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The advance notice for the November 9, 1891, performance of Lohengrin included the names of producers, principal singers, conductor, and stage manager, but not the accompanying orchestra.

Following the third subscription week of its first season, the Chicago Orchestra (as we were then known) was in the pit of the Auditorium Theatre for performances by the Metropolitan Opera Company from November 9 until December 12, 1891, including three run-out performances at the Amphitheatre Auditorium in Louisville, Kentucky on December 7 and 8.

The first opera given was Wagner’s Lohengrin—sung in Italian—led by Auguste Vianesi, the Orchestra’s first guest conductor. That performance featured no less than five singers making their U.S. debuts: soprano Emma Eames, mezzo-soprano Giulia Ravogli, baritone Antonio Magini- Coletti, and tenor and bass brothers Jean and Édouard de Reszke.

On November 10, 1891, the Chicago Daily Tribune reported that even though several patrons were late in arriving due to “the fact that carriages approached in single file and the process of unloading was rather slow . . . [they] failed to dismay Sig. Vianesi, who began his calisthenic exercise with the baton promptly at eight. Eighty-five musicians of the Chicago Orchestra played the graceful Lohengrin prelude in a style which in the show-bill style was ‘alone worth the price of admission.’”

Wood engraved print by Fred Pegram of Jean and Edouard de Reszke—as Lohengrin and Heinrich—from The Illustrated London News in 1891

In the title role, Jean de Reszke “has the dignity and aplomb of an artist to the manner born and the glittering armor of the Knight of the Grail becomes him well. . . . [He] is an artist to the tips of his mailed boots and gloves. He has immense personal magnetism, and when he casually conveyed to Elsa the information, ‘Io t’amo,’ there was a responsive thrill under many a pretty corsage bouquet.”

On November 14, The New York Times reported from Chicago. “It was though reason for not a little regret both in New York and this city when it was announced that the management of the Metropolitan Opera House, which in a measure seems to control the operatic destiny of the country, had decided to discontinue German opera this year and to substitute therefore Italian opera. By selecting Lohengrin as the opera with which to open the present season, Messrs. Abbey and Grau made a praiseworthy compromise. All fears that the season would be composed of a series of repetitious of hackneyed Italian operas were thus allayed. It is too early to pass any judgment, but, according to the indications to be found in this week’s performances, it is almost safe to assume that in many respects this year will witness some of the most brilliant performances of grand opera ever given in this country.”

Regarding Édouard de Reszke as Heinrich, the Times continued, that he was “endowed with a voice which for power and quality, richness and warmth, range and volume, has seldom been equaled. He displayed the highest art in the use of it. His acting also was artistic, and dignified, and his impersonation was in every respect a regal one.” As Ortrud, Giulia Ravogli, “displayed histrionic ability of an exceptionally high order and a mezzo-soprano voice of extensive compass and considerable power.”

Additional singers who appeared during the residency were among the most famous of the day, including sopranos Emma Albani, Lilli Lehmann, and Marie Van Zandt; mezzo-soprano Sofia Scalchi; tenor Fernando Valero; baritones Edoardo Camera and Jean Martapoura; and bass Jules Vinché. A staggering number of operas were performed, including Bellini’s Norma and La sonnambula; Flotow’s Martha; Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice; Gounod’s Faust and Romeo and Juliet; Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana; Meyerbeer’s Dinorah and Les Huguenots; Mozart’s Don Giovanni; Thomas’s Mignon; and Verdi’s Aida, Otello, and Rigoletto.

The final offering of the residency on December 12 was a fourth performance of Lohengrin, and changes in the cast included Valero in the title role, Albani as Elsa, and Vinché as Heinrich; Louis Saar conducted. Two days later on December 14, the company was back in New York for the Metropolitan Opera’s season opening: Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet featuring Eames and the de Reske brothers with Vianesi on the podium.

After a two run-out performances on December 15 (at the Odeon in Cincinnati) and 16 (in Indianapolis), founder and first music director Theodore Thomas and his Chicago Orchestra resumed the regular season with the fourth subscription week at the Auditorium on December 18.

