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This remarkable photograph—the first known image of the Chicago Orchestra—was taken 125 years ago today on March 14, 1892, during one of several first-season domestic tours. The article below describes the image and was written for the fall 1991 CSO program book by then–second horn Norman Schweikert. Schweikert, who retired from the Orchestra in 1997, continues his research, gathering biographical information on professional symphony orchestra and opera musicians from all over the world.

The Earliest Known Photograph of the Chicago Orchestra

This rare, unpublished, informal photograph of the Chicago Orchestra, taken during its inaugural season, was discovered in the early 1960s by Jeff Gold, a Chicago freelance oboist and artist, in an antique shop in Door County, Wisconsin. The shop, now closed, had acquired it from the estate of an unidentified member of the Orchestra who had retired and moved to Wisconsin.

The picture was taken in Saint Louis on March 14, 1892, while the Orchestra was on tour. Two concerts were given in the Saint Louis Exposition and Music Hall on March 14 and 15, and another was given in Alton, Illinois, on the sixteenth. March 17 was probably a travel day, and the eighteenth found the Orchestra back at the Auditorium rehearsing for its concert of the nineteenth. The names included on the photograph make up a balanced instrumentation for a touring orchestra, reduced in size to economize and to fit comfortably onto small stages.

The Saint Louis Exposition and Music Hall in 1888 (unidentified illustrator for The News Herald)

Beneath the photo are two hand-written sets of identification: an original list of names, including first initials, and a second group, supplied perhaps by the previous owner, with lines drawn toward persons in the picture. Why did someone see fit to label everyone a second time? It is difficult to recognize the men because they all are wearing hats, but comparisons with photos taken of individual members during the 1894–95 and 1902–03 seasons helped to identify positively many of them. To identify those who had left by 1894, one has to rely on the lines, which unfortunately are imprecise.

This photograph shows forty-nine of the fifty-member touring orchestra. The accompanying roster and outline match names with faces. Missing is librarian Theodore McNicol, who might have been setting out music. Also missing are conductor Theodore Thomas and his right-hand man, cellist and personnel manager Henry Sachleben. There are already four cellists, so perhaps Sachleben did not make the trip, at least as a performer.

In the lower right corner the name of L. Amato can be made out with difficulty. Did Louis Amato, a cellist in the Orchestra from 1891 to 1901, come along on the trip and take the photograph? Was the photo part of his estate, and did he identify the players? The mysteries of this fascinating image tantalize us. We must be thankful for what we do know, and grateful to both the unknown photographer who captured this moment nearly a century ago and the owner who preserved it.

Diagram indicating position of musicians in the photograph (click to expand)

The players have been placed in the order shown on the larger roster of ninety-five musicians and two librarians found in the subscription program for the twentieth pair of concerts on April 22 and 23, 1892. Names are given in parentheses under instruments on which players might have doubled.

1. Max Bendix
2. Isadore Schnitzler
3. Emanuel Knoll
4. Alexander Krauss
5. Theodore Human
6. J. Czerny
7. Herman Braun, Jr.
8. Richard Seidel
9. Rudolph Rissland

10. Richard Poltmann
11. August Zeiss, Jr.
12. Friedrich Schmitz-Philippi
13. Gustav Starke
14. Richard Donati
15. Albert Ulrich, Sr.
16. Joseph Zettelmann
17. Ernest F. Wagner

18. August Junker
19. Carl Riedelsberger
20. Jan Meyroos
21. Ferdinand Volk*

22. Bruno Steindel
23. Walter Unger
24. Ludwig Corell
25. Emil Schippe

26. Albin Wiegner
27. Joseph Beckel
28. Louis Klemm
29. Richard Helm

30. Edmund Schuecher

31. Vigo Andersen
32. Martin Ballman (piccolo)

33. Felix Bour
34. E. Schoenheinz (english horn)

35. Joseph Schreurs
36. Carl Meyer (bass clarinet)

37. Hugo Litke
38. Louis Friedrich (contrabassoon)

39. Hermann Dutschke
40. Adolph Schütz
41. Leopold de Maré
42. Albert Walker

TRUMPET (or cornet)
43. Christian Rodenkirchen
44. Frederick Dietz, Jr.
(15) (Albert Ulrich, Sr.)

45. Otto Gebhardt
46. William Zeller
47. Josef Nicolini

48. August Helleberg

49. William Loewe

(16) (Joseph Zettelmann)
(17) (Ernest F. Wagner)
(18) (Richard Donati)

Theodore McNicol (not pictured)

*This may not be Volk, the cellist, but Valk, a flutist who played only the first season. Both men have the same initial. The name Valk is clearly written, twice, on the photo. A positive identification of Volk could not be made by comparing photos. Were Volk on the tour there would be a proper balance in both the string and woodwind sections. Were Valk playing, there would have been three flutes but only three violas. The mystery remains.


Now, that’s a festival.

