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To commemorate Ludwig van Beethoven‘s 249th birthday, we’re sharing a new video that describes one of the most precious artifacts in the Theodore Thomas collection in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Rosenthal Archives—a bronze life mask of one of music’s greatest composers.

Beethoven was the favorite composer of Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s founder and first music director. Thomas programmed Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on the Chicago Orchestra’s very first concerts in October 1891 and for the first concert in Orchestra Hall when it opened in December 1904. Among Thomas’s collection, there are four marked scores of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, along with this life mask of the composer.

The mask is cast in bronze from an original mold made in 1812 by Franz Klein, a sculptor who had been commissioned by Nannette and Andreas Streicher, Viennese piano makers and good friends of Beethoven.

Life mask of Ludwig van Beethoven in front of Franz Breitkopf’s portrait of Theodore Thomas on the eighth floor of the Richard & Helen Thomas Club at Symphony Center (Todd Rosenberg photo)

So, here we are in 1812. Politically, this was a time of huge uncertainty: Napoleon had failed in his invasion of Russia and war was engulfing Europe. Vienna was extremely tense and Beethoven was its most famous citizen, even though the composer was nearly deaf and had stopped performing in public.

By then, he had finished some of his pivotal works: the Emperor piano concerto, the Archduke Trio, and the Seventh and Eighth symphonies. Also, it is believed that he wrote the letters to his “immortal beloved” during the summer of 1812, and he was about to enter into a time of declining health, strained relationships with his family, and intense personal isolation.

So, this mask is the face of a man who was leaving behind the vision that made him the most famous musician alive and a few years later would produce some of the most profound music ever written.

But back to the artifact. For the mold, the technique Klein used involved lubricating the skin with oil, placing a straw in each nostril, and applying a thick liquid plaster over the subject’s entire face. The mold was used to create a bust, and the original remained in the possession of the Streicher family until the early part of the twentieth century, when it was given to the Historical Art Museum of the city of Vienna.

Life mask of Ludwig van Beethoven (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Several copies of the life mask and the sculpture were produced later in the nineteenth century, and this bronze version of the mask in Thomas’s collection is likely one of those copies.

Since Beethoven rarely had the patience to sit for portraits, artists would frequently look to Klein’s sculpture as reference instead. Another mold was taken two days after he died in 1827, of course, a death mask, but this mask remains the most accurate likeness of the composer during his lifetime.

Special thanks to Rachel Aka for video editing and Todd Rosenberg for contemporary photography.

Title page of Beethoven’s Third Symphony (Fritz Reiner collection)

Regarding the Third Symphony, “Beethoven, now fully emancipated from the preceding era, may be said for the first time to stand forth and show his lion’s paw!” wrote Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Orchestra‘s founder and first music director, in Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies. “In my judgment, the Eroica is only a perfectly legitimate step forward, a logical sequence in his normal development. . . . His soul now began to long to express that which had never before been said in music—anticipating centuries; hence this symphony, the first dawn of modern music, written in a definite mood, giving expression to the soul through color and contrast rather than attempting to illustrate a specific program.”

1954 recording (RCA)

“The Eroica is perhaps the first great symphony to have captured the romantic imagination,” according to CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. “Beethoven’s vast and powerful first movement and the funeral march that follows must have sounded like nothing else in all music. Never before had symphonic music aspired to these dimensions. . . . Beethoven’s Allegro con brio was longer—and bigger, in every sense—than any other symphonic movement at the time (the first movement of Mozart’s Prague Symphony comes the closest). It’s also a question of proportion, and Beethoven’s central development section, abounding in some truly monumental statements, is enormous.”

Thomas first led the Orchestra in Beethoven’s Third Symphony during the first season, on January 12, 1892, at The Odeon in Cincinnati and later that week in Chicago on January 15 and 16 at the Auditorium Theatre.

1973–74 recording (London)

Sixth music director Fritz Reiner led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first commercial recording of the work in Orchestra Hall on December 4, 1954. For RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer.

