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by Linda Wolfe

Frederick Stock (George Nelidoff photo)

My parents were Frederick and Lorraine Wolfe. My father was the eldest of two sons of Vera and Alfred Wolfe, my grandparents. Vera was the only daughter of Frederick and Elisabeth Stock, my great-grandparents.

I have often been asked if I heard a lot of Frederick Stock stories growing up in Colorado, but unfortunately not. Stock was a formal photo on the wall with intensely piercing eyes. After my father died on March 13, 1989, I found a bundle of photographs and a packet of letters from Stock to my grandmother, his daughter Vera. The letters were full of cartoon characters and love. I was intrigued and wondered if Chicago knew that side of Stock.

A short time later, I was listening to the Colorado Springs Philharmonic on the radio. Henry Fogel, then executive director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, was in town hosting their radiothon fundraiser. I reached out to him, and he said the CSO was preparing for its centennial season (1990–91), and they had been searching for my grandmother to invite her to Chicago for the festivities. I let him know that, unfortunately, she had died in January 1975. So, instead, Henry invited me to attend several events to celebrate the conclusion of the CSO’s centennial.

I traveled to Chicago for the first time with my oldest son, and we had the privilege of representing the Stock family. It was a whirlwind of activities, from attending the gala dinner with Theodore Thomas’s grandson and his wife, seeing three CSO music directors—Daniel Barenboim, Sir Georg Solti, and Rafael Kubelik—conducting on the same concert, having lunch with Lady Solti, attending the rededication of the Spirit of Music statue (the Theodore Thomas memorial, at the corner of Balbo and Michigan), seeing Stock’s full-size painting in the stairwell that leads up to the ballroom, and standing on the stage to see Orchestra Hall as Stock saw it. I was practically speechless.

Elisabeth and Frederick Stock in May 1896 (Linda Wolfe collection)

I discovered that a biography about Stock had not been written, so I began a project to gather as much information as I could. The Glessner journals were an incredible source of information, as Stock wrote hundreds of letters to them. While Stock was music director, he and his wife Elisabeth were guests at the Glessner home on an almost weekly basis, joining them for holidays and special events. Frederick and Elisabeth also often spent time at the Glessner farm, The Rocks, in New Hampshire.

It has been a wonderful experience doing research and I am honored to present another side of Stock, his family story.

Frederick Wilhelm August Stock was born on November 11, 1872, in Jülich, Germany, a small fortress town about thirty miles west of Cologne. He was the second son of Frederick Wilhelm Carl Stock, a Kapellmeister in the Prussian Army and Maria Lein. Frederick’s mother died on June 9, 1874, apparently never recovering from complications during his birth. His father remarried in 1887 to Johanna Maria Louise Bister and they had three more children—Maria, Louise, and Wilhelm.

In 1887, at the age of fourteen, Frederick won a scholarship to the Cologne Conservatory. His teachers included conductor Franz Wüllner and composer Englebert Humperdink, and one of his fellow students was Wilhelm Mengleberg, the famous Dutch conductor. While a student, he also became a member of the Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne.

In 1895, Theodore Thomas—the CSO’s founding music director—was in Germany, and twenty-two-year-old Frederick auditioned for him in Cologne, playing Bruch’s First Violin Concerto. Thomas told Stock if he made his way to America, he would have a position in the Chicago Orchestra. On September 22, 1895, Stock sailed from Hamburg to New York on the ship Prussia, and on that same voyage was Elisabeth Musculus, who would become his wife in May 1896. Upon his arrival in Chicago, Stock was given the position of assistant principal viola.

Vera and Elisabeth Stock (Linda Wolfe collection)

In Chicago on May 8, 1902, Frederick and Elisabeth welcomed a daughter, Vera Fredericka Stock. She would be their only child.

According to ocean liner passenger lists, Frederick returned to Europe at least twenty-five times. He met with the musical leaders of the European scene, reviewed new scores, and visited family. Most often Elisabeth accompanied him on his travels, and Vera also joined them several times.

In late September 1912, Frederick traveled on the Lusitania from Liverpool to New York. In a letter to the Glessners, he wrote “This is the finest boat I ever travelled on, very comfortable indeed. A trip on a boat like this spoils one for anything else, because it is the most delightful thing imaginable.”  And in a letter dated September 15, 1920, “One of the novelties I brought from London is called The Planets composed by Gustav (von) Holst . . . Don’t be afraid of all those novelties. I shall stick them into the programs at places where you won’t find them, but they will be there just the same.”

