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On Wednesday, February, 22, the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York City hosted a concert and exhibit opening for Vienna and New York: 175 Years of Two Philharmonics. Featuring artifacts highlighting the founding and history of both the New York Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the exhibit also included the manuscript score of Richard Strauss’s Symphony no. 2 in F minor from the Theodore Thomas collection in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Rosenthal Archives.
Musicians from both orchestras—clarinet Daniel Ottensamer and violins Daniel Froschauer and Harald Krumpöck from the Vienna Philharmonic, and viola Cynthia Phelps and cello Carter Brey from the New York Philharmonic—were on hand to perform Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet at the beginning of the program. Remarks were delivered by the presidents of both orchestras, Andreas Großbauer and Matthew VanBesien, along with Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s minister for foreign affairs and integration. And in the entryway to the Forum, COSMIC ROCKET, a temporary art installation by Nives Widauer, utilized tour trunks from both orchestras.
The exhibit will be open to the public until March 10 and then travel on to Vienna (the Strauss score will only be included in the New York leg of the exhibit), opening on March 28 at the Haus der Musik and on display through January 2018.
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 . . .
Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Orchestra‘s first music director, died on January 4, 1905. For many years after, the Orchestra would dedicate the first concerts of the new year to his memory, frequently performing works closely associated with their founder. We continue that tradition on this week’s radio broadcast, as Frank Villella, director of the CSO’s Rosenthal Archives, co-hosts a retrospective of works that Thomas introduced to audiences in the United States, both with the Chicago Orchestra and other ensembles.
In 1879, the University of Breslau in Poland bestowed upon Johannes Brahms an honorary doctorate, and to show his appreciation, he composed the Academic Festival Overture the following summer. The composer himself led the first public performance at the university in January 1881, and later that year on November 29, Thomas led the U.S. premiere in New York.
Daniel Barenboim, early in his tenure as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s ninth music director, recorded Brahms’s complete symphonies, along with the Tragic Overture, Variations on a Theme by Haydn, and the Academic Festival Overture, all for Erato Records.
In the nineteenth century, Thomas was Richard Wagner’s greatest advocate in the United States, both before and after he founded the Chicago Orchestra. During his fourteen seasons as music director, he programmed Wagner’s music on nearly half of his concerts, both in Chicago and with the Orchestra on tour. Thomas gave the U.S. premiere of the Prelude from Tristan and Isolde in New York on February 10, 1866, less than a year after the opera’s first complete performances in Munich; and he also gave the first U.S. performance of the Prelude paired with the Liebestod in Boston on December 6, 1871. Thomas programmed these two works together fifteen times on subscription concerts during his tenure as music director.
Artur Rodzinski was the Orchestra’s fourth music director for only one season (1947–48). One of his great successes was a concert performance of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde in November 1947, featuring soprano Kirsten Flagstad in her first operatic appearance in the United States since the end of World War II. The legendary Chicago Tribune critic Claudia Cassidy called the performance “the dawn of a new operatic day in Chicago.” A month later, Rodzinski and the Orchestra recorded the Prelude and Liebestod for RCA.
Thomas gave the U.S. premiere of Sir Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations with the Chicago Orchestra on January 3, 1902, and it was such a crowd-pleaser that he programmed it a second time later that season. A few years later in April 1907, second music director Frederick Stock invited the composer himself to lead several of his works, including In the South, the first Pomp and Circumstance March, and the Enigma Variations. The Chicago Tribune reported that, “The men of the Orchestra gave him their closest attention and heartiest sympathy yesterday, and the result was a performance of the three compositions which was technically and tonally of highest worth. Sir Edward himself seemed genuinely pleased and his assertion after the concert that the ‘work of the Orchestra surpassed all his fondest expectations’ evidently was the expression of his true feeling.”
Sir Georg Solti, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s eighth music director, recorded the Enigma Variations on May 15, 1974, at Medinah Temple for London Records.
During the summer of 1883, Thomas visited Europe and according to his Memoirs—edited by his widow, Rose Fay Thomas—the conductor, “had met, in Munich, a young and almost unknown composer, one Richard Strauss, who has 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.” Thomas kept that promise and in New York in December 1884, he led the world premiere of the Second Symphony in F minor—the first music of Richard Strauss to be performed in the United States. Strauss would later send new scores, and Thomas introduced several works to the United States with the Orchestra, including Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Quixote, along with Ein Heldenleben, first performed in Chicago on March 9, 1900.
