You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Theodore Thomas’ tag.

Program page for the January 1, 1904, concert

During the Chicago Orchestra’s last full season at the Auditorium Theatre, first music director Theodore Thomas had programmed the U.S. premiere of Sibelius’s Second Symphony for January 1 and 2, 1904, during the ninth subscription week.

On November 23, 1903, the 1,600-seat Iroquois Theatre (located on the north side of West Randolph Street, between State and Dearborn) opened its doors with a production of Mr. Blue Beard starring Eddie Foy. Barely a month later, the December 30 matinee of the popular musical had a standing-room audience of well over 2,000, mostly women and children on holiday break. An additional 300 actors, technicians, and stagehands were backstage.

Just after the beginning of the second act, sparks from a stage light set fire to a muslin curtain and began to spread to the fly space. Very quickly, sections of burning curtains and set pieces began to fall to the stage, and even though Foy attempted to calm the audience, panic ensued (Foy’s account of the event is here). Patrons rushed to the exits—none of which were identified by illuminated signage and some were even hidden behind curtains—only to find that many opened inwardly or had been locked to prevent gatecrashers.

Chicago Tribune, January 3, 1904

Over 600 people lost their lives—more than twice as many casualties as the Great Chicago Fire in 1871—in this, the deadliest single-building fire in U.S. history.*

“Had Mr. Thomas known some six weeks ago of the great sadness that was to rest like a pall over the city of Chicago on New Year’s Day he could scarcely have arranged a program better suited to the occasion than was that which he and the Chicago Orchestra offered yesterday afternoon at the Auditorium,” wrote the critic in the Chicago Tribune on January 2, referring also to the Funeral March from Elgar’s Grania and Diarmid as well as the Transformation Scene and Glorification from Wagner’s Parsifal.

“The new symphony of Sibelius—[no. 2] in D major, and which yes­terday was played for the first time in America—proved a composition heavy with the mournful melancholy of the northern land whence its writer comes. . . . Mr. Thomas and his men threw themselves with exceptional enthusiasm and vigor into the perfor­mance of the new composition, which is of uncommon difficulty in many places, and the result was a rendition technically com­plete and interpretatively powerful.”

The Saturday evening concert on January 2 was canceled, as Mayor Carter Harrison had ordered all the­aters closed for mandatory inspection. The Orchestra’s next concerts were given on January 15 and 16, since the Auditorium Theatre only needed minor modifica­tions to meet the regulations. The January 2 concert was rescheduled for Monday, January 18, and Sibelius’s Symphony no. 2 received its second performance. The program was revised (likely because the piano soloist, George Proctor, was no longer in town) as follows:

Program insert itemizing schedule for postponed concerts

WAGNER Huldigungsmarsch
SIBELIUS Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43
BEETHOVEN Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b
ELGAR Incidental Music and Funeral March from Grania and Diarmid
WAGNER Good Friday Spell and Transformation Scene and Glorification from Parsifal

In spite of the tragedy, the trustees of the Orchestral Association continued with plans for the construction of Orchestra Hall—ground was broken on May 1 and the hall opened on December 14, 1904. The Iroquois reopened as the Colonial Theatre in October 1905, but in 1924 it was torn down to make way for the Oriental, which opened in 1926. It was renamed the Nederlander in 2019.

*The tragedy at the Iroquois Theatre was a catalyst for the implementation of increased safety standards and ordinances for public buildings, including clearly marked exits, doors of egress that open outward, and doors equipped with “crash” or “panic” bars.

A version of this article appears in the program book for the December 1, 2, 3, and 6, 2022, concerts.

by Linda Wolfe

Frederick Stock (George Nelidoff photo)

My parents were Frederick and Lorraine Wolfe. My father was the eldest of two sons of Vera and Alfred Wolfe, my grandparents. Vera was the only daughter of Frederick and Elisabeth Stock, my great-grandparents.

I have often been asked if I heard a lot of Frederick Stock stories growing up in Colorado, but unfortunately not. Stock was a formal photo on the wall with intensely piercing eyes. After my father died on March 13, 1989, I found a bundle of photographs and a packet of letters from Stock to my grandmother, his daughter Vera. The letters were full of cartoon characters and love. I was intrigued and wondered if Chicago knew that side of Stock.