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 Third Symphony was recorded at Medinah Temple on November 5, 6, and 9, 1973, and May 18, 1974. Ray Minshull was the recording producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock were the balance engineers.

1989 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 Third Symphony was recorded in Orchestra Hall on May 6 and 8, 1989. Michael Haas was the recording producer and Stanley Goodall was the balance engineer.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Consecration of the House Overture and Symphonies nos. 1 and 3 on September 26, 27, and 28, 2019.

Title page of Beethoven’s First Symphony (Fritz Reiner collection)

In Beethoven’s First Symphony, “the composer tries his wings,” according to Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Orchestra‘s founder and first music director. In Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies, Thomas continues: “It is sometimes said that the First Symphony is Haydn and Mozart rather than Beethoven, but that is not correct. It is Beethoven, pure and simple, but Beethoven carrying on the art of his day as it had been transmitted to him by his predecessors. He knew no other style of symphonic writing because, until his own later development, there was no other. . . . One might say that Haydn and Mozart were the cradle in which the art of Beethoven was rocked, and in the First Symphony, his art was still in this cradle. . . . [The First Symphony] is a noble work and is of especial interest as the connecting link between the art of the classic and that of the romantic period.”

1961 recording (RCA)

CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher agrees. “As the first symphony by the greatest symphonist who ever lived, one might expect clues of the daring and novelty to come; since it was written at the turn of the century and premiered in Vienna, the great musical capital, in 1800, one might assume that it is with this work that Beethoven opened a new era in music. But, in fact, this symphony belongs to the eighteenth, not the nineteenth, century; it honors the tradition of Mozart, dead less than a decade, and Haydn, who had given Beethoven enough lessons to know that his student would soon set out on his own.”

Thomas first led the Orchestra in Beethoven’s First Symphony during the third season, on May 4 and 5, 1894, at the Auditorium Theatre.

1974 recording (London)

Sixth music director Fritz Reiner led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first commercial recording of the work in Orchestra Hall on May 8, 1961. For RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer and Lewis Layton was the recording engineer.

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 First Symphony was recorded at Medinah Temple on May 13, 14, 15, and 18, 1974 (along with the Second Symphony). Ray Minshull was the recording producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock were the balance engineers.

1989-90 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 First Symphony was recorded in Orchestra Hall on November 14 and 16, 1989, and January 27, 1990 (along with the Second Symphony). Michael Haas was the recording producer and Stanley Goodall was the balance engineer.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Consecration of the House Overture and Symphonies nos. 1 and 3 on September 26, 27, and 28, 2019.

Original dust jacket for the first edition of Talks About Beethoven's Symphonies

Original dust jacket for the first edition

Cloth cover for the first edition

Cloth cover for the first edition

Happy 246th birthday, Ludwig van Beethoven!

Theodore Thomas, our founder and first music director, favored the music of Beethoven above all others. Of the five composers’ names inscribed on the façade of Orchestra Hall, Beethoven’s is the one featured prominently in the center.

Shortly after the turn of the last century, Thomas began writing a series of essays—complete with accompanying diagrams—analyzing Beethoven’s symphonies. These were intended “simply to serve as an aid to students and concertgoers in understanding and listening intelligently to these masterworks,” according to his widow, Rose Fay Thomas. Thomas only was able to complete articles on the first five symphonies before his unexpected death in January 1905, and Rose later invited his successor, Frederick Stock, to complete the series. Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies was published in Chicago by Oliver Ditson Company in 1930.

Theodore Thomas and Frederick Stock

Theodore Thomas and Frederick Stock

Rose edited the volume, and in the preface she wrote that, “these little essays, simple and unpretentious though they seem, will be at once recognized as the product of a musician who combined profound learning with wide practical experience, and in no other work of similar character which has come to my notice can there be found such clear and authoritative analyses of the themes and structure of these symphonies, so lucid an exposition of their relation to each other, or so logical an account of Beethoven’s own artistic development as revealed in them.”

