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Title page of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (Theodore Thomas collection)

“We have now reached what is called Beethoven’s second creative period, the zenith of his career,” wrote Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Orchestra‘s founder and first music director in Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies. “He has outlived other influences and is mature in every respect; his powers and individuality are fully developed; he has had some experience of the world, has solved difficult problems, and feels himself a master. Hence in this period he 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.”

The Fifth Symphony “has come to represent greatness in music,” writes CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. “One can’t easily think of another single composition that, in its expressive range and structural power, better represents what music is all about.”

Thomas first led the Chicago Orchestra in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on the inaugural concerts on October 16 and 17, 1891, at the Auditorium Theatre.

1959 and 1968 recordings (RCA)

Sixth music director Fritz Reiner recorded the Fifth Symphony with the Orchestra for RCA on May 4, 1959, in Orchestra Hall. Richard Mohr was the producer and Joseph F. Wells was the recording engineer. Also for RCA, Seiji Ozawa recorded the symphony with the ensemble on August 9, 1968, in Orchestra Hall. Peter Dellheim was the producer and Bernard Keville was the recording engineer.

1973 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 Fifth Symphony was recorded at Medinah Temple on November 5 and 6, 1973. Ray Minshull was the recording producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock 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 Fifth Symphony was recorded in Medinah Temple on October 6 and 7, 1986. Michael Haas was the recording producer and Stanley Goodall was the balance engineer.

During the tour to Japan in 1990, Solti led the Orchestra in the Fifth Symphony, and the April 15 performance at Suntory Hall in Tokyo was video recorded for release on laser disc. For CBS Sony, Shūji Fujii was the video director.

Fantasia 2000 soundtrack

The Orchestra also recorded an abbreviated version of the first movement from the symphony on April 25, 1994, for the Fantasia 2000 soundtrack. For Disney, James Levine conducted, Jay David Saks was the producer, and it was recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Symphonies nos. 2 and 5 on February 20, 21, 22, and 23, 2020.

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

In Beethoven’s Second Symphony, “we find the mature master,” according to Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Orchestra‘s founder and first music director. In Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies, Thomas writes, “He uses no extraordinary means in regard to instruments, for what he has to say still lies within the scope of the old means, but he stands at the height of his time and expresses that which is mature. . . . Here I must call attention to one of Beethoven’s earliest and most startling musical innovations—one from which he did not depart in after years—his use of dynamic effects, sudden changes from loud to soft and vice versa. No composer has made use of forte, piano, forzando, etc. as constantly as he. . . . Beethoven wrote for a standard of virtuosity far beyond that which exited among the orchestral players of his time, and which is still very difficult for even the most advanced instrumentalists of today [but he] will live for the cultivated for centuries after the masses have lost all understanding of his works.”

“Although Beethoven’s hearing would deteriorate considerably in later years, 1802 marked the moment of crisis: the Heiligenstadt Testament includes Beethoven’s admission that his malady was permanent and incurable. He didn’t fail to see the horrible irony of ‘an infirmity in the one sense which ought to be more perfect in me than in others,’” writes CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. Despite this admission, the composer’s Second Symphony is “one of his most energetic, cheerful, and outgoing works [and] shows no signs of Beethoven’s obvious despair.”

Theodore Thomas first led the Chicago Orchestra in Beethoven’s Second Symphony on December 1 and 2, 1893, at the Auditorium Theatre.

1974 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 Second Symphony was recorded at Medinah Temple on May 13, 14, 15, and 18, 1974 (along with the First 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 Second Symphony was recorded in Orchestra Hall on November 14 and 16, 1989, and January 27, 1990 (along with the First Symphony). Michael Haas was the recording producer and Stanley Goodall was the balance engineer.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Symphonies nos. 2 and 5 on February 20, 21, 22, and 23, 2020.

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.

December 3 and 4, 1909

December 3 and 4, 1909

Sergei Rachmaninov made his first appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on December 3 and 4, 1909, conducting his Isle of the Dead and performing as soloist in his Second Piano Concerto with Frederick Stock conducting.