A short time later, I was listening to the Colorado Springs Philharmonic on the radio. Henry Fogel, then executive director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, was in town hosting their radiothon fundraiser. I reached out to him, and he said the CSO was preparing for its centennial season (1990–91), and they had been searching for my grandmother to invite her to Chicago for the festivities. I let him know that, unfortunately, she had died in January 1975. So, instead, Henry invited me to attend several events to celebrate the conclusion of the CSO’s centennial.

I traveled to Chicago for the first time with my oldest son, and we had the privilege of representing the Stock family. It was a whirlwind of activities, from attending the gala dinner with Theodore Thomas’s grandson and his wife, seeing three CSO music directors—Daniel Barenboim, Sir Georg Solti, and Rafael Kubelik—conducting on the same concert, having lunch with Lady Solti, attending the rededication of the Spirit of Music statue (the Theodore Thomas memorial, at the corner of Balbo and Michigan), seeing Stock’s full-size painting in the stairwell that leads up to the ballroom, and standing on the stage to see Orchestra Hall as Stock saw it. I was practically speechless.

Elisabeth and Frederick Stock in May 1896 (Linda Wolfe collection)

I discovered that a biography about Stock had not been written, so I began a project to gather as much information as I could. The Glessner journals were an incredible source of information, as Stock wrote hundreds of letters to them. While Stock was music director, he and his wife Elisabeth were guests at the Glessner home on an almost weekly basis, joining them for holidays and special events. Frederick and Elisabeth also often spent time at the Glessner farm, The Rocks, in New Hampshire.

It has been a wonderful experience doing research and I am honored to present another side of Stock, his family story.

Frederick Wilhelm August Stock was born on November 11, 1872, in Jülich, Germany, a small fortress town about thirty miles west of Cologne. He was the second son of Frederick Wilhelm Carl Stock, a Kapellmeister in the Prussian Army and Maria Lein. Frederick’s mother died on June 9, 1874, apparently never recovering from complications during his birth. His father remarried in 1887 to Johanna Maria Louise Bister and they had three more children—Maria, Louise, and Wilhelm.

In 1887, at the age of fourteen, Frederick won a scholarship to the Cologne Conservatory. His teachers included conductor Franz Wüllner and composer Englebert Humperdink, and one of his fellow students was Wilhelm Mengleberg, the famous Dutch conductor. While a student, he also became a member of the Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne.

In 1895, Theodore Thomas—the CSO’s founding music director—was in Germany, and twenty-two-year-old Frederick auditioned for him in Cologne, playing Bruch’s First Violin Concerto. Thomas told Stock if he made his way to America, he would have a position in the Chicago Orchestra. On September 22, 1895, Stock sailed from Hamburg to New York on the ship Prussia, and on that same voyage was Elisabeth Musculus, who would become his wife in May 1896. Upon his arrival in Chicago, Stock was given the position of assistant principal viola.

Vera and Elisabeth Stock (Linda Wolfe collection)

In Chicago on May 8, 1902, Frederick and Elisabeth welcomed a daughter, Vera Fredericka Stock. She would be their only child.

According to ocean liner passenger lists, Frederick returned to Europe at least twenty-five times. He met with the musical leaders of the European scene, reviewed new scores, and visited family. Most often Elisabeth accompanied him on his travels, and Vera also joined them several times.

In late September 1912, Frederick traveled on the Lusitania from Liverpool to New York. In a letter to the Glessners, he wrote “This is the finest boat I ever travelled on, very comfortable indeed. A trip on a boat like this spoils one for anything else, because it is the most delightful thing imaginable.”  And in a letter dated September 15, 1920, “One of the novelties I brought from London is called The Planets composed by Gustav (von) Holst . . . Don’t be afraid of all those novelties. I shall stick them into the programs at places where you won’t find them, but they will be there just the same.”

On April 8, 1924, in what was described as the “social event of the year,” Vera married Alfred Morris Wolfe, and Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue was filled to capacity. Soprano Claire Dux, a frequent CSO soloist, sang Stock’s “A Love Letter” with Eric DeLamarter at the organ. The reception was held nearby at the Drake Hotel.

On January 18, 1928, Frederick and Elisabeth’s first grandson, Frederick Stock Wolfe (my father), was born. On June 28, 1929, their second grandchild was born, Alfred “Murph” Morris Wolfe, Jr.

