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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.

Chicago’s Welcome to Our Heroes, Kaufmann & Fabry, U.S., 1919

Looking south from the Art Institute, a parade of American soldiers marches up Michigan Avenue in this image from the Pritzker Military Museum & Library collections. Orchestra Hall—complete with movie marquee—can be seen at the far right.

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Chicago Tribune, August 25, 1920

The Nineteenth Amendment—giving women the right to vote—passes the House of Representatives on May 21 and the Senate on June 4, 1919, and is ratified on August 18, 1920. Chicago’s League of Women Voters soon parade through the city, encouraging women to register to vote in upcoming presidential election.

The influenza epidemic in Chicago first appeared at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station on September 8, 1918, and two weeks later, cases began appearing within the city. At the height of the epidemic in October, all of the city’s theaters—including Orchestra Hall—movie houses, and night schools were ordered closed, disrupting the CSO season for two weeks. By the epidemic’s end in November, over 50,000 cases of influenza and pneumonia had been reported. The article is here.

Prokofiev’s program biography, December 1918

During Sergei Prokofiev’s first visit to America, he appears with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on December 6 and 7, 1918, in two U.S. premieres: as soloist in his First Piano Concerto (under the baton of assistant conductor Eric DeLamarter) and conducting his Scythian Suite.

December 16 and 17, 1921

Prokofiev returns to Chicago and performs as soloist with the Orchestra on December 16 and 17, 1921, giving the world premiere of his Third Piano Concerto with Frederick Stock conducting. Two weeks later, he leads the Chicago Opera in the world premiere of his The Love for Three Oranges at the Auditorium Theatre on December 30.

On July 27, 1919, seventeen-year-old Eugene Williams, an African American, was swimming in Lake Michigan when he crossed the unofficial barrier at 29th Street between the city’s “black” and “white” beaches. A group of white men pelted stones at Williams and he soon drowned. Black eyewitnesses identified the aggressors when the police arrived, but they refused to arrest them. News of the event spread and violence soon erupted, primarily in the city’s South Side neighborhoods. Riots, shootings, and arson attacks continued through August 3, leaving nearly forty dead, over 500 injured, and more than 1,000 black families homeless. The article is here.

On October 9, 1919, the Cincinnati Reds clinch their first World Series victory, winning game eight against the Chicago White Sox, amid suspicions that the games had been fixed. A grand jury convenes in September 1920 and indicts eight White Sox players who, though acquitted in 1921, are permanently banned from the game. The article is here.

Chicago Tribune, January 15, 1920

The Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified on January 16, 1919 authorizing prohibition of the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcohol, beginning the following year. The amendment’s passing on December 17, 1917, was possible in part due to the wave of anti-German sentiment. Since many of the nation’s beer brewers were German, Prohibition became closely tied to American patriotism. The amendment is repealed on December 5, 1933, with the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment.

First Children’s Concert program and Anita Malkin

On November 20, 1919, Frederick Stock leads the first of a regular series of Children’s Concerts specifically designed to introduce young Chicagoans to music. After hearing several auditions from promising young instrumentalists, Stock chooses eight-year-old Anita Malkin to become the first youth soloist on a Children’s Concert, and she performs the first movement of Rode’s Violin Concerto with the Orchestra on February 12, 1920.

Sergei Rachmaninov (Kubey-Rembrandt Studio, Library of Congress) and Orchestra Hall in the summer of 1920

January 23 and 24, 1920, Sergei Rachmaninov is soloist in his Third Piano Concerto. Frederick Stock conducts.

During the summer months, Orchestra Hall frequently was used as a movie house, and in 1920, Paramount PicturesHumoresque—a silent film based on Fannie Hurst’s short story—enjoyed a multi-week run.

On December 31, 1920, Frederick Stock leads the Orchestra in the U.S. premiere of Gustav Holst’s The Planets, less than two months after the world premiere in London. Stock also leads the Orchestra in the U.S. premiere of Gustav Mahler’s Seventh Symphony on April 15, 1921.

Chicago American, December 19, 1921

On December 18, 1921, Richard Strauss returns to Chicago to lead the Orchestra in a special concert at the Auditorium Theatre. The program includes 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.

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A Time for Reflection—A Message of Peace—a companion exhibit curated by the Rosenthal Archives of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in collaboration with the Pritzker Military Museum & Library—will be on display in Symphony Center’s first-floor rotunda from October 2 through November 18, and the content also will be presented on CSO Sounds & Stories and the From the Archives blog.

This article also appears here. For event listings, please visit cso.org/armistice.

This exhibit is presented with the generous support of COL (IL) Jennifer N. Pritzker, IL ARNG (Retired), Founder and Chair, Pritzker Military Museum & Library, through the Pritzker Military Foundation.

Additional thanks to Shawn Sheehy and Jenna Harmon, along with the Arts Club of Chicago, Newberry Library, Poetry Foundation, and Ravinia Festival Association.

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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.”

For more than thirty years, Rachmaninov regularly appeared in Chicago, both as recitalist and with the Orchestra, performing as soloist in his four concertos and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and conducting his Third Symphony and choral symphony The Bells.

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.”

This article also appears here.

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Theodore Thomas

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