“Mr. Rachmaninov appeared in three different roles on yesterday’s program as a creative musician (a composer, as a conductor, and as a pianist), in all three capacities he displayed unusual preeminence and gifts of a transcendent order,” wrote the critic in the Chicago Examiner. “At the conductor’s desk, [he] is a striking personality [and] the members of the Orchestra responded readily to his minutest directions.” In the concerto, “Rachmaninov made no less an artistic impression. He is endowed with a comprehensive technique, his scale passages and chord playing are clean and rapid, his tone is rich and musical, and in his concerto he displayed remarkable gifts . . . after a half dozen recalls [he] responded with his celebrated C-sharp minor prelude.”

According to Phillip Huscher, “Although Chicago didn’t get to hear it, by then Rachmaninov had written a third piano concerto, tailor-made for his first North American tour in late 1909. Rachmaninov introduced the work in New York on November 28, with Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphony. He played it there again in January, with Gustav Mahler conducting the New York Philharmonic.”

For the first time with Stock and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he performed his Third Piano Concerto on January 23 and 24, 1920. Despite a nasty Chicago storm, Orchestra Hall was packed for the Friday matinee. “The concert of yesterday afternoon was an event,” wrote Karleton Hackett in the Evening Post. “I do not care what the verdict of twenty years from now may be regarding this concerto, for I have just listened to a performance of it that stirred me deeply. . . . It was a work of a man who understands the capacity of the instrument and can write for it in the fresh, vigorous idiom of our day such music as brings out its peculiar power and charm. What is quite as much to the point, he himself can play the instrument with a mastery that makes every phrase a delight. Rachmaninov has supreme virtuosity. There is nothing he cannot do at the keyboard, from the most exquisite delicacy of ornamentation to the downright stroke of elemental power. . . . The music was so vigorous, expressing so spontaneously the emotion of our own time that it seemed as though it were being struck out in the white heat of the creative impulse of the moment.”

Chicago American, January 15, 1932

In January 1932, the composer was again in Chicago for three concerts with Stock and the Orchestra. After a performance of the second concerto on January 12, Herman Devries in the American reported, “It was not Chicago . . . it was not Orchestra Hall . . . it was not Rachmaninov . . . to me it seemed Olympus, and we were all gods. Thus does music glorify when it is itself glorious. It is not the first time that I have waxed passionately enthusiastic over the genius of Rachmaninov. After hearing Horowitz [in recital] on Sunday [January 10], we thought that the season’s thrills were nearly complete.”

Later that week on January 14 and 15, Rachmaninov was soloist in his third concerto. “The most exciting event in the history of Orchestra Hall occurred last night,” wrote Glenn Dillard Gunn in the Herald & Examiner. “With one impulse, the audience rose and shouted its approval. Many eyes were wet and many throats were hoarse before the demonstration ended. For once on their feet, the listeners remained to cheering after the Orchestra had trumpeted and thundered its fanfare and long after the composer-pianist had brought Dr. Stock to the footlights to share his honors. Never have I witnessed such a tribute . . . and never, it is my sincere conviction, has such response been so richly deserved.”

Chicago Sun, February 12, 1943

Chicago Sun, February 12, 1943

Rachmaninov’s final appearances with the Orchestra were on February 11 and 12, 1943, in Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto and his own Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, under the baton of associate conductor Hans Lange. “Sergei Rachmaninov evoked a series of ovations when he appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Orchestra Hall last night,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune. “His entrance won standing tribute from orchestra and capacity audience, his Beethoven stirred a storm of grateful applause, and his own Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini ended the concert in a kind of avalanche of cumulative excitement.”

The following week, Rachmaninov traveled to Louisville and Knoxville for solo recitals on February 15 and 17, in what would be his final public performances. He died in Beverly Hills, California on March 28, 1943.

Portions of this article are included in the February 14-17, 2019, program book and also previously appeared here.

You never know what might arrive in the mail.

A few days ago, we received a package from our friends at the New York Philharmonic Archives, and it contained a number of early Theodore Thomas programs, pre-dating his founding of the Chicago Orchestra. A few of these fantastic items are described below.