An abbreviated version of this article appears in the program book for the December 14, 15, 16, and 19, 2017, CSO concerts led by Jaap van Zweden. Special thanks to our colleagues at the Metropolitan Opera and their performance history database.

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Wishing a very happy birthday to our friends at the New York Philharmonic, as today they celebrate the 175th anniversary of their very first concert, given on December 7, 1842!

March 24, 1912

It would be nearly seventy years before the Philharmonic made their debut in Chicago, on March 24, 1912, in Orchestra Hall. That concert was led by their new music director Josef Stránský (who had succeeded Gustav Mahler the year before) and the program was as follows:

WEBER Overture to Der Freischütz
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Jan Kubelík, violin
LISZT Tasso, Symphonic Poem No. 2
SAINT SAËNS Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, Op. 28
Jan Kubelík, violin
DVOŘÁK Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 (From the New World)

An image of the program—courtesy of the New York Philharmonic’s Leon Levy Digital Archives—can be found here.

“Interest in the New York Philharmonic Society’s first Chicago concert was so great that Orchestra Hall was sold out yesterday afternoon [with patrons] curious to hear America’s oldest orchestra . . .” wrote Glenn Dillard Gunn in the Chicago Daily Tribune. “Conductor Stránský is a man of force and originality, as his interpretations of the Freischütz Overture, Liszt’s symphonic poem Tasso, and The New World Symphony of Dvořák abundantly demonstrated. . . . It was in the scherzo and finale of the symphony, however, that he achieved his most impressive results. He brought to light a wealth of contrapuntal interest not discovered by other interpreters of the symphony, yet supported them with an unfailing clarity and grace in the presentation of the dominant melodic line and with qualities of rhythmical life and accent . . .”

Regarding the violin soloist Jan Kubelík (and father of future Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Rafael), Gunn added, “the Bohemian violinist played with his wonted certainty and purity of tone and intonation and with something more than his usual measure of conviction.”

This past February, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra helped both the Vienna and New York philharmonics launch the celebration of their joint 175th anniversaries by loaning the manuscript score of Richard Strauss’s Symphony no. 2 in F minor (from the Theodore Thomas Collection in the Rosenthal Archives) for an exhibit. Details of that collaboration are here and here, and a virtual tour of the exhibit is here.

Happy, happy birthday!

Theodore Thomas and the Chicago Orchestra onstage at Music Hall during the 1894 Cincinnati May Festival

Wishing a very happy birthday to our founder and first music director Theodore Thomas on the occasion of his 182nd birthday!

“It will be seen, therefore, that we have in this country the possibilities of a great musical future. We have the natural taste of the people for music, their strong desire to have only the best, and their readiness to recognize what is the best when it is presented to them. We have exceptional natural resources for the making of musical instruments. Nature has done her part of the work generously; it remains for us to do ours.”

—From the article “Musical Possibilities in America,” written by Theodore Thomas for Scribner’s Monthly in March 1881

Chicago Daily News, November 19, 1931

Chicago audiences were first introduced to music from Bedřich Smetana’s Má vlast by the Chicago Orchestra’s founder and first music director Theodore Thomas: Vltava in January 1894, Šárka in October 1895, and Vyšehrad in April 1896. Thomas and his successor Frederick Stock regularly included these three symphonic poems on their concerts, but it wasn’t until the Orchestra’s forty-first season that Stock programmed the complete cycle, for a special concert on November 18, 1931, honoring Chicago’s rich Czech heritage.

On November 15, Edward Moore, writing for the Chicago Tribune, happily reported that he was able to hear the work a few days before the performance. The headline read, “Records give preview of new musical event: Critic hears Smetana’s music, Má vlast, on phonographic disks.” Moore wrote that courtesy of Dr. J.E.S. Vojan, president of the Bohemian Arts Club of Chicago (which would sponsor the concert), “through the medium of disk and needle, I have been enabled to hear it in advance of the concert audience.”

