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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This rare, unpublished, informal photograph of the Chicago Orchestra, taken during its inaugural season, was discovered in the early 1960s by Jeff Gold, a Chicago freelance oboist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.
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.
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.
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
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
18. August Junker
19. Carl Riedelsberger
20. Jan Meyroos
21. Ferdinand Volk*
22. Bruno Steindel
23. Walter Unger
24. Ludwig Corell
25. Emil Schippe
26. Albin Wiegner
27. Joseph Beckel
28. Louis Klemm
29. Richard Helm
30. Edmund Schuecher
31. Vigo Andersen
32. Martin Ballman (piccolo)
33. Felix Bour
34. E. Schoenheinz (english horn)
35. Joseph Schreurs
36. Carl Meyer (bass clarinet)
37. Hugo Litke
38. Louis Friedrich (contrabassoon)
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.)
45. Otto Gebhardt
46. William Zeller
47. Josef Nicolini
48. August Helleberg
49. William Loewe
(16) (Joseph Zettelmann)
(17) (Ernest F. Wagner)
(18) (Richard Donati)
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.
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 Philharmonics. Featuring 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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the most treasured scores in that collection is the manuscript of Richard Strausss 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 , 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].”
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.”
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 . . .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.’ ”
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.
Wishing a very happy birthday to our founder and first music director Theodore Thomas on the occasion of his 181st birthday!
“To see Thomas lead is music itself. His baton is alive, full of grace, of symmetry; he maketh no gestures, he readeth his score almost without looking at it, he seeth everybody, heareth everything, warneth every man, encourageth every instrument, quietly, firmly, marvellously. Not the slightest shade of nonsense, not the faintest spark of affectation, not the minutest grain of effect is in him. He taketh the orchestra in his hand as if it were a pen and writeth with it.”
—Sidney Lanier, American poet, musician, and academic
Happy birthday, Maestro!
The Art Institute of Chicago opened its new building—completed in time for the second year of the World’s Columbian Exposition—on December 8, 1893, at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Adams Street. For the opening reception, Theodore Thomas and the Orchestra performed Schubert’s Three Marches (from the Six Grand Marches, D. 819, orchestrated by Thomas), the second movement of Beethoven’s Second Symphony, Dvořák’s Second Slavonic Rhapsody, Goldmark’s Serenade from The Rustic Wedding, the Elegy and Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for String Orchestra, and Wagner’s Forest Murmurs from Siegfried.
The Art Institute’s south garden was the first site of The Spirit of Music, a memorial to Thomas, originally dedicated on April 24, 1924. It was designed by architect Howard Van Doren Shaw and sculpted by Albin Polasek. Subsequently moved on multiple occasions and even temporarily presumed to be lost, the memorial ultimately was moved to Grant Park at the intersection of Michigan and Balbo avenues and rededicated on October 18, 1991, at the conclusion of the Orchestra’s centennial celebration.
Directly behind the statue is a carved frieze including images of musicians. In its center is an inscription with text culled from a telegram sent from Ignace Paderewski to Rose Fay Thomas on January 5, 1905, the day following her husband’s death. Upon hearing the news, Paderewski had written: “Scarcely any man in any land has done so much for the musical education of the people as did Theodore Thomas in this country. The nobility of his ideals with the magnitude of his achievement will assure him everlasting glory.”
During the Chicago Orchestra’s thirteenth season, Theodore Thomas programmed Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony for its first performances in the United States. This was the fourth of Bruckner’s symphonies to be performed by the Orchestra in Chicago, as Thomas had already led the Fourth in January 1897, the Third in March 1901, and the Second in February 1903.
On February 19, 1904, the capacity crowd at the Auditorium Theatre had gathered mainly to hear contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink, one of the most famous singers of the day. Thomas had strategically programmed the Bruckner on the first half of the concert between Schumann-Heink’s two selections—“Non più di fiori” from Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito and an orchestration of Schubert’s song “Die Allmacht”—to obviously assure that the premiere would be heard by all in attendance.
“The name of Bruckner caused these 3,700 persons [over 700 had been turned away] to listen in patient, long suffering to a piece of tedious music which endured for fifty-five wearisome minutes, and to applaud when the trial was at an end,” wrote William Lines Hubbard in the Chicago Tribune. “There may have been those in the audience yesterday who did not find the three movements of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony tedious almost beyond endurance, but certainly their number was small. . . . We have endured four of his symphonies in the last six years—please, Mr. Thomas, is there not somebody else it would be ‘good for us’ to hear? Anybody will be preferable to more Bruckner!”
This article also appears here.
According to Theodore Thomas’s Memoirs, “While in Europe [during the summer of 1882] 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 the young Strauss to let him have the other three movements, promising to bring out the whole work in a concert with the [New York] Philharmonic.” Thomas kept his word and gave the premiere of Strauss’s Symphony no. 2 in F minor on December 13, 1884, thus introducing Strauss to America.
Their friendship blossomed, and as a result, Thomas introduced several of Strauss’s tone poems to Chicago audiences, including the U.S. premiere of Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks on November 15, 1895. The reviewer for the Chicago Record reported, “Strauss’s rondo is a tour de force, astonishing at every measure, irresistibly droll, full of quaint medieval quips and cranks, teeming with clever mimicry and brilliant instrumental pantomime, and, above all, a masterpiece of orchestral art. The intricacy of the score is extraordinary, the ingenious devices resorted to for effect amazing, and the humor and wholesome buffoonery of the piece unique. Nothing could have been chosen better to illustrate the immense resources of the young composer and the fertility of his genius. What is more, the piece gave the Orchestra an opportunity to display its consummate training, and it may be said that music never was played in Chicago with finer technical nicety or with more of the spirit of a composer.”
Thomas also led the Orchestra in the U.S. premieres of Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra on February 5, 1897; Don Quixote on January 6, 1899; and Ein Heldenleben on March 9, 1900.
This article also appears here.