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Heroes of the Marne 117th Infantry Regiment, Georges Scott, France, 1915

The poster at left, from the Pritzker Military Museum & Library collections, shows French soldiers who fought in the First Battle of the Marne between September 6 and 12, 1914.

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In the years leading up to the United States entering World War I, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra gave a number of premieres, featured prominent guest soloists, and made its first commercial recording. Additionally, Orchestra Hall hosted an extraordinary variety of events, several of which are illustrated below (all events in Orchestra Hall unless otherwise noted).

Albert Spalding (Moffett Chicago photo) and Arnold Schoenberg (Egon Schiele, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

On December 8, 1911, Albert Spalding is soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the U.S. premiere of Sir Edward Elgar’s Violin Concerto. Frederick Stock conducts.

Albert Capellani’s film Les misérables (parts 1 and 2)—starring Henry Krauss as Jean Valjean and billed as “the greatest motion picture ever made”—is screened from August 21 through October 10, 1913.

Frederick Stock leads the Orchestra in the U.S. premiere of Arnold Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra on October 31, 1913. (On February 8 and 9, 1934, the composer returns to Chicago to lead the work as guest conductor.)

Helen Keller (Library of Congress)

On February 5, 1914, the North End Woman’s Club presents Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller in a demonstration of the technique used by Sullivan to teach Keller—blind and deaf since she was nineteen months old—how to speak.

William Henry Hackney presents a Colored Composers’ Concert featuring music by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Harry Burleigh, J. Rosamond Johnson, Will Marion Cook, and R. Nathaniel Dett on June 3, 1914. The Chicago Defender article (from June 6, 1914) describing the concert is here.

The Orchestra gives the U.S. premiere of Gigues from Claude Debussy’s Images for Orchestra on November 13, 1914. Frederick Stock conducts.

Apollo Club’s Messiah and Edith Lees with Havelock Ellis (Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science)

The Apollo Club of Chicago presents its annual performances of Handel’s Messiah at the Auditorium Theatre on December 27 and 28, 1914. Harrison M. Wild leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Edith Lees, author and the openly lesbian wife of Havelock Ellis, gives a lecture on February 4, 1915, advocating for the general acceptance of “deviants” (i.e. homosexuals). Offering Oscar Wilde and Michelangelo as examples of what the “abnormal” could accomplish, this is one of the earliest public calls for the acceptance of gay people.

On March 5, 1915, Frederick Stock leads the Orchestra in the U.S. premiere of Alexander Scriabin’s Prometheus.

Stock’s Festival Prologue

Celebrating the opening of the Orchestra’s twenty-fifth season on October 15, 1915, Frederick Stock leads the world premiere of his Festival Prologue, which he had written while in California for the Panama–Pacific International Exposition. Stock considered the work “an expression of his esteem not only for that noble band of artists which for a quarter of a century has uplifted and upheld the musical culture of our city, but also for those who have permitted themselves to be thus uplifted and upheld—the music-loving people of Chicago.”

Amy Beach and Percy Grainger (Library of Congress)

On February 4 and 5, 1916, Amy Beach is soloist in her Piano Concerto in C-sharp minor. Frederick Stock conducts.

Percy Grainger is soloist in the world premiere of John Alden Carpenter’s Concertino for Piano and Orchestra on March 10, 1916. Frederick Stock conducts.

Otterström’s American Negro Suite

On December 15, 1916, Frederick Stock leads the Orchestra in the world premiere of Thorwald Otterström’s American Negro Suite, incorporating melodies from Slave Songs of the United States—the first and most influential collection of African American music and spirituals, published in 1867.

Bengali poet and the first non-European recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Sir Rabindranath Tagore reads from his own works on December 19, 1916.

On May 1, 1916, Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra record for the first time (in an unidentified Chicago location): Mendelssohn’s Wedding March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Columbia Graphophone Company.

Violinist Maud Powell and pianist Arthur Loesser (half-brother of Broadway composer Frank Loesser) appear in recital on February 18, 1917.

On March 25, 1917, Walter Damrosch leads the New York Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Efrem Zimbalist and Brünnhilde’s Immolation from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung with Julia Claussen.

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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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thomas-at-desk

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.

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BRAHMS Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Recorded by Erato in Orchestra Hall, September 1993

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.

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WAGNER Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde
Artur Rodzinski, conductor
Recorded by RCA in Orchestra Hall, December 1947

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.

elgar-enigma

ELGAR Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36 (Enigma)
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Recorded by London in Medinah Temple, May 1974

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.

reiner-heldenleben
STRAUSS Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded by RCA in Orchestra Hall, March 1954

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.

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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.

In May 2016, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra celebrated 100 years of recording.

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April 5 and 6, 1907

April 5 and 6, 1907

On April 5 and 6, 1907, Frederick Stock programmed a concert of “compositions by living writers,” including music from five countries. The first half opened with Vincent d’Indy’s Wallenstein’s Camp (France), Alexander Glazunov’s Spring (Russia), Frederick Converse’s The Mystic Trumpeter (United States), and the love scene from Richard Strauss’s opera Feuersnot (Germany). The second half of the concert was dedicated to England, with Sir Edward Elgar on the podium leading his overture In the South (Alassio), Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), and the first Pomp and Circumstance March.

“The patrons of the Thomas Orchestra paid willing and hearty tribute to Sir Edward Elgar yesterday afternoon in Orchestra Hall,” wrote William Lines Hubbard in the Chicago Daily Tribune. “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 Edward Elgar bio

Chicago audiences were well versed in Elgar’s catalog, as by then the Orchestra had given the U.S. premieres of several of his works: the Cockaigne Overture, Enigma Variations, the first two Pomp and Circumstance marches, Incidental Music and Funeral March from Grania and Diarmid, and In the South under Theodore Thomas; the Froissart Overture and Violin Concerto (with Albert Spalding) under Stock; and The Dream of Gerontius under Harrison M. Wild, then director of the Apollo Musical Club.

In 1911, England’s Sheffield Choir embarked on a six-month world tour, and Elgar joined them for several performances in the U.S. and Canada. Their tour included three concerts in Chicago collaborating with the Orchestra, the second of which featured Elgar on the podium leading The Dream of Gerontius.

This article also appears here.

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

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