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Assembly on Parade Ground at Great Lakes Naval Training Station, Kauffman & Fabry, U.S. 1918

Thousands of soldiers stand in formation at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in this 1918 image at right from the Pritzker Military Museum & Library collections.

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During the second decade of the twentieth century, Chicago was an extraordinary hub of cultural activity. Art, architecture, literature politics, music, and sports all contributed to the city’s vibrant landscape.

Chicago Grand Opera Company program and Mary Garden (Herman Mishkin, Library of Congress)

The Chicago Grand Opera Company—the city’s first resident opera company—opens its first season on November 3, 1910, at the Auditorium Theatre. Cleofante Campanini conducts Verdi’s Aida with Janina Korolewicz in the title role, Nicola Zerola as Radamès, and Eleanor de Cisneros as Amneris. The fourth and final season of the company comes to a close on January 31, 1914, with a matinee of Février’s Monna Vanna starring Mary Garden and an evening performance of Flotow’s Martha with Jenny Dufau and Ralph Errolle under the baton of Arnold Winternitz.

Fine Arts Building (V.O. Hammon Publishing Company) and Rue Winterbotham Carpenter (Paul Thevenaz, Collection of the Arts Club of Chicago)

In 1912, Ellen Van Volkenburg and Maurice Browne establish the Chicago Little Theatre, performing Greek classics, works by contemporary writers, and puppetry at the Fine Arts Building. Founded in March 1916, the Arts Club of Chicago also moves into the Fine Arts Building on the fifth floor, and charter members include Rue Winterbotham Carpenter and her husband, composer John Alden Carpenter, along with Frederick Stock.

Ravinia Park and Poetry: A Magazine of Verse

During the first season of the Ravinia Opera Company in 1912, Gustav Hinrichs leads the Orchestra in acts and extended scenes from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and La bohème; Verdi’s Aida , La traviata, and Il trovatore; Massenet’s Thaïs; Gounod’s Faust; Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor; and Wagner’s Lohengrin. On August 21, the company presents its first full-length production: Masagani’s Cavalleria rusticana with Jane Abercrombie as Santuzza and Henri Baron as Turriddu.

Founded by Harriet Monroe, the first edition of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse is published in Chicago in October 1912.

Roosevelt in the Auditorium Theatre (Moffett Studio, Library of Congress)

The 1912 Progressive “Bull Moose” Party Convention culminates at the Auditorium Theatre on August 6 with Theodore Roosevelt, president from 1901 until 1909, proclaiming, “We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord!” He had attempted and failed to wrangle the Republican nomination from his successor and incumbent president William Howard Taft, so Roosevelt’s supporters declared their independence and formed a third party behind their candidate, who boasted he felt “strong as a bull moose.” Democratic New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson won the November 5 election in a landslide against the divided Republicans.

In April 1913, the International Exhibition of Modern Art is mounted at the Art Institute of Chicago, introducing local audiences to the works of Marcel Duchamp, Wassily Kandinsky, and Pablo Picasso, among numerous others. Students at the School of the Art Institute hold a mock trial of “Henry Hair Mattress” (Henri Matisse), finding him guilty of “artistic murder, pictorial arson . . . and contumacious abuse of title” and burning copies of his Blue Nude, Luxury II, Red Madras Headdress, and The Red StudioThe articles are here and here.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s subscriber card and Morton’s Jelly Roll Blues William and Frederick Starmer, Will Rossiter Publishing)

An occasional Chicago Symphony Orchestra subscriber, Frank Lloyd Wright also has an office in Orchestra Hall from 1913 until 1916. (It has long been rumored that he skipped out without paying his final months’ rent.)

While living in Chicago, Ferd “Jelly Roll” Morton publishes his Jelly Roll Blues in 1915, widely acknowledged as the first published jazz composition.

On October 14, 1917, composer and pianist Ignace Paderewski gives a speech to over 40,000 people— “the largest Polish assemblage ever seen in Chicago,” according to the Chicago Tribune—at the Dexter Park Pavilion (a horse racing track located next to the Union Stock Yards) advocating for a Poland free of Austro-Hungarian rule. The article is here.

“King” Oliver and his band  (Frank Driggs Collection)

In early 1918, Joe “King” Oliver moves to Chicago, bringing his New Orleans brass and dance band style with him. To win over northern audiences, many jazz bands played up their southern roots while drawing on stereotypes made familiar through minstrel shows, as can be seen in this image. Oliver’s style also was called “hot jazz,” later inspiring the name of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven bands of the 1920s. By the end of the decade, Chicago develops a style all its own, emerging as an important center for the genre.

Geraldine Farrar (Bain Collection, Library of Congress) and Carl Sandburg (National Park Service)

Geraldine Farrar is the star of the Chicago Opera Association’s first season opening in November 1915, appearing in the title roles in Puccini’s Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Bizet’s Carmen, and Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust.

In 1916, Carl Sandburg’s Chicago Poems is published. He is soon awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his Cornhuskers, published in 1918 and written while he lived in Evanston and Elmhurst, Illinois.

Chicago White Sox (Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

The Chicago White Sox win the 1917 World Series on October 15, defeating the New York Giants in game six. The winning team included outfielders “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Shano Collins, Happy Felsch, Eddie Murphy, and Nemo Leibold.