October 23 and 24, 1871

October 18-24, 1871

In early October 1871, Thomas was on tour with his orchestra—the Theodore Thomas Orchestra—on its way to Chicago. According to Memoirs of Theodore Thomas, completed in 1911 by his widow Rose Fay: “At the close of the summer season, Thomas and the orchestra started westward on their customary fall tour over the ‘highway.’ The Chicago engagement on this trip was to have been an unusually long and important one, for the Crosby Opera House there had been handsomely renovated and Thomas was to open it with a two-weeks’ series of orchestral concerts.

“As the train, bearing the orchestra, neared the city on the morning of October 9, 1871, Thomas was paralyzed by the announcement that Chicago was burning, and the Opera House already in ashes! In short, they had arrived just in time to witness the terrible conflagration which so nearly wiped Chicago off the map altogether, and, of course, the concerts which Thomas had expected to give there for two years to come, were canceled. . . . he and the orchestra stayed [in Joliet] until it was time for the next engagement in Saint Louis.”

In addition to the five concerts originally scheduled at DeBar’s Opera House in Saint Louis—not even two weeks after the Great Chicago Fire—a “grand extra concert” was added on Monday, October 23, “for the benefit of the Chicago sufferers, for which occasion all the members of Mr. Thomas’ troupe have volunteered their services.”

March 31–April 3, 1873

April 2 and 3, 1873

Thomas and his orchestra were later in New York in the spring of 1873 for a series of concerts at Steinway Hall. These concerts were billed as “the greatest concert combination on record” and the “last joint appearance” of Thomas; composer, pianist, and conductor Anton Rubinstein; and violinist and composer Henryk Wieniawski. Rubinstein’s 1872-74 tour was his first and only visit to the United States, and he later communicated to William Steinway of Steinway & Sons (who had sponsored his journey): “I shall take away with me from America one unexpected reminiscence. Little did I dream to find here the greatest and finest orchestra in the wide world . . . never in my life have I found an orchestra and a conductor so in sympathy with one another, or who followed me as the most gifted accompanist can follow a singer on the piano.”

Wagner’s Centennial March cover

In addition to several other concert programs, the donation also included a piano version of Richard Wagner’s Centennial March, arranged by Thomas. The work had been commissioned by Thomas for the 1876 Centennial International Exposition in Philadelphia, for which he served as music director. According to Chicago Symphony Orchestra program annotator Phillip Huscher, “The premiere took place in Philadelphia as part of the exposition opening ceremonies, before President [Ulysses S.] Grant, members of Congress, and justices of the Supreme Court. The New York Tribune called Wagner’s Centennial March a masterpiece and the Herald critic found it noble and grand. But the New York Times concluded that it was ‘altogether devoid of pomp and circumstance,’ and that its impressive orchestral writing did not make up for its ‘lack of thought.’ Wagner later confided to his friends that the best thing about the piece was his [$5,000] fee.” Huscher’s complete note from the Orchestra’s October 2010 performances is here.

Wagner’s Centennial March first page

Wagner’s Centennial March title page

To our friends and colleagues in New York . . . thank you for these amazing additions to our Theodore Thomas collection!

 

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The score for Mahler's Symphony no. 7 used by Frederick Stock for the U.S. premiere

The score for Mahler’s Symphony no. 7 used by Frederick Stock for the U.S. premiere

Frederick Stock and the Orchestra first introduced the music of Gustav Mahler to Chicago audiences on March 22 and 23, 1907, performing the composer’s Fifth Symphony. Reviews were, shall we say, mixed.

“Ugly symphony is well played: Thomas Orchestra shows director Mahler of Vienna writes bad music,” proclaimed the headline of Millar Ular’s review in the Chicago Examiner. He continued that rather than title the symphony “The Giant,” it might be better titled “The Octopus” due to its ugliness, “The Dachshund” due to its length, or “Chaos” due to its purported lack of form. A writer in the Chicago Journal agreed, calling the symphony a “long and tedious work,” and most of the public agreed, as “before it was done, fully half the audience had fled.”

