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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.

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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.

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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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Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg (Library of Congress)

On June 28, 1914, heir-apparent to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, are assassinated in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb and south Slav nationalist.

Austria declares war on Serbia on July 28, 1914, launching a chain reaction. In a few short weeks, the world is at war, ultimately pitting the Triple Entente (France, Russia, and Britain) against the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary). In an effort to cut off French forces, Germany invades Luxembourg and Belgium in early August with the eventual goal of occupying Paris.

First Battle of the Marne (Pritzker Military Museum & Library)

During the First Battle of the Marne, from September 6 through 12, 1914, the French army and British Expeditionary Force successfully thwart German progress just east of Paris. A major turning point early in the war, by August 1914, the entire Allied army on the Western Front is forced into a general retreat back towards Paris as the German armies continue through France.

RMS Lusitania (Bain Collection, Library of Congress) and an English recruiting poster (Sir Bernard Partridge)

To weaken the British war effort, Germany seeks to cut off U.S. aid to Britain through naval warfare, at its height when the passenger liner RMS Lusitania sets sail from New York for Liverpool. German submarines torpedo and sink the ship on May 7, 1915, killing 1,198 people, including 128 Americans. Germany limits submarine warfare due to U.S. outrage over the incident. Seen at right, a Parliamentary Recruiting Committee poster portrays Justice emerging from the sea, as the Lusitania sinks in the background.

Verdun, France and Battle of the Somme (Pritzker Military Museum & Library)

A German offensive on the French town of Verdun from February 21 through December 18, 1916—the largest and longest battle on the Western Front between the German and French armies—results in nearly one million casualties. The Battle of the Somme—fought by the armies of the British Empire and France against the Germans—begins on July 1, 1916, with the launch of an Allied offensive, initiating the largest battle of the war on the Western Front.

Chicago Tribune, April 3, 1917; Chicago Daily News, 1918

In January 1917, a telegram from German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmermann to U.S. German ambassador Count Johann von Bernstorff—offering financial aid to Mexico if it agrees to partner with Germany on the U.S. entering the war—is intercepted by British intelligence and forwarded to President Woodrow Wilson. The story reaches the public on March 1, as Germany reinstitutes unrestricted submarine warfare. On April 6, 1917, the U.S. declares war on Germany.

American forces land in France on June 25, 1917, and African American troops are the first to arrive, including the 370th Infantry Regiment from Illinois (many from Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood).

Second Battle of the Marne (Pritzker Military Museum & Library)

Led by Bolshevik Party leader Vladimir Lenin, leftist revolutionaries launch a takeover of the provisional government on November 6 and 7, 1917, marking the end of the Romanov dynasty and centuries of Russian Imperial rule.

The Second Battle of the Marne is fought on June 2, 1918, with American forces preventing Germans from crossing the Marne River at Château-Thierry.

Meuse-Argonne Offensive (Pritzker Military Museum & Library)

On September 26, 1918, Allied forces launch the Meuse-Argonne Offensive—part of the Hundred Days Offensive, the final series of Allied attacks—covering the entire Western Front between France, Belgium, and Germany. It is the largest and bloodiest attack of the war for the American Expeditionary Forces, involving over one million U.S. soldiers. The French map at the left illustrates the offensive and shows American daily lines of advance, divisions in lines, French colonial troops, enemy defenses, and railroads.

On November 11, 1918, Germany signs the Armistice of Compiègne. In accordance with the agreement, fighting ends at 11:00 a.m., Paris time, ending the war on the Western Front.

Ignace Paderewski and his wife Helena (Library of Congress)

Representatives from the Allied nations—including pianist Ignace Paderewski, newly appointed as prime minister of Poland—along with German authorities sign the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, signifying the end of the war.

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Death in Venice and The War That Will End War

Thomas Mann’s novella Death in Venice (Der Tod in Venedig) is published in Germany in 1912.

George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion is first performed at the Hofburg Theatre in Vienna on October 16, 1913.

In August 1914, H.G. Wells begins publishing a series of articles in London newspapers, later published in the book The War That Will End War.

The New York Times, June 7, 1913, and The Saturday Evening Post (Norman Rockwell)

Pierre Monteux conducts the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris on May 29, 1913. In Le Figaro, Henri Quittard calls the work, a “laborious and puerile barbarity.”

