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December 3 and 4, 1909

December 3 and 4, 1909

Sergei Rachmaninov made his first appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on December 3 and 4, 1909, conducting his Isle of the Dead and performing as soloist in his Second Piano Concerto with Frederick Stock conducting.

“Mr. Rachmaninov appeared in three different roles on yesterday’s program as a creative musician (a composer, as a conductor, and as a pianist), in all three capacities he displayed unusual preeminence and gifts of a transcendent order,” wrote the critic in the Chicago Examiner. “At the conductor’s desk, [he] is a striking personality [and] the members of the Orchestra responded readily to his minutest directions.” In the concerto, “Rachmaninov made no less an artistic impression. He is endowed with a comprehensive technique, his scale passages and chord playing are clean and rapid, his tone is rich and musical, and in his concerto he displayed remarkable gifts . . . after a half dozen recalls [he] responded with his celebrated C-sharp minor prelude.”

According to Phillip Huscher, “Although Chicago didn’t get to hear it, by then Rachmaninov had written a third piano concerto, tailor-made for his first North American tour in late 1909. Rachmaninov introduced the work in New York on November 28, with Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphony. He played it there again in January, with Gustav Mahler conducting the New York Philharmonic.”

For the first time with Stock and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he performed his Third Piano Concerto on January 23 and 24, 1920. Despite a nasty Chicago storm, Orchestra Hall was packed for the Friday matinee. “The concert of yesterday afternoon was an event,” wrote Karleton Hackett in the Evening Post. “I do not care what the verdict of twenty years from now may be regarding this concerto, for I have just listened to a performance of it that stirred me deeply. . . . It was a work of a man who understands the capacity of the instrument and can write for it in the fresh, vigorous idiom of our day such music as brings out its peculiar power and charm. What is quite as much to the point, he himself can play the instrument with a mastery that makes every phrase a delight. Rachmaninov has supreme virtuosity. There is nothing he cannot do at the keyboard, from the most exquisite delicacy of ornamentation to the downright stroke of elemental power. . . . The music was so vigorous, expressing so spontaneously the emotion of our own time that it seemed as though it were being struck out in the white heat of the creative impulse of the moment.”

Chicago American, January 15, 1932

In January 1932, the composer was again in Chicago for three concerts with Stock and the Orchestra. After a performance of the second concerto on January 12, Herman Devries in the American reported, “It was not Chicago . . . it was not Orchestra Hall . . . it was not Rachmaninov . . . to me it seemed Olympus, and we were all gods. Thus does music glorify when it is itself glorious. It is not the first time that I have waxed passionately enthusiastic over the genius of Rachmaninov. After hearing Horowitz [in recital] on Sunday [January 10], we thought that the season’s thrills were nearly complete.”

Later that week on January 14 and 15, Rachmaninov was soloist in his third concerto. “The most exciting event in the history of Orchestra Hall occurred last night,” wrote Glenn Dillard Gunn in the Herald & Examiner. “With one impulse, the audience rose and shouted its approval. Many eyes were wet and many throats were hoarse before the demonstration ended. For once on their feet, the listeners remained to cheering after the Orchestra had trumpeted and thundered its fanfare and long after the composer-pianist had brought Dr. Stock to the footlights to share his honors. Never have I witnessed such a tribute . . . and never, it is my sincere conviction, has such response been so richly deserved.”

Chicago Sun, February 12, 1943

Chicago Sun, February 12, 1943

Rachmaninov’s final appearances with the Orchestra were on February 11 and 12, 1943, in Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto and his own Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, under the baton of associate conductor Hans Lange. “Sergei Rachmaninov evoked a series of ovations when he appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Orchestra Hall last night,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune. “His entrance won standing tribute from orchestra and capacity audience, his Beethoven stirred a storm of grateful applause, and his own Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini ended the concert in a kind of avalanche of cumulative excitement.”

The following week, Rachmaninov traveled to Louisville and Knoxville for solo recitals on February 15 and 17, in what would be his final public performances. He died in Beverly Hills, California on March 28, 1943.

Portions of this article are included in the February 14-17, 2019, program book and also previously appeared here.

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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.

Wishing a very happy birthday to our friends at the New York Philharmonic, as today they celebrate the 175th anniversary of their very first concert, given on December 7, 1842!

March 24, 1912

It would be nearly seventy years before the Philharmonic made their debut in Chicago, on March 24, 1912, in Orchestra Hall. That concert was led by their new music director Josef Stránský (who had succeeded Gustav Mahler the year before) and the program was as follows:

WEBER Overture to Der Freischütz
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Jan Kubelík, violin
LISZT Tasso, Symphonic Poem No. 2
SAINT SAËNS Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, Op. 28
Jan Kubelík, violin
DVOŘÁK Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 (From the New World)

An image of the program—courtesy of the New York Philharmonic’s Leon Levy Digital Archives—can be found here.

