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Civic Music Student Orchestra, onstage at Orchestra Hall in March 1920 (William T. Barnum photo)

We recently received an extraordinary donation to our collections: a mounted photograph—in remarkable condition—of the Civic Music Student Orchestra onstage in Orchestra Hall from March 1920. This image appeared in the Civic’s first program book (see here), and previously, the only copies in our collections were quite grainy and not the best quality.

In this newly acquired image, clearly visible—downstage, front and center—is the Civic’s founding leadership: (standing) Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Frederick Stock and (seated, left to right) assistant conductors Eric DeLamarter (the CSO’s assistant and associate conductor from 1918 until 1936) and George Dasch (a member of the CSO’s violin and viola sections from 1898 until 1923).

Mildred Brown in the early 1920s (Image courtesy of the Archives of the Sisters of Saint Francis, Rochester, Minnesota)

Also clearly visible in the assistant concertmaster chair is Mildred Brown, the previous owner of this artifact. The photograph came to us from the archives of the Sisters of Saint Francis in Rochester, Minnesota, where Brown—later Sister M. Ancille—lived from 1924 until her death in 1963. The handwriting at the bottom of the image reads, “Mildred Brown (Sr. Ancille), Assistant concert mistress, Front & center,” and an arrow points to her.

Born in Chicago on March 23, 1894, Brown earned a master’s degree in violin at the Chicago Musical College in 1915, where she studied with Alexander Sebald, and Leon Sametini, along with Chicago Symphony Orchestra assistant concertmaster Hugo Kortschak. She also attended the Juilliard School where she was a student of Franz Kneisel.

February 8, 1923

Brown was a member of the Civic Orchestra for its first season in 1919-20, one of fourteen women on the ensemble’s roster. At Stock’s invitation, she returned to the Civic in 1922-23, this time as concertmaster—the first woman to hold that position in the ensemble. During that season, Stock also invited her to be a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a Popular concert on February 8, 1923. Brown performed Wieniawski’s Fantaisie brillante (based on themes from Gounod’s Faust).

After her first year in the Civic Orchestra, Brown embarked on a solo career and enjoyed considerable success. A press brochure itemized generous critical praise:

  • “Miss Brown has traveled far upon the road to success [performing] with so much brilliance, so much technical clarity with tone so pure and round. Hers is an admirable gift” (Felix Borowski, Chicago Record Herald).
  • “A young violinist of high attainments, both in the technical and interpretative sense (Eric DeLamarter, Chicago Tribune).
  • “She dashed into the finale with brilliance and carried it off with joyous abandon. Miss Brown has the right stuff in her and made such a ‘hit’ with the audience that she had to give an encore (Karleton Hackett, Chicago Evening Post)

    Sister M. Ancille in the early 1960s (Image courtesy of the Archives of the Sisters of Saint Francis, Rochester, Minnesota)

  • “Mildred Brown possesses all the attributes of the finished artist [with] rich tone and brilliant technique. . . . The difficult harmonic passages were played with security and in a flawless fashion” (Milwaukee Free Press).

While on tour in 1923, she performed a concert at the College of Saint Teresa in Winona, Minnesota and served as an instructor for its summer session. In January 1924, she joined the Sisters of Saint Francis. As a postulant, she directed the Teresan Orchestra and gave frequent concerts, and later—as Sister M. Ancille—she served on the faculties of the School of Musical Art and Lourdes High School (both in Rochester) and the College of Saint Teresa. She completed a second master’s degree in music from the University of Michigan in 1941 (likely attending for several summers, as it was common for Sisters teaching at the high school and college levels to continue work on advanced degrees by taking summer classes).

Sister Ancille died unexpectedly on November 19, 1963, at the age of sixty-nine. An obituary published in The Campanile (the college’s newspaper), she was remembered for “her performances as presentations of impeccable technique, finesse of style, and the artistry of a great musician, [always] striving for perfection. Sister Ancille had a reserve and repose that persons of all ages admired and respected. Her complete composure and graciousness exemplified the fullness of her life as a Franciscan. It seems, to us, very fitting that God called her home on the feast of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, the patron of all Third Order Franciscans.”

Mildred Brown in the second chair of the Civic Orchestra’s first violin section in 1920

Special thanks to the Archives of the Sisters of Saint Francis in Rochester, Minnesota, and congregational archivist Sister Marisa McDonald, OSF

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Fellner

Austrian pianist Till Fellner is in Chicago this week to perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 22 with the Orchestra under the baton of Bernard Haitink. And in between rehearsals, he visited the Rosenthal Archives to do a little research on his great-grandfather’s brother’s son—that would be his first cousin twice removed—Hugo Kortschak, who was a former violinist and assistant concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra!

