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When Theodore Thomas was hired to found the Chicago Orchestra, his contract stipulated that he not only attain “the highest standard of artistic excellence in all performances” but also provide his complete library of scores and parts for the ensemble’s use. This collection of over 3,500 titles—including an overwhelming number of first editions and original manuscripts—was then one of the largest private libraries of orchestral music in the world. Upon Thomas’s death in 1905, the collection (with the exception of a small number of scores given to the Newberry Library) was donated to the Orchestral Association, and it became the cornerstone of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s music library.
One of the most treasured scores in that collection is the manuscript of Richard Strausss Symphony no. 2 in F minor, in the composer’s hand. During his tenure as music director of the New York Philharmonic, Thomas conducted the world premiere of the symphony—the first Strauss work heard in the United States—on December 13, 1884, at the Academy of Music in New York City.
Thomas had acquired the score while traveling through Germany. In Memoirs of Theodore Thomas, his widow Rose Fay wrote, “While in Europe the previous summer , Thomas had, as usual, been on the lookout for musical novelties for coming programs. He had met, in Munich, a young and almost unknown composer, one Richard Strauss, who had recently finished writing a symphony. Thomas secured the first movement of the work, and was so much impressed with it that he requested young Strauss to let him have the other movements, promising to bring out the whole work in a concert of the Philharmonic Society [of New York].”
However, in a letter to Thomas from Strauss dated September 20, 1883, it appears that perhaps he only met with Franz Strauss, Richard’s father: “As I was unfortunately unable to welcome you here this summer . . . I must not neglect to express to you in writing my heartiest and warmest thanks for your kind intention to give my second symphony the great honor of a New York performance. . . . According to your request, I have had the score of the three movements not already known to you written out . . . I must ask you to kindly paste the two enclosed changes in the Scherzo into your score.”
Even though the New York premiere received mixed reviews, Thomas reassured the young composer of the work’s success. Strauss replied to Thomas on April 12, 1885: “Your own extremely flattering opinion of it increased my pleasure, if that were possible. The criticisms . . . were all so ordinary and superficial that they pointed to failure rather than success. That the latter was the case, rejoices my heart, especially on your account, as it was a dreadful thought to me that my work might have brought discredit on you.”
Thomas continued to reinforce his confidence in Strauss by later leading the U.S. premiere of his Aus Italien in Philadelphia on March 8, 1888 (with the Theodore Thomas Orchestra), a year after the composer conducted the world premiere in Munich. After founding the Chicago Orchestra in 1891, Thomas introduced several of Strauss’s tone poems to Chicago audiences, including the U.S. premieres of Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks on November 15, 1895; Also sprach Zarathustra on February 5, 1897; Don Quixote on January 6, 1899; and Ein Heldenleben on March 9, 1900. At Thomas’s invitation, Strauss guest conducted the Orchestra in April 1904—with his wife Pauline as soprano soloist—in several of his compositions.
So, why are we talking about this now? Well, the Strauss manuscript score is about to take a little trip. Stay tuned . . .
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.
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.
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.
To the best of our knowledge, Theodore Thomas, our founder and first music director, never conducted Verdi’s Requiem with the Chicago Orchestra (as we were known from 1891 until 1905). Prior to 1891, there is documentation indicating that Thomas first led the Requiem on May 1, 1884, with his Theodore Thomas Orchestra and the Oratorio Society of Baltimore, given at the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore, Maryland, among other performances.
According to Thomas’s catalog, he had two full scores for the Requiem in his collection. One manuscript score (in an unknown hand) was deposited at the Newberry Library by Thomas’s widow Rose Fay in 1905; the second score is presumed lost. Here in the Rosenthal Archives we have a complete set of parts, some printed with manuscript inserts and some completely in manuscript, along with a first edition piano/vocal score, shown here, that was later recovered from materials left at Thomas’s summer home in New Hampshire.
