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Program page for the January 1, 1904, concert

During the Chicago Orchestra’s last full season at the Auditorium Theatre, first music director Theodore Thomas had programmed the U.S. premiere of Sibelius’s Second Symphony for January 1 and 2, 1904, during the ninth subscription week.

On November 23, 1903, the 1,600-seat Iroquois Theatre (located on the north side of West Randolph Street, between State and Dearborn) opened its doors with a production of Mr. Blue Beard starring Eddie Foy. Barely a month later, the December 30 matinee of the popular musical had a standing-room audience of well over 2,000, mostly women and children on holiday break. An additional 300 actors, technicians, and stagehands were backstage.

Just after the beginning of the second act, sparks from a stage light set fire to a muslin curtain and began to spread to the fly space. Very quickly, sections of burning curtains and set pieces began to fall to the stage, and even though Foy attempted to calm the audience, panic ensued (Foy’s account of the event is here). Patrons rushed to the exits—none of which were identified by illuminated signage and some were even hidden behind curtains—only to find that many opened inwardly or had been locked to prevent gatecrashers.

Chicago Tribune, January 3, 1904

Over 600 people lost their lives—more than twice as many casualties as the Great Chicago Fire in 1871—in this, the deadliest single-building fire in U.S. history.*

“Had Mr. Thomas known some six weeks ago of the great sadness that was to rest like a pall over the city of Chicago on New Year’s Day he could scarcely have arranged a program better suited to the occasion than was that which he and the Chicago Orchestra offered yesterday afternoon at the Auditorium,” wrote the critic in the Chicago Tribune on January 2, referring also to the Funeral March from Elgar’s Grania and Diarmid as well as the Transformation Scene and Glorification from Wagner’s Parsifal.

“The new symphony of Sibelius—[no. 2] in D major, and which yes­terday was played for the first time in America—proved a composition heavy with the mournful melancholy of the northern land whence its writer comes. . . . Mr. Thomas and his men threw themselves with exceptional enthusiasm and vigor into the perfor­mance of the new composition, which is of uncommon difficulty in many places, and the result was a rendition technically com­plete and interpretatively powerful.”

The Saturday evening concert on January 2 was canceled, as Mayor Carter Harrison had ordered all the­aters closed for mandatory inspection. The Orchestra’s next concerts were given on January 15 and 16, since the Auditorium Theatre only needed minor modifica­tions to meet the regulations. The January 2 concert was rescheduled for Monday, January 18, and Sibelius’s Symphony no. 2 received its second performance. The program was revised (likely because the piano soloist, George Proctor, was no longer in town) as follows:

Program insert itemizing schedule for postponed concerts

WAGNER Huldigungsmarsch
SIBELIUS Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43
BEETHOVEN Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b
ELGAR Incidental Music and Funeral March from Grania and Diarmid
WAGNER Good Friday Spell and Transformation Scene and Glorification from Parsifal

In spite of the tragedy, the trustees of the Orchestral Association continued with plans for the construction of Orchestra Hall—ground was broken on May 1 and the hall opened on December 14, 1904. The Iroquois reopened as the Colonial Theatre in October 1905, but in 1924 it was torn down to make way for the Oriental, which opened in 1926. It was renamed the Nederlander in 2019.

*The tragedy at the Iroquois Theatre was a catalyst for the implementation of increased safety standards and ordinances for public buildings, including clearly marked exits, doors of egress that open outward, and doors equipped with “crash” or “panic” bars.

A version of this article appears in the program book for the December 1, 2, 3, and 6, 2022, concerts.

Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler (ca. 1893)

With the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, no one has performed Schumann’s Piano Concerto more than Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler.

Born in Austria in 1863, Fannie Blumenfeld and her family immigrated to the United States in 1867 and settled in Chicago. She began piano studies at the age of six and gave her first concert on February 26, 1875. Encouraged by the Russian pianist Anna Essipoff, Blumenfeld returned to Vienna in 1878, where she began studies with Theodor Leschetizky. Shortly after returning to the U.S. in 1883—and anglicizing her name to Bloomfield—she auditioned for Theodore Thomas, then the music director for the New York Philharmonic as well as his eponymous Theodore Thomas Orchestra. It was too late to hire her for his upcoming seasons, but, inspired by her playing, Thomas provided letters of recommendation to help her secure other engagements.

