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In May 1904, Chicago Orchestra founder and first music director Theodore Thomas led his final Cincinnati May Festival concerts at Music Hall. Since founding the festival in 1873, Thomas had regularly led concerts, inviting his Chicago Orchestra after its founding in 1891.

Cover of the 1904 Cincinnati May Festival program book

Cover of the 1904 Cincinnati May Festival program book

Programming for the five-concert festival was nothing short of epic and included orchestral works, opera excerpts, and large-scale choral works. The Orchestra had been expanded to over one hundred and ten players and the May Festival Chorus numbered over 500. And for the final concert, Thomas had chosen Beethoven’s Missa solemnis and the Ninth Symphony.

According to Philo Adams Otis in his book The Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Its Organization, Growth, and Development, 1891–1924: “The program was of the highest order . . . But with due regard to soloists and chorus, the strength of the Festival, to my mind, was Mr. Thomas and the Orchestra. Never have I heard the Beethoven Eighth Symphony played as at the first matinée! What a performance he gave us Friday evening of Death and Transfiguration!”

And in Memoirs of Theodore Thomas (edited by his widow Rose Fay Thomas): “The May Festival of 1904 brought the work of Thomas to a close in Cincinnati, and its programmes were of such a caliber that it was the artistic climax, not only of the long series of festivals in that city, but, perhaps, even of Thomas’ own career. One colossal work was piled on another, regardless of everything but the one object of making this festival surpass, in standard and perfection, all that had preceded it. . . . the chorus, under the able and musicianly training of its director, Mr. Edwin W. Glover, was in splendid condition, and Thomas had nothing to correct about its performance. . . . The performances at the Cincinnati Festival were, therefore, amongst the very finest that he ever gave in his life, and no one in his audience had the slightest idea of the strain under which he worked.”

The complete concert programs are below.

First concert

Wednesday evening, May 11, 1904, 7:30 p.m.
BACH Suite No. 2 in B Minor, BWV 1067
Alfred Quensel, flute
BACH Mass in B Minor, BWV 232
Agnes Nicholls, soprano
Ernestine Schumann-Heink, contralto
William Green, tenor
Robert Watkin-Mills, bass
Wilhelm Middelschulte, organ
May Festival Chorus
Edwin W. Glover, director
(an intermission followed the conclusion of the Gloria)

Second concert

Thursday afternoon, May 12, 1904, 2:00 p.m.
MOZART Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major, K. 543
MOZART Nie wird mich Hymen (Parto, ma tu ben mio) from La clemenza di Tito, K. 621
Ernestine Schumann-Heink, contralto
Joseph Schreurs, clarinet obbligato
SCHUBERT Entr’acte No. 1 from Rosamunde, D. 797
WEBER Ocean, Thou Mighty Monster from Oberon
Agnes Nicholls, soprano
ELGAR Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36 (Enigma)
ELGAR Pomp and Circumstance Marches No. 2 in A Minor and No. 1 in D Major, Op. 39
Intermission
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93
LISZT The Three Gypsies (Die drei Zigeuner)
Ernestine Schumann-Heink, contralto
Leopold Kramer, violin obbligato
WAGNER Bacchanale from Tannhäuser
WAGNER Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde
Agnes Nicholls, soprano

Third concert

Friday evening, May 13, 1904, 7:30 p.m.
ELGAR Incidental Music and Funeral March from Grania and Diarmid, Op. 42
ELGAR The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38
Muriel Foster, contralto
William Green, tenor
Robert Watkin-Mills, bass
Wilhelm Middelschulte, organ
May Festival Chorus
Edwin W. Glover, director
Intermission
STRAUSS Death and Transfiguration, Op. 24
BEETHOVEN Abscheulicher! from Fidelio, Op. 72
Agnes Nicholls, soprano
BERLIOZ Imperial Hymn, Op. 26
May Festival Chorus
Edwin W. Glover, director