A painting by Norman RockwellMother’s Day Off—first appears on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post on May 20, 1916.

A family arrives in Chicago (University of Washington)

By 1916, the first wave of the Great Migration is fully underway, with nearly 1.5 million African Americans moving from the southern United States into the northern states, many settling in major cities, including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Saint Louis, and Detroit.

Stock and the Orchestra onstage at the Auditorium Theatre, April 24, 1917

Less than three weeks after the U.S. enters the war, second music director Frederick Stock leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first performances of Gustav Mahler’s Eighth Symphony on April 24, 26, and 28, 1917, at the Auditorium Theatre as part of the Chicago Music Festival. The Orchestra is expanded to 150 players vocalists included six local choruses, two hundred boys from Oak Park and River Forest, and eight soloists. The Chicago Tribune called it “the most important event of its kind the West has ever known.”

During the summer of 1917, International Harvester president Cyrus McCormick, Jr., travels as a government emissary and meets twenty-six-year-old Moscow Conservatory student Sergei Prokofiev at the Winter Palace in Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg).

CSO program book, November 23, 1917

Sixteen-year-old Jascha Heifetz debuts with the Orchestra on November 23, 1917, as soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. Frederick Stock conducts.

On March 19, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson signs the Standard Time Act into law, implementing daylight saving time and authorizing the Interstate Commerce Commission to define time zones.

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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.

Theodore Thomas, founder and first music director of the Chicago Orchestra, insisted that his young ensemble also needed its own chorus in order to perform important works in the repertoire. He enjoyed frequent collaboration with local choruses but desired an ensemble specifically dedicated to the Orchestra.

Arthur Mees

At Thomas’s insistence, the board of trustees of The Orchestral Association voted on July 3, 1896, to proceed with the organization of a chorus with the hope that Arthur Mees* would agree to serve as the Orchestra’s first associate conductor and chorus director, as well as program annotator. Mees previously had worked with Theodore Thomas in training the Cincinnati May Festival Chorus and also was assistant to Thomas at the American Opera Company.

Mees agreed and began to audition singers on September 8, 1896, but interest was much less than expected. According to Philo Adams Otis (a member of the board and the author of The Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Its Organization, Growth, and Development 1891–1924), the timing was off—it was just before the presidential election and Chicago was “aflame with excitement over the rival parties—[William J.] Bryan and ‘Free Silver!’ [William] McKinley and ‘Protection!’—but it was not a favorable time to talk of symphony concerts and chorus rehearsals.”

Roster for the Chorus of the Association’s official debut on December 18 and 19, 1896

Despite the sparse turnout, the Chorus of the Association began rehearsals on October 5, with ninety-five singers. Membership gradually increased, and the Chorus made its informal debut on the second concert of the season on October 31, leading the audience in The Star-Spangled Banner in “recognition of the presidential election, then near at hand.”

According to Thomas’s Memoirs (edited by Rose Fay, Thomas’s second wife), the Banner was performed as an encore, following Massenet’s “quiet and almost ethereal” suite, Les Érinnyes, using a “device [Thomas] had employed at the opening ceremonies of the World’s Fair. His new chorus were seated in the front rows of the parquet, to lead the singing of the audience, and a drum corps was placed on the stage behind the orchestra. As the last strains of the Massenet suite were still vibrating on the strings, the drums began a double roll so softly that it was barely audible. Louder, louder, and still louder it rose, till every heart began to beat wildly with excitement, wondering what was coming next. At last the moment of climax was reached, and then Thomas turned toward the audience, motioned to them to rise and sing, and, with the full power of the orchestra, the great organ, the chorus, and the [four] thousand people of the audience, all joining together in one stupendous maelstrom of sound, The Star-Spangled Banner was given such a performance as is not often heard. Many people were in tears before it was over, and when Thomas held aloft both hands to sustain through the full measure its final glorious chord, the singing was merged in a great shout—cheer on cheer echoing through the hall.”

December 18 and 19, 1896

The ranks soon increased to 125, in time for the Chorus’s formal debut in the Choral Fantasy and the chorus from The Ruins of Athens on an all-Beethoven program on December 18 and 19, 1896.