In 1927, the Stocks started building a vacation home in Door County, Wisconsin, overlooking Sister Bay. It was designed by Chicago architect, William Bernhard, who the Stocks undoubtedly met at the Glessner home. This beloved home was a welcome retreat from life in Chicago where the Stock family would spend summers and holidays.

The CSO’s 1942-43 season began with Stock’s usual robustness and enthusiasm, but on October 20, he died suddenly of a heart attack at home at 1325 North Astor Street. During the intermission of the New York Philharmonic’s broadcast on November, 1, Deems Taylor spoke the following: “Let us not again let men like this go, without telling them that we love them. They would appreciate our love. We use many words on Hitler and like creatures, but never the least word to men who have made us better human beings, who have given us a bulwark against cruelty, bigotry, and stupidity. We have all, all good and bewildered people, died a little with Mr. Stock.”

Plaque in Jülich, Germany, dedicated in June 1994

Vera’s husband Alfred Wolfe was originally from Colorado Springs, and after Frederick’s death, they moved Elisabeth and the grandchildren to Colorado. Elisabeth died on August 15, 1951, and Vera and Murph brought her ashes to Chicago. She was interred in the crypt with her beloved husband in the mausoleum at Rosehill Cemetery.

In June 1994, Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra were on tour in Europe, and several musicians traveled to Jülich to attend a plaque unveiling at the Citadel, commemorating Stock’s birth. The mayor of Julich and I unveiled the plaque, which read:

In memory of the conductor and composer
Friedrich Wilhelm August Stock
November 11, 1872 (Jülich) – October 20, 1942 (Chicago)
The son of a Prussian military band master stationed in the citadel, he studied at the Cologne Conservatory (1891) and then joined the Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne as a violinist.
In 1895 he was hired as a violist at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
In 1905 he became music director and, over the next 37 years, led the CSO to international fame.
The City of Jülich

Linda Wolfe is the great-granddaughter of Frederick Stock.

This article also appears here.

Theodore Thomas (Max Platz photo)

Wishing a very happy birthday to our founder and first music director, Theodore Thomas, on the occasion of his 187th birthday!

Below is an excerpt from a review in the Chicago Tribune, following the Chicago Orchestra‘s first concert (the first performance of a subscription week, usually a matinee, was sometimes referred to as a “public rehearsal”):

“Chicago’s Orchestra the Peer of Any in the Land . . . 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. In this company of eighty-six players, Chicago now possesses an orchestral organization of which its people may indeed be proud, and the day is only a few months distant when they will be able to say to the similar organizations possessed by older sisters in the East, ‘Here is your new equal!’ . . . Theodore 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 been heard from no orchestra ever before in Chicago. The unity and precision in attack were also surprising because of an excellence far superior to what had been even hoped for.”

Chicago Tribune, October 17, 1891

This article also appears here.

Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler (ca. 1893)

With the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, no one has performed Schumann’s Piano Concerto more than Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler.

Born in Austria in 1863, Fannie Blumenfeld and her family immigrated to the United States in 1867 and settled in Chicago. She began piano studies at the age of six and gave her first concert on February 26, 1875. Encouraged by the Russian pianist Anna Essipoff, Blumenfeld returned to Vienna in 1878, where she began studies with Theodor Leschetizky. Shortly after returning to the U.S. in 1883—and anglicizing her name to Bloomfield—she auditioned for Theodore Thomas, then the music director for the New York Philharmonic as well as his eponymous Theodore Thomas Orchestra. It was too late to hire her for his upcoming seasons, but, inspired by her playing, Thomas provided letters of recommendation to help her secure other engagements.

Bloomfield made her professional debut in Chicago’s Central Music Hall on January 11, 1884, performing the first movement of Adolf von Henselt’s Piano Concerto in F minor under the baton of one of her first teachers, Carl Wolfsohn. In the Chicago Tribune, the reviewer described her performance with “A firm but at the same time delicate touch, a technique which overcomes the greatest difficulties without apparent effort, and an intelligent mastery over the mechanism of her instrument were the characteristics of her playing, which made themselves felt before she had finished a small portion of her task. Every note received its due. . . . It was a great treat, Miss Bloomfield’s playing, and one not soon to be forgotten.”