Title page of the score to Šárka used by Thomas and Stock

Title page of the score to Vyšehrad used by Thomas and Stock

(The recording most likely was the one made by the Czech Philharmonic in 1929, under the baton of its chief conductor Václav Talich, who later taught Karel Ančerl and Charles Mackerras. This not only was the ensemble’s first commercial recording but also the first complete recording of Smetana’s cycle of tone poems. It was released on ten, twelve-inch 78 rpm discs—just under eighty minutes of music—by His Master’s Voice.)

“Through a course of years, Mr. Stock [along with Thomas before him] and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra have made Vltava or the Moldau popular with Chicago audiences,” Moore continued. “They have played Vyšehrad a number of times, and Šárka less frequently. The other three are to come as a first performance next Wednesday.”

Following the November 18 concert, Eugene Stinson in the Daily News wrote, “Through these six works there sweeps the refreshing fragrance of a national spirit. Smetana was not merely the father of a national Bohemian music and the teacher of Dvořák. He was one of the first composers in any land to see the possibilities of such a music, founded on characteristic themes and breathing out the soul of a race.”

Title page of the score to Blaník used by Stock

Title page of the score to Tábor used by Stock

“History, legend, national songs, tonal description of nature, and a poetic imagination to transfigure them all, are in it,” added Moore in his review for the Tribune. “When one considers that Smetana wrote it under the most tragic infliction that may visit a musician, total deafness, it becomes not only one of the masterpieces of the world but the act of one of the world’s great heroes.”

“There is nothing to write but gratitude to the Chicago Bohemians and to Mr. Stock, whose combined efforts acquainted us with this lovely work,” concluded Herman Devries in the American. “What a lesson to the modern school of would-be musical alchemists with their abracadabra of gibberish and geometry, of dissonance and self-conscious abstruseness. Here is pure inspiration. Here is music that wells, untrammeled, from a source of inexhaustible creative talent. Here is melody, melody so simple, so tender, so touching; melody so poetic, so passionate, so spontaneous that one listens happily, without the need of indulgence, excuse, or partiality. But beneath all this simplicity, one hears and senses the mastermind of the great orchestral technician.”

Otto, Edward, and Henri Hyna

Devries also noted that several musicians in the Orchestra that evening were of Bohemian descent, including John Weicher (a member of the violin section from 1923 until 1969; he became concertmaster in 1937), Vaclav Jiskra (principal bass, 1908–1949), Rudolph Fiala (viola, 1922–1952), Joseph Houdek (bass, 1914–1944), and the Hyna brothers: Otto, Edward, and Henri, pictured at right. Natives of Bohemia, the Hyna brothers all served as members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s string section. Otto (1886–1951) was in the bass section from 1930 until 1950, Edward (1897–1958) served as a violinist from 1929 until 1943, and Henri (1901–1955) also was a violinist from 1928 until 1932.

The Orchestra next performed the complete cycle twenty years later on October 23 and 24, 1952, under the baton of fifth music director—and Czech native—Rafael Kubelík. On December 4 and 5 of that year, the work was recorded in Orchestra Hall by Mercury Records. Returning as a guest conductor, Kubelík led performances of the six symphonic poems on January 23 and 24, 1969, and again on October 27, 28, and 29, 1983.

At the Ravinia Festival, James Levine most recently led the work on June 27, 1987. Jakub Hrůša’s upcoming performances will mark the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s sixth traversal of Smetana’s cycle of symphonic poems.

__________

Boston Symphony Orchestra program from April 24 and 25, 1896

A footnote: Theodore Thomas and the Chicago Orchestra almost were able to claim the U.S. premiere performance of Vyšehrad, the first symphonic poem of Smetana’s Má vlast. However, Emil Paur and the Boston Symphony Orchestra literally were minutes ahead. Both orchestras had 2:30 p.m. matinees on Friday, April 24, 1896, but Boston’s concert was one hour earlier (railway time zones had been standardized in 1883). Also, Vyšehrad was the first work on Paur’s program, while Thomas had programmed the work to follow Tchaikovsky’s Marche slave and Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture and selections from The Damnation of Faust.

Boston also claimed the U.S. premiere of Šárka, performing it on January 25, 1895. Thomas led the first Chicago performance exactly nine months later on October 25.

