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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This rare, unpublished, informal photograph of the Chicago Orchestra, taken during its inaugural season, was discovered in the early 1960s by Jeff Gold, a Chicago freelance oboist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.

the vault

Theodore Thomas

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