Zeisler was soloist in the Chicago Orchestra’s first performance of Schumann’s Piano Concerto in Pittsburgh on April 19, 1893

Bloomfield’s debut in New York occurred the following year, on February 1, 1885, under Frank Van der Stucken and his orchestra, again with Henselt’s Piano Concerto. In October of that year, she married Sigmund Zeisler (who later served on the defense counsel for the anarchists responsible for the onset of the Haymarket Square riot), and the couple had three sons.

Zeisler made her debut with the Chicago Orchestra during the ensemble’s first season, at the Auditorium Theatre on March 25 and 26, 1892. “The solo part in [Chopin’s second] concerto was played by Mrs. Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler, a Chicago artist who is heard but too rarely in local concerts,” wrote the reviewer in the Chicago Tribune. “Few piano performances heard in the Auditorium have possessed as high artistic finish and true musicianly qualities as did that accorded Chopin’s concerto last evening by Mrs. Zeisler. There have been performances more brilliant, performances more impressive in their breadth and power, but none have revealed greater refinement of style and clearer, truer conception than did this.”

All-Schumann concert at the World’s Columbian Exposition on June 9, 1893

Later that spring, Zeisler joined Thomas and the Orchestra on tour to perform three concerts in Omaha, two in Louisville, and one in Kansas City, Missouri; her repertoire included Chopin’s Second, Rubinstein’s Fourth, and Saint-Saëns’s Fourth concertos.

The following season, she appeared with the Orchestra on a pair of subscription concerts in December and on tour on five occasions, including concerts in Pittsburgh and Buffalo in April that included the ensemble’s first performances of Schumann’s Piano Concerto. Soon thereafter, Zeisler was one of only two pianists—along with Ignace Paderewski—chosen by Thomas to perform with the Orchestra at the World’s Columbian Exposition. On June 9, 1893, she appeared in an all-Schumann concert (honoring the composer’s birthday) that included the Manfred Overture, Third Symphony, and the Piano Concerto. “Mme. Zeisler proved herself,” according to the Chicago Tribune, giving “a performance in every respect admirable and satisfying [lending] charm and poetry.”

Over the next thirty years, Zeisler was a frequent and favorite soloist with the Orchestra, performing not only Schumann’s concerto, but also works by Beethoven, Chopin, Grieg, Henselt, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Moszkowski, Mozart, Rubinstein, Saint-Saëns, Tchaikovsky, and Weber.

Zeisler’s Golden Jubilee Concert, February 25, 1925

On February 25, 1925, Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler appeared with Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra—and before the public—one last time, in a concert celebrating her fiftieth year as a concert artist. The program included Beethoven’s Andante favori, Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto, and her eighth performance with the CSO of Schumann’s Piano Concerto. “You might have closed your eyes and been willing to swear that an artist in the first flush of maturity, with intensively cultivated powers and enormous flair for major piano works was playing,” wrote the critic in the Chicago Tribune. “It was the seal on an honorable and highly honored career. Mrs. Zeisler is as sincere an artist as ever appeared before the public. [Her honesty] shone through, every note she played, just as it has always shone whenever she played. And a capacity audience was present to testify to the esteem in which the fine sincerity of a fine artist is held.” She died in Chicago on August 21, 1927.

Portions of this article appear in the May 19, 20, 21, and 22, 2022, program book; and the article also appears here.

Detail of title page of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony (Theodore Thomas collection)

Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony—according to Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra‘s founder and first music director, in Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies—is “a work as full of beauties, novel of their kind, as the Eroica, but expressing no worldly program; singing instead the songs of nature—the music of the soul. . . . In consequence, he has given us, in the Fourth Symphony, a song of beauty such as no one else has ever written, presenting absolute novelty of color and creating an atmosphere in music justly termed ‘romantic,’ a romanticism parallel to that of Schiller in literature.”

“Generations of music lovers have described—and sometimes dismissed—Beethoven’s even-numbered symphonies as lyrical and relaxed compared to their spunky, coltish, odd-numbered neighbors. The Fourth, in B-flat major, has suffered from that fate perhaps more than any,” writes CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. “Schumann was perhaps the first musician to warn us not to overlook the Fourth’s own special qualities: ‘Do not illustrate his genius with the Ninth Symphony alone, no matter how great its audacity and scope, never uttered in any tongue. You can do as much with his First Symphony, or with the Greek-like slender one in B-flat major!’”