Portions of this article accompany the program notes for the May 18, 19, and 20, 2017, performances. Special thanks to Bridget Carr, archivist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Program page image courtesy of HENRY, the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives’s online performance history search engine.

This remarkable photograph—the first known image of the Chicago Orchestra—was taken 125 years ago today on March 14, 1892, during one of several first-season domestic tours. The article below describes the image and was written for the fall 1991 CSO program book by then–second horn Norman Schweikert. Schweikert, who retired from the Orchestra in 1997, continues his research, gathering biographical information on professional symphony orchestra and opera musicians from all over the world.

The Earliest Known Photograph of the Chicago Orchestra

This rare, unpublished, informal photograph of the Chicago Orchestra, taken during its inaugural season, was discovered in the early 1960s by Jeff Gold, a Chicago freelance oboist and artist, in an antique shop in Door County, Wisconsin. The shop, now closed, had acquired it from the estate of an unidentified member of the Orchestra who had retired and moved to Wisconsin.

The picture was taken in Saint Louis on March 14, 1892, while the Orchestra was on tour. Two concerts were given in the Saint Louis Exposition and Music Hall on March 14 and 15, and another was given in Alton, Illinois, on the sixteenth. March 17 was probably a travel day, and the eighteenth found the Orchestra back at the Auditorium rehearsing for its concert of the nineteenth. The names included on the photograph make up a balanced instrumentation for a touring orchestra, reduced in size to economize and to fit comfortably onto small stages.

The Saint Louis Exposition and Music Hall in 1888 (unidentified illustrator for The News Herald)

Beneath the photo are two hand-written sets of identification: an original list of names, including first initials, and a second group, supplied perhaps by the previous owner, with lines drawn toward persons in the picture. Why did someone see fit to label everyone a second time? It is difficult to recognize the men because they all are wearing hats, but comparisons with photos taken of individual members during the 1894–95 and 1902–03 seasons helped to identify positively many of them. To identify those who had left by 1894, one has to rely on the lines, which unfortunately are imprecise.

This photograph shows forty-nine of the fifty-member touring orchestra. The accompanying roster and outline match names with faces. Missing is librarian Theodore McNicol, who might have been setting out music. Also missing are conductor Theodore Thomas and his right-hand man, cellist and personnel manager Henry Sachleben. There are already four cellists, so perhaps Sachleben did not make the trip, at least as a performer.

In the lower right corner the name of L. Amato can be made out with difficulty. Did Louis Amato, a cellist in the Orchestra from 1891 to 1901, come along on the trip and take the photograph? Was the photo part of his estate, and did he identify the players? The mysteries of this fascinating image tantalize us. We must be thankful for what we do know, and grateful to both the unknown photographer who captured this moment nearly a century ago and the owner who preserved it.

Diagram indicating position of musicians in the photograph (click to expand)

The players have been placed in the order shown on the larger roster of ninety-five musicians and two librarians found in the subscription program for the twentieth pair of concerts on April 22 and 23, 1892. Names are given in parentheses under instruments on which players might have doubled.

FIRST VIOLIN
1. Max Bendix
2. Isadore Schnitzler
3. Emanuel Knoll
4. Alexander Krauss
5. Theodore Human
6. J. Czerny
7. Herman Braun, Jr.
8. Richard Seidel
9. Rudolph Rissland

SECOND VIOLIN
10. Richard Poltmann
11. August Zeiss, Jr.
12. Friedrich Schmitz-Philippi
13. Gustav Starke
14. Richard Donati
15. Albert Ulrich, Sr.
16. Joseph Zettelmann
17. Ernest F. Wagner

VIOLA
18. August Junker
19. Carl Riedelsberger
20. Jan Meyroos
21. Ferdinand Volk*

CELLO
22. Bruno Steindel
23. Walter Unger
24. Ludwig Corell
25. Emil Schippe

BASS
26. Albin Wiegner
27. Joseph Beckel
28. Louis Klemm
29. Richard Helm

HARP
30. Edmund Schuecher

FLUTE
31. Vigo Andersen
32. Martin Ballman (piccolo)

OBOE
33. Felix Bour
34. E. Schoenheinz (english horn)

CLARINET
35. Joseph Schreurs
36. Carl Meyer (bass clarinet)

BASSOON
37. Hugo Litke
38. Louis Friedrich (contrabassoon)

HORN
39. Hermann Dutschke
40. Adolph Schütz
41. Leopold de Maré
42. Albert Walker

TRUMPET (or cornet)
43. Christian Rodenkirchen
44. Frederick Dietz, Jr.
(15) (Albert Ulrich, Sr.)

