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Frances and John Glessner (Glessner House collection)

John and Frances Glessner were among the most generous and loyal supporters of the Chicago Symphony since the Orchestra’s founding in 1891. They extended that generosity into their own home in the Prairie Avenue District, and Theodore Thomas and Frederick Stock, their families, along with members of the Orchestra and visiting soloists, were frequent guests, especially during the holiday season (see here).

Frances meticulously kept journals—detailing menus, decorations, guests, and seating arrangements—providing a glimpse into the family’s entertaining. According to these journals, Frances often served her famous fudge brownies. Here’s her recipe:

Fudge Brownies
makes 25-30
4 squares of unsweetened chocolate—melted
1/2 pound butter
4 eggs—beaten
2 cups sugar
1 cup flour
1 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 teaspoons vanilla
Mix sugar, vanilla, and eggs. To this add butter and chocolate melted together (in double boiler). Fold in flour. Then add nuts. Pour into buttered pan (9-by-12 inches). Bake for 35 minutes at 375 degrees. Cool before cutting.

The main area of the kitchen in Glessner House (Glessner House collection)

Another favorite recipe—received from Rose Fay, Thomas’s wife—was for a punch specially named for the Orchestra’s founder and first music director. Frances recorded it in one of her “menu books,” where she would document menus served at dinner parties and other events, occasionally also including recipes. (One former resident of Prairie Avenue recalled that the punch “pack[ed] a wallop.”)

Theodore Thomas Punch
1/4 Burgundy
1/4 Moselle (a light, Rhine wine)
1/2 champagne
The fractions are proportions to be used in mixing any quantity of the punch, rather than fractions of one wine bottle.

Both recipes appear in Carol Callahan’s 1993 Prairie Avenue Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from Prominent Nineteenth-Century Families.

The Glessner House at 1800 South Prairie Avenue in Chicago (Glessner House collection)

Special thanks to William Tyre, executive director and curator at Glessner House.

This article also appears here.

John J. Glessner

Our good friends at the Glessner House Museum have posted a beautiful remembrance of John J. Glessner (read the full post here), commemorating the eightieth anniversary of his passing on January 20, 1936, just six days before his ninety-third birthday. Glessner and his wife Frances (1848–1932) had been among the most generous and loyal supporters of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since its founding in 1891, and he also had served as a trustee since 1898.

One of the many tributes appeared in the Orchestra’s January 23 and 24, 1936, program book, written by Charles H. Hamill, president of The Orchestral Association from 1923 until 1938. Hamill wrote, “To no one man has The Orchestral Association been more beholden. . . . Modest to the point of self-effacement, he was clean of thought, and, when occasion required, vigorous in expression, and always with the Association’s welfare vividly in mind.”

On February 11, 1936, music director Frederick Stock led the Orchestra in Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration, dedicated to the memory of his dear friend.

Tribute to John Glessner by Charles H. Hamill

January 23 and 24, 1936

February 11, 1936

February 11, 1936



December 14, 1904

December 14, 1904

On December 14, 1904, Orchestra Hall first opened its doors with a grand dedicatory concert, with Theodore Thomas leading the Chicago Orchestra along with the Apollo Musical and Mendelssohn clubs.

For nearly the first fourteen years of its history, the Orchestra had performed at Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan’s Auditorium Theatre. However, the hall was far too cavernous for an orchestra; filling 4,000 seats twice weekly was an overwhelming challenge; and there were constant scheduling conflicts with other ensembles. It was rarely a problem getting a ticket to hear the Orchestra, and as a result, season subscriptions were nearly unmarketable.

Thomas initiated a campaign for a new hall, and in 1902 the property at the site of Leroy Payne’s livery stable—on Michigan Avenue between the Pullman Building and the Railway Exchange Building*—became available. Daniel H. Burnham, John J. Glessner, and Bryan Lathrop, along with seven other trustees, initially carried the purchase price, while the Orchestral Association issued an appeal to Chicagoans to secure the $750,000 needed to build a new hall. More than 8,000 individuals contributed.

Orchestra Hall nearly finished in the late fall of 1904 (note "offices for rent" sign above a ballroom window)

Orchestra Hall nearly finished in the late fall of 1904 (note “offices for rent” sign above a ballroom window)

Ground was broken on May 1, 1904, and seven months later, Thomas led the first rehearsal in the hall on December 6. He sent a telegram to Burnham the next day: “Hall a complete success. Quality exceeds all expectations.”

At the beginning of the dedicatory concert on December 14, Thomas led the Orchestra and choruses in “Hail! Bright Abode” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser. George Everett Adams, second president of the Orchestral Association from 1894 until 1899 (and a trustee from 1894 until 1917) and one of the ten men who helped secure the Michigan Avenue property, was given the honor of delivering an inaugural address. “We have built here a noble hall of music. It is a merely material structure of brick, and stone, and steel. We have not, and we cannot, put into this building its living soul. That is a task for other hands than ours.”

Daniel Burnham's near-final elevation, May 18, 1904**

Daniel Burnham’s near-final elevation, May 18, 1904**

The program continued with the Overture to Tannhäuser, Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration, and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony—music “devoted to the serious contemplation of the soul, its struggles here, and its triumphs hereafter”—and concluded with “Hallelujah!” from Handel’s Messiah.

*The Pullman Building was completed in 1885 and demolished in 1956; the Borg-Warner Building was completed in 1958. The Railway Exchange Building, designed by D.H. Burnham & Company, was completed in 1904.

**Burnham’s elevation for the façade of Orchestra Hall included the names of five composers: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, and Brahms. However, it was decided that Brahms was too contemporary (he had only died in 1897), and he was replaced with Schubert. To maintain chronological order, the names were rearranged: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Wagner.

Chicago Examiner, December 15, 1904

Chicago Examiner, December 15, 1904

December 14, 1904

December 14, 1904

This article also appears here.

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