Fourth concert

Saturday afternoon, May 14, 1904, 1:30 p.m.
GLUCK Overture and Divinités du Styx from Alceste
Ernestine Schumann-Heink, contralto
BRUCKNER Symphony No. 9 in D Minor (Unfinished)
BRAHMS Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53
Ernestine Schumann-Heink, contralto
Men of the May Festival Chorus
Edwin W. Glover, director
Intermission
WAGNER Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
ELGAR In Haven, Where Corals Lie, and The Swimmer from Sea Pictures, Op. 37
Muriel Foster, contralto
STRAUSS Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Op. 28
STRAUSS Hymnus, Op. 33 No. 3
Muriel Foster, contralto
TCHAIKOVSKY 1812 Overture, Op. 49

Fifth concert

Saturday evening, May 14, 1904, 7:30 p.m.
BEETHOVEN Missa solemnis in D Major, Op. 123
Intermission
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Agnes Nicholls, soprano
Ernestine Schumann-Heink, contralto
William Green, tenor
Robert Watkin-Mills, bass-baritone
May Festival Chorus
Edwin W. Glover, director

This article previously appeared here

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists in Beethoven’s Missa solemnis on September 24, 25, and 26, 2020.

On March 12, 2020, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra celebrates the centennial of orchestral and chamber musician, soloist with countless ensembles, and lifelong teacher and coach Ray Still (1920–2014), a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s oboe section for forty years, serving as principal for thirty-nine years.

Ray Still - 1950s

Born on March 12, 1920, in Elwood, Indiana, Still began playing clarinet as a teenager. During the Great Depression, his family moved to California, where he was able to regularly hear performances of the Los Angeles Philharmonic as a volunteer usher. After hearing the masterful technique and elegant phrasing of Henri de Busscher—principal oboe in Los Angeles from 1920 until 1948—Still switched to the oboe.

Still graduated from Los Angeles High School and at the age of nineteen joined the Kansas City Philharmonic as second oboe in 1939, where he was a member until 1941 (and also where he met and married Mary Powell Brock in 1940). For the next two years, he studied electrical engineering, served in the reserve US Army Signal Corps, and worked nights at the Douglas Aircraft factory. During the height of World War II, Still joined the US Army in September 1943 and served until June of 1946.

Immediately following his honorable discharge from the Army, Still enrolled at the Juilliard School where he studied with Robert Bloom. The following year in 1947, he began a two-year tenure as principal oboe with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of William Steinberg. Beginning in 1949, Still was principal oboe of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for four years.

Fritz Reiner and the newest members of the Orchestra in the fall of 1953. From left to right: Nathan Snader, violin; Juan Cuneo, violin; Joseph Golan, violin; Alan Fuchs, horn; Sheppard Lehnhoff, viola; Ray Still, oboe; Sheppard Lehnhoff, viola; and János Starker, cello.

Fritz Reiner and the newest members of the Orchestra in the fall of 1953. From left to right: Nathan Snader, violin; Juan Cuneo, violin; Joseph Golan, violin; Alan Fuchs, horn; Ray Still, oboe; Sheppard Lehnhoff, viola; and János Starker, cello.

In the fall of 1953, Still auditioned for Fritz Reiner, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s recently named music director. Reiner invited him to be the Orchestra’s second-chair oboe and the following year promoted him to the principal position. Still would serve the Orchestra in that capacity—under music directors Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim—until his retirement in 1993.

Still appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as soloist on countless occasions, including the Orchestra’s first performances of works for solo oboe by Albinoni, Bach, Barber, Mozart, Richard Strauss, and Telemann. His extensive discography includes Bach’s Wedding Cantata on RCA with Kathleen Battle as soloist and James Levine conducting, and Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C minor on Deutsche Grammophon with Claudio Abbado conducting.

Still performed with numerous other ensembles including the Juilliard, Vermeer, and Fine Arts string quartets; he recorded with Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, and Lynn Harrell; and regularly appeared at many music festivals, including those at Aspen, Stratford, and Marlboro, among others.

A tireless educator, Still taught at the Peabody Institute from 1949 until 1953, Roosevelt University from 1954 until 1957, and at Northwestern University for forty-three years until 2003. Throughout his tenure with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he coached members of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. At the invitation of Seiji Ozawa, he spent the summers of 1968 and 1970 as a visiting member of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra in Tokyo, where he held coaching sessions for the wind section, conducted chamber music classes, and lectured at Toho University.