On April 8, 1924, in what was described as the “social event of the year,” Vera married Alfred Morris Wolfe, and Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue was filled to capacity. Soprano Claire Dux, a frequent CSO soloist, sang Stock’s “A Love Letter” with Eric DeLamarter at the organ. The reception was held nearby at the Drake Hotel.

On January 18, 1928, Frederick and Elisabeth’s first grandson, Frederick Stock Wolfe (my father), was born. On June 28, 1929, their second grandchild was born, Alfred “Murph” Morris Wolfe, Jr.

In 1927, the Stocks started building a vacation home in Door County, Wisconsin, overlooking Sister Bay. It was designed by Chicago architect, William Bernhard, who the Stocks undoubtedly met at the Glessner home. This beloved home was a welcome retreat from life in Chicago where the Stock family would spend summers and holidays.

The CSO’s 1942-43 season began with Stock’s usual robustness and enthusiasm, but on October 20, he died suddenly of a heart attack at home at 1325 North Astor Street. During the intermission of the New York Philharmonic’s broadcast on November, 1, Deems Taylor spoke the following: “Let us not again let men like this go, without telling them that we love them. They would appreciate our love. We use many words on Hitler and like creatures, but never the least word to men who have made us better human beings, who have given us a bulwark against cruelty, bigotry, and stupidity. We have all, all good and bewildered people, died a little with Mr. Stock.”

Plaque in Jülich, Germany, dedicated in June 1994

Vera’s husband Alfred Wolfe was originally from Colorado Springs, and after Frederick’s death, they moved Elisabeth and the grandchildren to Colorado. Elisabeth died on August 15, 1951, and Vera and Murph brought her ashes to Chicago. She was interred in the crypt with her beloved husband in the mausoleum at Rosehill Cemetery.

In June 1994, Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra were on tour in Europe, and several musicians traveled to Jülich to attend a plaque unveiling at the Citadel, commemorating Stock’s birth. The mayor of Julich and I unveiled the plaque, which read:

In memory of the conductor and composer
Friedrich Wilhelm August Stock
November 11, 1872 (Jülich) – October 20, 1942 (Chicago)
The son of a Prussian military band master stationed in the citadel, he studied at the Cologne Conservatory (1891) and then joined the Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne as a violinist.
In 1895 he was hired as a violist at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
In 1905 he became music director and, over the next 37 years, led the CSO to international fame.
The City of Jülich

Linda Wolfe is the great-granddaughter of Frederick Stock.

This article also appears here.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family remembers one of its iconic musicians, Milton Preves (1909–2000), in honor of the anniversary of his birth on June 18.

Milton Preves in 1934, the year he joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (George Nelidoff)

Born in Cleveland, Preves moved to Chicago as a teenager and attended Senn High School. He was a student of Leon Sametini at Chicago Musical College, Richard Czerwonky at the Bush Conservatory of Music, and Albert Noelte and Ramon Girvin at the Institute of Music and Allied Arts before attending the University of Chicago.

Preves joined the Little Symphony of Chicago in 1930, regularly worked in radio orchestras, and was invited by Mischa Mischakoff (then CSO concertmaster) to join the Mischakoff String Quartet in 1932. Two years later, second music director Frederick Stock appointed Preves to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s viola section, promoting him to assistant principal in 1936 and principal in 1939. He would remain in that post for the next forty-seven years, serving under a total of seven music directors, including Désiré Defauw, Artur Rodzinski, Rafael Kubelík, Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, and Sir Georg Solti.

Preves performed as a soloist with the Orchestra on dozens of occasions, including the world premieres of David Van Vactor’s Viola Concerto and Ernest Bloch’s Suite hébraïque for Viola and Orchestra, both dedicated to him. Under Reiner, he recorded Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote—along with cellist Antonio Janigro and concertmaster John Weicher—with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for RCA in 1959.

Louis Sudler (Orchestral Association chairman emeritus), Lady Valerie and Sir Georg Solti, and Milton and Rebecca Preves celebrate Preves’s fiftieth anniversary as a member of the CSO in October 1984 (Terry’s Photography)

A lifelong educator, Preves served on the faculties of Roosevelt, Northwestern, and DePaul universities, and he also always taught privately out of his home. An avid conductor, he held titled posts with the North Side Symphony Orchestra of Chicago, Oak Park–River Forest Symphony, Wheaton Summer Symphony, Gary Symphony, and the Gold Coast Chamber Orchestra. As a chamber musician, he performed with the Budapest, Fine Arts, Gordon, and Chicago Symphony string quartets, as well as the Chicago Symphony Chamber Players.