April 15 and 16, 1921

April 15 and 16, 1921

Undaunted, Stock programmed Mahler’s First in November 1914, the Fourth in March 1916, and three performances of the massive Eighth—with just under a thousand performers onstage at the Auditorium Theatre—in April 1917.

According to Phillip Huscher, “Stock heard Mahler’s Seventh Symphony for the first time in Amsterdam in 1920. He got a copy of the score in Paris and programmed the work for the penultimate concert of the 1920–21 season in Chicago. Perhaps fearing that the Chicago public would not share his enthusiasm for the Seventh Symphony, Stock announced that he had cut out eleven minutes of music, paring the playing time down to one hour and four minutes.”

Regarding the performance on April 15, 1921—the first performance of the symphony in the U.S.—the Chicago Evening Post reported that “the Orchestra played with astonishing virtuosity. There was nothing Mahler could write which they could not play, as they demonstrated to full satisfaction. At the close of the symphony there was a great demonstration for Mr. Stock, in which he had all the players rise and join.”

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

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October 30 and 31, 1891

On October 30, 1891—only two weeks after its inaugural concert—the Chicago Orchestra gave the U.S. premiere of Dvořák’s Violin Concerto at the Auditorium Theatre. Max Bendix, the Orchestra’s first concertmaster from 1891 until 1896, was soloist, and Theodore Thomas conducted.

The program book for the third week of subscription concerts listed the concerto as “new” and “the program annotator [Adolph W. Dohn], like anyone writing about contemporary music, hedged his bets on Dvořák’s future reputation,” according to the Orchestra’s current program annotator Phillip Huscher. “Of the Bohemian composer’s recent decision to relocate to the United States, a new world he would later famously depict in a symphony, [Dohn] said only, ‘it remains to be seen to what extent the influences of another civilization may affect his musical expression.’ ”

“The solo part is, as has been said, one of great difficulty, that of the last movement being especially trying. Mr. Max Bendix met these difficulties and overcame them in most instances with ease,” wrote the reviewer in the Chicago Tribune. “His phrasing is truly exceptional in its artistic beauty and purity. Rarely has a violinist been heard in Chicago who has equaled Mr. Bendix in this respect.”

Detail from the program note for October 30 and 31, 1891

This article also appears here.

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Detail of title page for Boulez's Notations VII

Detail of title page of the score to Boulez’s Notations VII

According to Phillip Huscher, “Pierre Boulez composed the original Notations for piano in 1945, when the twenty-year-old composer was still a student of Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatory. Boulez wrote twelve pieces, each twelve measures long (the number was central to the manifesto of the time). These Notations are concise, highly polished studies, each a precise and taut exploration of a single musical idea. Although Boulez quickly put them aside and moved on to greater challenges, they are among the works with which he opened a new chapter in the history of music.”

Boulez orchestrated the first four Notations in 1977 and 1978, and these versions were premiered by the Orchestre de Paris in 1980 with Daniel Barenboim conducting. Claudio Abbado led the Chicago Symphony’s first performances in October 1984, and Boulez himself conducted them with the Orchestra in October 1987. Near the end of the centennial season, music director designate Daniel Barenboim first led the Chicago Symphony in the four Notations in April 1991, and shortly thereafter, a second set of four orchestrations was commissioned for the Orchestra by the Edward F. Schmidt Family Commissioning Fund.

Teldec release

Daniel Barenboim and the Orchestra recorded Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Debussy’s La mer, and Boulez’s Notations VII for Teldec in January 2000

Boulez completed the first of these in 1997, and on January 14, 1999, the Orchestra gave the world premiere of Notations VII. Barenboim conducted the eight-minute work, followed by Pierre Boulez giving a brief discussion on his compositional process that included Barenboim performing the original piano version. Barenboim then conducted the work a second time. “What was abrupt in 1945 is now languorous; what was crude is now done with a lifetime’s experience and expertise; what was simple is fantastically embellished, even submerged,” wrote Paul Griffiths in The New York Times. “Boulez suggested the metaphor of long-buried grain sprouting, but one might rather think of an oyster making a pearl. As if irritated by the original piano piece, the composer has given it a sumptuous, dense, and opalescent coating, not only expanding it but also, in a way, withdrawing its shock. . . . The violent new influences of 1945 are, in the recomposition, being wiped away.”