Near the end of his first season as sixth music director, Fritz Reiner made his first recordings with the Orchestra for RCA. In Orchestra Hall on March 6, 1954, they recorded Strauss’s Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome and Ein Heldenleben, with violin solos performed by then-concertmaster John Weicher. Reiner’s CSO recordings of music by Strauss have never been out of print, and in 2013, Sony re-issued Reiner’s complete CSO catalog on RCA, a boxed set of sixty-three CDs.
TCHAIKOVSKY Final Waltz and Apotheosis from The Nutcracker, Op. 71
Morton Gould, conductor
Recorded by RCA in Orchestra Hall, January 1966
Thomas gave the U.S. premiere of a suite from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker on October 22, 1892, on the first concert of the Orchestra’s second season. The program note described Tchaikovsky as the “composer, who, in his fifth symphony, has led us into the highest realms of art and stirred our very soul,” and the note described the selections from the ballet as “miniature pictures painted with infinite grace and care,” showing the composer, “in one of his playful and trifling moods.”
Morton Gould, a frequent guest conductor on Popular concerts in the 1960s, recorded selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker at Orchestra Hall on January 31, 1966, for RCA. A six-disc set of Gould’s complete recordings with the Orchestra was released by Sony in February 2016.
Arnold Schoenberg composed his Five Pieces for Orchestra in 1909, and they were first performed at a Proms concert in London on September 3, 1912, with Sir Henry Wood conducting. Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra introduced the work to the U.S. on October 31, 1913.
Schoenberg, in a letter to Richard Strauss in July 1909, admitted that the Five Pieces are “absolutely not symphonic, completely the opposite, no architecture, no structure. Only a kaleidoscopic, uninterrupted changing of colors, rhythms, and moods.”
On February 8 and 9, 1934, a few months after moving to the United States, Arnold Schoenberg appeared as guest conductor, leading the Orchestra in his Transfigured Night, Five Pieces for Orchestra, and his orchestration of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E-flat major (Saint Anne). In the Chicago Daily News, Eugene Stinson described the composer as “the most eminent, the most obscure, the most debated, and the most explained of any figure in twentieth-century art” and the Five Pieces as an “extraordinarily intellectual [yet] essentially subjective and emotional expression of himself in music.”
Needless to say, Schoenberg’s Five Pieces were difficult for Chicago audiences not only at the U.S. premiere but also under the composer’s baton. In the Chicago American, Herman Devries described them as “grim and repellent studies in dissonance, which, despite their amazing orchestration, do not invite repeated hearing.” Edward Moore in the Chicago Tribune admitted that “they did not always make sense to me. There was no particular logic about their beginning or ending. They just ran along for a time and then stopped. But almost continuously they were saying something pleasant. And there is no question but that Mr. Schoenberg has an unfailing sense of what makes attractive orchestral color. It may be winsome, it may be grotesque, but he never misses his effect.”
This article also appears here.
According to Theodore Thomas’s Memoirs, “While in Europe [during the summer of 1882] 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 the young Strauss to let him have the other three movements, promising to bring out the whole work in a concert with the [New York] Philharmonic.” Thomas kept his word and gave the premiere of Strauss’s Symphony no. 2 in F minor on December 13, 1884, thus introducing Strauss to America.
Their friendship blossomed, and as a result, Thomas introduced several of Strauss’s tone poems to Chicago audiences, including the U.S. premiere of Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks on November 15, 1895. The reviewer for the Chicago Record reported, “Strauss’s rondo is a tour de force, astonishing at every measure, irresistibly droll, full of quaint medieval quips and cranks, teeming with clever mimicry and brilliant instrumental pantomime, and, above all, a masterpiece of orchestral art. The intricacy of the score is extraordinary, the ingenious devices resorted to for effect amazing, and the humor and wholesome buffoonery of the piece unique. Nothing could have been chosen better to illustrate the immense resources of the young composer and the fertility of his genius. What is more, the piece gave the Orchestra an opportunity to display its consummate training, and it may be said that music never was played in Chicago with finer technical nicety or with more of the spirit of a composer.”
