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Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony—according to Frederick Stock, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra‘s second music director, in Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies—is “dedicated to all Mankind. Embracing all phases of human emotion, monumental in scope and outline, colossal in its intellectual grasp and emotional eloquence, the Ninth stands today as the greatest of all symphonies.”

First page detail of a choral score, edited by Arthur Mees, the Orchestra’s first assistant conductor

Stock continues: “The Ninth is unquestionably the greatest of all symphonies not only because it is the final résumé of all of Beethoven’s achievements, colossal as they are even without the Ninth, but also because it voices the message of one who had risen beyond himself, beyond the world and the time in which he lived. The Ninth is Beethoven, the psychic and spiritual significance of his life.

“In the first movement we find the bitter struggle he waged against life’s adversities, his failing health, his deafness, his loneliness. The Scherzo depicts the quest for worldly joy; the third movement, melancholy reflection, longing—resignation. The last movement, the ‘Ode to Joy,’ is dedicated to all Mankind.”

“There’s something astonishing about a deaf composer choosing to open a symphony with music that reveals, like no other music before it, the very essence of sound emerging from silence,” writes CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. “The famous pianissimo opening—sixteen measures with no secure sense of key or rhythm—does not so much depict the journey from darkness to light, or from chaos to order, as the birth of sound itself or the creation of a musical idea. It is as if the challenges of Beethoven’s daily existence—the struggle to compose music, his difficulty in communicating, the frustration of remembering what it was like to hear—have been made real in a single page of music.”

Founder and first music director Theodore Thomas first led the Chicago Orchestra in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on December 16 and 17, 1892, at the Auditorium Theatre. The soloists were Minnie Fish, Minna Brentano, Charles A. Knorr, and George E. Holmes, along with the Apollo Chorus (prepared by William L. Tomlins).

1961 recording (RCA)

Sixth music director Fritz Reiner led the Orchestra’s first recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on May 1 and 2, 1961, in Orchestra Hall. Phyllis Curtin, Florence Kopleff, John McCollum, and Donald Gramm were the soloists, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus was prepared by Margaret Hillis. For RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer and Lewis Layton was the recording engineer.

1972 recording (London)

Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus first recorded Beethoven’s nine symphonies between May 1972 and September 1974 for London Records. The recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with three overtures: Egmont, Coriolan, and Leonore no. 3); that set won the 1975 Grammy Award for Classical Album of the Year from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The Ninth Symphony was recorded at the Krannert Center at the University of Illinois in Urbana on May 15 and 16, and June 26, 1972. Pilar Lorengar, Yvonne Minton, Stuart Burrows, and Martti Talvela were the soloists, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus was prepared by Margaret Hillis. David Harvey was the recording producer, and Gordon Parry, Kenneth Wilkinson, and Peter van Biene were the balance engineers.

1986 recording (London)

Between September 1986 and January 1990, Solti and the Orchestra and Chorus recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies a second time, again for London Records; and again, the recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with two overtures: Egmont and Leonore no. 3). The Ninth Symphony was recorded in Medinah Temple on September 29 and 30, 1986. Michael Haas was the recording producer, John Pellowe the balance engineer, and Neil Hutchinson the tape editor. Jessye Norman, Reinhild Runkel, Robert Schunk, and Hans Sotin were soloists, and Margaret Hillis prepared the Chorus. The release won the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

On September 18, 20, 21, and 23, 2014, Riccardo Muti led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Orchestra Hall. Camilla Nylund, Ekaterina Gubanova, Matthew Polenzani (September 18), William Burden (September 20, 21, and 23), and Eric Owens were the soloists, and the Chorus was prepared by Duain Wolfe. The performance on September 18 was recorded for YouTube and is available in the link below.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 on February 24, 25, 26, and 27, 2022.

This article also appears here.

Sir Georg Solti and Margaret Hillis show off their 1986 Grammy Awards for Liszt’s A Faust Symphony and Orff’s Carmina burana. (Jim Steere)

During her 37 years as director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, Margaret Hillis prepared her ensemble for many recordings—including nine Grammy Award winners—with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on the Erato, Deutsche Grammophon, London, and RCA labels. A sample of some of those iconic records is below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 
BACH Mass in B Minor, BWV 232
Sir Georg Solti conductor
Felicity Lott soprano
Anne Sofie von Otter mezzo-soprano
Hans Peter Blochwitz tenor
William Shimell baritone
Gwynne Howell bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1990
 
BACH Saint Matthew Passion, BWV 244
Sir Georg Solti conductor
Kiri Te Kanawa soprano
Anne Sofie von Otter mezzo-soprano
Anthony Rolfe Johnson tenor
Tom Krause bass
Hans Peter Blochwitz tenor
Olaf Bär baritone
Richard Cohn baritone
Patrice Michaels soprano
Debra Austin mezzo-soprano
William Watson tenor
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus
Doreen Rao director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1987
London

BARBER 
The Lovers
Dale Duesing baritone
BARBER Prayers of Kierkegaard
Sarah Reese soprano
Andrew Schenk conductor
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director