TROMBONE
45. Otto Gebhardt
46. William Zeller
47. Josef Nicolini

TUBA
48. August Helleberg

TIMPANI
49. William Loewe

PERCUSSION
(16) (Joseph Zettelmann)
(17) (Ernest F. Wagner)
(18) (Richard Donati)

LIBRARIAN
Theodore McNicol (not pictured)

*This may not be Volk, the cellist, but Valk, a flutist who played only the first season. Both men have the same initial. The name Valk is clearly written, twice, on the photo. A positive identification of Volk could not be made by comparing photos. Were Volk on the tour there would be a proper balance in both the string and woodwind sections. Were Valk playing, there would have been three flutes but only three violas. The mystery remains.

Silvia Kargl, archivist for the Vienna Philharmonic, gives a tour of the artifacts to Jamie Bernstein

Silvia Kargl, archivist for the Vienna Philharmonic, gives a tour of the artifacts to Jamie Bernstein (Ardon Bar-Hama photo)

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 PhilharmonicsFeaturing 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.

Frank Villella, archivist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, describes the Strauss manuscript to Matthew VanBesien, president of the New York Philharmonic, and William Josephson

Frank Villella, archivist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, describes the Strauss manuscript to Matthew VanBesien, president of the New York Philharmonic, and William Josephson (Ardon Bar-Hama photo)

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.

Barbara Haws, archivist for the New York Philharmonic, talks about the case dedicated to Leonard Bernstein

Barbara Haws, archivist for the New York Philharmonic, talks about the case dedicated to Leonard Bernstein (Ardon Bar-Hama photo)

The press release describing the event and exhibit is here, and an article from The New York Times, which includes images of several of the artifacts, is here.

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.

Archivists and historians representing five institutions were on hand for the opening reception: Gino Fran

Archivists and historians representing five institutions were on hand for the opening reception: Gino Francesconi (Carnegie Hall), Barbara Haws (New York Philharmonic), Silvia Kargl (Vienna Philharmonic), Frank Villella (Chicago Symphony Orchestra), Gabryel Smith (New York Philharmonic), Friedemann Pestel (Vienna Philharmonic), and Bridget Carr (Boston Symphony Orchestra) (Ardon Bar-Hama photo)

strauss-1

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.

program courtesy NYPhil

Program page from the December 13, 1884, world premiere (image courtesy of the New York Philharmonic Digital Archives)

One of the most treasured scores in that collection is the manuscript of Richard Strauss’s 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 [1883], 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].”

detail of pasted-in correction

Detail of one of the pasted-in corrections in the second movement

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.”

detail of Thomas's markings

Thomas, a violinist before he became a conductor, frequently indicated string bowings in his scores, shown here in blue pencil

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 . . .

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.

barenboim-brahms-5-erato

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.

wagner-prelude-and-liebestod

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.

gould-tchaikovsky-waltzes-rca

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.

Original dust jacket for the first edition of Talks About Beethoven's Symphonies

Original dust jacket for the first edition

Happy 246th birthday, Ludwig van Beethoven!

Theodore Thomas, our founder and first music director, favored the music of Beethoven above all others. Of the five composers’ names inscribed on the façade of Orchestra Hall, Beethoven’s is the one featured prominently in the center.

Shortly after the turn of the last century, Thomas began writing a series of essays—complete with accompanying diagrams—analyzing Beethoven’s symphonies. These were intended “simply to serve as an aid to students and concertgoers in understanding and listening intelligently to these masterworks,” according to his wife, Rose Fay Thomas. Thomas only was able to complete articles on the first five symphonies before his unexpected death in January 1905, and Rose later invited his successor, Frederick Stock, to complete the series. Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies was published in Chicago by Oliver Ditson Company in 1930.