Bloomfield made her professional debut in Chicago’s Central Music Hall on January 11, 1884, performing the first movement of Adolf von Henselt’s Piano Concerto in F minor under the baton of one of her first teachers, Carl Wolfsohn. In the Chicago Tribune, the reviewer described her performance with “A firm but at the same time delicate touch, a technique which overcomes the greatest difficulties without apparent effort, and an intelligent mastery over the mechanism of her instrument were the characteristics of her playing, which made themselves felt before she had finished a small portion of her task. Every note received its due. . . . It was a great treat, Miss Bloomfield’s playing, and one not soon to be forgotten.”

Zeisler was soloist in the Chicago Orchestra’s first performance of Schumann’s Piano Concerto in Pittsburgh on April 19, 1893

Bloomfield’s debut in New York occurred the following year, on February 1, 1885, under Frank Van der Stucken and his orchestra, again with Henselt’s Piano Concerto. In October of that year, she married Sigmund Zeisler (who later served on the defense counsel for the anarchists responsible for the onset of the Haymarket Square riot), and the couple had three sons.

Zeisler made her debut with the Chicago Orchestra during the ensemble’s first season, at the Auditorium Theatre on March 25 and 26, 1892. “The solo part in [Chopin’s second] concerto was played by Mrs. Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler, a Chicago artist who is heard but too rarely in local concerts,” wrote the reviewer in the Chicago Tribune. “Few piano performances heard in the Auditorium have possessed as high artistic finish and true musicianly qualities as did that accorded Chopin’s concerto last evening by Mrs. Zeisler. There have been performances more brilliant, performances more impressive in their breadth and power, but none have revealed greater refinement of style and clearer, truer conception than did this.”

All-Schumann concert at the World’s Columbian Exposition on June 9, 1893

Later that spring, Zeisler joined Thomas and the Orchestra on tour to perform three concerts in Omaha, two in Louisville, and one in Kansas City, Missouri; her repertoire included Chopin’s Second, Rubinstein’s Fourth, and Saint-Saëns’s Fourth concertos.

The following season, she appeared with the Orchestra on a pair of subscription concerts in December and on tour on five occasions, including concerts in Pittsburgh and Buffalo in April that included the ensemble’s first performances of Schumann’s Piano Concerto. Soon thereafter, Zeisler was one of only two pianists—along with Ignace Paderewski—chosen by Thomas to perform with the Orchestra at the World’s Columbian Exposition. On June 9, 1893, she appeared in an all-Schumann concert (honoring the composer’s birthday) that included the Manfred Overture, Third Symphony, and the Piano Concerto. “Mme. Zeisler proved herself,” according to the Chicago Tribune, giving “a performance in every respect admirable and satisfying [lending] charm and poetry.”

Over the next thirty years, Zeisler was a frequent and favorite soloist with the Orchestra, performing not only Schumann’s concerto, but also works by Beethoven, Chopin, Grieg, Henselt, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Moszkowski, Mozart, Rubinstein, Saint-Saëns, Tchaikovsky, and Weber.

Zeisler’s Golden Jubilee Concert, February 25, 1925

On February 25, 1925, Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler appeared with Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra—and before the public—one last time, in a concert celebrating her fiftieth year as a concert artist. The program included Beethoven’s Andante favori, Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto, and her eighth performance with the CSO of Schumann’s Piano Concerto. “You might have closed your eyes and been willing to swear that an artist in the first flush of maturity, with intensively cultivated powers and enormous flair for major piano works was playing,” wrote the critic in the Chicago Tribune. “It was the seal on an honorable and highly honored career. Mrs. Zeisler is as sincere an artist as ever appeared before the public. [Her honesty] shone through, every note she played, just as it has always shone whenever she played. And a capacity audience was present to testify to the esteem in which the fine sincerity of a fine artist is held.” She died in Chicago on August 21, 1927.

Portions of this article appear in the May 19, 20, 21, and 22, 2022, program book; and the article also appears here.

Detail of title page of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony (Theodore Thomas collection)

Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony—according to Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra‘s founder and first music director, in Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies—is “a work as full of beauties, novel of their kind, as the Eroica, but expressing no worldly program; singing instead the songs of nature—the music of the soul. . . . In consequence, he has given us, in the Fourth Symphony, a song of beauty such as no one else has ever written, presenting absolute novelty of color and creating an atmosphere in music justly termed ‘romantic,’ a romanticism parallel to that of Schiller in literature.”

“Generations of music lovers have described—and sometimes dismissed—Beethoven’s even-numbered symphonies as lyrical and relaxed compared to their spunky, coltish, odd-numbered neighbors. The Fourth, in B-flat major, has suffered from that fate perhaps more than any,” writes CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. “Schumann was perhaps the first musician to warn us not to overlook the Fourth’s own special qualities: ‘Do not illustrate his genius with the Ninth Symphony alone, no matter how great its audacity and scope, never uttered in any tongue. You can do as much with his First Symphony, or with the Greek-like slender one in B-flat major!’”