The Chorus would appear three more times during the Orchestra’s sixth season (1896–97)—in Grieg’s Olaf Trygvason, Nicolai’s Festival Overture on Ein’ feste burg, and selections from Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, Tannhäuser, and Parsifal—and then on five occasions during the following season—the chorale and chorus from Bach’s Reformation Cantata (no. 80), Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Brahms’s A German Requiem, and Mendelssohn’s 114th Psalm and selections from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

After William L. Tomlins, who had led the Apollo Chorus since 1875, announced his resignation in 1898, there was some discussion (according to newspaper accounts) regarding merging the Chorus of the Association with the Apollo. The accounts also mention the possibility of Mees serving as the director of the new ensemble.

A merger did not occur, and the Chorus of the Association was disbanded in the fall of 1898, most probably as a result of the Orchestra’s deficit following its seventh season and the departure of Arthur Mees, who returned to New York. The next year, Thomas appointed the Orchestra’s twenty-seven-year-old assistant principal viola—Frederick Stock—to also serve as his next assistant conductor.

*Arthur Mees (1850–1923) and Theodore Thomas likely first worked together during the inaugural Cincinnati May Festival in 1873, and Mees would serve the festival in a variety of capacities—including organist, chorus master, and assistant director—until 1898. He also was the program annotator for the New York Philharmonic Society from 1887 until 1896. After Mees returned to New York in 1898, he conducted the Mendelssohn Glee Club (1898–1904) and, in 1913, the Bridgeport Oratorio Society. His New York Times obituary concluded with, “He was a thorough musician and a constant friend to students. As a writer he had a gift of clear analysis and expression. His loss is a grievous one, not only to his friends, but to American music.”

Portions of this article previously appeared in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s program book in November 1997.

On January 25 and 26, 1907, Maud Powell returned to Chicago to again perform with the Theodore Thomas Orchestra (as we were then known). Under the baton of second music director Frederick Stock, she was soloist in the Orchestra’s first performances of Sibelius’s Violin Concerto (she had just given the U.S. premiere of the concerto with the New York Philharmonic on November 30, 1906, with Vasily Safonov conducting).

Following the first performance, William Lines Hubbard in the Chicago Tribune wrote, “Maud Powell—’our’ Maud Powell, since she is an American and her career has been made largely in this country—scored a triumph yesterday . . . There are extremely few of her brother artists who could compass [the concerto’s] technical intricacies with such surety and seeming ease as she did, and still fewer of them who could interpret it with such masterful skill.” The complete article is here.

On August 22, 2017, we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of this extraordinary American violinist and musician. As part of the celebration, a sixty-minute documentary about her life—entitled Our Maud Powell, produced by Paul Butler of Ebenim Media—will premiere on Saturday, August 19, in Powell’s Illinois hometown at the Peru Public Library. Details of other anniversary events can be found on the Maud Powell Society website.

Below are a few excerpts from the film, featuring Karen Shaffer, author of the biography Maud Powell: Pioneer American Violinist; Rachel Barton Pine, violinist and a longtime champion of Powell’s; and Frank Villella, director of archives for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Maud Powell was featured as part of the 125 Moments exhibit during the CSO’s 2015-16 season, and she also posthumously received a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 2013.

George Gershwin appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra twice, and on both occasions he was soloist in his Concerto in F and Rhapsody in Blue.

Chicago Tribune, June 15, 1933

In conjunction with A Century of Progress International Exposition—the world’s fair held in Chicago to celebrate the city’s centennial—several concerts were given at the Auditorium Theatre under the auspices of the Chicago Friends of Music. The first concert of the series, on June 14, 1933, was a celebration of American music; during the first half of the program, second music director Frederick Stock led the Orchestra in Henry Hadley’s In Bohemia Overture and Deems Taylor’s Through the Looking-Glass Suite. After intermission, Gershwin and his frequent collaborator William Daly took the stage for the thirty-four-year-old composer’s Concerto in F, An American in Paris, and Rhapsody in Blue.

“The most exciting concert of many a day was given last night at the Auditorium,” wrote Mrs. Henry Field in the Herald & Examiner. “[Gershwin’s] success was tremendous. Elegant, clean-cut, in white tie and tails, [following the concert he hosted] a most amusing party at the College Inn . . . One hears much about George Gershwin, but certainly to meet he is even more charming that his reputation has it—and that is saying something. He wore a white gardenia boutonniere . . . and was delighted that Chicago had given him a more than cordial welcome . . . and when a young lady said she liked his concerto better than his rhapsody, he had one of those very pleased looks.”