Fifth Symphony, first movement diagram

Fifth Symphony, first movement

Thomas’s favorite work was the Fifth Symphony, and he programmed it for the Chicago Orchestra‘s first concert as well as the dedication of Orchestra Hall. Composed in the “zenith of his career,” according to Thomas in the book’s fifth chapter, during this time Beethoven “produces works which are as nearly perfect as anything human can be, breathing the spirit of the nineteenth century, and endowing music with a meaning deeper and more fruitful than it ever had before. . . . Beethoven was able, through his art, to represent the psychological side of human nature in a manner so strong and full of meaning that he has only been equaled in this respect by one other creative mind—Shakespeare.”

Ninth Symphony, fourth movement diagram

Ninth Symphony, fourth movement

The final chapter, penned by Stock, describes the Ninth Symphony as, “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.” Stock continued, “Beethoven must have felt that he had exhausted the possibilities of instrumental expression and that nothing save the human voice could convey with sufficient eloquence the great thoughts he desired to set forth. . . . 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.”

A postscript. The dedication is to the “patrons of the old Theodore Thomas Orchestra.” Before he founded the Chicago Orchestra in 1891, Thomas established his own namesake ensemble in 1864 and led them on tour across the United States until the orchestra disbanded in 1889.

dedication

Portions of this article previously appeared here.

Page 3 of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony; note "Property of Theo Thomas" stamps

Page 3 of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony; note “Property of Theo Thomas” stamps

On October 16 and 17, 1891, founder and first music director Theodore Thomas led the Chicago Orchestra’s inaugural concerts at the Auditorium Theatre. A group of more than fifty businessmen—including Chicago pioneers Armour, Fay, Field, Glessner, McCormick, Potter, Pullman, Ryerson, Sprague, and Wacker—had agreed to serve as guarantors, each pledging their continued financial support.

At the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., this giving spirit is the focus of a long-term Philanthropy Initiative announced on #GivingTuesday that includes a new display, “Giving in America” unveiled on December 1, 2015, and on view through November 2016. Included in this display is a very special artifact from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Rosenthal Archives: the oldest of Thomas’s scores for Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, a work prominently featured on those inaugural concerts.

examing

CSO archivist Frank Villella and Newberry Library manuscripts and archives librarian Alison Hinderliter examine the score

In the Thomas collection, there are four copies of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: three are held in the Rosenthal Archives and one at the Newberry Library. Several months ago, Newberry Library manuscripts and archives librarian Alison Hinderliter and I carefully evaluated all four copies. While it’s impossible to determine exactly which score was used for the October 1891 concerts, we decided the most likely candidate was the oldest of the four scores. That particular edition clearly bears Thomas’s markings—particularly bowings in the string parts—along with the conductor’s personal stamp on numerous pages. Several weeks ago, it was carefully packaged and shipped to Washington, D.C. for the exhibit.

preparing for shipment

Safely preparing the score for shipment from Chicago to Washington, D.C.

According to museum’s website, the preview cases for “Giving in America,” will “provide a look at how philanthropy has shaped American civic culture in two eras—the Gilded Age (1870s–1900) and the present day. The display showcases the role of philanthropy in creating some of the nation’s most enduring museums, libraries, orchestras, universities, and hospitals. It also examines the involvement of women in nineteenth-century philanthropy. Artifacts include a register book showing the 1,600 libraries financed by Andrew Carnegie, an 1881 gown designed by Charles Frederick Worth for philanthropist Mary Eno Pinchot . . . a nurse’s cap worn by a Johns Hopkins School of Nursing student (circa 1945), and current civic philanthropy stories.”

For more information, visit http://americanhistory.si.edu.

Page 35 of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony; note several markings in blue pencil, primarily indicating bowings in the string parts

Page 35 of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony; note several markings in blue pencil, primarily indicating bowings in the string parts

Talks About Beethoven's Symphonies

In 1930, Oliver Ditson and Company published Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies by Theodore Thomas and Frederick Stock. Rose Fay Thomas, Thomas’s widow, was the editor.