Founder and first music director Theodore Thomas first led the Chicago Orchestra in Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony on March 17 and 18, 1893, at the Auditorium Theatre.

1974 recording (London)

Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus first recorded Beethoven’s nine symphonies between May 1972 and September 1974 for London Records. The recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with three overtures: Egmont, Coriolan, and Leonore no. 3); that set won the 1975 Grammy Award for Classical Album of the Year from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The Fourth Symphony was recorded at Medinah Temple on May 13, 1974. Ray Minshull was the recording producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock were the balance engineers.

1987 recording (London)

Between September 1986 and January 1990, Solti and the Orchestra and Chorus recorded Beethoven’s complete symphonies a second time, again for London Records; and again, the recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with two overtures: Egmont and Leonore no. 3). The Fourth Symphony was recorded in Orchestra Hall on September 21 and 22, 1987. Michael Haas was the recording producer and James Lock was the balance engineer.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 on May 5, 6, and 7, 2022.

This article also appears here.

“What could come after [the Fifth Symphony]?” wrote Frederick Stock, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra‘s second music director, in Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies. “The subtlety of Beethoven’s imagination found an answer in due time, and in his Sixth Symphony, the Pastoral, we find his thoughts expressed in a new form. Even though other composers before him and in his time had attempted to write program music, Beethoven was the first whose efforts in this direction proved to be a lasting achievement. . . . His was a poetic conception of nature’s grandeur and beauty, a faithful interpretation of her inward significance, cast in the most perfect of musical forms, the symphony.”

Detail of title page of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, bearing marks by Frederick Stock and Fritz Reiner (Fritz Reiner collection)

“Our familiar picture of Beethoven, cross and deaf, slumped in total absorption over his sketches, doesn’t easily allow for Beethoven the nature-lover,” writes writes CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. “But he liked nothing more than a walk in the woods, where he could wander undisturbed, stopping from time to time to scribble a new idea on the folded sheets of music paper he always carried in his pocket. ‘No one,’ he wrote to Therese Malfati two years after the premiere of the Pastoral Symphony, ‘can love the country as much as I do. For surely woods, trees, and rocks produce the echo which man desires to hear.’ They’re all here in his Sixth Symphony.”

Founder and first music director Theodore Thomas first led the Chicago Orchestra in Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony on March 2 and 3, 1894, at the Auditorium Theatre.

1961 recording (RCA)

Sixth music director Fritz Reiner led the Orchestra’s first recording of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony on April 8 and 10, 1961, in Orchestra Hall. For RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer and Lewis Layton was the recording engineer.

1974 recording (London)

Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus first recorded Beethoven’s nine symphonies between May 1972 and September 1974 for London Records. The recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with three overtures: Egmont, Coriolan, and Leonore no. 3); that set won the 1975 Grammy Award for Classical Album of the Year from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The Sixth Symphony was recorded at the Sofiensaal in Vienna on September 10, 1974. Ray Minshull was the recording producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson, and James Lock were the balance engineers.

1988 recording (London)

Between September 1986 and January 1990, Solti and the Orchestra and Chorus recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies a second time, again for London Records; and again, the recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with two overtures: Egmont and Leonore no. 3). The Sixth Symphony was recorded in Orchestra Hall on May 9, 10, 14, and 16, 1988. Michael Haas was the recording producer and Stanley Goodall was the balance engineer.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 on April 28, 30, and May 3, 2022.

This article also appears here.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony—according to Frederick Stock, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra‘s second music director, in Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies—is “dedicated to all Mankind. Embracing all phases of human emotion, monumental in scope and outline, colossal in its intellectual grasp and emotional eloquence, the Ninth stands today as the greatest of all symphonies.”

First page detail of a choral score, edited by Arthur Mees, the Orchestra’s first assistant conductor

Stock continues: “The Ninth is unquestionably the greatest of all symphonies not only because it is the final résumé of all of Beethoven’s achievements, colossal as they are even without the Ninth, but also because it voices the message of one who had risen beyond himself, beyond the world and the time in which he lived. The Ninth is Beethoven, the psychic and spiritual significance of his life.

“In the first movement we find the bitter struggle he waged against life’s adversities, his failing health, his deafness, his loneliness. The Scherzo depicts the quest for worldly joy; the third movement, melancholy reflection, longing—resignation. The last movement, the ‘Ode to Joy,’ is dedicated to all Mankind.”