“We may put by forever explanation, apologia, and réserve in writing about American music after hearing George Gershwin and his compositions last night at the Auditorium. Gershwin is American music translated in terms of audacity, humor, wit, cleverness, spontaneity, vitality, and overwhelming naturalness. Nothing like his Concerto in F has ever been heard in the symphonic world, and if it is not the very essence of Americanism, I do not know my profession nor the art it serves,” wrote Herman Devries in the Chicago American. “Gershwin vibrates to the tune of a people and is animated by its own pulse beat. . . . He is the music of America.”

Herald & Examiner, July 26, 1936

Gershwin and Daly appeared once more with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on July 25, 1936, for a gala concert during the festival’s first season. A capacity crowd—by some estimates over 8,000 people, many climbing trees for a glimpse of the performers—packed the park to hear an all-Gershwin concert that again featured the Concerto in F and Rhapsody in Blue with the composer as soloist, along with Daly leading An American in Paris and a suite from Porgy and Bess.

“All attendance records for all time at Ravinia Park were broken last night,” wrote the social reporter for the Herald & Examiner. “Throngs, seeking vantage points in the area delegated to general admission tickets, began arriving hours before the music was scheduled to begin. . . . As a result, some of the richest and most influential of the Lake Forest blue-bloods were making frantic but ineffectual efforts for several days to secure the reserved spots.”

Claudia Cassidy, writing in the Journal of Commerce, reported that Gershwin was “more than ever a cross (in appearance and talent) between Horowitz and Astaire; he made his Concerto in F an American’s version of the Rachmaninov Third, boiling with the surge of modernity in the curve of brilliant orchestra. Even the Rhapsody took second place . . .”

“Ravinia went wild last night,” added Edward Barry in the Chicago Tribune. Gershwin and Daly “made out a good case for the immense cleverness of style which is built upon bizarre metrical schemes, arresting melodic sequences, and hold, intelligently employed harmonics. . . . The Chicago Symphony Orchestra brought all of its virtuosity in the pat descriptiveness and shrilling brilliance of An American in Paris, falling easily into its idiom with the versatility of accomplished musicians. Following its cleverly stylized whoopee came the F major piano concerto, in which Gershwin himself played the solo part. The touch of a master.”

This article accompanies the program notes for the May 25, 27, and 30, 2017, performances, and portions previously appeared here.

Widely considered as one of the twentieth century’s greatest interpreters of Beethoven—and the first pianist to record that composer’s complete cycle of sonatas—Artur Schnabel is the subject of the latest release from RCA Red Seal Records (a division of Sony Classical). Bringing together all of his sessions for RCA Victor (recorded between June 16 and July 24, 1942), the two-disc set features Schnabel performing Beethoven’s Fourth and Fifth piano concertos—with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under second music director Frederick Stock—and two of the final piano sonatas (nos. 30 in E major and 32 in C minor), along with Schubert’s Four Impromptus, D. 899.

Schnabel had appeared with the Orchestra and George Szell at the Ravinia Festival in July 1942, performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 4 (July 11) and no. 5 (July 18) along with Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 24 (July 14) and Brahms’s Piano Concerto no. 2 (July 16). Less than two weeks later, he and the ensemble—this time with Stock—were in Orchestra Hall to record Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto on July 22 and the Fourth on July 24.

Frederick Stock and Artur Schnabel onstage at Orchestra Hall in July 1942 (Chicago Sun-Times photo)

To coincide with the release of the recordings, the pianist was to return to Chicago later that fall for performances of both concertos under Stock. Sadly, the Orchestra’s second music director died unexpectedly on October 20, 1942, just after the start of the fifty-second season. As scheduled, Schnabel performed Beethoven’s Fifth Concerto on November 24 and the Fourth on November 26 and 27, but under the baton of associate conductor Hans Lange.

Victor Records released Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto (eight sides on four 78 rpm discs) also in late November. “It would be easy for Chicagoans to turn sentimental about such an album and to gloss over flaws with affection. But it isn’t necessary—in fact, it would be unpardonable condescension. For the performance is magnificent, with the boldness of authoritative style and the clairvoyance of ideal cooperation. It is recorded with superb accuracy, and with intelligent care for spacing, so the ear isn’t left hanging on a phrase while you turn a record,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune. “I came to the conclusion that the piano never has been more successfully recorded. Schnabel’s tone is there in quality, dimensions, and that brilliance of attack that means absolute security. . . . Mr. Stock’s accompaniment is typical of what Chicago took for granted for many a rich season.”