Ray Still - 1970s

Following his retirement from Northwestern, he moved to Annapolis, Maryland—where he continued to give master classes and lessons—with his beloved wife Mary and son James to live near his daughter Susan. In 2013, he moved to Saxtons River and later Woodstock, Vermont, where he lived near Susan, his granddaughter Madeline, and her two daughters. Still died in Woodstock, on March 12, 2014, surrounded by family. He was 94 and was survived by his daughter and son-in-law, Mimi and Kent Dixon of Springfield, Ohio; his son and daughter-in-law, Tom and Sally Still of Big Timber, Montana; his daughter and son-in-law, Susan Still and Peter Bergstrom of Saxtons River, Vermont; six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death in 2012 by Mary, his wife of almost 72 years, and his son James Still.

When interviewed for an article in the Chicago Tribune in 1988, Still was asked why he thought the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was the world’s greatest. His reply: “It’s like a great baseball team. We have a blend of youth and experience, and they work very well together. A lot of orchestras have this. The thing that makes the Chicago Symphony Orchestra very unusual is the tremendous—I hate to use the word—discipline. There is a certain pride, and I think it goes back to the days of Theodore Thomas, the founder. There is something about the tradition of this Orchestra and the level the main body of musicians has come to expect of itself. There’s just a longer line of tradition.”

The Still family has recently updated www.raystill.com, which now includes a new edition of his book Playing the Oboe, along with a gallery of photos and a complete discography.

Portions of this article previously appeared here.

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.

To commemorate Ludwig van Beethoven‘s 249th birthday, we’re sharing a new video that describes one of the most precious artifacts in the Theodore Thomas collection in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Rosenthal Archives—a bronze life mask of one of music’s greatest composers.

Beethoven was the favorite composer of Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s founder and first music director. Thomas programmed Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on the Chicago Orchestra’s very first concerts in October 1891 and for the first concert in Orchestra Hall when it opened in December 1904. Among Thomas’s collection, there are four marked scores of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, along with this life mask of the composer.

The mask is cast in bronze from an original mold made in 1812 by Franz Klein, a sculptor who had been commissioned by Nannette and Andreas Streicher, Viennese piano makers and good friends of Beethoven.

Life mask of Ludwig van Beethoven in front of Franz Breitkopf’s portrait of Theodore Thomas on the eighth floor of the Richard & Helen Thomas Club at Symphony Center (Todd Rosenberg photo)

So, here we are in 1812. Politically, this was a time of huge uncertainty: Napoleon had failed in his invasion of Russia and war was engulfing Europe. Vienna was extremely tense and Beethoven was its most famous citizen, even though the composer was nearly deaf and had stopped performing in public.

By then, he had finished some of his pivotal works: the Emperor piano concerto, the Archduke Trio, and the Seventh and Eighth symphonies. Also, it is believed that he wrote the letters to his “immortal beloved” during the summer of 1812, and he was about to enter into a time of declining health, strained relationships with his family, and intense personal isolation.

So, this mask is the face of a man who was leaving behind the vision that made him the most famous musician alive and a few years later would produce some of the most profound music ever written.

But back to the artifact. For the mold, the technique Klein used involved lubricating the skin with oil, placing a straw in each nostril, and applying a thick liquid plaster over the subject’s entire face. The mold was used to create a bust, and the original remained in the possession of the Streicher family until the early part of the twentieth century, when it was given to the Historical Art Museum of the city of Vienna.

Life mask of Ludwig van Beethoven (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Several copies of the life mask and the sculpture were produced later in the nineteenth century, and this bronze version of the mask in Thomas’s collection is likely one of those copies.

Since Beethoven rarely had the patience to sit for portraits, artists would frequently look to Klein’s sculpture as reference instead. Another mold was taken two days after he died in 1827, of course, a death mask, but this mask remains the most accurate likeness of the composer during his lifetime.

Special thanks to Rachel Aka for video editing and Todd Rosenberg for contemporary photography.

In 1891, Theodore Thomas founded the Chicago Orchestra and served as its first music director for nearly fourteen years. But in 1864, he also founded an eponymous ensemble—the Theodore Thomas Orchestra—and for nearly three decades, they traveled around the United States, giving concerts from coast to coast.