“There’s something astonishing about a deaf composer choosing to open a symphony with music that reveals, like no other music before it, the very essence of sound emerging from silence,” writes CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. “The famous pianissimo opening—sixteen measures with no secure sense of key or rhythm—does not so much depict the journey from darkness to light, or from chaos to order, as the birth of sound itself or the creation of a musical idea. It is as if the challenges of Beethoven’s daily existence—the struggle to compose music, his difficulty in communicating, the frustration of remembering what it was like to hear—have been made real in a single page of music.”

Founder and first music director Theodore Thomas first led the Chicago Orchestra in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on December 16 and 17, 1892, at the Auditorium Theatre. The soloists were Minnie Fish, Minna Brentano, Charles A. Knorr, and George E. Holmes, along with the Apollo Chorus (prepared by William L. Tomlins).

1961 recording (RCA)

Sixth music director Fritz Reiner led the Orchestra’s first recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on May 1 and 2, 1961, in Orchestra Hall. Phyllis Curtin, Florence Kopleff, John McCollum, and Donald Gramm were the soloists, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus was prepared by Margaret Hillis. For RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer and Lewis Layton was the recording engineer.

1972 recording (London)

Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus first recorded Beethoven’s nine symphonies between May 1972 and September 1974 for London Records. The recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with three overtures: Egmont, Coriolan, and Leonore no. 3); that set won the 1975 Grammy Award for Classical Album of the Year from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The Ninth Symphony was recorded at the Krannert Center at the University of Illinois in Urbana on May 15 and 16, and June 26, 1972. Pilar Lorengar, Yvonne Minton, Stuart Burrows, and Martti Talvela were the soloists, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus was prepared by Margaret Hillis. David Harvey was the recording producer, and Gordon Parry, Kenneth Wilkinson, and Peter van Biene were the balance engineers.

1986 recording (London)

Between September 1986 and January 1990, Solti and the Orchestra and Chorus recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies a second time, again for London Records; and again, the recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with two overtures: Egmont and Leonore no. 3). The Ninth Symphony was recorded in Medinah Temple on September 29 and 30, 1986. Michael Haas was the recording producer, John Pellowe the balance engineer, and Neil Hutchinson the tape editor. Jessye Norman, Reinhild Runkel, Robert Schunk, and Hans Sotin were soloists, and Margaret Hillis prepared the Chorus. The release won the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

On September 18, 20, 21, and 23, 2014, Riccardo Muti led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Orchestra Hall. Camilla Nylund, Ekaterina Gubanova, Matthew Polenzani (September 18), William Burden (September 20, 21, and 23), and Eric Owens were the soloists, and the Chorus was prepared by Duain Wolfe. The performance on September 18 was recorded for YouTube and is available in the link below.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 on February 24, 25, 26, and 27, 2022.

This article also appears here.

“We know with certainty that seldom was a work of this kind brought to completion under more adverse conditions than the Eighth Symphony,” wrote Frederick Stock, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra‘s second music director, in Talks About Beethoven’s SymphoniesThe year 1812 was challenging for Beethoven, as he endured “domestic difficulties of the most embarrassing and annoying kind . . . added to this the agony of his ever-increasing deafness, and life’s burden must have been unbearable. And yet the general character of the F major symphony is added proof that adversities, no matter how severe, could not overwhelm him or daunt his spirt, since the temper and color of this work show no trace of suffering. . . . the Eighth Symphony [is] the work of a genius rising above his world, reaching beyond his own time, and that this work was only a stepping-stone for much greater things to come.”

The Eighth Symphony “was misunderstood from the start,” writes CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. “The Eighth is a throwback to an easier time. The novelty of this symphony, however, is that it manages to do new and unusual things without ever waving the flag of controversy.”

Founder and first music director Theodore Thomas first led the Chicago Orchestra in Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony on March 25 and 26, 1892, at the Auditorium Theatre.

1973 recording (London)

Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus first recorded Beethoven’s nine symphonies between May 1972 and September 1974 for London Records. The recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with three overtures: Egmont, Coriolan, and Leonore no. 3); that set won the 1975 Grammy Award for Classical Album of the Year from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The Eighth Symphony was recorded at Medinah Temple on November 6 and 9, 1973. Ray Minshull was the recording producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock were the balance engineers.

1988 recording (London)

Between September 1986 and January 1990, Solti and the Orchestra and Chorus recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies a second time, again for London Records; and again, the recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with two overtures: Egmont and Leonore no. 3). The Eighth Symphony was recorded in Orchestra Hall on October 17 and 18, 1988. Michael Haas was the recording producer and Stanley Goodall was the balance engineer.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture along with Symphonies nos. 5 and 8 on January 13 and 15, 2021.