Thomas also led the Orchestra in the U.S. premieres of Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra on February 5, 1897; Don Quixote on January 6, 1899; and Ein Heldenleben on March 9, 1900.
This article also appears here.
On March 31, 1904, Theodore Thomas introduced his friend Richard Strauss to the Chicago Orchestra at the Auditorium Theatre. Strauss went straight to work, rehearsing his Also sprach Zarathustra, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, and Death and Transfiguration. According to William Lines Hubbard’s account in the Chicago Tribune, halfway through the rehearsal he paused to say: “Gentlemen, it is my pleasure and my pride to be able to direct today so faultless an orchestra and to hear my music played in a manner so completely in accordance with my every wish. Your organization is a model in all ways, and I feel proud to be associated with an orchestra which has been brought to such perfection by a man whom I have honored and wished to know for full twenty years—Mr. Thomas.”
Following the Friday matinee performance on April 1, Hubbard wrote: “That master musician of modern music, that wonderful combination of poet, painter, and composer, the man to whom pictures are audible and tones visible—Richard Strauss— appeared at the Auditorium yesterday afternoon, and for over two hours some 3,700 persons sat beneath the spell his great gifts weave and listened to the tonal tales they enable him to tell. . . . The Orchestra was on its mettle, and a more superb technical presentment of the intensely difficult scores than it gave could not be desired. Every wish of the conductor was instantly responded to, and Dr. Strauss’s pleasure in the work done by the men was unmistakable.”
Strauss’s wife Pauline also appeared on the program as soprano soloist in several of his songs, and for her first entrance, she was escorted both by her husband and Thomas. Hubbard was kind in his critique of her performance. “Her singing proved interesting and satisfactory from an interpretive viewpoint. The voice has lost its richness in the upper middle register and in the high tones, but it is of no inconsiderable beauty in the lower half, and it is used throughout with so much of discretion and understanding that it seems adequate for all that is undertaken. The seven songs heard yesterday were beautifully interpreted, and the exquisite accompaniments played as they were in finest style by the Orchestra, made the performance of them in high measure gratifying.”
Strauss returned to Chicago to lead a special concert at the Auditorium Theatre on
December 18, 1921. He again conducted the Orchestra in his Also sprach Zarathustra, Death and Transfiguration, and the love scene from his opera Feuersnot, along with several songs—“Morgen!,” “Wiegenlied,” “Freundliche Vision,” and “Ständchen”—with soprano Claire Dux.
On March 6, 1954, Fritz Reiner and the Orchestra recorded together for the first time. For RCA at Orchestra Hall, they committed to disc two works by Richard Strauss: the Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome and Ein Heldenleben.
“A single condenser microphone, noted for its uniform response and broad pick-up, was suspended approximately sixteen feet above the conductor’s podium to secure the exact balance desired by Dr. Reiner between instrumental choirs of the Orchestra,” according to the liner notes from the original RCA release. “At the time this recording was made, a special microphone set-up was used to make a separate stereophonic recording of the same performance as part of RCA Victor’s continuing policy of development and research in recording techniques.”
“Reiner brought out the opulence of Strauss’s orchestration but never wallowed indulgently in the more episodic moments; instrumental textures were clarified so that transparency of sound was paramount; and climaxes were carefully prepared so that they did not appear bombastic. To successfully balance such a large orchestra while projecting seemingly spontaneous playing was a notable achievement,” wrote Kenneth Morgan in his biography Fritz Reiner: Maestro and Martinet. “Ein Heldenleben, to a critic for Harper’s Magazine [in November 1954], confirmed Reiner as probably the greatest Strauss conductor alive: ‘the razor’s edge combination of lean, hard clarity on a vast orchestral scale and perilously high tension emotionalism is exactly suited to his disciplined directing.’ ”
Over the next eight years, Reiner and the Orchestra recorded several of Strauss’s works: Also sprach Zarathustra and Don Juan (twice each), a suite from Der Bürger als Edelmann, Burleske with pianist Byron Janis, Don Quixote with principal viola Milton Preves and cellist Antonio Janigro, selections from Elektra and Salome with soprano Inge Borkh, waltzes from Der Rosenkavalier, and Symphonia domestica.
