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Defauw

On February 11, 1943, Edward L. Ryerson, president of the Orchestral Association, announced that Désiré Defauw would become the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s third music director, beginning with the 1943–44 season. The Belgian conductor had made his debut with the Orchestra only a month before, leading one program of subscription concerts on January 7 and 8 (Wagner’s Overture to The Flying Dutchman, Debussy’s Clouds and Festivals from Nocturnes, Franck’s Le chasseur maudit, and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony) and a Popular Concert on January 9 (Weber’s Overture to Euryanthe, Sibelius’s The Swan of Tuonela from Four Legends of the Kalevala, selections from Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust, and Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony).

Defauw’s years with the Orchestra coincided with the time when American involvement in World War II was at its peak, an unsettled era when musicians were off to war (making room for more women to join orchestras) and servicemen were able to hear concerts for free when seats were unsold or empty. Patriotism was in high gear and the Stars and Stripes became a permanent fixture over the stage of Orchestra Hall. For the first concerts of the fifty-fifth season on October 4 and 5, 1945—the first downtown concerts following the end of the war—Defauw led the Orchestra in the national anthems of the Allied nations: China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Music director Désiré Defauw and the Orchestra onstage on October 12, 1943

Music director Désiré Defauw and the Orchestra onstage on October 12, 1943

Serving for four seasons through 1946–47, Defauw introduced Chicago audiences to the works of several contemporary composers, including Barber, Bloch, Carpenter, Chadwick, Copland, Elgar, Goldmark, Milhaud, Sibelius, Walton, and Warlock. For RCA, Defauw and the Orchestra recorded a wide variety of repertoire, including works by Borodin, Franck, Grétry, Handel, Prokofiev, Respighi, Smetana, and Stravinsky, along with Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with Mischa Elman, Strauss’s Burleske and Weber’s Konzertstück with Claudio Arrau, and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with Erica Morini.

This article also appears here.

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On October 25, 1973, Sir Georg Solti conducted the world premiere of Bohuslav Martinů’s First Violin Concerto with Josef Suk as soloist.

From Arrand Parsons’s program note: “It is a curious fact that a major work by a major 20th century composer has remained unknown and only in manuscript for over 40 years. (The Martinů Violin Concerto composed for Mischa Elman in 1943 and now known to be No. 2 was performed at CSO concerts on November 16-17, 1944, with Elman as soloist and with Désiré Defauw conducting.) The manuscript comes to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from the Hans Moldenhauer Archives, today one of the great collections of original manuscripts, a portion of which is held by Northwestern University. It was Dr. Moldenhauer who suggested to Josef Suk the idea of presenting the premiere performances in Chicago, to be followed shortly afterwards with performances in Prague. The Northwestern University Library made the score available to Sir Georg Solti, who was happy to program the premiere with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The Concerto, composed for the Polish-born American violinist Samuel Dushkin probably in 1933, comprises three movements. It is a work of commanding virtuosity yet retaining an expressive lyricism characteristic of the composer, and it also reflects certain Czech qualities found in the works of Martinů in the 1930s when he lived in Paris but felt a nostalgia for his homeland.”

The program notes are here, and reviews of the premiere are here.

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

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