BEETHOVEN Missa solemnis in D Major, Op. 123
Sir Georg Solti conductor
Lucia Popp soprano
Yvonne Minton mezzo-soprano
Mallory Walker tenor
Gwynne Howell bass
Victor Aitay violin
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
Recorded in Medinah Temple in 1977
London

BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Fritz Reiner conductor
Phyllis Curtin soprano
Florence Kopleff contralto
John McCollum tenor
Donald Gramm bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1961
RCA

BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Sir Georg Solti conductor
Jessye Norman soprano
Reinhild Runkel mezzo-soprano
Robert Schunk tenor
Hans Sotin bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
Recorded in Medinah Temple in 1986
London

BERLIOZ The Damnation of Faust, Op. 24
Sir Georg Solti conductor
Frederica von Stade mezzo-soprano
Kenneth Riegel tenor
José van Dam baritone
Malcolm King bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus
Doreen Rao director
Recorded in Medinah Temple in 1981
London

BRAHMS 
A German Requiem, Op. 45
Daniel Barenboim conductor
Janet Williams soprano
Thomas Hampson baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1992
Erato

BRUCKNER Helgoland
Daniel Barenboim conductor
Men of the Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1979
Deutsche Grammophon

BRUCKNER Psalm 150

Daniel Barenboim conductor
Ruth Welting soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1979
Deutsche Grammophon

BRUCKNER Te Deum
Daniel Barenboim conductor
Jessye Norman soprano
Yvonne Minton mezzo-soprano
David Rendall tenor
Samuel Ramey bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1981
Deutsche Grammophon

DOWNS Bear Down, Chicago Bears
Sir Georg Solti conductor
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1986
London

HANDEL 
Messiah
Sir Georg Solti conductor
Elizabeth Hynes soprano
Anne Gjevang contralto
Keith Lewis tenor
Gwynne Howell bass
David Schrader harpsichord
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1984
London

HAYDN The Seasons
Sir Georg Solti conductor
Ruth Ziesak soprano
Uwe Heilmann tenor
René Pape bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1992
London

HAYDN The Creation
Sir Georg Solti conductor
Norma Burrowes soprano
Sylvia Greenberg soprano
Rüdiger Wohlers tenor
Siegmund Nimsgern bass-baritone
James Morris bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1984
London

IVES Orchestral Set No. 2
Morton Gould conductor
Members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
Robert Schweitzer assistant director
Recorded in Medinah Temple in 1967
RCA

MAHLER Symphony No. 2 in C Minor 
(Resurrection)
Sir Georg Solti conductor
Isobel Buchanan soprano
Mira Zakai mezzo-soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
Recorded in Medinah Temple in 1980
London

MAHLER Symphony No. 2 in C Minor
 (Resurrection)
Claudio Abbado conductor
Carol Neblett soprano
Marilyn Horne mezzo-soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1976
Deutsche Grammophon

PROKOFIEV Alexander Nevsky

Fritz Reiner conductor
Rosalind Elias mezzo-soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1959
RCA

SMITH/Stock The Star-Spangled Banner

Sir Georg Solti conductor
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1986
London

VERDI Opera Choruses
Sir Georg Solti conductor
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
Terry Edwards guest chorus director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1989
London

VERDI 
Four Sacred Pieces
Sir Georg Solti conductor
Jo Ann Pickens soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
Recorded in Medinah Temple in 1977-78
London

This article also appears here.

Alan Stout in 1971

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family notes with sorrow the passing of Alan Stout, composer and longtime composition and theory professor at Northwestern University. Stout died yesterday, February 1, 2018, at the age of 85.

Stout’s music was first performed by the Orchestra on two concerts given at Northwestern University’s Cahn Auditorium on May 29 and 31, 1967, when Esther Glazer was soloist in Movements for Violin and Orchestra with Henry Lewis conducting. Soon thereafter, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra presented four world premieres by Stout, under the batons of Seiji Ozawa, Sir Georg Solti, and Margaret Hillis, at the Ravinia Festival and in Orchestra Hall.

On August 4, 1968, Ozawa led the world premiere of Stout’s Symphony no. 2 at Ravinia. The work was commissioned by the Ravinia Festival Association through a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, and the performance was made possible by a Composer Assistance Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

World premiere of Stout’s Second Symphony at the Ravinia Festival on August 4, 1968

The symphony was “vivid [and] multi-dimensional . . . a collection of musical rituals,” according to Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune. “The work is a marvelous tapestry of textures, combining a superior craftsmanship, a remarkable ear, and encyclopedic knowledge of the inventions of his colleagues, [including] Messiaen, Penderecki, Elliott Carter, and Pierre Boulez . . .”

The composer’s Symphony no. 4 was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in celebration of its eightieth season and dedicated to Georg Solti, who led the world premiere performances on April 15, 16, and 17, 1971. The score calls for a small chorus, and members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus were prepared by assistant director Ronald Schweitzer.