Cloth cover for the first edition

Cloth cover for the first edition

Theodore Thomas and Frederick Stock

Theodore Thomas and Frederick Stock

Rose edited the volume, and in the preface she wrote that, “these little essays, simple and unpretentious though they seem, will be at once recognized as the product of a musician who combined profound learning with wide practical experience, and in no other work of similar character which has come to my notice can there be found such clear and authoritative analyses of the themes and structure of these symphonies, so lucid an exposition of their relation to each other, or so logical an account of Beethoven’s own artistic development as revealed in them.”

Fifth Symphony, first movement diagram

Fifth Symphony, first movement

Thomas’s favorite work was the Fifth Symphony, and he programmed it for the Chicago Orchestra‘s first concert as well as the dedication of Orchestra Hall. Composed in the “zenith of his career,” according to Thomas in the book’s fifth chapter, during this time Beethoven “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. . . . Beethoven was able, through his art, to represent the psychological side of human nature in a manner so strong and full of meaning that he has only been equaled in this respect by one other creative mind—Shakespeare.”

Ninth Symphony, fourth movement diagram

Ninth Symphony, fourth movement

The final chapter, penned by Stock, describes the Ninth Symphony as, “dedicated to all Mankind. . . . Embracing all phases of human emotion, monumental in scope and outline, colossal in its intellectual grasp and emotional eloquence, the Ninth stands today as the greatest of all symphonies.” Stock continued, “Beethoven must have felt that he had exhausted the possibilities of instrumental expression and that nothing save the human voice could convey with sufficient eloquence the great thoughts he desired to set forth. . . . The Ninth is unquestionably the greatest of all symphonies not only because it is the final résumé of all of Beethoven’s achievements, colossal as they are even without the Ninth, but also because it voices the message of one who had risen beyond himself, beyond the world and the time in which he lived. The Ninth is Beethoven, the psychic and spiritual significance of his life.”

dedication

A postscript. The dedication is to the “patrons of the old Theodore Thomas Orchestra.” Before he founded the Chicago Orchestra in 1891, Thomas established his own eponymous ensemble in 1864 and led them on tour across the United States until the orchestra disbanded in 1889.

Portions of this article previously appeared here.

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Theodore Thomas

Theodore Thomas

In early 1889, Chicago businessman Charles Norman Fay encountered Theodore Thomas—then one of the most famous conductors in the United States—in New York. Thomas had fallen on hard times, his orchestra recently disbanded. According to Fay in the February 1910 Outlook, “My thoughts went back to those ten years of Summer Garden Concerts [in Chicago], and to some powerful and devoted friends of Mr. Thomas and his music at home, and I asked, ‘Would you come to Chicago if we could give you a permanent orchestra?’ The answer, grim and sincere, and entirely destitute of intentional humor, came back like a flash: ‘I would go to hell if they gave me a permanent orchestra.’ ”

October 16 and 17, 1891

October 16 and 17, 1891

Fay returned to Chicago and quickly found support for a new orchestra. The Orchestral Association first met on December 17, 1890, and less than a year later, on October 16 and 17, 1891, the Chicago Orchestra gave its first concerts at the Auditorium Theatre, with Thomas conducting Wagner’s A Faust Overture, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with Rafael Joseffy, and Dvořák’s Husitská Overture.

“It has been stated that the Orchestral Association’s contract with Mr. Thomas stipulated that he should in the Chicago Orchestra give to the city an organization the peer of the finest in the United States. Yesterday’s public rehearsal at the Auditorium by that orchestra showed that Mr. Thomas has filled his contract,” reported the Chicago Tribune on October 17. “Thomas has long been known for his ability to quickly bring newly formed orchestras into condition for satisfactory work, but in this instance he has fairly surpassed himself, the results being simply astonishing. . . . The body of the tone produced is superb, possessing a vitality, a fullness, and volume such as has been heard from no orchestra ever before in Chicago.”

This article also appears here.

the vault

Theodore Thomas

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

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