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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.

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This remarkable photograph—the first known image of the Chicago Orchestra—was taken 125 years ago today on March 14, 1892, during one of several first-season domestic tours. The article below describes the image and was written for the fall 1991 CSO program book by then–second horn Norman Schweikert. Schweikert, who retired from the Orchestra in 1997, continues his research, gathering biographical information on professional symphony orchestra and opera musicians from all over the world.

The Earliest Known Photograph of the Chicago Orchestra

This rare, unpublished, informal photograph of the Chicago Orchestra, taken during its inaugural season, was discovered in the early 1960s by Jeff Gold, a Chicago freelance oboist and artist, in an antique shop in Door County, Wisconsin. The shop, now closed, had acquired it from the estate of an unidentified member of the Orchestra who had retired and moved to Wisconsin.

The picture was taken in Saint Louis on March 14, 1892, while the Orchestra was on tour. Two concerts were given in the Saint Louis Exposition and Music Hall on March 14 and 15, and another was given in Alton, Illinois, on the sixteenth. March 17 was probably a travel day, and the eighteenth found the Orchestra back at the Auditorium rehearsing for its concert of the nineteenth. The names included on the photograph make up a balanced instrumentation for a touring orchestra, reduced in size to economize and to fit comfortably onto small stages.

The Saint Louis Exposition and Music Hall in 1888 (unidentified illustrator for The News Herald)

Beneath the photo are two hand-written sets of identification: an original list of names, including first initials, and a second group, supplied perhaps by the previous owner, with lines drawn toward persons in the picture. Why did someone see fit to label everyone a second time? It is difficult to recognize the men because they all are wearing hats, but comparisons with photos taken of individual members during the 1894–95 and 1902–03 seasons helped to identify positively many of them. To identify those who had left by 1894, one has to rely on the lines, which unfortunately are imprecise.

This photograph shows forty-nine of the fifty-member touring orchestra. The accompanying roster and outline match names with faces. Missing is librarian Theodore McNicol, who might have been setting out music. Also missing are conductor Theodore Thomas and his right-hand man, cellist and personnel manager Henry Sachleben. There are already four cellists, so perhaps Sachleben did not make the trip, at least as a performer.

In the lower right corner the name of L. Amato can be made out with difficulty. Did Louis Amato, a cellist in the Orchestra from 1891 to 1901, come along on the trip and take the photograph? Was the photo part of his estate, and did he identify the players? The mysteries of this fascinating image tantalize us. We must be thankful for what we do know, and grateful to both the unknown photographer who captured this moment nearly a century ago and the owner who preserved it.

Diagram indicating position of musicians in the photograph (click to expand)

The players have been placed in the order shown on the larger roster of ninety-five musicians and two librarians found in the subscription program for the twentieth pair of concerts on April 22 and 23, 1892. Names are given in parentheses under instruments on which players might have doubled.

FIRST VIOLIN
1. Max Bendix
2. Isadore Schnitzler
3. Emanuel Knoll
4. Alexander Krauss
5. Theodore Human
6. J. Czerny
7. Herman Braun, Jr.
8. Richard Seidel
9. Rudolph Rissland

SECOND VIOLIN
10. Richard Poltmann
11. August Zeiss, Jr.
12. Friedrich Schmitz-Philippi
13. Gustav Starke
14. Richard Donati
15. Albert Ulrich, Sr.
16. Joseph Zettelmann
17. Ernest F. Wagner

VIOLA
18. August Junker
19. Carl Riedelsberger
20. Jan Meyroos
21. Ferdinand Volk*

CELLO
22. Bruno Steindel
23. Walter Unger
24. Ludwig Corell
25. Emil Schippe

BASS
26. Albin Wiegner
27. Joseph Beckel
28. Louis Klemm
29. Richard Helm

HARP
30. Edmund Schuecher

FLUTE
31. Vigo Andersen
32. Martin Ballman (piccolo)

OBOE
33. Felix Bour
34. E. Schoenheinz (english horn)

CLARINET
35. Joseph Schreurs
36. Carl Meyer (bass clarinet)

BASSOON
37. Hugo Litke
38. Louis Friedrich (contrabassoon)

HORN
39. Hermann Dutschke
40. Adolph Schütz
41. Leopold de Maré
42. Albert Walker

TRUMPET (or cornet)
43. Christian Rodenkirchen
44. Frederick Dietz, Jr.
(15) (Albert Ulrich, Sr.)

