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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ravinia Park and Poetry: A Magazine of Verse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago White Sox (Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

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

War Exposition (Pritzker Military Museum & Library)

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

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A Time for Reflection—A Message of Peace—a companion exhibit curated by the Rosenthal Archives of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in collaboration with the Pritzker Military Museum & Library—will be on display in Symphony Center’s first-floor rotunda from October 2 through November 18, and the content also will be presented on CSO Sounds & Stories and the From the Archives blog.

This article also appears here. For event listings, please visit cso.org/armistice.

This exhibit is presented with the generous support of COL (IL) Jennifer N. Pritzker, IL ARNG (Retired), Founder and Chair, Pritzker Military Museum & Library, through the Pritzker Military Foundation.

Additional thanks to Shawn Sheehy and Jenna Harmon, along with the Arts Club of Chicago, Newberry Library, Poetry Foundation, and Ravinia Festival Association.

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Cover of one of four World’s Columbian Exposition pop-up books

On April 28, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed an act of Congress awarding Chicago the honor of hosting a world’s fair—the World’s Columbian Exposition—to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World. Architects Daniel Burnham and John Wellborn Root were charged with oversight of the design and construction, but following Root’s unexpected death in January 1891, Burnham became the sole director of works. He engaged several other architects—including Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles Follen McKim, and Louis Sullivan—to design a classical revival–themed city with grand boulevards, elaborate building façades, and lush gardens. Beaux Arts design concepts—based on symmetry, balance, and grace—were employed, and the 200 new, but intentionally temporary, buildings were mostly covered in plaster of Paris and painted a chalky white, giving the fairgrounds its nickname, the “White City.”

Chicago World’s Fair 1893 by Harley Dewitt Nichols (1859–1939)

The fairgrounds stretched over nearly 700 acres in Jackson Park and officially opened to the public on May 1, 1893—125 years ago. Over the next six months, nearly fifty countries would exhibit and close to twenty-eight million people would visit. Juicy Fruit chewing gum, Cream of Wheat, Quaker Oats, Shredded Wheat, Aunt Jemima pancake mix, and the Ferris Wheel were introduced, along with the first U.S. Post Office–issued picture postcards and commemorative stamps and U.S. Mint–issued commemorative quarter and half-dollar coins. Following its blue ribbon–win as “America’s Best” at the exposition, the Pabst Brewing Company officially changed the name of its signature beer.

One visitor was poet and author Katharine Lee Bates, who would later include “Thine alabaster cities gleam” in her poem America the Beautiful. Herman Webster Mudgett (a.k.a. Dr. Henry Howard Holmes) traveled to the fair with two of his eventual victims (later described by Erik Larson in his book The Devil in the White City). And natives bragging about the fair likely contributed to the popularity of Chicago’s nickname as the “Windy City.”

Theodore Thomas

Soon after Theodore Thomas agreed to lead the new Chicago Orchestra, the exposition’s executive committee (many of whom were the same men who were helping to finance his new orchestra) offered him the job of director of music for the fair. Inspired by Burnham’s imagination and drive—not to mention that the committee was prepared to spend nearly one million dollars on music and two performance halls—Thomas accepted shortly after his new orchestra’s inaugural concerts on October 16 and 17, 1891, in the Auditorium Theatre.

Thomas laid out an extensive plan for all types of concerts and issued a proclamation in the spring of 1892 setting forth many lofty goals, among them “the hearty support of American musicians, amateurs, and societies, for participation on great festival occasions of popular music, and for the interpretation of the most advanced composition, American and foreign.” He made his new orchestra the foundation of the resident ensemble, the Exposition Orchestra, augmented to over one hundred players, and he invited the most important musicians in the world to participate: Johannes Brahms, Antonín Dvořák, Joseph Joachim, Piotr Tchaikovsky, Jules Massenet, Camille Saint-Saëns, Giuseppe Verdi, Pietro Mascagni, Charles Gounod, Anton Rubinstein, and Hans Richter, among others.

Music Hall, designed by Charles Atwood

Two music buildings were constructed for a combined cost of $230,000. Music Hall, designed by Charles Atwood, had two performance spaces, seating 600 and 2,000. Festival Hall, designed by Francis M. Whitehouse, had a stage that was reportedly larger than the entire Metropolitan Opera House and seated 4,000 with standing room for more than 2,000.

The inaugural ceremony on October 21, 1892, was given in Festival Hall and included 5,500 singers in the chorus, an orchestra of 200, two large military bands, and two drum corps of fifty players each. In order to for everyone to see, Thomas used a large white handkerchief to conduct, rather than a baton. The event opened with the American composer John Knowles Paine’s Columbus March and Hymn, and continued with Carl Koelling’s World’s Columbian Exposition Waltz and George Whitefield Chadwick‘s Ode for the Opening of the World’s Fair held at Chicago 1892 (set to a poem by Harriet Monroe).