This article also appears here.
According to the program note, the work was “‘conceived on a glorious spring day in the Valley of Andorra,’ and that it is ‘meant to suggest the Joy of Living in a balmy climate, under sunny skies, and amid surroundings in which the beauties of nature vie in interest with the remains and recollections of the great past of an enchanting country.'”
The reviewer in the Chicago Tribune was not quite impressed with the premiere of Elgar’s overture: “The novelty of the afternoon was the concert overture ‘In the South’ by Edward Elgar, which on this occasion had its first performance on this side of the Atlantic. Mr. [Walter] Damrosch is to give it its initial hearing in New York tomorrow night, but yesterday marked its premiere in this country. It is a work of unusual magnitude for a composition in the overture form, and the estimate here placed on it after a single hearing can of course be but impressional and subject to future revision. Twenty minutes are required for the performance of the overture and there are many things in the score which may prove clearer and more significant when more familiar. Yesterday the impression received was that the music has nothing in particular to do with Italy or the south. . . . It was not as successful cacophony as Richard Strauss when at his most daring produces, but it will suffice. . . . The performance by Mr. Thomas and the orchestra was a splendid one, each man giving of his best powers, musical, temperamental, and technical.” The complete review is here.
Less than three years later, Elgar himself fared much better, appearing with the Orchestra on a program of compositions all by living composers. The first half featured Vincent d’Indy‘s Wallenstein’s Camp, Alexander Glazunov‘s Spring from The Seasons, Frederick Converse‘s The Mystic Trumpeter, and Richard Strauss’s Love Scene from Feuersnot, all led by Frederick Stock. After intermission, Elgar took to the podium to lead his In the South (Alassio), Enigma Variations, and the first Pomp and Circumstance March.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the composer was greeted with “applause which compelled him to turn twice and bow his acknowledgements. . . . When the last number was ended the orchestra sounded a fanfare, and the audience remained applauding until Sir Edward had returned a second time to the center of the stage and bowed. It was an unusually spontaneous and hearty tribute to a man who has come to loom large in the musical world of today and in whom American music lovers take a kind of quasi-national pride. . . . Rarely has a musical lion impressed as so modest as did he yesterday.” The complete review is here.
Today we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Richard Strauss, a composer who has been a cornerstone to the performance history of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since our founding. At the invitation of our first music director—and a friend of the composer’s since the early 1880s—Theodore Thomas invited Strauss to guest conduct the Orchestra in 1904.
According to William Lines Hubbard‘s newspaper account in the Chicago Tribune on March 31, 1904, during the Orchestra’s rehearsal at the Auditorium Theatre the previous day, Thomas introduced the composer/conductor with whom he would share the podium that week: “Gentlemen, Dr. Richard Strauss.”
Strauss went straight to work, leading the Orchestra in three of his well-known tone poems: Tod und Verklärung, Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, and Also sprach Zarathustra. Halfway through the rehearsal, he paused to say: “Gentlemen, it is my pleasure and my pride to be able to direct today so faultless an orchestra and to hear my music played in a manner so completely in accordance with my every wish. Your organization is a model in all ways, and I feel proud to be associated with an orchestra which has been brought to such perfection by a man whom I have honored and wished to know for full twenty years—Mr. Thomas.”
Following the Friday matinee performance on April 1, Hubbard wrote: “That master musician of modern music, that wonderful combination of poet, painter, and composer, the man to whom pictures are audible and tones visible—Richard Strauss—appeared at the Auditorium yesterday afternoon, and for over two hours some 3,700 persons sat beneath the spell his great gifts weave and listened to the tonal tales they enable him to tell.”
The concert opened with Thomas leading the prelude to Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and the Orchestra “gave a performance of the splendid number such as has rarely been heard from them, and their record is a brilliant one.”
Following the Wagner, Thomas escorted Strauss to the stage, accompanied by “a rousing fanfare from the whole orchestra and applause loud and long continued expressed to the celebrated conductor-composer Chicago’s cordial welcome. He bowed repeatedly, and then raised his baton for the first measures of Thus Spake Zarathustra.”
