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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life mask of Ludwig van Beethoven (Todd Rosenberg photo)

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

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

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

Retired violists gather at the October 19, 1996, CSO Alumni Association reunion: William Schoen (1964–1996), Milton Preves (1934–1939, principal 1939–1986), Phillip Kauffman, Isadore Zverow, and Donald Evans (1948–1988)

Retired violists gather at the October 19, 1996, CSO Alumni Association reunion: William Schoen (1964–1996), Milton Preves (1934–1939, principal 1939–1986), Phillip Kauffman, Isadore Zverow, and Donald Evans (1948–1988) (Jim Steere photo)

Virtually every Chicago Symphony Orchestra musician studied with a great teacher, who studied with great teachers before that—a process that traces back to Bernstein, Brahms, and Bach. Along with our beloved Italian maestro, Riccardo Muti, the members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association are a living link to past generations of legendary performers, conductors, and composers, and our artist musicians hail from many different countries who share a common musical heritage.

Lady Valerie Solti is greeted by CSOAA president Tom Hall at the Cliff Dwellers on October 16, 2009

Lady Valerie Solti is greeted by CSOAA president Tom Hall at the Cliff Dwellers on October 16, 2009 (Dan Rest photo)

As we conclude the celebrations surrounding the Orchestra’s festive 125th season, the CSOAA also celebrates an anniversary this year—its twenty-fifth. The CSOAA consists of nearly 130 members—including retired and former musicians, spouses, and children—an astonishing aggregate total of well over a thousand years of service to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra! In 1991, Isadore Zverow (viola, 1945–1988) fostered the idea of the CSOAA, and subsequent presidents have included Sam Denov (percussion, 1954–1985), Phillip Kauffman (violin and viola, 1927–1930 and 1964–1984), Jerry Sabransky (violin, 1949–1997), and currently Tom Hall (violin, 1970–2006).

Victor Aitay (assistant/associate concertmaster 1954–1967, concertmaster 1967–1986, concertmaster emeritus 1986–2003) and his daughter Ava along with Donald Peck (flute 1957–1958, principal 1958–1999) and Edward Druzinsky (seated, principal harp 1957–1997) at the Cliff Dwellers on October 16, 2009

Victor Aitay (assistant/associate concertmaster 1954–1967, concertmaster 1967–1986, concertmaster emeritus 1986–2003) and his daughter Ava along with Donald Peck (flute 1957–1958, principal 1958–1999) and Edward Druzinsky (seated, principal harp 1957–1997) at the Cliff Dwellers on October 16, 2009 (Dan Rest photo)

Having performed for many years together on stages all over the world, alumni continue to interact with each other through the CSOAA; and each season, members receive discounts to concerts and the Symphony Store. The organization enjoys the warm embrace of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, which holds its former musicians close as senior members of the Orchestra’s family. Current CSOA President Jeff Alexander has been most gracious in supporting the retirees, some of whom are well into their nineties. The CSOAA board of directors meets several times a year to plan annual reunion dinners, which are usually held at the historic Cliff Dwellers club. Members also have contributed to the CSOA’s Rosenthal Archives—a treasure trove of history, recordings, music scores, artifacts, and databases of former orchestra members—lovingly curated and managed by our liaison, director Frank Villella.

Arnold (principal tuba 1944–1988) and Gizella Jacobs in Orchestra Hall’s Grainger Ballroom on October 19, 1996

Arnold (principal tuba 1944–1988) and Gizella Jacobs in Orchestra Hall’s Grainger Ballroom on October 19, 1996 (Jim Steere photo)

So the next time you stroll through Symphony Center’s first-floor arcade, try to imagine the many great musicians of earlier generations behind each portrait—beautifully taken by photographer Todd Rosenberg—of the superb musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

This article also appears in the September/October CSO program book.

Donald Moline was a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra cello section from 1967 until 2006, and he currently serves as secretary of the CSOAA.

Edgar (violin 1956–2003) and Nancy Muenzer, Jacques Israelievitch (assistant concertmaster 1972–1978), and Samuel (violin 1958–1966, assistant concertmaster 1966–1972, concertmaster 1972–2007) and Miriam Magad in The Club at Symphony Center on June 3, 2011

Edgar (violin 1956–2003) and Nancy Muenzer, Jacques Israelievitch (assistant concertmaster 1972–1978), and Samuel (violin 1958–1966, assistant concertmaster 1966–1972, concertmaster 1972–2007) and Miriam Magad in The Club at Symphony Center on June 3, 2011 (Dan Rest photo)

Adolph Herseth (principal trumpet 1948–2001, principal trumpet emeritus 2001–2004) and Norman Schweikert (horn 1971–1997) on April 11, 2008, at the Cliff Dwellers

Adolph Herseth (principal trumpet 1948–2001, principal trumpet emeritus 2001–2004) and Norman Schweikert (horn 1971–1997) on April 11, 2008, at the Cliff Dwellers (Dan Rest photo)

Storyteller Megan Wells in action

Storyteller Megan Wells in action (photo by Todd Rosenberg)

CSO oboe Lora Schaefer (Baby Bear), bass Alexander Hanna (Papa Bear), and viola Diane Mues (Mama Bear)

CSO oboe Lora Schaefer (Baby Bear), bass Alexander Hanna (Papa Bear), and viola Diane Mues (Mama Bear) (photo by Todd Rosenberg)

One of my favorite partnerships is the one we have with the Frederick Stock School, named for the CSO’s second music director. As often as possible, we reach out to the school to include them in our programs and also volunteer for their special events.

On November 5, nearly 100 kids, teachers, and chaperones from the school attended a performance of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” at Symphony Center. The program is part of the CSO’s Once Upon a Symphony series, designed specifically for kids age three to five and perfect for the Stock kids. The interactive multi-media presentation (in collaboration with Chicago Children’s Theatre), adapted and written by storyteller Megan Wells, features costumes and sets, video, and performances by members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

And to say thank you, the kids from Stock School sent us some homemade cards!

Stock kids - thank-you 2Stock kids - thank-you 1Stock kids - thank-you 3

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

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