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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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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.

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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December 8, 1893

December 8, 1893

The Art Institute of Chicago opened its new building—completed in time for the second year of the World’s Columbian Exposition—on December 8, 1893, at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Adams Street. For the opening reception, Theodore Thomas and the Orchestra performed Schubert’s Three Marches (from the Six Grand Marches, D. 819, orchestrated by Thomas), the second movement of Beethoven’s Second Symphony, Dvořák’s Second Slavonic Rhapsody, Goldmark’s Serenade from The Rustic Wedding, the Elegy and Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for String Orchestra, and Wagner’s Forest Murmurs from Siegfried.

The Spirit of Music in its original location on Michigan Avenue

The Spirit of Music in its original location on Michigan Avenue

The Art Institute’s south garden was the first site of The Spirit of Music, a memorial to Thomas, originally dedicated on April 24, 1924. It was designed by architect Howard Van Doren Shaw and sculpted by Albin Polasek. Subsequently moved on multiple occasions and even temporarily presumed to be lost, the memorial ultimately was moved to Grant Park at the intersection of Michigan and Balbo avenues and rededicated on October 18, 1991, at the conclusion of the Orchestra’s centennial celebration.

Directly behind the statue is a carved frieze including images of musicians. In its center is an inscription with text culled from a telegram sent from Ignace Paderewski to Rose Fay Thomas on January 5, 1905, the day following her husband’s death. Upon hearing the news, Paderewski had written: “Scarcely any man in any land has done so much for the musical education of the people as did Theodore Thomas in this country. The nobility of his ideals with the magnitude of his achievement will assure him everlasting glory.”

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here and here.

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Ignace Paderewski in the 1890s

Ignace Paderewski in the 1890s

In American Orchestras in the Nineteenth Century, Brenda Nelson-Strauss wrote that 1892 “found the city in a frenzy of preparations for the World’s Columbian Exposition, planned as a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus and constructed on a grandiose scale that would surpass the [1876] Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. Thomas was appointed director of the Bureau of Music, and he 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.’ ”

For the exposition’s inaugural concert on May 2, 1893, Ignace Paderewski performed his Piano Concerto in A minor, and Theodore Thomas conducted the Exposition Orchestra (the Chicago Orchestra expanded to 114 players).*

May 2, 1893

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. “All of [his selections] he had played here before, and as the surpassing beauty and matchless artistic greatness of his performances were pointed out at that time, attempt to comment upon the work of yesterday could but result in feeble reiteration of praise that to be adequate must seem rhapsody.”

Paderewski had first appeared during the Orchestra’s first season on January 1 and 2, 1892, as soloist in Rubinstein’s Fourth Concerto and Liszt’s Fantasia on Hungarian Folk Melodies. In Paderewski Adam Zamoyski noted, “In Chicago, too, he found a magnificent orchestra and conductor, Theodore Thomas, ‘a real musician, a musician by the Grace of God.’ At the Chicago Auditorium he played to his largest audience yet—4,000 people. Prominent amongst these, he noticed with emotion, were hundreds of local Polish émigrés who had flocked to the concert at the sound of his name.”

A regular visitor to Chicago both as concerto soloist and recitalist for more than forty years, Paderewski last appeared with the Orchestra on March 31 and April 1, 1932, in Schumann’s Piano Concerto with Frederick Stock conducting.

*It had been decided that only pianos made by exhibiting companies could be used at the fair. Steinway, which was not exhibiting, was preferred by Paderewski, and one of its pianos was sneaked into the Music Hall the night before the May 2 concert, unbeknownst to Thomas. However, numerous piano manufacturers accused him of conspiring with Paderewski, and there was significant public debate. After having conducted nearly seventy concerts in little more than three months, “by mid-August of 1893, distraught over poor attendance and mired in controversy, Thomas resigned as musical director” of the fair, according to Nelson-Strauss.

This article also appears here.

It seems like summer has finally arrived in Chicago, and today was one of those spectacular days that almost makes the winter seem worth it.

So, I took a walk down Michigan Avenue to one of my favorite places, the Theodore Thomas memorial in Grant Park: The Spirit of Music, crafted by sculptor Albin Polasek.

The statue was originally erected in 1924 in the south garden of the Art Institute, directly across the street from Orchestra Hall. Subsequently, it was moved a couple of times and was even presumed to be lost for a while. In its current location (in the park’s music garden), the monument was rededicated during the end of the CSO’s centennial celebration in October 1991.

Directly behind the statue, there is a carved frieze with images of musicians. In the very center is an inscription with text culled from a telegram sent to Rose Fay Thomas by Ignace Paderewski on January 5, 1905. Paderewski, a dear friend and frequent collaborator, had just heard the news of Thomas’s passing and wrote:

“The entire musical world joins you and family in deepest sorrow over your terrible bereavement. The passing away of your illustrious husband is an irreparable loss to our art for scarcely any man in any land has done so much for the musical education of the people as did Theodore Thomas in this country. The purity of his character, firmness of his principles, nobility of his ideals, together with the magnitude of his achievements will assure him everlasting glory in the history of artistic culture. Personally I deplore from the bottom of my soul the loss of one of my very dearest and most beloved friends. To you madame who have been devoted companion of the great departed, to you who have given him so much happiness we send both the homage of our profound affliction and mournful sympathy.”

the vault

Theodore Thomas

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