Founder and first music director Theodore Thomas first led the Chicago Orchestra in Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony on March 17 and 18, 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 Fourth Symphony was recorded at Medinah Temple on May 13, 1974. Ray Minshull was the recording producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock were the balance engineers.

1987 recording (London)

Between September 1986 and January 1990, Solti and the Orchestra and Chorus recorded Beethoven’s complete 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 Fourth Symphony was recorded in Orchestra Hall on September 21 and 22, 1987. Michael Haas was the recording producer and James Lock was the balance engineer.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 on May 5, 6, and 7, 2022.

This article also appears here.

“What could come after [the Fifth Symphony]?” wrote Frederick Stock, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra‘s second music director, in Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies. “The subtlety of Beethoven’s imagination found an answer in due time, and in his Sixth Symphony, the Pastoral, we find his thoughts expressed in a new form. Even though other composers before him and in his time had attempted to write program music, Beethoven was the first whose efforts in this direction proved to be a lasting achievement. . . . His was a poetic conception of nature’s grandeur and beauty, a faithful interpretation of her inward significance, cast in the most perfect of musical forms, the symphony.”

Detail of title page of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, bearing marks by Frederick Stock and Fritz Reiner (Fritz Reiner collection)

“Our familiar picture of Beethoven, cross and deaf, slumped in total absorption over his sketches, doesn’t easily allow for Beethoven the nature-lover,” writes writes CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. “But he liked nothing more than a walk in the woods, where he could wander undisturbed, stopping from time to time to scribble a new idea on the folded sheets of music paper he always carried in his pocket. ‘No one,’ he wrote to Therese Malfati two years after the premiere of the Pastoral Symphony, ‘can love the country as much as I do. For surely woods, trees, and rocks produce the echo which man desires to hear.’ They’re all here in his Sixth Symphony.”

Founder and first music director Theodore Thomas first led the Chicago Orchestra in Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony on March 2 and 3, 1894, at the Auditorium Theatre.

1961 recording (RCA)

Sixth music director Fritz Reiner led the Orchestra’s first recording of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony on April 8 and 10, 1961, in Orchestra Hall. For RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer and Lewis Layton was the recording engineer.

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 Sixth Symphony was recorded at the Sofiensaal in Vienna on September 10, 1974. Ray Minshull was the recording producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson, and James Lock were the balance engineers.

1988 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 Sixth Symphony was recorded in Orchestra Hall on May 9, 10, 14, and 16, 1988. Michael Haas was the recording producer and Stanley Goodall was the balance engineer.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 on April 28, 30, and May 3, 2022.

This article also appears here.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony—according to Frederick Stock, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra‘s second music director, in Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies—is “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.”

First page detail of a choral score, edited by Arthur Mees, the Orchestra’s first assistant conductor

Stock continues: “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.

“In the first movement we find the bitter struggle he waged against life’s adversities, his failing health, his deafness, his loneliness. The Scherzo depicts the quest for worldly joy; the third movement, melancholy reflection, longing—resignation. The last movement, the ‘Ode to Joy,’ is dedicated to all Mankind.”

“There’s something astonishing about a deaf composer choosing to open a symphony with music that reveals, like no other music before it, the very essence of sound emerging from silence,” writes CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. “The famous pianissimo opening—sixteen measures with no secure sense of key or rhythm—does not so much depict the journey from darkness to light, or from chaos to order, as the birth of sound itself or the creation of a musical idea. It is as if the challenges of Beethoven’s daily existence—the struggle to compose music, his difficulty in communicating, the frustration of remembering what it was like to hear—have been made real in a single page of music.”

Founder and first music director Theodore Thomas first led the Chicago Orchestra in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on December 16 and 17, 1892, at the Auditorium Theatre. The soloists were Minnie Fish, Minna Brentano, Charles A. Knorr, and George E. Holmes, along with the Apollo Chorus (prepared by William L. Tomlins).

1961 recording (RCA)

Sixth music director Fritz Reiner led the Orchestra’s first recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on May 1 and 2, 1961, in Orchestra Hall. Phyllis Curtin, Florence Kopleff, John McCollum, and Donald Gramm were the soloists, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus was prepared by Margaret Hillis. For RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer and Lewis Layton was the recording engineer.