Title page of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (Theodore Thomas collection)

“We have now reached what is called Beethoven’s second creative period, the zenith of his career,” wrote Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Orchestra‘s founder and first music director, in Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies. “He has outlived other influences and is mature in every respect; his powers and individuality are fully developed; he has had some experience of the world, has solved difficult problems, and feels himself a master. Hence in this period he produces works which are as nearly perfect as anything human can be, breathing the spirit of the nineteenth century and endowing music with a meaning deeper and more fruitful than it ever had before.”

The Fifth Symphony “has come to represent greatness in music,” writes CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. “One can’t easily think of another single composition that, in its expressive range and structural power, better represents what music is all about.”

Thomas first led the Chicago Orchestra in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on the inaugural concerts on October 16 and 17, 1891, at the Auditorium Theatre.

1959 and 1968 recordings (RCA)

Sixth music director Fritz Reiner recorded the Fifth Symphony with the Orchestra for RCA on May 4, 1959, in Orchestra Hall. Richard Mohr was the producer and Joseph F. Wells was the recording engineer. Also for RCA, Seiji Ozawa recorded the symphony with the ensemble on August 9, 1968, in Orchestra Hall. Peter Dellheim was the producer and Bernard Keville was the recording engineer.

1973 recording (London)

Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus first recorded Beethoven’s nine symphonies between May 1972 and September 1974 for London Records. The recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with three overtures: Egmont, Coriolan, and Leonore no. 3); that set won the 1975 Grammy Award for Classical Album of the Year from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The Fifth Symphony was recorded at Medinah Temple on November 5 and 6, 1973. Ray Minshull was the recording producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock were the balance engineers.

1986 recording (London)

Between September 1986 and January 1990, Solti and the Orchestra and Chorus recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies a second time, again for London Records; and again, the recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with two overtures: Egmont and Leonore no. 3). The Fifth Symphony was recorded in Medinah Temple on October 6 and 7, 1986. Michael Haas was the recording producer and Stanley Goodall was the balance engineer.

During the tour to Japan in 1990, Solti led the Orchestra in the Fifth Symphony, and the April 15 performance at Suntory Hall in Tokyo was video recorded for release on laser disc. For CBS Sony, Shūji Fujii was the video director.

Fantasia 2000 soundtrack

The Orchestra also recorded an abbreviated version of the first movement from the symphony on April 25, 1994, for the Fantasia 2000 soundtrack. For Disney, James Levine conducted, Jay David Saks was the producer, and it was recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture along with Symphonies nos. 5 and 8 on January 13 and 15, 2021.

Title page of Beethoven’s Second Symphony (Fritz Reiner collection)

In Beethoven’s Second Symphony, “we find the mature master,” according to Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Orchestra‘s founder and first music director. In Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies, Thomas writes, “He uses no extraordinary means in regard to instruments, for what he has to say still lies within the scope of the old means, but he stands at the height of his time and expresses that which is mature. . . . Here I must call attention to one of Beethoven’s earliest and most startling musical innovations—one from which he did not depart in after years—his use of dynamic effects, sudden changes from loud to soft and vice versa. No composer has made use of forte, piano, forzando, etc. as constantly as he. . . . Beethoven wrote for a standard of virtuosity far beyond that which exited among the orchestral players of his time, and which is still very difficult for even the most advanced instrumentalists of today [but he] will live for the cultivated for centuries after the masses have lost all understanding of his works.”

“Although Beethoven’s hearing would deteriorate considerably in later years, 1802 marked the moment of crisis: the Heiligenstadt Testament includes Beethoven’s admission that his malady was permanent and incurable. He didn’t fail to see the horrible irony of ‘an infirmity in the one sense which ought to be more perfect in me than in others,’” writes CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. Despite this admission, the composer’s Second Symphony is “one of his most energetic, cheerful, and outgoing works [and] shows no signs of Beethoven’s obvious despair.”

Theodore Thomas first led the Chicago Orchestra in Beethoven’s Second Symphony on December 1 and 2, 1893, at the Auditorium Theatre.

1974 recording (London)

Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus first recorded Beethoven’s nine symphonies between May 1972 and September 1974 for London Records. The recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with three overtures: Egmont, Coriolan, and Leonore no. 3); that set won the 1975 Grammy Award for Classical Album of the Year from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The Second Symphony was recorded at Medinah Temple on May 13, 14, 15, and 18, 1974 (along with the First Symphony). Ray Minshull was the recording producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock were the balance engineers.