“The orchestra was on its mettle, and a more superb technical presentment of the intensely difficult scores than it gave could not be desired. Every wish of the conductor was instantly responded to, and Dr. Strauss’ pleasure in the work done by the men was unmistakable.”
Of course, Chicago audiences were familiar with all three orchestral works. Thomas first led Tod und Verklärung in February 1895, and he conducted the U.S. premieres of Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche in November 1895 and Also sprach Zarathustra in February 1897. Hubbard continued: “Interpretatively, the treatment of the works was not widely different from that to which we are accustomed when they are given under Mr. Thomas’ baton. There was a deepening of color here and there, the raising into prominence of certain details of the score, and a giving of all with an exaltation and enthusiasm that made the performances inspiriting and uplifting. Certain portions of the works which heretofore have been unclear in meaning took on clarity and beauty, but this may have been due not only to the remarkably finished and brilliant performances but also to the fact that the works were heard again—for each rehearing of a Strauss composition brings increase of understanding and fuller appreciation of its beauties.”
Strauss’s wife Pauline also appeared on the program, as soprano soloist in several of his songs. For her first entrance, escorted both by her husband and Thomas, she wore a gown that was “an elaborate creation of creamy lace and silk, which was distinctly becoming to her.”
Hubbard was kind in his critique of her performance. “Her singing proved interesting and satisfactory from an interpretive viewpoint. The voice has lost its richness in the upper middle register and in the high tones, but it is of no inconsiderable beauty in the lower half, and it is used throughout with so much of discretion and understanding that it seems adequate for all that is undertaken. The seven songs heard yesterday were beautifully interpreted, and the exquisite accompaniments played as they were in finest style by the orchestra, made the performance of them in high measure gratifying.”
The complete program notes for the performance of the Strauss compositions are here.
A postscript . . .
The back page of the April 1904 program book includes an endorsement by Strauss of Steinway pianos (then sold exclusively by Lyon & Healy in Chicago). The composer wrote: “The superb tonal qualities and perfection of mechanism of your instruments have had such a fascinating effect on my musical feelings that for the first time in many years I am drawn irresistibly again and again to my Steinway to indulge in improvising and musical inspirations, although I lay no claim to being a pianist. In accompanying my wife in her song recitals it is a constant source of pleasure to me to note the remarkable sustaining and blending qualities of the tone of your piano, which certainly are a great aid and benefit to the singer.”
“Munich’s favorite son was Richard Strauss. I met him only three times, but he had a great influence on my professional life. Strauss had spent the immediate postwar years in Switzerland, where he composed his Four Last Songs, but he returned to his home in Garmisch, in the Bavarian Alps, shortly before his eighty-fifth birthday, on June 11, 1949. In honor of his birthday and homecoming, the Staatsoper put on a new production of Der Rosenkavalier. Strauss, whose health was frail, declined to attend any of the public performances, but he let us know that he would attend the dress rehearsal.”
“I conducted at his funeral. As he had requested in his will, the music was the final trio from Der Rosenkavalier. Marianne Schech sang the part of the Marschallin, Maud Cunitz was Oktavian, and Gerda Sommerschuh was Sophie. One after the other, each singer broke down in tears and dropped out of the ensemble, but they recovered themselves and we all ended together.”
“A few years ago, when I was conducting Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Salzburg Festival, I spoke with his grandson. As we sat talking in a friend’s garden, he told me that after the war his grandfather had despaired for the future of German opera houses, most of which were in ruins and the rest of which were an artistic and administrative shambles. Strauss thought this was the end—and in a sense it was, because the old German lyric-theater tradition died out within the following decade. But after my visit to Garmisch, he told his family, ‘This young man gives me a little hope.’ I hadn’t known this and I was of course delighted to hear it forty-five years later. I think Strauss must have sensed my enthusiasm and determination to do as much as I could, as well as I could. But I regret very much that my time with him was so short, because his advice has been a guide for me throughout my entire career.”
Text excerpted from Memoirs by Sir Georg Solti. And the attached YouTube video is not the property of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association. We just thought it was interesting.