In May 1904, Chicago Orchestra founder and first music director Theodore Thomas led his final Cincinnati May Festival concerts at Music Hall. Since founding the festival in 1873, Thomas had regularly led concerts, inviting his Chicago Orchestra after its founding in 1891.

Cover of the 1904 Cincinnati May Festival program book

Cover of the 1904 Cincinnati May Festival program book

Programming for the five-concert festival was nothing short of epic and included orchestral works, opera excerpts, and large-scale choral works. The Orchestra had been expanded to over one hundred and ten players and the May Festival Chorus numbered over 500. And to conclude the final concert, Thomas had chosen Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

According to Philo Adams Otis in his book The Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Its Organization, Growth, and Development, 1891–1924: “The program was of the highest order . . . But with due regard to soloists and chorus, the strength of the Festival, to my mind, was Mr. Thomas and the Orchestra. Never have I heard the Beethoven Eighth Symphony played as at the first matinée! What a performance he gave us Friday evening of Death and Transfiguration!”

And in Memoirs of Theodore Thomas (edited by his widow Rose Fay Thomas): “The May Festival of 1904 brought the work of Thomas to a close in Cincinnati, and its programmes were of such a caliber that it was the artistic climax, not only of the long series of festivals in that city, but, perhaps, even of Thomas’ own career. One colossal work was piled on another, regardless of everything but the one object of making this festival surpass, in standard and perfection, all that had preceded it. . . . the chorus, under the able and musicianly training of its director, Mr. Edwin W. Glover, was in splendid condition, and Thomas had nothing to correct about its performance. . . . The performances at the Cincinnati Festival were, therefore, amongst the very finest that he ever gave in his life, and no one in his audience had the slightest idea of the strain under which he worked.”

The complete concert programs are below.

First concert

Wednesday evening, May 11, 1904, 7:30 p.m.
BACH Suite No. 2 in B Minor, BWV 1067
Alfred Quensel, flute
BACH Mass in B Minor, BWV 232
Agnes Nicholls, soprano
Ernestine Schumann-Heink, contralto
William Green, tenor
Robert Watkin-Mills, bass
Wilhelm Middelschulte, organ
May Festival Chorus
Edwin W. Glover, director
(an intermission followed the conclusion of the Gloria)

Second concert

Thursday afternoon, May 12, 1904, 2:00 p.m.
MOZART Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major, K. 543
MOZART Nie wird mich Hymen (Parto, ma tu ben mio) from La clemenza di Tito, K. 621
Ernestine Schumann-Heink, contralto
Joseph Schreurs, clarinet obbligato
SCHUBERT Entr’acte No. 1 from Rosamunde, D. 797
WEBER Ocean, Thou Mighty Monster from Oberon
Agnes Nicholls, soprano
ELGAR Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36 (Enigma)
ELGAR Pomp and Circumstance Marches No. 2 in A Minor and No. 1 in D Major, Op. 39
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93
LISZT The Three Gypsies (Die drei Zigeuner)
Ernestine Schumann-Heink, contralto
Leopold Kramer, violin obbligato
WAGNER Bacchanale from Tannhäuser
WAGNER Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde
Agnes Nicholls, soprano

Third concert

Friday evening, May 13, 1904, 7:30 p.m.
ELGAR Incidental Music and Funeral March from Grania and Diarmid, Op. 42
ELGAR The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38
Muriel Foster, contralto
William Green, tenor
Robert Watkin-Mills, bass
Wilhelm Middelschulte, organ
May Festival Chorus
Edwin W. Glover, director
STRAUSS Death and Transfiguration, Op. 24
BEETHOVEN Abscheulicher! from Fidelio, Op. 72
Agnes Nicholls, soprano
BERLIOZ Imperial Hymn, Op. 26
May Festival Chorus
Edwin W. Glover, director

Fourth concert

Saturday afternoon, May 14, 1904, 1:30 p.m.
GLUCK Overture and Divinités du Styx from Alceste
Ernestine Schumann-Heink, contralto
BRUCKNER Symphony No. 9 in D Minor (Unfinished)
BRAHMS Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53
Ernestine Schumann-Heink, contralto
Men of the May Festival Chorus
Edwin W. Glover, director
WAGNER Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
ELGAR In Haven, Where Corals Lie, and The Swimmer from Sea Pictures, Op. 37
Muriel Foster, contralto
STRAUSS Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Op. 28
STRAUSS Hymnus, Op. 33 No. 3
Muriel Foster, contralto
TCHAIKOVSKY 1812 Overture, Op. 49

Fifth concert

Saturday evening, May 14, 1904, 7:30 p.m.
BEETHOVEN Missa solemnis in D Major, Op. 123
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Agnes Nicholls, soprano
Ernestine Schumann-Heink, contralto
William Green, tenor
Robert Watkin-Mills, bass-baritone
May Festival Chorus
Edwin W. Glover, director

A digital, searchable version of Otis’s book is available here and Thomas’s memoir here.

To open the 124th season in September, Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The concerts currently are sold out, but check the website as last-minute tickets may become available.

the vault

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


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