Theodore Thomas, the Orchestra’s founder and first music director, had completed analyses of the first five symphonies, according to the editor, “not intended by their author for professional musicians or dilettanti, but simply to serve as an aid to students and concert-goers in understanding and listening intelligently to these masterworks.” Following Thomas’s death in 1905, Rose Fay eventually asked Stock, Thomas’s successor, to complete the volume, contributing essays for the final four symphonies.

Excerpts from Stock’s essay—written in quite grand style—on Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony are below.

“If we were to classify the nine symphonies of Beethoven we might attribute the First to Haydn. Not only was it strongly influenced by Beethoven’s teacher, but it could also have been written in homage to him. The Second may go to Mozart, for it is so joyously festive, so permeated with glow and warmth, that it might well be glorified Mozart. The Third, the Heroic, belongs, with the Fifth and the Ninth, in the realm of eternity. Then the B-flat major Symphony, the Fourth, might be called the Lyric, and the Fifth, the Dramatic. The Sixth, as named by the composer, is the Pastoral. The Seventh is, according to Richard Wagner, the ‘Apotheosis of the Dance.’ The Eighth might be called the Jovial, or Frolicsome. The Ninth—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. . . .

Freude

“Beethoven must have felt that he had exhausted the possibilities of instrumental expression and that nothing save the human voice could convey with sufficient eloquence the great thoughts he desired to set forth. . . .

“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.”

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.

Here’s a little video we put together just in time for the Beethoven Festival:

Big thanks to my colleagues Cameron and Gerard for their help, guidance, and expertise.

If you’ve been in the neighborhood of Symphony Center any time recently, you may have heard that there’s a little festival coming up. Some guy named Beethoven, I think.

Yep, Beethoven’s music has played a big role throughout the CSO’s history. He was Theodore Thomas’s favorite composer—there is a Beethoven life mask in the Thomas collection (more on that later)—and his name is the most prominently placed on the façade of Orchestra Hall. Thomas programmed the Fifth Symphony on the very first concerts on October 16 and 17, 1891, and before the third season was over, all nine symphonies had been performed. Beethoven’s music has appeared on every season since.

But we didn’t really have a big ol’ festival until the thirty-sixth season (1926-27) when our second music director Frederick Stock commemorated the centennial of the composer’s death and programmed a whole lotta Beethoven. Over the course of the season, Stock conducted all nine symphonies; overtures to Coriolan, Egmont, Leonore (no. 3), and The Creatures of Prometheus; the Third Piano Concerto with Mischa Levitzki; the Fourth with Alfred Cortot; the Fifth with Harold Samuel and Elly Ney; the Violin Concerto with Joseph Szigeti and Albert Spalding; and the Triple Concerto with Alfred Blumen, concertmaster Jacques Gordon, and principal cello Alfred Wallenstein.

So, to end the season on April 22 and 23, 1927, Stock programmed Wagner’s March of Homage (also called the Huldigungsmarsch and originally a work for wind band, later orchestrated by—but not traditionally credited to—Joachim Raff) and the Ninth Symphony with soprano Marie Sundelius, contralto Nevada van der Veer (Reed Miller‘s first wife), tenor Tudor Davies, and baritone Herbert Gould, along with the Chicago Singverein (directed by William Boeppler). A grand way to end a memorable season, yes?

But wait . . . that was just the first half.

After intermission, the same forces (plus tenor Eugene Dressler) tackled over an hour’s worth of excerpts from the third act of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Eric DeLamarter (Stock’s assistant) reported in the Tribune: “. . . the vocal and instrumental forces acquitted themselves with honor. An enthusiastic audience stood, at the end, and applauded mightily, and the orchestra greeted its conductor [who had conducted the entire concert from memory] with the rarely heard ‘tusch.'”

Acquitted themselves indeed. And then collapsed.

the vault

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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