“In the Emperor, Schnabel italicizes phrase groupings and points up harmonic felicities in a more angular, nuanced, personalized, and arguably eccentric manner than in his earlier and later studio versions,” writes Jed Distler in the liner notes for this latest release. In the Fourth Concerto, the pianist, “offsets his stinging inflections with gorgeously limpid and poetically shaded runs, roulades, and passagework, and the most subtle transitions.”

The set is available for purchase from the CSO’s Symphony Store.

Portions of this article previously appeared here.

Chicago Daily News, November 19, 1931

Chicago audiences were first introduced to music from Bedřich Smetana’s Má vlast by the Chicago Orchestra’s founder and first music director Theodore Thomas: Vltava in January 1894, Šárka in October 1895, and Vyšehrad in April 1896. Thomas and his successor Frederick Stock regularly included these three symphonic poems on their concerts, but it wasn’t until the Orchestra’s forty-first season that Stock programmed the complete cycle, for a special concert on November 18, 1931, honoring Chicago’s rich Czech heritage.

On November 15, Edward Moore, writing for the Chicago Tribune, happily reported that he was able to hear the work a few days before the performance. The headline read, “Records give preview of new musical event: Critic hears Smetana’s music, Má vlast, on phonographic disks.” Moore wrote that courtesy of Dr. J.E.S. Vojan, president of the Bohemian Arts Club of Chicago (which would sponsor the concert), “through the medium of disk and needle, I have been enabled to hear it in advance of the concert audience.”

Title page of the score to Šárka used by Thomas and Stock

Title page of the score to Vyšehrad used by Thomas and Stock

(The recording most likely was the one made by the Czech Philharmonic in 1929, under the baton of its chief conductor Václav Talich, who later taught Karel Ančerl and Charles Mackerras. This not only was the ensemble’s first commercial recording but also the first complete recording of Smetana’s cycle of tone poems. It was released on ten, twelve-inch 78 rpm discs—just under eighty minutes of music—by His Master’s Voice.)

“Through a course of years, Mr. Stock [along with Thomas before him] and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra have made Vltava or the Moldau popular with Chicago audiences,” Moore continued. “They have played Vyšehrad a number of times, and Šárka less frequently. The other three are to come as a first performance next Wednesday.”

Following the November 18 concert, Eugene Stinson in the Daily News wrote, “Through these six works there sweeps the refreshing fragrance of a national spirit. Smetana was not merely the father of a national Bohemian music and the teacher of Dvořák. He was one of the first composers in any land to see the possibilities of such a music, founded on characteristic themes and breathing out the soul of a race.”

Title page of the score to Blaník used by Stock

Title page of the score to Tábor used by Stock

“History, legend, national songs, tonal description of nature, and a poetic imagination to transfigure them all, are in it,” added Moore in his review for the Tribune. “When one considers that Smetana wrote it under the most tragic infliction that may visit a musician, total deafness, it becomes not only one of the masterpieces of the world but the act of one of the world’s great heroes.”

“There is nothing to write but gratitude to the Chicago Bohemians and to Mr. Stock, whose combined efforts acquainted us with this lovely work,” concluded Herman Devries in the American. “What a lesson to the modern school of would-be musical alchemists with their abracadabra of gibberish and geometry, of dissonance and self-conscious abstruseness. Here is pure inspiration. Here is music that wells, untrammeled, from a source of inexhaustible creative talent. Here is melody, melody so simple, so tender, so touching; melody so poetic, so passionate, so spontaneous that one listens happily, without the need of indulgence, excuse, or partiality. But beneath all this simplicity, one hears and senses the mastermind of the great orchestral technician.”

Otto, Edward, and Henri Hyna

Devries also noted that several musicians in the Orchestra that evening were of Bohemian descent, including John Weicher (a member of the violin section from 1923 until 1969; he became concertmaster in 1937), Vaclav Jiskra (principal bass, 1908–1949), Rudolph Fiala (viola, 1922–1952), Joseph Houdek (bass, 1914–1944), and the Hyna brothers: Otto, Edward, and Henri, pictured at right. Natives of Bohemia, the Hyna brothers all served as members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s string section. Otto (1886–1951) was in the bass section from 1930 until 1950, Edward (1897–1958) served as a violinist from 1929 until 1943, and Henri (1901–1955) also was a violinist from 1928 until 1932.