The following year, Solti also led the world premiere of Stout’s George Lieder (Poems from Das neue Reich) on December 14, 15, and 16, 1972, with baritone Benjamin Luxon as soloist.

Composer and conductor review the score of the George Lieder in December 1972 (Terry’s photo)

Stout’s large-scale Passion for Soloists, Chorus, and Orchestra was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with assistance from the National Endowment for the Arts and was dedicated to Margaret Hillis and the Chicago Symphony Chorus. Hillis led the world premiere performances on April 15, 16, and 17, 1976. Soloists included Mary Sauer on organ, Elizabeth Buccheri on piano, along with soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson, tenors Frank Little and John McCollum, baritones Leslie Guinn and LeRoy Lehr, and bass Monroe Olson.

The premiere of Stout’s Passion, on which the composer worked for over twenty years, was a “monumental undertaking [and] provided the most difficult music the Chorus has undertaken since Fritz Reiner brought Margaret Hillis here in 1957 to found the now internationally known ensemble,” wrote Willis in the Chicago Tribune. “Stout fashions his church Latin text into curtains and tapestries of sound. Like a sonic aurora borealis, they expand and contract as needed, supplying intimate but still objective commentary on an emotional-laden event, creating towering climaxing as the peak points of the action, or providing canopies of tightly woven, often contrapuntal sheets of sound against which other portions of the action can take place.”

Detail from the first section of Stout’s Passion, with markings by Margaret Hillis

 

Phyllis Curtin

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the loss of the extraordinary American soprano Phyllis Curtin, a frequent guest artist who performed under three music directors—Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, and Sir Georg Solti—between 1957 and 1972. Curtin died on June 5, 2016, at her home in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. She was 94.

Curtin made her debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival in 1957, and she most recently appeared at Orchestra Hall in 1972. A complete list of her appearances with the Orchestra is below (subscription concerts at Orchestra Hall, unless otherwise noted):

July 7, 1957 (Ravinia Festival)
FOSS The Song of Songs
Lukas Foss, conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano

Reiner B9

April 27 and 28, 1961
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano
Florence Kopleff, contralto
John McCollum, tenor
Donald Gramm, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was recorded by RCA on May 1 and 2, 1961, in Orchestra Hall. The recording recently was re-released as part of a sixty-three-disc set featuring Reiner’s complete discography with the Orchestra.

April 26 and 27, 1962
HANDEL Israel in Egypt
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano
Carol Smith, mezzo-soprano
Richard Lewis, tenor
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

July 9, 1964 (Ravinia Festival)
MOZART Voi che sapete from The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492
MOZART Alleluia from Exsultate, jubilate, K. 165
J. STRAUSS, Jr. Czárdás and Mein Herr Marquis from Die Fledermaus
KORNGOLD Glück das mir verblieb from Die tote Stadt
LEHÁR Dein is mein ganzes Herz from Das Land des Lächelns
SIECZYNSKI Wien, du Stadt meiner Träume
Andre Kostelanetz, conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano

April 22, 23, and 24, 1965
HAYDN The Seasons
Jean Martinon, conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano
Charles Bressler, tenor
Ara Berberian, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

January 6, 7, and 8, 1966
PERGOLESI Stabat Mater
Jean Martinon, conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano
Betty Allen, mezzo-soprano
STRAVINSKY Les noces
Jean Martinon, conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano
Betty Allen, mezzo-soprano
André Montal, tenor
Peter Harrower, bass-baritone
Mary Sauer, Laurence Davis, Louis M. Kohnop, and Eloise Niwa, pianos
Donald Koss, Gordon Peters, James J. Ross, Sam Denov, Albert Payson, and Norbert Szymanski, percussion
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

December 1, 2, and 3, 1966
MARTINON The Rose of Sharon (U.S. premiere)
Jean Martinon, conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano
Ernst Haefliger, tenor
Joseph Brewer, tenor
Harold Robinson, baritone
Mary Sauer and Harriet Wingreen, pianos
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

May 14 and 15, 1970
JANÁČEK Glagolitic Mass
Charles Mackerras, conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano
Joan Caplan, mezzo-soprano
John Alexander, tenor
Ara Berberian, bass
Mary Sauer, organ
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

January 20, 21, and 22, 1972
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 14, Op. 135
Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano
Raffaele Arié, bass

June 27, 1972 (Ravinia Festival)
BRITTEN War Requiem, Op. 66
István Kertész, György Fischer, and Margaret Hillis, conductors
Phyllis Curtin, soprano
Robert Tear, tenor
John Shirley-Quirk, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Northwestern University Chorus and Northwestern University Concert Choir
Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Theatre Chorus
Doreen Rao, director

November 30 and December 1, 1972
BERLIOZ The Damnation of Faust, Op. 24
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano (substituting for contralto Josephine Veasey)
Stuart Burrows, tenor
Robert Savoie, baritone
Roger Soyer, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Theatre Chorus
Doreen Rao, director

the vault

Theodore Thomas

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