1904, and seven months later, Thomas led the first rehearsal in the hall on December 6. He sent a telegram to Burnham the next day: “Hall a complete success. Quality exceeds all expectations.”

At the beginning of the dedicatory concert on December 14, Thomas led the Orchestra and choruses in “Hail! Bright Abode” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser. George Everett Adams, second president of the Orchestral Association from 1894 until 1899 (and a trustee from 1894 until 1917) and one of the ten men who helped secure the Michigan Avenue property, was given the honor of delivering an inaugural address. “We have built here a noble hall of music. It is a merely material structure of brick, and stone, and steel. We have not, and we cannot, put into this building its living soul. That is a task for other hands than ours.”

Daniel Burnham's near-final elevation, May 18, 1904**

Daniel Burnham’s near-final elevation, May 18, 1904**

The program continued with the Overture to Tannhäuser, Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration, and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony—music “devoted to the serious contemplation of the soul, its struggles here, and its triumphs hereafter”—and concluded with “Hallelujah!” from Handel’s Messiah.

*The Pullman Building was completed in 1885 and demolished in 1956; the Borg-Warner Building was completed in 1958. The Railway Exchange Building, designed by D.H. Burnham & Company, was completed in 1904.

**Burnham’s elevation for the façade of Orchestra Hall included the names of five composers: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, and Brahms. However, it was decided that Brahms was too contemporary (he had only died in 1897), and he was replaced with Schubert. To maintain chronological order, the names were rearranged: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Wagner.

Chicago Examiner, December 15, 1904

Chicago Examiner, December 15, 1904

December 14, 1904

December 14, 1904

This article also appears here.



April 5 and 6, 1907

April 5 and 6, 1907

On April 5 and 6, 1907, Frederick Stock programmed a concert of “compositions by living writers,” including music from five countries. The first half opened with Vincent d’Indy’s Wallenstein’s Camp (France), Alexander Glazunov’s Spring (Russia), Frederick Converse’s The Mystic Trumpeter (United States), and the love scene from Richard Strauss’s opera Feuersnot (Germany). The second half of the concert was dedicated to England, with Sir Edward Elgar on the podium leading his overture In the South (Alassio), Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), and the first Pomp and Circumstance March.

“The patrons of the Thomas Orchestra paid willing and hearty tribute to Sir Edward Elgar yesterday afternoon in Orchestra Hall,” wrote William Lines Hubbard in the Chicago Daily Tribune. “The men of the Orchestra gave him their closest attention and heartiest sympathy yesterday, and the result was a performance of the three compositions which was technically and tonally of highest worth. Sir Edward himself seemed genuinely pleased and his assertion after the concert that the ‘work of the Orchestra surpassed all his fondest expectations’ evidently was the expression of his true feeling.”

Sir Edward Elgar bio

Chicago audiences were well versed in Elgar’s catalog, as by then the Orchestra had given the U.S. premieres of several of his works: the Cockaigne Overture, Enigma Variations, the first two Pomp and Circumstance marches, Incidental Music and Funeral March from Grania and Diarmid, and In the South under Theodore Thomas; the Froissart Overture and Violin Concerto (with Albert Spalding) under Stock; and The Dream of Gerontius under Harrison M. Wild, then director of the Apollo Musical Club.

In 1911, England’s Sheffield Choir embarked on a six-month world tour, and Elgar joined them for several performances in the U.S. and Canada. Their tour included three concerts in Chicago collaborating with the Orchestra, the second of which featured Elgar on the podium leading The Dream of Gerontius.

This article also appears here.

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The opinions expressed here are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.


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