As reported in his obituary in the Chicago Tribune, “It was while directing the Oak Park–River Forest group that he gained an unusual measure of national attention. He briefly became an icon of the fledgling civil rights movement in 1963, when he resigned from the community orchestra because it would not allow a Black violinist he had invited to perform with the group.” (More information can be found here.)

Preves died at the age of ninety on June 11, 2000, following a long illness. Shortly thereafter, his family began donating materials to the Rosenthal Archives, establishing his collection of correspondence, contracts, photographs, scrapbooks, programs, and recordings. Most recently, his children donated additional photographs, mostly portraits of music directors and guest conductors, all autographed and dedicated to Preves. A sample of that collection is below.

In October 1984, on the occasion of Milton Preves’s fiftieth anniversary with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, fellow viola Isadore Zverow (1909–1999) composed this poem to honor his colleague:

It’s no mean feat, without retreat
To hold the forte so long,
To stroke and pluck in cold and heat—
All to produce a song.

Toward music bent, with single intent,
Unyielding dedication,
You of yourself so gladly lent
Your valued perspiration.

You sat and played and marked and bowed
And sometimes e’en reproached
And sometimes we squirmed (just a bit)
We didn’t wanna be coached.

And yet whene’er the chips were down
Throughout these fifty anna,
Your steadfast presence was a crown
Aiming at Nirvana.

This article also appears here.

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.

“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.

Erica Morini (Ledger photo, Vienna)

During Women’s History Month, we celebrate and remember the remarkable Austrian violinist Erica Morini, who, over the course of nearly forty-five years, was a frequent and favorite soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and in recital in Orchestra Hall, at the Ravinia Festival, and in WGN‘s television studios.

Born in 1904, Morini was a seasoned performer by 1924, when her father purchased a $10,000 Stradivarius violin—made in 1727 and named for the Russian cellist Karl Davydov—for her. It soon became her instrument of choice and prized possession for the remainder of her career. Shortly before her death in October 1995, the instrument—along with artwork, correspondence, and annotated scores—was stolen from her apartment in New York City. The unsolved crime remains one of the FBI’s “Top Ten Art Crimes.”

Morini and her violin are the subject of a new documentary, Stolen: The Unsolved Theft of a $3,000,000 Violin. Several members of the CSOA family were interviewed for the film, including Robert Chen, concertmaster; Kenneth Olsen, assistant principal cello; Hilary Hahn, violinist and CSO Artist-in-Residence; Rachel Barton Pine, Chicago-based violinist; and Frank Villella, director of the Rosenthal Archives. (If you have any knowledge of the whereabouts of the Davidoff-Morini Stradivarius, please contact nyartcrime@fbi.gov.)

On November 18, 1921, seventeen-year-old Erica Morini made her debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Vieuxtemps’s First Violin Concerto with second music director Frederick Stock on the podium. “Good violinists, as all concert attendants know, are common enough these days, and most of them are young,” wrote Edward Moore in the Chicago Tribune. “Miss Morini, however, has a few things in her artistic makeup that take her widely out of even their class. It is not once in twenty times that one hears a violinist with the fiery vitality of this young girl. . . . She gave rise to more violinistic fireworks at higher speed and got more of them correct than any one who has been on the stage since the day that Jascha Heifetz took away the breath of the same audience a few years ago.”

One month later, Morini gave her debut recital in Orchestra Hall. In the Chicago Evening Post, Karleton Hackett wrote, “there was no doubt of the remarkable powers as well as the charm of this young artist. The tone was lovely in quality, the technique of extraordinary accuracy, and everything was done with gratifying ease. . . . Miss Morini has something to say with her violin and the power to say it.”

Morini’s recording of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, re-released on LP in 1957, featured album cover art by Andy Warhol. (RCA Victor)

Morini later earned the distinction of being not only the first violinist but also the first woman to commercially record as a soloist with the Orchestra. On December 12, 1945, she recorded Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto under the baton of third music director Désiré Defauw in Orchestra Hall. The initial RCA Victor release was as a 78 RPM record, and the subsequent 1957 LP re-release featured album cover art by Andy Warhol. For WGN, Morini was soloist with the Orchestra for a television broadcast recorded on December 10, 1961, performing Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto with George Szell conducting. The video was later released by Video Artists International.

A complete list of Morini’s performances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is below.