1972 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 Ninth Symphony was recorded at the Krannert Center at the University of Illinois in Urbana on May 15 and 16, and June 26, 1972. Pilar Lorengar, Yvonne Minton, Stuart Burrows, and Martti Talvela were the soloists, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus was prepared by Margaret Hillis. David Harvey was the recording producer, and Gordon Parry, Kenneth Wilkinson, and Peter van Biene 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 Ninth Symphony was recorded in Medinah Temple on September 29 and 30, 1986. Michael Haas was the recording producer, John Pellowe the balance engineer, and Neil Hutchinson the tape editor. Jessye Norman, Reinhild Runkel, Robert Schunk, and Hans Sotin were soloists, and Margaret Hillis prepared the Chorus. The release won the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

On September 18, 20, 21, and 23, 2014, Riccardo Muti led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Orchestra Hall. Camilla Nylund, Ekaterina Gubanova, Matthew Polenzani (September 18), William Burden (September 20, 21, and 23), and Eric Owens were the soloists, and the Chorus was prepared by Duain Wolfe. The performance on September 18 was recorded for YouTube and is available in the link below.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 on February 24, 25, 26, and 27, 2022.

This article also appears here.

“We know with certainty that seldom was a work of this kind brought to completion under more adverse conditions than the Eighth Symphony,” wrote Frederick Stock, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra‘s second music director, in Talks About Beethoven’s SymphoniesThe year 1812 was challenging for Beethoven, as he endured “domestic difficulties of the most embarrassing and annoying kind . . . added to this the agony of his ever-increasing deafness, and life’s burden must have been unbearable. And yet the general character of the F major symphony is added proof that adversities, no matter how severe, could not overwhelm him or daunt his spirt, since the temper and color of this work show no trace of suffering. . . . the Eighth Symphony [is] the work of a genius rising above his world, reaching beyond his own time, and that this work was only a stepping-stone for much greater things to come.”

The Eighth Symphony “was misunderstood from the start,” writes CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. “The Eighth is a throwback to an easier time. The novelty of this symphony, however, is that it manages to do new and unusual things without ever waving the flag of controversy.”

Founder and first music director Theodore Thomas first led the Chicago Orchestra in Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony on March 25 and 26, 1892, at the Auditorium Theatre.

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 Eighth Symphony was recorded at Medinah Temple on November 6 and 9, 1973. Ray Minshull was the recording producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock were the balance engineers.

1988 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 Eighth Symphony was recorded in Orchestra Hall on October 17 and 18, 1988. Michael Haas was the recording producer and Stanley Goodall was the balance engineer.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture along with Symphonies nos. 5 and 8 on January 13 and 15, 2021.

Chicago Tribune, December 21, 1891

To close its seventh season on June 5, 1879, the Apollo Musical Club began its annual tradition of presenting Handel’s Messiah, under the baton of the ensemble’s second director, William L. Tomlins, in McCormick Hall. To celebrate the opening of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan‘s Auditorium Theatre on December 9, 1889, Tomlins led the Club in the “Hallellujah” chorus, and, later that month, presented the complete oratorio in the new hall. And two years later, the Chicago Orchestra spent its first Christmas holiday sharing the stage with the Apollo, collaborating in Messiah at the Auditorium.

December 25 and 26, 1891

“Every seat in the Auditorium was taken” for that first performance—opening the Apollo Musical Club’s twentieth season—given on Christmas Day 1891, according to the Chicago Tribune. “Every part of the choral singing last evening merited highest praise for the excellence of the body of tone, the fine balance of the different parts, the firmness, unity, and confidence in attack, and the spirit and artistic intelligence shown in the rendition of the various choruses.” The reviewer also praised the “capable orchestra. Some fifty-four members of the Chicago Orchestra played the accompaniments last evening, and delightfully indeed [and] one member of the orchestra merits special mention. Mr. [Christian] Rodenkirchen [the Orchestra’s first principal trumpet] played the music for the solo trumpet in the air ‘The trumpet shall sound,’ and played it faultlessly, a performance not experienced in this city in years.”