“Interest in the New York Philharmonic Society’s first Chicago concert was so great that Orchestra Hall was sold out yesterday afternoon [with patrons] curious to hear America’s oldest orchestra . . .” wrote Glenn Dillard Gunn in the Chicago Daily Tribune. “Conductor Stránský is a man of force and originality, as his interpretations of the Freischütz Overture, Liszt’s symphonic poem Tasso, and The New World Symphony of Dvořák abundantly demonstrated. . . . It was in the scherzo and finale of the symphony, however, that he achieved his most impressive results. He brought to light a wealth of contrapuntal interest not discovered by other interpreters of the symphony, yet supported them with an unfailing clarity and grace in the presentation of the dominant melodic line and with qualities of rhythmical life and accent . . .”

Regarding the violin soloist Jan Kubelík (and father of future Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Rafael), Gunn added, “the Bohemian violinist played with his wonted certainty and purity of tone and intonation and with something more than his usual measure of conviction.”

This past February, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra helped both the Vienna and New York philharmonics launch the celebration of their joint 175th anniversaries by loaning the manuscript score of Richard Strauss’s Symphony no. 2 in F minor (from the Theodore Thomas Collection in the Rosenthal Archives) for an exhibit. Details of that collaboration are here and here, and a virtual tour of the exhibit is here.

Happy, happy birthday!

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Solti and the Orchestra onstage at Carnegie Hall on January 9, 1970 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

Georg Solti and the Orchestra onstage at Carnegie Hall on January 9, 1970 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

In January 1970, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and its new music director traveled to New York for their first concerts together in Carnegie Hall. The concert on January 8 included Georg Solti leading Haydn’s Symphony no. 102, Bartók’s Dance Suite, and Brahms’s First Symphony; and the following evening, the program was Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder with contralto Helen Watts and the Fifth Symphony.

Solti and the Orchestra were hardly prepared for the reception following the January 9 concert. Multiple accounts reported the thunderous cheers and applause—calling Solti to the stage for twelve curtain calls—that continued even after the performers had left the stage.

“Is the Chicago Symphony the greatest orchestra in America? Stravinsky has said so, and it was impossible not to agree with him when this orchestra appeared in Carnegie Hall last Friday night in an all-Mahler program under the baton of Georg Solti,” wrote Winthrop Sargeant in The New Yorker. “Its brass section is unique in its power and beauty of tone, and its first horn player [Dale Clevenger] is a virtuoso who has a huge tone or a delicate tone—whichever you prefer—and who can hit his upper notes with exemplary accuracy. The woodwinds and strings are not far behind. There is a solid craftsmanship about the whole ensemble, which leaves the conductor nothing to do except exert his leadership and artistic ideas. The Orchestra itself is already trained in everything that pertains to technique, intonation, beauty of tone, and accuracy of attack. Add to all this a conductor of Mr. Solti’s stature (there is none greater at this moment in history), and you have an unusual treat. . . .

mahler-5

“Mahler’s Fifth Symphony was something of a sensation,” Sargeant continued. “There is a special brilliance and drive about Mr. Solti’s conducting that illuminate and emphasize not only large lines but details that escape one in most performances of this symphony. . . . The conclusion of the final Allegro was the occasion for the largest ovation I have seen any conductor receive since the time of Toscanini.”

In March and April 1970 at Medinah Temple for London Records, Solti and the Orchestra—collaborating in recording sessions for the first time—recorded Mahler’s Fifth and Sixth symphonies along with the Songs of a Wayfarer and selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn with mezzo-soprano Yvonne Minton.

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

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The score for Mahler's Symphony no. 7 used by Frederick Stock for the U.S. premiere

The score for Mahler’s Symphony no. 7 used by Frederick Stock for the U.S. premiere

Frederick Stock and the Orchestra first introduced the music of Gustav Mahler to Chicago audiences on March 22 and 23, 1907, performing the composer’s Fifth Symphony. Reviews were, shall we say, mixed.

“Ugly symphony is well played: Thomas Orchestra shows director Mahler of Vienna writes bad music,” proclaimed the headline of Millar Ular’s review in the Chicago Examiner. He continued that rather than title the symphony “The Giant,” it might be better titled “The Octopus” due to its ugliness, “The Dachshund” due to its length, or “Chaos” due to its purported lack of form. A writer in the Chicago Journal agreed, calling the symphony a “long and tedious work,” and most of the public agreed, as “before it was done, fully half the audience had fled.”

April 15 and 16, 1921

April 15 and 16, 1921

Undaunted, Stock programmed Mahler’s First in November 1914, the Fourth in March 1916, and three performances of the massive Eighth—with just under a thousand performers onstage at the Auditorium Theatre—in April 1917.

According to Phillip Huscher, “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.”

Regarding the performance on April 15, 1921—the first performance of the symphony in the U.S.—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.”

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

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Australia 1988 logo

Sir Georg Solti led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first trip to Australia in March 1988, sharing podium duties with Michael Tilson Thomas. The thirteen-concert tour included stops in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney.