November 18 and 19, 1921, Orchestra Hall
VIEUXTEMPS Violin Concerto No. 1 in E Major, Op. 10
Frederick Stock, conductor

December 8 and 9, 1922, Orchestra Hall
SPOHR Violin Concerto No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 55
SARASATE Fantasy on Carmen for Violin and Orchestra
Frederick Stock, conductor

November 14 and 15, 1930, Orchestra Hall
GLAZUNOV Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 82
Frederick Stock, conductor

November 18 and 19, 1921

December 14, 1937, Orchestra Hall
TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
Frederick Stock, conductor

December 16 and 17, 1937, Orchestra Hall
GLAZUNOV Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 82
Hans Lange, conductor

January 27, 1942, Orchestra Hall
SPOHR Violin Concerto No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 55
Frederick Stock, conductor

July 24, 1945, Ravinia Festival
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Massimo Freccia, conductor

July 28, 1945, Ravinia Festival
GLAZUNOV Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 82
Massimo Freccia, conductor

December 3, 1945, Pabst Theatre, Milwaukee
December 6 and 7, 1945, Orchestra Hall
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Hans Lange, conductor

December 11, 1945, Orchestra Hall
TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
Désiré Defauw, conductor

Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto was initially released as a 78 RPM disc in 1946 by RCA Victor

December 10, 1946, Orchestra Hall
December 16, 1946, Pabst Theatre, Milwaukee
BRUCH Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26
Désiré Defauw, conductor

December 12 and 13, 1946, Orchestra Hall
WIENIAWSKI Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 22
Désiré Defauw, conductor

November 22, 1949, Orchestra Hall
TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
Rafael Kubelík, conductor

November 24 and 25, 1949, Orchestra Hall
MOZART Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219 (Turkish)
Rafael Kubelík, conductor

July 3, 1952, Ravinia Festival
BRAHMS Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
George Szell, conductor

January 14, 15, and 16, 1965

July 5, 1952, Ravinia Festival
BRAHMS Concerto for Violin and Cello in A Minor, Op. 102 (Double)
Leonard Rose, cello
George Szell, conductor

December 7 and 8, 1961, Orchestra Hall
BRAHMS Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
George Szell, conductor

December 10, 1961, WGN Studios
MOZART Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219 (Turkish)
George Szell, conductor

January 14, 15, and 16, 1965, Orchestra Hall
MOZART Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219 (Turkish)
Irwin Hoffman, conductor

December 18, 1921

Erica Morini also gave three recitals in Orchestra Hall, as follows:

December 18, 1921
Emanuel Balaban, piano

January 14, 1923
Harry Kaufman, piano

April 3, 1949
Leon Pommers, piano

This article also appears here.

Marian Anderson in 1940 (Carl Van Vechten photo, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University)

In February 2022, we celebrate the 125th anniversary of the birth of the great American contralto Marian Anderson. She was born in Philadelphia on February 27, 1897, and died in Portland, Oregon, on April 8, 1993, at the age of 96. 

Orchestra Hall, November 18, 1929

On November 18, 1929, Marian Anderson (under the management of Arthur Judson) made her debut in Orchestra Hall under the auspices of the Theta Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. That evening, Anderson “reached near perfection in every requirement of vocal art,” wrote Herman Devries in the Chicago Evening American. “The tone was of superb timbre, the phrasing of utmost refinement, the style pure, discreet, musicianly . . . a talent still unripe, but certainly a talent of potential growth.” In attendance were Ray Field and George Arthur, representatives from the Rosenwald Fund, who encouraged her to apply for a fellowship to further her studies in Europe. The following year, she received $1,500 to study in Berlin.

In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution refused Anderson the opportunity to give a concert for an integrated audience in Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Hall. With the support of President Franklin D. and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, she instead performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, to a crowd of 75,000 people and over a million radio listeners. Anderson closed the recital with the spiritual “My soul is anchored in the Lord” in an arrangement by Florence Price

Anderson and Defauw onstage with the CSO at the Stevens Hotel on June 5, 1944 (James Gushiniere, Chicago Tribune)

A few weeks later, on May 20, 1939, Anderson was scheduled to make her debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the North Shore Music Festival, in Evanston’s Dyche Stadium (now Ryan Field). The afternoon program was to include arias from Donizetti’s La favorita and Debussy’s L’enfant prodigue, along with spirituals, all under the baton of Frederick Stock. A case of laryngitis, however, prevented her from performing, and soprano Kirsten Flagstad, scheduled for the evening concert, was asked to fill in for the matinee. According to the Chicago Daily News, there was no time for Flagstad to rehearse the extra program with the Orchestra due to “a purely feminine” hesitation: she needed a different dress for the matinee. Festival organizers quickly took her to Marshall Field’s to shop for a second dress, and the concert, featuring several excerpts from Wagner’s operas, was “amply redeemed by the artistry of Mme. Flagstad,” according to Janet Gunn in the Chicago Herald and Examiner.