Here’s a summary of what Fellner discovered:

Kortschak's advance program biography for his March 1912 performances

Kortschak’s advance program biography for his March 1912 performances

After studying violin with Otakar Ševčík and composition with Antonín Dvořák at the Prague Conservatory, Hugo Kortschak (1884–1957) briefly was a member of the Berlin Philharmonic. He soon moved to Frankfurt to accept a position with the Museums Quartet and to be an instructor with Hugo Heermann‘s violin school. In 1906 (possibly 1907), he followed Heermann to Chicago, when the latter accepted a post at the Chicago Musical College; and upon his arrival, Kortschak accepted an invitation from second music director Frederick Stock to join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for the 1907–08 season. He briefly returned to Europe to pursue further study before coming back to Chicago as assistant concertmaster in 1910 through 1912 and (following a European concert tour in 1912–13) again for the 1913–14 season. While in Chicago, he founded the Kortschak Quartet in 1913 which, with the encouragement of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, became the Berkshire String Quartet. After his tenure in Chicago, Kortschak later was head of the violin department at Yale University and in his retirement was a member of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra.

Kortschak also was soloist with the Orchestra on several occasions—all with Stock conducting—as follows:

March 17 and 18, 1911
AULIN Violin Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 14

March 22 and 23, 1912
MOZART Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major, K. 218

December 5 and 6, 1913
NOREN Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 38 (U.S. premiere)

October 30 and 31, 1914
GOLDMARK Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 28

We frequently receive donations of a variety of materials, and just recently several vintage advertisements arrived in our mailbox. A sampling is below.

here's the caption

Advertisement for Jacques Thibaud’s recital at Orchestra Hall on March 4, 1918

French violinist Jacques Thibaud appeared in recital at Orchestra Hall on March 4, 1918, under the auspices of the Musicians Club of Women. According to a review in the Chicago Tribune, he was accompanied primarily by pianist Nicolai Schneer in works by Wieniawski and Saint-Saëns and on the organ by Tina Mae Haines for a “brief concerto by Vivaldi-Nachez.” The reviewer noted that Thibaud also “inserted Bach’s chaconne by request. He would have been in the season’s fashion had he done so without request. And he would have been more entertaining in this recital had he ignored the request; for he did not play it with charm or spark. This is, perhaps, the expected memorandum on anybody’s playing the chaconne with [Jascha] Heifetz‘s performance still in the ear; but it is a piece that had been played badly and played well before Heifetz came. It doesn’t ‘lie’ for Thibaud’s especial talent, maybe.”

Front of a photo postcard of violinist Amy Neill . . .

Front of a photo postcard of violinist Amy Neill . . .

. . . and the reverse of the postcard, announcing her Orchestra Hall recital on April 9, 1924

. . . and the reverse of the postcard, announcing her Orchestra Hall recital on April 9, 1924

American violinist Amy Neill appeared in recital on April 9, 1924, having appeared at Orchestra Hall at least once previously, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in April 1921 as soloist in Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy with Frederick Stock conducting. Her recital program included Mozart’s Violin Concerto in D major (it is not clear if it was no. 2 or no. 4), D’Ambrosio’s Violin Concerto in B minor, and Sarasate’s Introduction and Tarantelle, along with a number of Fritz Kreisler arrangements. Her accompanist was Isaac van Grove. Neill appeared again with the Orchestra and Stock in January 1926, in Glazunov’s Violin Concerto. Her program biography from those appearances indicate that she was born in Chicago and had studied with Hugo Kortschak (a member of the CSO’s first violin section beginning in 1907 and assistant concertmaster from 1910 until 1914). Neill had spent some of her early career in Europe, appearing as soloist with the New Queen’s Hall Orchestra, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, and the Vienna Symphony.

here's the caption

Advertisement for Gregor Piatigorsky’s appearance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Orchestra Hall on February 23, 1932

A frequent and favorite guest artist, cellist Gregor Piatigorsky was in town to perform with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on January 21 and 22, 1932, in Boccherini’s Cello Concero in B-flat major and Bloch’s Schelomo under the baton of Frederick Stock. He returned for a Tuesday subscription concert on February 23 for Saint-Saëns’s Cello Concerto in A minor and a repeat of the Bloch, again with Stock conducting. Edward Moore’s newspaper account in the Chicago Tribune—devoted primarily to the world premiere of John Alden Carpenter’s Song of Faith (celebrating the bicentennial of Georg Washington‘s birth and performed twice, near the beginning and at the end of the concert)—noted: “Then, too, Gregor Piatigorsky, who plays the cello as easily as other persons play the violin, came as soloist, with a brilliant performance of Saint-Saëns’s Concerto in A minor and Bloch’s earnest if somewhat laborious Schelomo. All in all, it was a program of unusual construction, but a highly enjoyable one.”

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Theodore Thomas

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The opinions expressed here are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

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