The Orchestra next performed the complete cycle twenty years later on October 23 and 24, 1952, under the baton of fifth music director—and Czech native—Rafael Kubelík. On December 4 and 5 of that year, the work was recorded in Orchestra Hall by Mercury Records. Returning as a guest conductor, Kubelík led performances of the six symphonic poems on January 23 and 24, 1969, and again on October 27, 28, and 29, 1983.

At the Ravinia Festival, James Levine most recently led the work on June 27, 1987. Jakub Hrůša’s upcoming performances will mark the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s sixth traversal of Smetana’s cycle of symphonic poems.

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Boston Symphony Orchestra program from April 24 and 25, 1896

A footnote: Theodore Thomas and the Chicago Orchestra almost were able to claim the U.S. premiere performance of Vyšehrad, the first symphonic poem of Smetana’s Má vlast. However, Emil Paur and the Boston Symphony Orchestra literally were minutes ahead. Both orchestras had 2:30 p.m. matinees on Friday, April 24, 1896, but Boston’s concert was one hour earlier (railway time zones had been standardized in 1883). Also, Vyšehrad was the first work on Paur’s program, while Thomas had programmed the work to follow Tchaikovsky’s Marche slave and Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture and selections from The Damnation of Faust.

Boston also claimed the U.S. premiere of Šárka, performing it on January 25, 1895. Thomas led the first Chicago performance exactly nine months later on October 25.

Portions of this article accompany the program notes for the May 18, 19, and 20, 2017, performances. Special thanks to Bridget Carr, archivist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Program page image courtesy of HENRY, the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives’s online performance history search engine.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has recorded each of Brahms’s four symphonies multiple times and also has recorded the complete cycle on three different occasions. A complete listing is below.

During his tenure as Ravinia Festival music director, James Levine recorded the symphonies with the Orchestra for RCA at Medinah Temple. The recordings were produced by Thomas Z. Shepard and Paul Goodman was the recording engineer. Jay David Saks also co-produced the First Symphony, which was recorded in July 1975. The remaining three were recorded in July 1976.

Eighth music director Sir Georg Solti also led the Orchestra in sessions at Medinah Temple. For London, the four symphonies (along with the Academic Festival and Tragic overtures) were produced by James Mallinson; Kenneth Wilkinson, Colin Moorfoot, and Michael Mailes were the engineers. The Third and Fourth symphonies were recorded in May 1978, and the First and Second were recorded in January 1979. The set won 1979 Grammy awards for Best Classical Album and Best Classical Orchestral Recording from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Daniel Barenboim, the Orchestra’s ninth music director, recorded the four symphonies (along with the Academic Festival and Tragic overtures and the Variations on a Theme by Haydn) live at Orchestra Hall for Erato. Vic Muenzer was producer, Lawrence Rock was the sound engineer, assisted by Christopher Willis; and Konrad Strauss was the mastering engineer. All four symphonies were recorded live in 1993: the First and Third in May, the Fourth in September, and the Second in October.

Recordings of the individual symphonies by other conductors are listed below.

Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68

Rafael Kubelík, conductor
Recorded by Mercury in Orchestra Hall in April 1952
David Hall, recording director
C. Robert Fine and George Piros engineers

Günter Wand, conductor
Recorded live for RCA in Orchestra Hall in January 1989
Norman Pellegrini and David Frost, producers
Mitchell Heller, recording engineer
John Purcell, post-production engineer

Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90

Frederick Stock, conductor
Recorded by Columbia in New York’s Liederkranz Hall in November 1940

Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded by RCA in Orchestra Hall in December 1957
Richard Mohr, producer

Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98

Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor
Recorded by Angel in Medinah Temple in October 1969
Peter Andry, producer
Carson Taylor, balance engineer

Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform Brahms’s four symphonies at Orchestra Hall in May. Details here and here.

thomas-at-desk

Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Orchestra‘s first music director, died on January 4, 1905. For many years after, the Orchestra would dedicate the first concerts of the new year to his memory, frequently performing works closely associated with their founder. We continue that tradition on this week’s radio broadcast, as Frank Villella, director of the CSO’s Rosenthal Archives, co-hosts a retrospective of works that Thomas introduced to audiences in the United States, both with the Chicago Orchestra and other ensembles.

barenboim-brahms-5-erato

BRAHMS Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Recorded by Erato in Orchestra Hall, September 1993

In 1879, the University of Breslau in Poland bestowed upon Johannes Brahms an honorary doctorate, and to show his appreciation, he composed the Academic Festival Overture the following summer. The composer himself led the first public performance at the university in January 1881, and later that year on November 29, Thomas led the U.S. premiere in New York.

Daniel Barenboim, early in his tenure as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s ninth music director, recorded Brahms’s complete symphonies, along with the Tragic Overture, Variations on a Theme by Haydn, and the Academic Festival Overture, all for Erato Records.

wagner-prelude-and-liebestod

WAGNER Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde
Artur Rodzinski, conductor
Recorded by RCA in Orchestra Hall, December 1947

In the nineteenth century, Thomas was Richard Wagner’s greatest advocate in the United States, both before and after he founded the Chicago Orchestra. During his fourteen seasons as music director, he programmed Wagner’s music on nearly half of his concerts, both in Chicago and with the Orchestra on tour. Thomas gave the U.S. premiere of the Prelude from Tristan and Isolde in New York on February 10, 1866, less than a year after the opera’s first complete performances in Munich; and he also gave the first U.S. performance of the Prelude paired with the Liebestod in Boston on December 6, 1871. Thomas programmed these two works together fifteen times on subscription concerts during his tenure as music director.

Artur Rodzinski was the Orchestra’s fourth music director for only one season (1947–48). One of his great successes was a concert performance of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde in November 1947, featuring soprano Kirsten Flagstad in her first operatic appearance in the United States since the end of World War II. The legendary Chicago Tribune critic Claudia Cassidy called the performance “the dawn of a new operatic day in Chicago.” A month later, Rodzinski and the Orchestra recorded the Prelude and Liebestod for RCA.

elgar-enigma

ELGAR Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36 (Enigma)
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Recorded by London in Medinah Temple, May 1974

Thomas gave the U.S. premiere of Sir Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations with the Chicago Orchestra on January 3, 1902, and it was such a crowd-pleaser that he programmed it a second time later that season. A few years later in April 1907, second music director Frederick Stock invited the composer himself to lead several of his works, including In the South, the first Pomp and Circumstance March, and the Enigma Variations. The Chicago Tribune reported that, “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 Georg Solti, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s eighth music director, recorded the Enigma Variations on May 15, 1974, at Medinah Temple for London Records.

reiner-heldenleben
STRAUSS Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded by RCA in Orchestra Hall, March 1954

During the summer of 1883, Thomas visited Europe and according to his Memoirs—edited by his widow, Rose Fay Thomas—the conductor, “had met, in Munich, a young and almost unknown composer, one Richard Strauss, who has recently finished writing a symphony. Thomas secured the first movement of the work, and was so much impressed with it that he requested young Strauss to let him have the other movements, promising to bring out the whole work in a concert of the Philharmonic Society.” Thomas kept that promise and in New York in December 1884, he led the world premiere of the Second Symphony in F minor—the first music of Richard Strauss to be performed in the United States. Strauss would later send new scores, and Thomas introduced several works to the United States with the Orchestra, including Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Quixote, along with Ein Heldenleben, first performed in Chicago on March 9, 1900.

Near the end of his first season as sixth music director, Fritz Reiner made his first recordings with the Orchestra for RCA. In Orchestra Hall on March 6, 1954, they recorded Strauss’s Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome and Ein Heldenleben, with violin solos performed by then-concertmaster John Weicher. Reiner’s CSO recordings of music by Strauss have never been out of print, and in 2013, Sony re-issued Reiner’s complete CSO catalog on RCA, a boxed set of sixty-three CDs.

gould-tchaikovsky-waltzes-rca

TCHAIKOVSKY Final Waltz and Apotheosis from The Nutcracker, Op. 71
Morton Gould, conductor
Recorded by RCA in Orchestra Hall, January 1966

Thomas gave the U.S. premiere of a suite from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker on October 22, 1892, on the first concert of the Orchestra’s second season. The program note described Tchaikovsky as the “composer, who, in his fifth symphony, has led us into the highest realms of art and stirred our very soul,” and the note described the selections from the ballet as “miniature pictures painted with infinite grace and care,” showing the composer, “in one of his playful and trifling moods.”

Morton Gould, a frequent guest conductor on Popular concerts in the 1960s, recorded selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker at Orchestra Hall on January 31, 1966, for RCA. A six-disc set of Gould’s complete recordings with the Orchestra was released by Sony in February 2016.

In May 2016, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra celebrated 100 years of recording.

Original dust jacket for the first edition of Talks About Beethoven's Symphonies

Original dust jacket for the first edition

Happy 246th birthday, Ludwig van Beethoven!

Theodore Thomas, our founder and first music director, favored the music of Beethoven above all others. Of the five composers’ names inscribed on the façade of Orchestra Hall, Beethoven’s is the one featured prominently in the center.

Shortly after the turn of the last century, Thomas began writing a series of essays—complete with accompanying diagrams—analyzing Beethoven’s symphonies. These were intended “simply to serve as an aid to students and concertgoers in understanding and listening intelligently to these masterworks,” according to his wife, Rose Fay Thomas. Thomas only was able to complete articles on the first five symphonies before his unexpected death in January 1905, and Rose later invited his successor, Frederick Stock, to complete the series. Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies was published in Chicago by Oliver Ditson Company in 1930.

Cloth cover for the first edition

Cloth cover for the first edition

Theodore Thomas and Frederick Stock

Theodore Thomas and Frederick Stock

Rose edited the volume, and in the preface she wrote that, “these little essays, simple and unpretentious though they seem, will be at once recognized as the product of a musician who combined profound learning with wide practical experience, and in no other work of similar character which has come to my notice can there be found such clear and authoritative analyses of the themes and structure of these symphonies, so lucid an exposition of their relation to each other, or so logical an account of Beethoven’s own artistic development as revealed in them.”

Fifth Symphony, first movement diagram

Fifth Symphony, first movement

Thomas’s favorite work was the Fifth Symphony, and he programmed it for the Chicago Orchestra‘s first concert as well as the dedication of Orchestra Hall. Composed in the “zenith of his career,” according to Thomas in the book’s fifth chapter, during this time Beethoven “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. . . . Beethoven was able, through his art, to represent the psychological side of human nature in a manner so strong and full of meaning that he has only been equaled in this respect by one other creative mind—Shakespeare.”

Ninth Symphony, fourth movement diagram

Ninth Symphony, fourth movement

The final chapter, penned by Stock, describes the Ninth Symphony as, “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.” Stock continued, “Beethoven must have felt that he had exhausted the possibilities of instrumental expression and that nothing save the human voice could convey with sufficient eloquence the great thoughts he desired to set forth. . . . 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.”

dedication

A postscript. The dedication is to the “patrons of the old Theodore Thomas Orchestra.” Before he founded the Chicago Orchestra in 1891, Thomas established his own eponymous ensemble in 1864 and led them on tour across the United States until the orchestra disbanded in 1889.

Portions of this article previously appeared here.

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Marin Alsop conducts the CSO in the world premiere of Threnos by Bruno Mantovani, Prokofiev’s haunting Third Piano Concerto - performed by pianist Daniil Trifonov - and Copland’s Third Symphony. Photos by @toddrphoto. As part of a series of events honoring the 100th anniversary of the World War I Armistice, this concert features works that encourage reflection and inspire hope. Chamber music performances of works from the World War I era by musicians of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago as well as a free lecture featuring Mark Clague, foremost scholar on the Star Spangled Banner preceded the concert.
In a program that reflects on the patriotism and adversity of World War I, tenor Mario Rojas and baritone Christopher Kenney—both from the Ryan Opera Center—and pianist Shannon McGinnis showcase works by Ives, Butterworth, Gurney and more at the Pritzker Military Museum & Library. Dr. William Brooks is the guest speaker. Photos by @toddrphoto. This performance is part of a series of public programs to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I, and is presented with leadership support from @tawanienterprises and @pritzkermilitary. And if you missed it, you can see this program on 10/23 at the @maynestage. #Armistice100
Tonight, the CSO performed Mahler’s monumental Third Symphony conducted by Andrés Orozco-Estrada. Over 600 students attended our College Night event, and Maestro Orozco-Estrada participated in a Q&A with the CSO Latino Alliance at their pre-concert networking event. Photos by @toddrphoto.

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