1989-90 recording (London)

Between September 1986 and January 1990, Solti and the Orchestra and Chorus recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies a second time, again for London Records; and again, the recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with two overtures: Egmont and Leonore no. 3). The Second Symphony was recorded in Orchestra Hall on November 14 and 16, 1989, and January 27, 1990 (along with the First Symphony). Michael Haas was the recording producer and Stanley Goodall was the balance engineer.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Symphonies nos. 2 and 5 on February 20, 21, 22, and 23, 2020.

In the early part of its history, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was in the pit for an astonishing number of opera performances, first with singers from the Metropolitan Opera on tour at the Auditorium Theatre (from 1891 through 1899) and again with Ravinia Park Opera in Highland Park (from 1912 until 1931). This included fifty performances of Pietro Mascagni‘s Cavalleria rusticana featuring some of the greatest singers of the era in the role of Santuzza.

Jane Abercrombie

Wisconsin native Jane Abercrombie (1878–1961, three performances in 1912) was a member of the Lyceum and Aborn opera companies and the prima donna of the first season of Ravinia Park Opera. Over the course of a month in the summer of 1912, she sang the leading soprano roles in multiple performances of La bohème, Cavalleria rusticana, Les contes d’Hoffman, Faust, Lucia di Lammermoor, Madama Butterfly, Martha, Rigoletto, Thaïs, Tosca, and La traviata.

Marguerite Bériza

Marguerite Bériza (1880–1970, four performances between 1916 and 1917) trained at the Paris Conservatory and made her professional debut at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1900 as a mezzo-soprano, performing mostly comprimario roles. She created the role of Geoffroy in the world premiere of Rabaud’s La fille de Roland in 1904, and two years later, she was Kate Pinkerton in the French premiere of Madama Butterfly; she also sang the role of Suzuki in later performances. In 1910, Bériza created the role of Pénélope in the world premiere of Terrasse’s Le mariage de Télémaque. By 1912, she was performing soprano roles, and she made her U.S. debut with the Boston Opera Company in 1914 as Musetta (with Maggie Teyte as Mimì) in La bohème. In 1915, Bériza made her Broadway debut in Atteridge’s Maid in America and her Chicago Grand Opera Company debut, singing the title role in Février’s Monna Vanna. 

Emma Calvé

French soprano Emma Calvé (1858–1942, five performances between 1894 and 1899) was a student of Mathilde Marchesi and made her debut as Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels in 1881. Following debuts at the Opéra-Comique in Paris and La Scala in Milan, she was selected by Mascagni to create the role of Suzel in the composer’s L’amico Fritz on October 31, 1891, at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome. Calvé first performed at Covent Garden the following year before making her debut with the Metropolitan Opera on November 29, 1893, as Santuzza. “Calvé is a dramatic soprano of the first rank. It is long since New York opera goers have had the pleasure of seeing and hearing an artist of such splendid emotional force,” wrote William James Henderson in The New York Times. “She is at all times eloquent and powerfully influenced; and she knows how to put emotional meaning into her singing, never hesitating to sacrifice mere sensuous beauty of tone to true dramatic significance. Her success was immediate, pronounced, and thoroughly deserved.” She was later hailed for her interpretation of Bizet’s Carmen and performed the role over 150 times with the Metropolitan.

Emma Eames

American soprano Emma Eames (1865–1952, one performance in 1891) studied with Clara Munger in Boston and Mathilde Marchesi in Paris before making her professional debut on March 13, 1889, in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at the Palais Garnier. Eames made her debut with the Metropolitan Opera on tour in Chicago on November 9, 1891, as Elsa in Lohengrin; her performance of Santuzza with the Met on December 4 also marked the company’s first performance of the opera. She also regularly performed at Covent Garden, in Madrid, and with the Monte Carlo Opera in Monaco. Eames was noted for her interpretations of the leading soprano roles in Aida, Un ballo in maschera, Cavalleria rusticana, Don Giovanni, Faust, Lohengrin, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Le nozze di Figaro, Otello, Tosca, Il trovatore, Die Walküre, Werther, and Die Zauberflöte.