Her debut performance with the CSO was at a concert opening the 48th Convention of the American Federation of Musicians on June 5, 1944, at the Stevens Hotel (now the Hilton Chicago). Under third music director Désiré Defauw, she sang “O mio Fernando” from Donizetti’s La favorita, “Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix” from Saint-Saëns’ Samson and Delilah, and spirituals.

Anderson broke barriers on January 7, 1955, when she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera—in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera as Ulrica—becoming the first African American to sing with the company. The following year, she opened the Ravinia Festival’s 21st season, along with the CSO under Eugene Ormandy in two programs, performing the following:

Ravinia Festival, June 1956

June 26, 1956
BRAHMS Dein blaues Auge, Op. 59, No. 8
BRAHMS Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer, Op. 105, No. 2
BRAHMS Der Schmied, Op. 19, No. 4
BRAHMS Von ewiger Liebe, Op. 43, No. 1
BRAHMS Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53 (with the Swedish Glee Club; Harry T. Carlson, director)

June 28, 1956
BIZET Agnus Dei
BIZET Ouvre ton coeur
SAINT-SAËNS Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix from Samson and Delilah
TCHAIKOVSKY None but the Lonely Heart, Op. 6, No. 6
TRADITIONAL IRISH Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms
KREISLER The Old Refrain

According to Seymour Raven in the Chicago Tribune, a crowd of more than 4,000 attended the all-Brahms concert that “turned out to be perfect.” Anderson sang “introspectively and with tender regard [and] exceptional craftsmanship and feeling.”

On August 28, 1963, Anderson performed “He’s got the whole world in his hands” at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, at which Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Chicago Tribune, December 7, 1964

During the 1964-65 season, Anderson gave a farewell recital tour under the auspices of her longtime presenter, Sol Hurok. Her stop in Chicago’s Orchestra Hall on Dec. 6, 1964, was sold out (an additional 225 seats were onstage) and “well-wishers had also provided a red carpet, bouquets of red roses and white carnations by the armload,” according to the Chicago Tribune. “This is probably no time for sentiment,” Anderson commented. “But do let me say I find all of this today very touching.” Her encores included “There’s no hiding place down there” and Schubert’s “Ave Maria.”

On June 27, 1968, at Ravinia, Anderson made her final appearance with the CSO, as narrator in Copland’s Preamble for a Solemn Occasion. Festival music director Seiji Ozawa conducted. Reading the “stirring segment from the United Nations charter,” wrote Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune, Anderson was “radiant in a cherry red velvet cape [contributing] both the presence and conviction, which made her vocal performances such moving experiences.”

Anderson gave a total of 22 recitals in Orchestra Hall, as follows:

Anderson with her frequent recital collaborator, pianist Franz Rupp (Carl Mett, Marian Anderson Collection, University of Pennsylvania)

November 18, 1929
January 26, 1931
October 28, 1945
November 3, 1946
November 23, 1947
October 24, 1948
January 21, 1950
January 29, 1950
January 21, 1951
April 8, 1951
May 3, 1952
January 31, 1953
March 29, 1953
January 30, 1954
December 5, 1954
January 8, 1956
February 23, 1957
April 5, 1959
February 28, 1960
February 19, 1961
May 11, 1963
December 6, 1964

In September 2021, Sony Classical released Marian Anderson: Beyond the Music, a special fifteen-CD set of recordings representing her complete catalog on RCA Victor, from her debut in 1924 through her final LP in 1966. The set received a 2022 Grammy Award nomination for Best Historical Album.

Special thanks to Eva Wilhelm—a music business student at Indiana State University and an intern in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association’s Rosenthal Archives—for her exceptional research in preparing this article.

This article also appears here.


Marian Anderson, ca. 1968

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.

A representative from Victor Records, orchestra manager Frederick J. Wessels, assistant manager Henry Voegeli, and second music director Frederick Stock (seated) listen to a test pressing in February 1926 (Harry Alton Atwell photo)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s commercial recording legacy began under Frederick Stock on May 1, 1916. At that first session for the Columbia Graphophone Company (at an undocumented location in Chicago), they recorded Mendelssohn’s Wedding March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walküre; and Grieg’s Two Elegiac Melodies, Heart Wounds and The Last Spring.