Schedule for the Theodore Thomas Orchestra’s 1872-73 tour (* indicates concerts with Rubinstein and Wieniawski)

One of Thomas’s orchestra’s most extensive tours—with stops in Connecticut; Illinois; Indiana; Kentucky; Maine; Maryland; Michigan; Missouri; New York; Ohio; Pennsylvania; Rhode Island; Washington, D.C.; and Wisconsin—was given between September 1872 and April 1873, culminating in a series of concerts in New York’s Steinway Hall. And for the last leg of the tour, Thomas was joined by pianist Anton Rubinstein and violinist Henryk Wieniawski.

“These great artists were the leading exponents of their respective instruments,” wrote Rose Fay Thomas in her husband’s Memoirs, “and Thomas knew that the houses would be sold out wherever they played. Consequently, he was able to make the programs without any consideration for the box office, and he was not slow to take advantage of it . . . It was the first time in his life that Thomas had permitted himself to make a series of programs exactly in accordance with his artistic standards . . . and this two weeks of great performance, in association with two of the most renowned executant musicians who ever came to America, was an inspiration to him such as he had never before enjoyed.”

Henryk Wieniawski

Shortly before ending the tour in New York, three concerts were given in Chicago. The programs were as follows:

March 17, 1873, Michigan Avenue Baptist Church
BEETHOVEN Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b
RUBINSTEIN Piano Concerto No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 70
Anton Rubinstein, piano
MENDELSSOHN First Movement from Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Henryk Wieniawski, violin
LISZT Les préludes
HANDEL Air and Variations from Suite No. 5 in E Major (The Harmonious Blacksmith), MOZART Rondo, BACH Gigue, and SCARLATTI Sonate
Anton Rubinstein, piano
ERNST Fantasie brillante, Op. 11 (Otello)
Henryk Wieniawski, violin
WEBER Overture to Der Freischütz

March 18, 1873, Union Park Congregational Church
CHERUBINI Overture to Les deux journées
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 (Emperor)
Anton Rubinstein, piano
BERLIOZ Part 2 from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 17
WIENIAWSKI Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 22
Henryk Wieniawski, violin
SCHUMANN Carnaval, Op. 9
Anton Rubinstein, piano
WAGNER Huldigungsmarsch

Anton Rubinstein

“Those who had the good fortune to hear [Rubinstein in the Emperor concerto] will long remember it, not only as one of the grandest of Beethoven’s compositions, but as the most superb musical performance ever heard in this city,” wrote the critic in the Chicago Tribune. “Wieniawski created a perfect furore by his masterly playing of his own violin concerto, which culminated in a very emphatic encore, to which replied with Paganini’s Carnival of Venice, which was such a marvel of technique that it called out even the loudest applause of the orchestra itself. . . . As a whole, the concert was the best ever given in this city.”

March 19, 1873, Aiken’s Theatre
SCHUMANN Overture to Genoveva, Op. 81
LISZT Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major
Anton Rubinstein, piano
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Henryk Wieniawski, violin
BEETHOVEN Finale from The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43
WAGNER Overture to Rienzi
MENDELSSOHN Songs Without Words and CHOPIN Nocturne and Ballad
Anton Rubinstein, piano
WIENIAWSKI Legende, Op. 17 and Airs russes, Op. 6
Henryk Wieniawski, violin
LISZT Hungarian March

In a letter to William Steinway of Steinway & Sons (who had sponsored the tour), Wieniawski wrote, “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. I have been in Munich, Brussels, Amsterdam, London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, and all the great European art centers, but never in my life have I found an orchestra and a conductor so in sympathy with one anther, or who followed me as the most gifted accompanist can follow a singer on the piano.”

Portions of this article previously appeared here.

Ray Chen is soloist in Wieniawski’s First Violin Concerto on December 5, 6, 7, and 10, 2019. John Storgårds conducts.

March 31, April 1, 2, and 3, 1873, concerts at Steinway Hall in New York

March 31 and April 1, 1873

April 2 and 3, 1873

Theodore Thomas in the 1860s

There are conflicting accounts as to when Theodore Thomas—the Chicago Orchestra’s founder and first music director—made his debut as a conductor. Mostly self-taught on the violin, as a young teenager he toured the U.S. on his own, concertizing as a soloist. Returning to New York in the early 1850s, he performed as a member and leader of several theater, opera, and concert orchestras, working with Karl Eckert and Louis Jullien.