Florence Easton

A student of Agnes Larkcom at London’s Royal Academy of Music and Elliott Haslam in Paris, English soprano Florence Easton (1882–1955, five performances between 1919 and 1924) made her professional debut as the Shepherd in Tannhäuser with the Moody-Manners company in Newcastle upon Tyne, and she later was a member of the Berlin Royal and Hamburg opera companies. She made her U.S. debut with the Chicago Grand Opera Company in 1915 as Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Siegfried; of her performance, Eric DeLamarter in the Chicago Tribune wrote, “with the superb tone, the enunciation, and the style . . . Fresh and most satisfying as to timbre in the scene of the awakening, the voice fell on the ear like a benediction after the three-hour fusillade of declamation,” With the Metropolitan Opera, Easton made her debut as Santuzza on December 7, 1917, and she was chosen by Puccini to create the role of Lauretta—who sings “O mio babbino caro”—in his Gianni Schicchi on December 14, 1918, also at the Metropolitan.

Lois Ewell

Lois Ewell (1885–?, two performances in 1913) was born in Memphis, Tennessee. Before turning her sights to opera, she enjoyed a successful career on Broadway, performing leading roles in Victor Herbert’s Dream City and The Magic Night (a burlesque of Wagner’s Lohengrin), George M. Cohan’s Forty-five Minutes from Broadway, and Lehár’s The Merry Widow. In addition to Santuzza during her single summer with Ravinia Park Opera, Ewell also performed the lead soprano roles in Aida, Lohengrin, Madama Butterfly, Pagliacci, Thaïs (she “does this sort of part very well, according to the Chicago Tribune. “She has abundant temperament for the plentiful theatrical trickery of the part.”), and Il trovatore. She later was a company member with the Century Opera Company in New York, where she performed the title roles in Aida and Tosca.

Bettina Freeman

Bettina Freeman (1889–?, four performances in 1915) was born and raised in Boston, and she made her professional debut as Siébel in Gounod’s Faust with the Boston Opera Company. After moving to New York, she joined the Quinlan Opera Company and later the San Carlo Opera Company. At Ravinia Park in 1915, she also sang the title roles in Aida, Madama Butterfly, Thaïs, Tosca, and Il trovatore. Regarding her performance as Tosca that summer, Musical America reported, “Miss Freeman’s singing of the aria, ‘Vissi d’arte,” and in the duet of the last act was highly artistic. The aria, which called forth outbursts of applause, was delivered with dramatic fervor and style.”

Alice Gentle

Alice Gentle (1885–1958, six performances between 1919 and 1926) began her career performing in the chorus at Oscar Hammerstein’s Manhattan Opera Company beginning in 1908. She frequently said that, “Mr. Hammerstein ‘discovered’ her and was ‘both my artistic father and my mascot'” (according to her New York Times obituary), and he began casting her in secondary roles during her second season with the company.  At the Metropolitan, she made several appearances during the 1918-19 season, most notably as Frugola in the world premiere of Puccini’s Il tabarro. Later a film actress, Gentle appeared in The Song of the Flame, Golden Dawn, and A Scene from Carmen.

Claudia Muzio

Italian soprano Claudia Muzio (1889–1936, three performances in 1918) studied in Turin with Annetta Casaloni and in Milan with Elettra Callery-Viviani. She made her professional debut in Manon on January 15, 1910, in Arezzo, and debuts at La Scala, the Paris Opera, and Covent Garden quickly followed. Muzio first sang in the United States at the Metropolitan Opera on December 4, 1916, in Tosca, alongside Enrico Caruso as Cavaradossi. During her one summer with the Ravinia Park Opera, she also performed the lead soprano roles in Aida, L’amore dei tre re, La bohème, Faust, Madama Butterfly, Manon, Pagliacci, Il segreto di Susanna, Tosca, and Il trovatore. On October 15, 1932, she performed the title role in Tosca to inaugurate San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House (the first act was broadcast and can be heard here).

Frances Peralta (left) and Florence Easton

Born in England, Frances Peralta (1883–1933, one performance each in 1921 and 1922) and her family moved to California when she was a child. She received her early training in San Francisco and later performed with the Boston and Saint Louis opera companies, in New York’s Globe Theatre, and with the Chicago Opera Association.  Peralta made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera on December 25, 1920, as Elena in Mefistofele and over the next ten years, she was a regular company member, performing the leading soprano roles in Aida, Andrea Chénier, Cavalleria rusticana, Così fan tutte, Don Carlo, La forza del destino, La gioconda, Guillaume Tell, Tannhäuser, Tosca, and Il trovatore, among others.