All of the orchestral parts bear the signature of Maurice Strakosch. A pianist and impresario of Bohemian descent, Strakosch purchased “an orchestral score and performance material” from Casa Ricordi in November 1874 (according to the notes in the University of Chicago Press and Casa Ricordi critical edition of the Requiem).
Strakosch studied with Simon Sechter at the Vienna Conservatory, toured Europe as a pianist, and came to New York City in 1848. He played concerts there under the management of Max Maretzek, but by 1856 he was active mainly as an impresario. Strakosch became associated with tenor Salvatore Patti and his daughters (Adelina, Amalia, and Carlotta) in New York and eventually married Amalia. He also coached Adelina from her concert debut at the age of eight in 1851 and also later managed her career. From 1852 until 1854 he toured the United States with Amalia, Adelina, Ole Bull, and a teenaged Theodore Thomas. Strakosch was connected with several other musicians and impresarios and eventually managed his own company from 1856, which merged with that of Bernard Ullman‘s in 1857 to form the Ullman-Strakosch Opera Company (for which Thomas was concertmaster and occasionally an assistant conductor), later merging with the New York Academy of Music.
But back to the set of orchestral parts. According to the University of Chicago/Casa Ricordi documentation, the set of manuscript parts in the Rosenthal Archives: “were clearly prepared before 1875, as they include the original ‘Liber scriptus’ (1874). Most also have as a later insert (of uncertain date) the definitive ‘Liber scriptus’ (1875): these inserted pages are written on paper produced by the New York firm of Carl Fischer. As noted in the introduction to the score, on 9 November 1874 Ricordi informed Verdi that performing materials had been sold to one of the Strakosch brothers. . . . How they found their way into the Chicago Symphony Orchestra collection has not been determined, although it is possible that they belonged to the musical library of Theodore Thomas. . . . From players’ annotations, however, it is apparent that these parts were used for performances even after Ricordi issued printed parts in 1913.”
Presumably, this set of parts was used for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first documented performance of the Requiem given at Northwestern University Gymnasium on June 4, 1910, as part of the annual North Shore Festival, as well as numerous subsequent performances. There are also several indications that these parts were used for the first performance at the Ravinia Festival in 1951 as well as the first subscription concerts at Orchestra Hall in 1952. One of those indications, shown in this image at right, confirms this: when details for this set of parts was being entered into our database, the cataloguer indicated: “squashed bug removed from 3rd trombone part, noted as killed at Ravinia, 1951.”
One of my favorite Chicago institutions—the Newberry Library—is celebrating their 125th anniversary this year. To commemorate the event, they have mounted a spectacular exhibit called The Newberry 125, which highlights 125 artifacts from their collections divided into five sections: families, politics and commerce, religions, travel, and arts and letters. The exhibit is paired with a second installation, Realizing the Newberry Idea, 1887–2012.
A beautiful book accompanies the exhibit (The Newberry 125: Stories of Our Collection), and the article for the Dvořák artifacts explains that Thomas had conducted Dvořák’s Requiem at the Cincinnati May Festival on May 28, 1892, and again the following year in Chicago on April 10 and 11, 1893 (program page pictured at right). The article continues: “News traveled fast to Dvořák, who wrote on April 14, ‘You have taken much pains and trouble in preparing and performing my work, and therefore I feel it my duty to extend to you my heartfelt thanks.'”
The article also mentions that the Newberry’s collections include “letters to Thomas and some personal materials [along with] scrapbooks of all of the programs Thomas conducted from 1864 through 1903. His personal classical-music library—once considered to be the largest of its type in the world—comprised first editions, rare full scores, and monographs, most of which Thomas’s widow and children gave to the Newberry in 1908.” Of course, a significant portion of Thomas’s collection is also here in the Rosenthal Archives.
A brief footnote: the program book on file for the April 1893 concerts contained this program insert. However, it is not clear whether Mrs. Thomson replaced Mrs. Burckard-Werbke for both performances or just one.