War Exposition (Pritzker Military Museum & Library)

The U.S. Government War Exposition travels to Grant Park and nearly two million Chicagoans visit between September 2 and 15, 1918. Designed to encourage public support of the war, the exposition includes displays of new technologies, trench warfare and weaponry, and medical treatments.

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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.

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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has performed Aaron Copland‘s Lincoln Portrait on several occasions and with a number of notable narrators. A complete list is below.

Carl Sandburg

Poet, writer, and editor Carl Sandburg was narrator for the Orchestra’s first performances of Lincoln Portrait on March 15 and 16, 1945, in Orchestra Hall; third music director Désiré Defauw conducted. At the time, Sandburg was the country’s leading authority on Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth U.S. president. He had written the two-volume Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years in 1926, and in 1940, he completed the four-volume Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, for which he won his second Pulitzer Prize.

Claude Rains

The composer himself conducted the first performance at the Ravinia Festival on July 21, 1956. Popular stage and screen character actor Claude Rains was narrator for the occasion. Winner of a Tony Award and nominated four times for an Academy Award (in the best supporting actor category), he appeared in such classic films as The Adventures of Robin Hood, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Casablanca, Notorious, and Lawrence of Arabia.

Illinois Governor Otto J. Kerner rubs the nose of Gutzon Borglum‘s Lincoln bust in 1964 (World Telegraph & Sun photo by Roger Higgins)

Copland was again on the podium at the Ravinia Festival on July 6, 1963, when Illinois Governor Otto Kerner, Jr. was narrator. Kerner was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois and served as a judge in the Illinois Circuit Court of Cook County before his election as the thirty-third governor of Illinois in 1960, winning re-election in 1964. He resigned as governor in 1968 when President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated him as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Kerner was later convicted of mail fraud, conspiracy, and perjury and sentenced to three years in federal prison; he was released early following his being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

The next three performances, all in Orchestra Hall, were narrated by voices quite familiar to Chicagoans. On March 28, 1970, Mel Zellman, an announcer for WFMT for forty years, shared the stage with conductor Irwin HoffmanJim Tilmon, a longtime television reporter for WTTW and NBC, narrated the work on February 25, 1976, with associate conductor Henry Mazer on the podium. On January 29, 1979, Bill Kurtis, then a news anchor with WBBM-TV, was narrator, again under Mazer’s direction.

For a special July 4 celebration in 1982 at the Ravinia Festival, Aaron Copland himself was narrator. Erich Kunzel conducted.

Jane Byrne (Associated Press photo by Fred Jewell)

Jane Byrne was the first woman to serve as Chicago’s mayor—the city’s fortieth—from 1979 until 1983. On October 1, 1982, in Orchestra Hall, she was narrator in Copland’s Lincoln Portrait with Reynald Giovaninetti on the podium. According to her obituary in the Chicago Tribune, “Over her single term in office, Byrne launched Taste of Chicago and crowd-pleasing celebrations like Blues Fest, inspired the redevelopment of Navy Pier and the Museum Campus and encouraged movie making here in a big way by luring production of box office hits like The Blues Brothers.

Aaron Copland and William Warfield in 1963 (Library of Congress photo)

On October 4, 1997, Symphony Center officially opened its doors with a gala concert. The program included a performance of Lincoln Portrait with bass-baritone William Warfield as narrator and ninth music director Daniel Barenboim conducting. Warfield had become well known following a star turn as Joe—singing “Ol Man River“—in MGM‘s 1951 remake of Show Boat. He also recorded a highly acclaimed album of selections from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess with soprano Leontyne Price in 1963. Long associated with Copland, Warfield had sung the premiere performances of the first set of Old American Songs (for soloist and orchestra) as well as the second set (for soloist and piano).

Steppenwolf Theatre Company actors Martha Lavey, Amy Morton, K. Todd Freeman, and Tracy Letts shared narrating duties at the Ravinia Festival on July 4, 2004. David Alan Miller conducted.

Senator Barack Obama narrates Copland’s Lincoln Portrait in Millennium Park on September 11, 2005. William Eddins conducts (Todd Rosenberg photo)

On September 11, 2005, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra gave a free concert at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Guest conductor William Eddins led the Orchestra in The Star-Spangled Banner, William Schuman’s arrangement of Ives’s Variations on America, Rimsky- Korsakov’s Sheherazade, and Copland’s Lincoln Portrait with freshman U.S. Senator Barack Obama as narrator. In the Chicago Sun-Times, Wynne Delacoma wrote: “When September 11 comes around each year, the craving for a moment of proverbial silence—a chance to slow down, remember, and mourn—is strong. Sunday’s concert, led by former CSO resident conductor William Eddins and featuring Senator Barack Obama as narrator in Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, provided just that kind of beneficent moment. Despite the steamy weather, a large crowd filled the pavilion’s seats and lawn, giving the CSO in general, and Obama in particular, vociferous applause. . . . Obama brought an orator’s skill without an actor’s slick veneer to Copland’s Lincoln Portrait. The comforting quality of his voice gave added emotional resonance to Lincoln’s words. The CSO was a powerful surging force behind him, alternately sinking into meditation and swelling to majestic heights.”

Most recently, James Earl Jones was narrator at Orchestra Hall on February 21 and 24, 2009, under the baton of James Gaffigan, and on July 18, 2009, soprano Jessye Norman was narrator with James Conlon conducting at the Ravinia Festival.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Copland’s Lincoln Portrait on April 12, 13, 14, and 17, 2018. John Malkovich will be the narrator.

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Theodore Thomas

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