Rosa Raisa

Rosa Raisa (1893–1963, two performances in 1925) was born in Poland and in order to escape anti-Semitic persecution, she fled to Naples at the age of fourteen. There she studied at the Conservatorio di San Pietro a Majella with Barbara Marchisio and made her debut in Verdi’s Oberto in Parma on September 6, 1913. Marchisio soon introduced her to Cleofonte Campanini, conductor of the Chicago Grand Opera Company, and he engaged her to make her debut as Aida in Chicago on November 29, 1913. She enjoyed continued success in Rome, London, Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, São Paulo, and Milan, where she created the title role in Puccini’s Turandot under Arturo Toscanini’s baton at La Scala on April 25, 1926. She sang the title role in Aida for the opening of the Civic Opera House in Chicago on November 4, 1929. In 1959, Raisa sat down with Studs Terkel, reflecting on her career and successes in Chicago; the interview can be heard here.

Elisabeth Rethberg

German-American soprano Elisabeth Rethberg (1894–1976, twelve performances between 1927 and 1931) studied at the Dresden Conservatory and made her professional debut as Arsena in Johann Strauss, Jr.’s Der Zigeunerbaron at the Dresden Court Opera in 1915. She made her U.S. debut at the Metropolitan Opera on November 22, 1922, in the title role in Verdi’s Aida. In The New York Times, Richard Aldrich praised “her high, clear, liquid tones of a singular brightness floating above Verdi’s orchestration with unforced ease.” Rethberg’s association with the company continued for twenty years, and she was featured on four Met opening nights. In 1928, Richard Strauss invited Rethberg to create the title role in his Die ägyptische Helena in Dresden.

Ivy Scott

Ivy Scott (1886–1947, one performance in 1914) was born in Java and made her stage debut at the age of five in Sydney Australia. She came to the U.S. in 1910 and appeared at Ravinia Park in the lead soprano roles in Aida, Madama Butterfly, and Il trovatore. On the radio, Scott was the original Mrs. Hudson in NBC’s Sherlock Holmes series, performed on The Goldbergs, and also hosted her own radio show. On Broadway, she appeared regularly between 1932 and 1946, in Music in the Air, Revenge with Music, Three Waltzes, Too Many Girls, Liberty Jones, Sunny River, and Song of Norway. 

On February 6, 7, and 8, 2020, Anita Rachvelishvili sings the role of Santuzza in Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Riccardo Muti conducts. An abbreviated version of this article also appears in the program book for these performances.

Title page of Beethoven’s Third Symphony (Fritz Reiner collection)

Regarding the Third Symphony, “Beethoven, now fully emancipated from the preceding era, may be said for the first time to stand forth and show his lion’s paw!” wrote Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Orchestra‘s founder and first music director, in Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies. “In my judgment, the Eroica is only a perfectly legitimate step forward, a logical sequence in his normal development. . . . His soul now began to long to express that which had never before been said in music—anticipating centuries; hence this symphony, the first dawn of modern music, written in a definite mood, giving expression to the soul through color and contrast rather than attempting to illustrate a specific program.”

1954 recording (RCA)

“The Eroica is perhaps the first great symphony to have captured the romantic imagination,” according to CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. “Beethoven’s vast and powerful first movement and the funeral march that follows must have sounded like nothing else in all music. Never before had symphonic music aspired to these dimensions. . . . Beethoven’s Allegro con brio was longer—and bigger, in every sense—than any other symphonic movement at the time (the first movement of Mozart’s Prague Symphony comes the closest). It’s also a question of proportion, and Beethoven’s central development section, abounding in some truly monumental statements, is enormous.”

Thomas first led the Orchestra in Beethoven’s Third Symphony during the first season, on January 12, 1892, at The Odeon in Cincinnati and later that week in Chicago on January 15 and 16 at the Auditorium Theatre.

1973–74 recording (London)

Sixth music director Fritz Reiner led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first commercial recording of the work in Orchestra Hall on December 4, 1954. For RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer.

Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus first recorded Beethoven’s nine symphonies between May 1972 and September 1974 for London Records. The recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with three overtures: Egmont, Coriolan, and Leonore no. 3); that set won the 1975 Grammy Award for Classical Album of the Year from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The Third Symphony was recorded at Medinah Temple on November 5, 6, and 9, 1973, and May 18, 1974. Ray Minshull was the recording producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock were the balance engineers.

1989 recording (London)

Between September 1986 and January 1990, Solti and the Orchestra and Chorus recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies a second time, again for London Records; and again, the recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with two overtures: Egmont and Leonore no. 3). The Third Symphony was recorded in Orchestra Hall on May 6 and 8, 1989. Michael Haas was the recording producer and Stanley Goodall was the balance engineer.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Consecration of the House Overture and Symphonies nos. 1 and 3 on September 26, 27, and 28, 2019.

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Theodore Thomas

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