Following the performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony on the second concert of the tour, Peter Wombwell in the Perth Sunday Times described the performance “at the fingertips of one of the world’s greatest conductors, Sir Georg Solti, with, arguably, the finest of all orchestras, the Chicago Symphony. . . . In every section the commitment was ineffable and thus, while it is difficult to single out any particular players, one cannot but refer to the beauty of violin tone of the co-concertmaster Samuel Magad, the viola of Charles Pikler, and the oboe of Ray Still. . . .The growing quiet and calm of the finale was handled by Sir Georg with unfailing control so that this glorious memorial to a composer who enriched the turn-of-the-century music touched the hearts of all who were privileged to hear such an exceptional performance.”

Solti and the Orchestra onstage in Perth (Jim Steere photo)

Solti and the Orchestra onstage at the Perth Concert Hall (Jim Steere photo)

Several of the concerts included performances of Karel Husa’s Trumpet Concerto, which had received its world premiere in Chicago on February 11, just prior to the tour. Principal trumpet Adolph Herseth was soloist. The concerto was made possible by an endowment fund established by the family of Edward F. Schmidt in his memory, and it was dedicated to Herseth, Solti, and the Orchestra.

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

Ugly Symphony Headline

The Theodore Thomas Orchestra (as we were then called) under the baton of music director Frederick Stock first performed Mahler’s Symphony no. 5 on March 22 and 23, 1907 (the program page and notes are here). Critical reception was, shall we say, mixed.

“Ugly symphony is well played . . . Mahler of Vienna writes bad music,” proclaimed reviewer Millar Ular of the Examiner the morning after the first performance. He goes on to write that rather than title the symphony “The Giant,” it might be better titled “The Octopus” due to its ugliness, “The Dachshund” due to its length, or “Chaos” due to its purported lack of form. As the Chicago Journal dramatically stated in a separate review, Mahler’s Fifth is “A long and tedious work” and “Mahler is a musical allopath, and those who remained to hear him out suffered from an overdose.” And even the public expressed their opinion, as “before it was done, fully half the audience had fled.” (Both of the reviews are here.)

Long and Tedious Work Headline

In the words of Frederick Stock, “I do not believe that this symphony is the kind of music that will live,” with the reviewer concluding, “It is a symphony which, it is devoutly hoped, will never again be heard in Chicago . . . a verdict that is both cruel and true.” How wrong they both were, although it did take another generation for the music of Gustav Mahler to gain traction in the CSO’s programming. The symphony was not performed in full again until December 1950 under the baton of Rafael Kubelík during his first season as music director. (It does appear that Stock had a small change of heart; thirty years after the Chicago premiere of the full symphony, he conducted the Adagietto movement for strings and harp in December 1937.)

Mahler, well known for extensive stylistic direction in his compositions, received criticism from the Chicago Journal: “He is not so particular about what he says so long as he says it well.” Take this opinion from 1907 and consider the composer’s indications concerning the opening trumpet fanfare. At the bottom of the first trumpet part, Mahler designates Die Auftakt-Triolen dieses Themas müssen stets etwas flüchtig—quasi acc., nach Art der Militärfanfaren vorgetragen werden! (The pick-up triplets from this theme must be performed in a somewhat brief or fleeting manner in the style of a military fanfare!). Such a command is not unusual in Mahler’s music; however Ular in the Examiner remains critical, “Of originality, he has not the slightest trace. His themes are trivial, sometimes vulgar, always uninteresting and lacking utterly beauty of melodic curve.”

The opening bars of the first trumpet part of Mahler's Fifth

The opening bars of the first trumpet part of Mahler’s Fifth

The command indicated in the trumpet part has led to a long tradition of trumpeters to play these triplets slightly rushed; the particular manner of this affectation is a constantly discussed topic in the brass community. How was a Germanic military fanfare at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century played? It is possible the CSO’s principal trumpet at these concerts, German-born Paul Handke (principal trumpet 1903–1912) may have known firsthand the specific tradition intended.

In this case, we can determine precisely what affectation the composer commanded. In 1904 Mahler made multiple piano rolls of his own music for the Welte-Mignon piano company. Contemporary recordings of these rolls provide not only the reproduction the notes but also the dynamics of the original, giving us a close look into the composer’s interpretation of his own music. In Mahler’s recording of the first movement of his Fifth Symphony, the opening triplets are indeed rushed in a German militaristic manner, which is how you will often hear modern trumpeters perform these first notes.

Mahler’s Fifth Symphony: originally considered “trivial, sometimes vulgar, always uninteresting.” But just like, as Phillip Huscher describes in his program note, the symphony’s “struggle to rise from C-sharp to D, and from minor to major, underlines the music’s quest to rise from tragedy to victory,” so has risen appreciation for this now pillar of the repertoire.

Guest blogger Charles Russell Roberts is a trumpet player and an intern in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Rosenthal Archives.

This week, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performs Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Donald Runnicles conducts.

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