George Whitefield Chadwick’s Ode for the Opening of the World’s Fair held at Chicago 1892 (Theodore Thomas collection)

Carl Koelling’s World’s Columbian Exposition Waltz (piano reduction, Theodore Thomas collection)

As excitement mounted for the official opening of the fair, nearly one hundred piano manufacturers began to vie for the opportunity to exhibit. Some exposition officials began to take sides with different manufacturers, and Thomas attempted to steer clear of the growing controversy. East-coast builders, most notably Steinway, felt the planners were giving unfair advantage to Midwest piano manufacturers, and, as a result withdrew their participation. It was decided that only pianos made by exhibiting companies could be used at the fair. The press had a field day, criticizing both Thomas and the exposition planners, accusing all of conspiring for personal advantage.

Ignace Paderewski

The Exposition’s inaugural concert was scheduled for May 2, 1893, and Thomas’s first choice for soloist was the famous Polish pianist Ignace Paderewski. He had performed with the Chicago Orchestra and had even offered to waive his usual $5,000 per concert fee. He would perform his Piano Concerto in A minor for the first concert and Schumann’s concerto for the second; Theodore Thomas would conduct the Exposition Orchestra (the Chicago Orchestra expanded to 114 players).

Paderewski was unofficially an exclusive Steinway artist and if he was going to perform, it had to be on a Steinway. With Burnham’s help—and unbeknownst to Thomas—workers were able to sneak Paderewski’s Steinway concert grand into Music Hall the night before the first concert.

May 2, 1893

“Those who sat beneath the potent spell [Paderewski’s] mighty genius weaves could but acknowledge his unrivaled greatness and congratulate the exposition upon having secured him for the assisting artist at the inaugural concert,” reported the Chicago Tribune, praising the “surpassing beauty and matchless artistic greatness” of his performance.

By the time the committee discovered Paderewski’s use of a Steinway, it was too late to react. Thomas was falsely accused of conspiring against the committee, and despite the musical success of the concert, again, he was roasted in the press and public debate and criticism increased.

Theodore Thomas’s Exposition ticket book

Other problems included the cavernous acoustics in the Music Hall, Chicago’s May weather was bitter cold and the halls were not heated, and ticket sales for concerts were significantly less than anticipated. Thomas had difficulty hiding his disappointment, which only added to the mounting criticism against him.

Stubs from Thomas’s ticket book

After having conducted nearly seventy concerts in little more than three months, distraught over poor attendance, and mired in controversy, Thomas resigned as musical director in early August. His ticket book for the fair confirms his attendance; the last admission stub removed is for August 11, and at noon that day in Festival Hall, he led his Exposition Orchestra in one last concert.

August 12, 1893

Of all of the musicians Thomas invited to participate in the fair, only one actually made the journey to Chicago—Antonín Dvořák. August 12—the day after Thomas’s last concert—was designated as Bohemian Day, and according to the Chicago Tribune, “Bohemia ruled the World’s Columbian Exposition yesterday. It was the special date set apart for that nationality, and its citizens invaded the White City at every entrance by the thousands.”

Nearly 8,000 people packed into the fair’s Festival Hall to hear the Exposition Orchestra under the batons of Vojtěch I. Hlaváč, professor of music at the Imperial University in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and Dvořák, then the director of New York’s National Conservatory of Music in America.

August 12, 1893

The Tribune reviewer continued. “As Dvořák walked out upon the stage a storm of applause greeted him. For nearly two minutes the old composer [age fifty-one!] stood beside the music rack, baton in hand, bowing his acknowledgements. The players dropped their instruments to join in the welcome. Symphony no. 4 in G major [now known as no. 8], considered a severe test of technical writing as well as playing, was interpreted brilliantly. The Orchestra caught the spirit and magnetism of the distinguished leader. The audience sat as if spell-bound. Tremendous outbursts of applause were given.” On the second half of the program, Dvořák conducted selections from his Slavonic Dances and closed the program with his overture My Country.

For the next several weeks, the concerts given were primarily organ recitals. Concertmaster Max Bendix would lead the Exposition Orchestra in most of the remaining scheduled symphonic concerts, and the repertoire was modified to feature lighter, more popular works.

Thomas never completely recovered from the disappointment of the fair, and in his 1904 autobiography, he made no mention of the exposition whatsoever. In Memoirs of Theodore Thomas, completed in 1911 by his widow Rose Fay, she described one silver lining: during the fair, the “the daily concerts and rehearsals of the Orchestra had brought it up to the very highest point of artistic proficiency, and given it an enormous repertoire of music, so that Thomas felt he now had an almost perfect instrument for the concerts of the coming winter . . . This was a great relief to his mind.”

The Chicago Orchestra’s third season began the day after Thanksgiving on November 24 and 25, 1893, at the Auditorium Theatre.

Portions of this article previously appeared here and here, and an abbreviated version will appear in the CSO’s May 2018 program book.

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