The name of nineteen-year-old Thomas first appeared on the roster of the New York Philharmonic Society at the beginning of its twelfth season on November 26, 1853, and early the following year, he was formally invited to be a first violin in the ensemble.

Based on a variety of sources, his conducting debut might have been in 1858 for Bernard Ullmann’s opera company. In April 1859, he was a last-minute replacement for conductor Karl Anschütz at the Academy of Music in New York for a performance of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, and three weeks later, he was reengaged for the composer’s La favorite; both operas featured Marietta Gazzaniga (who had created the title role in Verdi’s Luisa Miller in 1849 and Lina in Stiffelio in 1850). On December 7, 1860, Thomas again replaced Anschütz at the Academy, leading Halévy’s La Juive, having never before seen the score.

First-chair horn part to Wagner’s Overture to The Flying Dutchman (Theodore Thomas collection)

However, Thomas’s debut on an orchestral podium is well documented. On May 13, 1862, the twenty-six-year-old conductor programmed and led his first symphony orchestra concert (with a few more than forty musicians) at Irving Hall in New York. The program featured no less than four U.S. premieres(*), including the overture to Wagner’s opera The Flying Dutchman:

  • *Wagner’s Overture to The Flying Dutchman
  • Apell’s Lord, Be Thou with Us with the Teutonia Choral Society
  • *Liszt’s orchestration of Schubert’s Fantasy in C major, D. 760 (Wanderer) with pianist William Mason
  • Rossini’s “Bel raggio lusinghier” from Semiramide with soprano Eugénie de Lussan
  • The first movement of Molique’s Violin Concerto no. 5 in A minor, op. 21 with violinist Bruno Wollenhaupt
  • *Moscheles’s Les contrastes, for two pianos (eight hands) with pianists Mills, Goldbeck, Hartmann, and Mason
  • Verdi’s “Ernani, Ernani involami” from Ernani with de Lussan
  • *Meyerbeer’s Overture and Incidental Music from Struensee with the Teutonia Choral Society and harp obbligato (not credited)

The reception of Wagner’s overture was mixed. The reviewer in the New York World wrote, “Most of the audience expected dreary wastes of dissonant harmony and were agreeably surprised to find not merely defined ideas but actual bits of melody.” However, the New York Daily Tribune disagreed: “Ghastly rumpus was its main feature.”

Cello part to Wagner’s Overture to The Flying Dutchman (Theodore Thomas collection)

According to Thomas’s biographer Ezra Schabas, Irving Hall was “only three-quarters full . . . there was speculation that the one-dollar admission price was too high.” Despite the attendance, the New York Daily Transcript hailed the concert as, “undoubtedly the most intellectual and artistic musical offering of the season.”

Two years later in 1864, Thomas founded his eponymous ensemble—the Theodore Thomas Orchestra—and toured throughout the country for the next twenty-five years. He also served as music director of both the Brooklyn Philharmonic (1866–1891) and the New York Philharmonic (1877–1891) before leading the Chicago Orchestra as its founder and first music director from 1891 until 1905.

Theodore Thomas’s autobiography is available here, and his Memoirs (edited by his widow, Rose Fay Thomas) here.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Wagner’s Overture to The Flying Dutchman on November 7, 9, and 12, 2019. 

Theodore Thomas in 1876 (J. Gurney & Son photo)

Wishing a very happy birthday to our founder and first music director Theodore Thomas on the occasion of his 184th birthday!

“During his musical career, Theodore Thomas conducted more than ten thousand concerts, and on a majority of his programs, he placed a work by Beethoven. Nevertheless, it was his invariable rule to study each work anew whenever he gave it, and he was so particular in regard to everything that concerned the music of Beethoven that I have known him to spend an entire evening verifying the opus number of a Beethoven quartet before he would copy it on a program for the printer.”

—excerpt from the preface to Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies by Theodore Thomas and Frederick Stock, edited by Rose Fay Thomas, 1930.

“The man who does not know Shakespeare is to be pitied; and the man who does not understand Beethoven and has not been under his spell has not half lived his life.”

—excerpt from the epigraph to Theodore Thomas: A Musical Autobiography by Theodore Thomas, edited by George P. Upton, 1905.

Happy, happy birthday!

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.

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

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