Following the premiere, Barenboim led numerous performances of the five Notations in Chicago as well as on tour in Carnegie Hall, Berlin, Cologne, and Lucerne, and he included them during his farewell concerts as music director in June 2006. No. VII was recorded by Teldec in 2000.

This article also appears here.

Frederick Stock and the Theodore Thomas Orchestra (as we were then called) first introduced the music of Gustav Mahler to Chicago audiences on March 22 and 23, 1907, performing the composer’s Fifth Symphony. Reviews were, shall we say, mixed.

As written about here this past October, “Ugly symphony is well played: Thomas Orchestra shows director Mahler of Vienna writes bad music,” proclaimed the headline of Millar Ular’s review in the Examiner. He continued that rather than title the symphony “The Giant,” it might be better titled “The Octopus” due to its ugliness, “The Dachshund” due to its length, or “Chaos” due to its purported lack of form. A writer in the Chicago Journal agreed, calling the symphony a “long and tedious work,” and most of the public agreed, as “before it was done, fully half the audience had fled.”

Undaunted, Stock programmed Mahler’s First in November 1914, the Fourth in March 1916, and three performances of the massive Eighth—with just under one thousand performers onstage at the Auditorium Theatre—in April 1917.

Cover of one of two first edition Symphony no. 7 scores in the Rosenthal Archives collection

Detail from the cover of one of two first editions of Mahler’s Symphony no. 7 from the Rosenthal Archives collection.

According to Phillip Huscher’s program note, “Stock heard Mahler’s Seventh Symphony for the first time in Amsterdam in 1920. He got a copy of the score in Paris and programmed the work for the penultimate concert of the 1920–21 season in Chicago. Perhaps fearing that the Chicago public would not share his enthusiasm for the Seventh Symphony, Stock announced that he had cut out eleven minutes of music, paring the playing time down to one hour and four minutes.”

For April 15 & 16, 1921, Stock had programmed Smetana’s Overture to Libussa followed by the Mahler (the original program note is here); the second half of the program consisted of a single work, Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy with American violinist Amy Neill.

The April 15 performance was the symphony’s first in the U.S., and the Chicago Evening Post reported that “the orchestra played with astonishing virtuosity. There was nothing Mahler could write which they could not play, as they demonstrated to full satisfaction. At the close of the symphony there was a great demonstration for Mr. Stock, in which he had all the players rise and join.”

Headline for Herman Devries review in the Sunday, April 17, 1921, Chicago American

Headline for Herman Devries’s review in the Sunday, April 17, 1921, Chicago American

And Herman Devries in the American reported: “We were prepared to hear something out of the ordinary, for nothing banal, commonplace, cheap, or artificial could emanate from a brain that produced the marvelous Symphony of a Thousand presented by Mr. Stock at the memorable Spring Festival in the Auditorium [in April 1917]. With the first bars of the orchestral score yesterday, one might have imitated Schubert’s famous phrase and said, ‘Hats off! A genius!’

“The entire symphony, which for due understanding and assimilation of its beauty and richness requires far more than a single hearing, is so evidently a work of supreme and dominating intelligence that it seems presumptuous, importunate, for me to attempt any criticism. Mahler’s name today is being mentioned as a sort of twentieth-century reflection of the Beethoven a century ago.

“His conception is of gigantic orchestral proportions. He knew the orchestra and played upon it as upon a mighty instrument. And this mighty vision, a vision too great, too immense for the mere span of human intellect, seems to crave reflection in his writing. . . . We devoutly hope for many more opportunities to hear this master work, for [it] demands absolute mental concentration, and one performance is simply a foretaste.”

Following that first performance, Frederick Stock, summing it up better than anyone, was reported as saying, “Mahler is one of the coming composers and the musical world is just beginning to understand him.”

Bernard Haitink leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Mahler’s Seventh Symphony on April 9, 10, 11, and 14, 2015, at Symphony Center.

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