The next day, Stock and the Orchestra recorded Mendelssohn’s Nocturne from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Saint-Saëns’s Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah, Tchaikovsky’s Waltz from The Sleeping Beauty, Järnefelt’s Praeludium, and Stock’s arrangement of Dresden composer and violinist François Schubert’s The Bee. They returned to the studio the following week on May 8, for the Largo from Dvořák’s New World Symphony, Bizet’s Entr’acte to act 4 of Carmen and the Farandole from L’arlésienne, and Wagner’s Procession of the Knights of the Holy Grail from act 1 of Parsifal and the Prelude to act 1 of Lohengrin. On May 9, Stock and the Orchestra recorded a single selection: an excerpt—the Andante cantabile—from the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.

Program book advertisement, October 13 and 14, 1916

Mendelssohn’s Wedding March and Grieg’s The Last Spring were on the first disc issued in October 1916, and a Columbia Records sales brochure raved, “The first offerings are two masterfully played compositions. The deepest glories vibrant in such a familiar composition as Mendelssohn’s Wedding March are unguessed until interpreted by such an orchestra as this. From the first trumpet fanfare to the great central crescendo is very joy and glory articulate! The resistless rhythm is filled with pulsing emotion and each instrument of the mighty orchestra throbs with life. . . . There can be no pleasure beyond enjoying such music as the Chicago Symphony here brings to every music-loving home.”

Dvořák’s Largo, Grieg’s Heart Wounds, Mendelssohn’s Nocturne, and Tchaikovsky’s Andante cantabile ultimately were not released. Mendelssohn’s Wedding March was subsequently rereleased on From Stock to Solti in 1976 and again on Chicago Symphony Orchestra: The First 100 Years, issued during the centennial season in 1991.

This article also appears here. Portions of this article previously appeared here and here.

April 15 and 16, 1921

One hundred years ago, second music director Frederick Stock led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the U.S. premiere of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony on April 15, 1921, in Orchestra Hall. 

According to Phillip Huscher’s program note, “Stock heard Mahler’s Seventh Symphony for the first time in Amsterdam in 1920. He got a copy of the score in Paris and programmed the work for the penultimate concert of the 1920–21 season in Chicago. Perhaps fearing that the Chicago public would not share his enthusiasm for the Seventh Symphony, Stock announced that he had cut out eleven minutes of music, paring the playing time down to one hour and four minutes.”

Stock had programmed Smetana’s Overture to Libussa followed by the Mahler (the original program note is here); the second half of the program consisted of a single work, Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy with American violinist Amy Neill.

“All [Mahler’s] weaknesses are crowded into the first and fifth movements,” wrote Ruth Miller in the Chicago Tribune, and “all his virtues are in the two serenades and the scherzo. Therein may be found the elfin charm born of incredibly dexterous instrumentation, lovely, wistful melodies, and the orchestral balance and unity resultant from master craftsmanship.” 

The Chicago Evening Post reported that “the orchestra played with astonishing virtuosity. There was nothing Mahler could write which they could not play, as they demonstrated to full satisfaction. At the close of the symphony there was a great demonstration for Mr. Stock, in which he had all the players rise and join.”

One of two first edition scores of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony in the collections of the Rosenthal Archives

And Herman Devries in the American reported: “We were prepared to hear something out of the ordinary, for nothing banal, commonplace, cheap, or artificial could emanate from a brain that produced the marvelous Symphony of a Thousand presented by Mr. Stock at the memorable Spring Festival in the Auditorium [in April 1917]. With the first bars of the orchestral score yesterday, one might have imitated Schubert’s famous phrase and said, ‘Hats off! A genius!’

“The entire symphony, which for due understanding and assimilation of its beauty and richness requires far more than a single hearing, is so evidently a work of supreme and dominating intelligence that it seems presumptuous, importunate, for me to attempt any criticism. Mahler’s name today is being mentioned as a sort of twentieth-century reflection of Beethoven a century ago.

“His conception is of gigantic orchestral proportions. He knew the orchestra and played upon it as upon a mighty instrument. And this mighty vision, a vision too great, too immense for the mere span of human intellect, seems to crave reflection in his writing. . . . We devoutly hope for many more opportunities to hear this master work, for [it] demands absolute mental concentration, and one performance is simply a foretaste.”

Following that first performance, Frederick Stock, summing it up better than anyone, was reported as saying, “Mahler is one of the coming composers and the musical world is just beginning to understand him.”

Portions of this article previously appeared here and here.

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