TROMBONE
45. Otto Gebhardt
46. William Zeller
47. Josef Nicolini

TUBA
48. August Helleberg

TIMPANI
49. William Loewe

PERCUSSION
(16) (Joseph Zettelmann)
(17) (Ernest F. Wagner)
(18) (Richard Donati)

LIBRARIAN
Theodore McNicol (not pictured)

*This may not be Volk, the cellist, but Valk, a flutist who played only the first season. Both men have the same initial. The name Valk is clearly written, twice, on the photo. A positive identification of Volk could not be made by comparing photos. Were Volk on the tour there would be a proper balance in both the string and woodwind sections. Were Valk playing, there would have been three flutes but only three violas. The mystery remains.

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Top of the first page of the first bassoon part to The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Top of the first page of the first bassoon part to The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

“This interesting novelty is by a composer little known to the musical world and whose name now appears for the first time on the programs of these concerts,” wrote Hubbard William Harris in the program book. “[Paul] Dukas’s composition is, as its name signifies, in a single movement and is constructed from thematic material so easily grasped as to require neither quotation nor extended explanation. . . . The composer has drawn his inspiration from Goethe’s ballad Der Zauberlehrling (The pupil in magic). The instrumentation is exceedingly rich and effective and in point of difficulty of execution the work stands side by side with the brilliant compositions of [Richard] Strauss, d’Indy, and other modern writers.”

January 13 and 14, 1899

January 13 and 14, 1899

Theodore Thomas and the Chicago Orchestra performed Dukas’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice on January 13, 1899, the U.S. premiere of the thirty-three-year-old composer’s scherzo. Forty years later in Disney’s Fantasia, the work would be forever linked to Mickey Mouse’s apprentice, tormented by his inability to control an onslaught of brooms and buckets of water.

(Bruno Steindel, the Orchestra’s principal cello, originally was scheduled to be soloist in Raff’s Cello Concerto on this program; however, he canceled due to illness and Chabrier’s “interesting novelty,” the composer’s Suite pastorale, replaced the concerto.)

This article also appears here.

Yet another significant Chicago institution is in the midst of celebrating their 125th anniversary: the John and Frances Glessner House and Museum, located at 1800 South Prairie Avenue in Chicago. The Glessners were perhaps the most significant early supporters of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and also close personal friends of our first two music directors, Theodore Thomas and Frederick Stock.

Bruno Steindel - Glessner doll collection

Bruno Steindel, principal cello of the Orchestra from 1891 until 1918, as depicted by Frances Glessner Lee in 1913.

On January 1, 1913, Frances Glessner Lee presented her mother with a unique and memorable birthday gift: a meticulously crafted model of the members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. With Frederick Stock’s permission, Lee attended numerous rehearsals in order to sketch the individual musicians. She spent months creating the model and used Viennese bisque dolls, customized with appropriate hair and instrument. Stock also contributed, writing out the music parts for each stand. And on January 17, 1913, the Glessners welcomed the entire orchestra to their home for dinner and an opportunity to view the model.

To celebrate the house’s 125th year as well as the centennial of the doll collection, on January 16, Glessner House Executive Director and Curator William Tyre will give a lecture on the Glessners and their lifelong support of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. There will also be an opportunity to view the doll collection, which will be on loan from the Rosenthal Archives through February 24.

The details:

The Glessners and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Wednesday January 16, 2013, at 7:00 p.m.
$10 per person / $8 for members (the dinner is already sold out)
R.S.V.P. to (312) 326-1480
Glessner House Museum Coach House

Join us!

Chicago Symphony Orchestra in miniature

The miniature orchestra in January 1913, shortly after it was presented to Frances Glessner by her daughter Frances Glessner Lee (Chicago Daily News photo)

the vault

Theodore Thomas

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

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