William L. Tomlins in 1900

The reviewer also noted the “marvelous” podium leadership of William L. Tomlins (1844–1930), who had led the Apollo Musical Club since its third season beginning in 1875. “His conception of the masterpiece is an inspiration, and his success in impressing his conceptions upon the chorus is only equaled by the latter’s ability to express them to the audiences. I do not believe it possible for any body of singers to first catch and then convey the full significance of every word . . . better than the Apollo chorus.”

Emil Fischer

The program was repeated the following evening for “wage workers . . . young men who measure out goods behind dry goods counters and daintily gloved fingers that daily touch the keys of the typewriters.” Again, the Apollo, “acquitted itself with even more credit [with] smoothness of tone and firmness in the rendition of parts.”

Jennie Patrick Walker in 1904

German bass Emil Fischer (1838–1914) was in town to perform with the Chicago Orchestra during the fourth week of subscription concerts on December 18 and 19. Under founder and first music director Theodore Thomas‘s baton, Fischer sang Schubert’s Der Wanderer and Ständchen (both orchestrated by Thomas, the latter performed as an encore) along with Hans Sachs’s monologue from the third act of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. A regular at the Metropolitan Opera from 1885 until 1891, Fischer appeared with the company in New York in the U.S. premieres of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Das Rheingold, Rienzi, Siegfried, Tannhäuser (Paris version), and Tristan and Isolde, along with Weber’s Euryanthe. Fischer also would later perform with the Orchestra, under both Thomas and Tomlins, in several concerts during the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.

Genevra Johnstone Bishop in 1907 (Bessie Bartlett Frankel Collection of Travel and Early Los Angeles Music, Scripps College)

American singers rounded out the rest of the cast of soloists. Soprano Jennie Patrick Walker (1856–1930) performed on December 25 but canceled due to illness for the second performance. She was replaced by soprano Genevra Johnstone Bishop (ca. 1860–1924), who later performed with the Chicago Orchestra on a number of occasions on tour, subscription concerts, and at the World’s Columbian Exposition. She also served as musical adviser at the White House during President Warren G. Harding‘s term.

Contralto Pauline Rommeiss Bremner (1859–1936) and tenor William J. Lavin (1856–1900, the first husband of soprano Mary Howe-Lavin) completed the cast.

For more than seventy years, the Orchestra continued to regularly collaborate with the Apollo in Handel’s Messiah, with performances at the Auditorium, at the World’s Columbian Exposition, and in Orchestra Hall, most recently on December 15, 1964.

This article also appears here.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus will present Handel’s Messiah on December 16, 17, 18, and 19, 2021, in Orchestra Hall with soloists Yulia Van Doren, Reginald Mobley, Ben Bliss, and Dashon Burton. Nicholas McGegan conducts.

Theodore Thomas in 1880

Wishing a very happy birthday to our founder and first music director, Theodore Thomas, on the occasion of his 186th birthday!

“The first of the great conductors active in America was the German-born Theodore Thomas, whose family came to New York from Hannover when he was ten years old. Thomas can thus legitimately be called an American product. . . . From the beginning, Thomas dedicated himself to the idea that good music was a necessity for the people, not a luxury. He also made up his mind that he was going to be the man to bring music to them.”

“[Thomas] had a genuine nobility and a musical adventurousness far beyond that of any conductor active in America at the time. Nobody could swerve him from his mission. . . . When [Adelina] Patti sang under his baton, she wanted things her way; she was the prima donna, she said. Thomas corrected her. ‘Excuse me, madam. Here I am the prima donna.'”

“The importance of Theodore Thomas in the American scheme of things cannot be overestimated. More than any single person he raised the standards of orchestral playing and repertoire. . . . The man was protean and possessed of a high order of discrimination. He had daring, imagination, and, above all, determination; a will that could not be bent, much less broken. It was he who, through his tours with the Theodore Thomas Orchestra, brought the sound of symphonic music for the first time to a large part of the United States. Pioneer, educator, organizer, scrapper, Theodore Thomas was in addition a brilliant and far-seeing conductor . . . and once he started, he never let down. . . . Thomas did keep on, and lived to see the emergence of a great musical culture in his country. A substantial part of it was all his work.”

—excerpts from The Great Conductors by Harold C. Schonberg, 1967.

the vault

Theodore Thomas

csoarchives twitter feed

chicagosymphony twitter feed

disclaimer

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

visitors

  • 480,508 hits
%d bloggers like this: