THE IDEAL toward which American orchestral history has been moving is the “permanent” orchestra. The permanent orchestra may be identified by the following traits: (i) exclusively professional membership; (2) full season contracts; (3) the orchestra as principal employment of its members; (4) all other employment (e.g. teaching, concert, etc.) compatible with priority of orchestral requirements; (5) regular and adequate rehearsals; (6) financial base sufficient to insure the above conditions. The obvious intent of these conditions is to provide continuity of organization, without which high artistic standards are impossible.
This description represents, of course, an ideal which may not be completely attained. American orchestras range from the Boston orchestra, which is held intact practically throughout the year, to the small community orchestra made up virtually of amateurs who present several concerts per season.
In 1900, there were only four established orchestras closely approximating “permanency”: Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh. Six others fulfilled the requirements less completely. They were Philadelphia, which was founded in November, 1900; the New York Symphony, which was then temporarily suspended, but was revived in 1903; the St. Louis Choral-Symphony, which had had a continuous existence since 1880 but shared the repertoire with a choral society; the New York Philharmonic, founded in 1842, but whose members did not give priority to the orchestra. San Francisco, which had experienced a certain success under Fritz Scheel until 1899, was now stumbling along experimentally, and Los Angeles, which founded its symphony orchestra in 1897 and had won some philanthropic aid in 1899, complete a list of ten orchestras at the opening of the century.
The half century witnessed a general proliferation of symphonic orchestras, so that even small communities felt pressed to emulate the fashion. Major orchestras, with budgets exceeding $100,000, number over twenty; of minor orchestras, with smaller budgets, in which the membership is predominantly professional, there are several score; community orchestras, which testify to the grass-roots interest in concerted music, number six hundred, according to the American Symphony Orchestra League. Many cities have more recently founded orchestras which have attained professional dimensions: Denver, New Orleans, Buffalo, Kansas City, Houston, San Antonio; while others have suffered serious breaks in their continuity: Pittsburgh, Dallas, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon. Their basic problems, however, do not differ from those whose histories are here fully recounted.
In the history of American music there have been many orchestras which are not classifiable in the customary civic categories. Most of these orchestras were in New York. The Russian Symphony, under Modest Altschuler, was organized in 1904; between 1914 and 1919, this orchestra brought celebrated soloists arid played a progressive repertoire. In the 1940’s, with the blessing of the picturesque Mayor LaGuardia, the City Center orchestra under Leopold Stokowski and Leonard Bernstein purveyed music at popular prices. The radio chains likewise entered the active lists. While CBS had long featured the New York Philharmonic, NBC organized its own orchestra in 1937 for Toscanini, who usually functioned during about half the season. All these orchestras are, however, ancillary to the local orchestras distributed throughout the country. Often playing several times per week to their local audiences, they constitute the essential framework of American symphonic life.
The New York Philharmonic Society, America’s first and oldest extant professional orchestra organized exclusively for concert purposes, made its initial appearance December 7, 1842, in the Apollo Rooms (capacity 500), 410 Broadway, a few doors below Canal ‘Street.1
Such a terse chronological statement hardly does justice to the functional beginnings of orchestral history in the United States, and contributes little to the understanding of the social forces that called it into being and fostered its survival. Substantially, its history embraces that of the symphonic orchestra movement in the United States, modified to some extent, of course, by the conditions peculiar to its local habitat.
New York, which during the pre-Revolutionary days had ranked third to Boston and Philadelphia in size and cultural importance, was soon to outstrip its two rivals. With the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, New York was assured supremacy as the first port of America. Doubling its population during this decade, it was by 1840 a thriving and cosmopolitan commercial city of about 400,000 while Boston and Philadelphia were now left far behind with only about one-fourth of that population. All forms of entertainment were in a flourishing state. Opera and theatre began to supply a fine backlog of musicians and audiences for all types of musical projects, although before 1830 the city had suffered from a serious scarcity of instrumental artists.
Besides being supplied with adequate, if not abundant, talent,, New York could show evidence that interest in instrumental and orchestral music was “in the air.” The theatre had nursed along the small auxiliary orchestras which were now seeking emancipation and, craved an opportunity to make music on their own account. A sumptuous repertoire lay ready. Haydn and Mozart had a long-established fame. Beethoven and Schubert had been dead about fifteen years; Mendelssohn and Spphr were at the height of their careers, while Wagner and Liszt were on the threshold of theirs.
England, France, Germany, and Austria, from which the New World received its inspiration, had already developed models to be emulated. The Philharmonic Society of London was founded in 1813 with the avowed intent to “rekindle in the public mind that taste for excellence in instrumental music which has so long remained in a latent state”;2 Habeneck had founded, in 1828, the Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire for the express purpose of performing the Beethoven symphonies; the Leipzig Gewandhaus concerts, which were destined to assume the highest dignity in the orchestral field in all Germany, extended back to 1781; and, finally, the orchestra of the Vienna Royal Opera under Otto Nicolai, composer of the still performed Merry Wives of Windsor, branched off on its own account in November, 1842, to present to the Viennese musical public “for the first time the symphonic masterpieces performed by a welltrained orchestra, with verve and technical perfection under the direction of a young, energetic conductor,”3 and thus anticipated the inaugural concert of the New York society by only a few weeks.
The tardy developments in New York and Vienna issued from quite dissimilar circumstances. Although Vienna was the ancestral home of the symphony, it was the opera that enjoyed priority in the patronage of the nobility and cultivated bourgeoisie. Even today, the Vienna Philharmonic is nothing more than the opera orchestra which undertakes to offer a half dozen concerts per season on its own responsibility. It was an offshoot from the opera in a musically mature community. In New York, on the other hand, the symphony orchestra was itself an original phenomenon in a musically immature community, which during much of its life maintained itself against all other competing forms of serious musical entertainment.
The occasion which precipitated the organization of an ensemble of professional musicians was a memorial benefit concert for the surviving family of Daniel Schlesinger, a respected musician, who had died in 1838. The whole musical fraternity seems to have cooperated in the formation of an “orchestra of unprecedented strength” which embraced “all the musical talent of this city, the managers of the theatres and W. Niblo, Esq. having kindly allowed their most distinguished performers to place themselves at the disposal of the committee.”4 The Overture to Der Freischiitz, and the Finale to the Symphony No. 2 of Beethoven, as played by sixty professionals, made a stupendous impression upon the audience of 2,000 persons. That “no such orchestra had ever before been heard in New York, and no such effect ever before produced,” is quite comprehensible when it is recalled that, in leaner days (1828), the Eroica had been performed as a septet. Although it was an undoubted achievement for that period, the modern concept of an orchestra as a thoroughly disciplined body had not yet touched their imagination, for even forty years later R. Osgood Mason could reminisce:
The performance was a success in various ways . . . but what is germane to the present subject, it demonstrated the fact that classical and even difficult music could be performed by a large number of New York musicians from various organizations without frequent rehearsals.5
Many years were destined to pass before the relinquishment of this comforting and complacent illusion.
This musical feast created the taste for a permanent fare, but it was not until April, 1842, that the Society was organized, and not until December 7 that it was prepared for its first appearance. The new group assumed the name of its English prototype by calling itself the “Philharmonic” Society, a Greek derivative consonant with its high purpose of cultivating one of the principal arts. It was then a designation commonly used, before the “Symphony” had usurped the place of prestige.
Like many of its European prototypes,6 the New York orchestra was a “cooperative” or communistic body. The net income at the close of the season was distributed equally among all the active members from percussion to concertmaster. Only the conductor and the librarian, elected by popular vote, received salaries according to contract. It was also a self-governing group, in which new members were admitted only by the vote of the old. These circumstances are all of vital importance in the explanation of some of the dilemmas of the orchestra in its subsequent history. Well adapted as it was to its own times, it led a quiet and profitable existence for many years, but, like all the cooperative and Utopian societies in the social and economic fields which sprang up in those decades, it could not endure the white heat of the fiercely competitive world into which it was ultimately propelled. Eventually, it too succumbed to the inevitable.
From the standpoint of its internal musical organization, its approximately sixty members represented a phenomenal achievement. For some decades such a number was to be assumed satisfactory, and even in the present century many reputable conductors—Thomas, Damrosch, Oberhoffer—who spread the gospel of good orchestral ensemble with their traveling orchestras, knew how to be content with less. However, the internal balance left much to be desired in terms of present-day standards. Instrumentation was top-heavy with an easily understardable-excess of violins (twenty-two) to only four cellos.7 The So to depend on the actual availability as well as the willii musicians to participate in the public concerts.
The new ore means represented the principal activity of its member monthly concert was anticipated as a pleasant relief from more remunerative occupational duties, and the rehearsal periods were cluttered up with routine business matters, from which members could absent themselves with relative impunity. In his Fifth Annual Report, the secretary bemoans the fact that while
the number of Violin, Viola and Cello performers among the members . . . is quite sufficient for our concerts; but still for various reasons we have not had the proper number of either of these instruments at one concert during the season.
In the Eleventh Annual Report he continues to complain of a condition that remained to plague the cooperative orchestras for decades to come:
We need many more from whom we can at any moment fill a vacancy at a rehearsal or concert, so that whenever we meet we are sure of a full orchestra, and that, too, of our members.
For a long time the Society seemed to many a player at best a pleasant luxury and at worst a dubious venture, not worthy of causing interruption in his regular employment. Still distant was the time when a well-established orchestra, with adequate financial inducements, could import on almost immediate notice a needed woodwind from Paris or a string player from Vienna to perfect its balance in personnel.
The conductor of 1842—if we may call him such—had just graduated from the player’s stand. As a profession of independent dignity, conducting was still in a primitive state, for Berlioz was still to write his chapter (1856) and Wagner his brochure (1869) on this metier. During the first New York season of three concerts, six different conductors officiated, selected according to qualifications upon which we can only speculate, but probably to keep every eligible candidate happy. Certainly they could not have been much more than Taktschldger, a kind of first among equals who were bound together by ties of friendship rathe/cietyi the thongs of stern discipline. ??
If these first flights did not reach g ic heights, they were at least impelled by a lofty purpose w*j?xy of the fashionable audiences seemed to reciprocate. In the “rs. T.ectus of the twentyninth season (1870-71), it is reported that
in as much as the compositions of that class can seldom be fully appreciated when heard but once, the Society has for many years made the rehearsals preceding each concert open to the public.
But then, as now, there were those who had no inclination to soar to the heights of abstraction, who came to be entertained, not to worship. It was thus with great reluctance that the orchestra swerved from its original determination to cultivate the music which these instrumentalists loved.
. . . vocal music has been introduced only to satisfy the demands of those . . . who would not without it have been persuaded to contribute their support. . . . We are living in a community where considerable prejudice exists unfavorable to music in its highest state of cultivation, more particularly to instrumental music and to some musical instruments. ... It must be acknowledged that the science of music ... is not a human invention, but of Divine appointment. . . . Therefore, it should be cultivated equally with all our other faculties, and its pursuit is as useful and necessary ... as that of the other arts and sciences.
The apostles of instrumental music bewailed the public defection toward the false gods of vocalism; and, in the same Sixth Annual Report, deplored:
. . . “Italian opera competes tragically with the Philharmonic.”
But even purely instrumental music was given programmatic interpretations. To render abstract music more comprehensible in the absence of “words, action, and scenery,” the music annotator of the day often invented a literary accompaniment, one of the earliest functions of what we now know as program notes. It is easy in our day to be condescending toward those who lived in the age of “the Dying Poet,” and it might seem naive and childish when the Eroica, in the second Philharmonic season, is described as a “portrayal of the workings of that extraordinary man’s mind, . . . The winding up of this movement [the Funeral March] represents the faltering step of the last gazers into the grave, and the listener hears the tears fall on the coffin ere the funeral volley is fired.”8 It is hardly fair to make our tastes and aesthetic ideologies retroactive, unless we accord the right of future critics to prepare analogous obituaries for us. In the mid-nineteenth century theorists were burning with romantic ardor; they believed thoroughly in the merger of all the arts: literary, musical, and graphic—a tenet that found ultimate realization in the Wagnerian music-dramas. The present post-romantic sophistication, having repudiated this dogma for a stark neoclassicism, is hardly competent to sit in judgment over such an age.
In spite of early discouragements, the Philharmonic Society flourished quite beyond the dreams of its early visionaries. It not only supplied a sturdy education in serious music to those who desired it but, according to the Sixth Annual Report, soon began to appeal to the fashionable elite who found in the concerts an outlet for their desire for a symbol of exclusiveness, or who “recognized the duty of patronizing the fine arts with liberal appropriations from their affluence.” By 1856 “opera-cloaks could be seen in the audience.” The Society was now ready to move from Niblo’s Theatre, at Broadway and Prince in lower Manhattan, to the fashionable Academy of Music, at Fourteenth and Irving Place, where it remained with minor interruptions until it moved still farther uptown to the Metropolitan Opera House in 1886.
The alliance of the social aristocracy with the promulgation of great music, which was to prove so fertile in later years, took tentative beginnings in the election, for the first time in its history, of a nonplaying associate member as president. Dr. R. Ogden Doremus, professor of chemistry at New York University, who had been associate member for twenty years, was elevated to this post in 1867 after exacting two promises: that the orchestra be increased to one hundred men, and that it engage prominent soloists. Up to this time many of the soloists had been local musicians who served gratis for the public distinction such an association conferred upon them. The orchestra concerts were almost immediately converted into a principal feature of the social season, to the great pecuniary benefit of the organization. In addition to the musical people and the fashionable set, the Society also attracted considerable patronage from those whose religious beliefs forbade their attendance at the opera and the theatre.
But, by no means all the best people harbored such pious aversions to theatre and opera. Consequently, the Philharmonic was not to be the only pet of society. New York was a fantastically expanding field. The city had grown from 400,000 in 1840 to one and one-half million in 1870 and two million in 1880. The Philharmonic was not keeping pace. Many factors, both internal and external to the Society, contributed to the stunting of its growth and ultimately to its very marked decline by the end of the century. Beginning about 1880, New York, with its fabulous wealth, was entering into its “golden age” of the opera. The old aristocracy at the Academy of Music, as well as the newly rich “Wall Street upstarts” who had built the Metropolitan Opera House (opened October, 1883), had generated an appetite for the distingue which the old Philharmonic could never satisfy. The glamour of the prima donnas furnished a more exciting and socially exclusive hobby than a plodding orchestra playing the intellectual Beethoven symphonies.
Other orchestras likewise entered the competitive lists. Discouraged with the desultory, sparse rehearsals and the absenteeism of the cooperative Philharmonic, Theodore Thomas, a leading member of that orchestra since 1854, surging with implacable ambition and musical idealism, had organized his own orchestra. He employed his men full time, inculcated a furious discipline in his ensemble, and. infused imagination and variety into the repertoire, all of which quickly outdistanced the loosely knit Philharmonic, which Dwighfs Journal of Music had labeled “antiquated and old-fogyish” as early as 1864. The lure of full employment arid the prestige of membership in the Thomas orchestra attracted from the Philharmonic many of its important players.
Leopold Damrosch, one of the first mature musicians of note to settle in the United States, likewise provided a counterattraction with the establishment of the Symphony Society in 1878. Warmhearted and genial, carrying the prestige of friendship with Wagner, Biilow, and Liszt, Dr. Damrosch succeeded in enlisting the cooperation of certain elements of fashionable New York which neither the cold dignity of Theodore Thomas nor the uninspired Philharmonic could thaw. In fact, Damrosch was given a one-year turn (1876—77) at the moribund Philharmonic. The editor of the Steinway Hall Programme Notes
was glad to learn that the Philharmonic has been reorganized, non-competent members weeded out . . . engaged a thoroughly capable and conscientious conductor in Dr. Leopold Damrosch who, it is hoped, will put a little fresh vim into the Society.
These hostile forces were closing in on this venerable group and threatening it with annihilation.
In despair, the Philharmonic turned to Thomas, counting on the asset of his popularity with the New York public. He was elected in 1877, dropped out one year while engaged in the Cincinnati episode described later, and then was re-elected, polling 54 votes to 9 for Damrosch and 6 for Neuendorff, the interim incumbent who had defeated Dr. Damrosch the preceding year, 46 to 29. When, in 1891, Thomas was called to Chicago, Anton Seidl, the Metropolitan Opera conductor and “dean” of New York musicians at the time, became his logical successor and, like Thomas, played to crowded houses. The concerts were almost at once (November, 1892) transferred to the newly built Music Hall (later “Carnegie Hall”) from the Metropolitan Opera House, where they had been housed since 1886 but which Theodore Thomas and other musicians considered too large, and the recesses of the stage too ruinous, for fine musical effect.9 It was a profitable, if not brilliant period.
The lustre of the Philharmonic was nevertheless blemished by the fact that it carried within its own organization the seeds of its disintegration. After Thomas and Seidl had ushered in a period of hitherto unachieved prosperity, thereby postponing for a couple of decades the inevitable reckoning, the orchestra reverted to a period of drowsy torpor which even the occasional flash of inspired conducting could not shake off. Thomas and Seidl, both of whom had built up a loyal following, definitely marked the end of the period of efflorescence when seats had been at a premium and reasonable artistic integrity had been maintained. After the sudden death of Seidl in 1898, Emil Paur, late of Boston, was elected with fifty-five votes against five for Walter Damrosch. But patronage declined, and the orchestra now seemed to have no other interest than to maintain itself, its form of government, its stodgy repertoire, and its complacent pace of existence. For these and other reasons it came about that, at the close of the century, when Boston and Chicago possessed virile orchestras of almost world renown, the New York Philharmonic, composed of musicians some of whom were superannuated, many of them tired, was an orchestra with no mark of distinction excepting its chronological seniority. This orchestra was not much more than a hobby of its members, an amiable diversion, a source of pin money, rather than an essential organization enlisting the primary energies and loyalties of its players, and actively fostering the progress of the art.
For decades it had presented only six concerts per season, in addition to public rehearsals, which were increased to eight in 1897-98. If Theodore Thomas and his permanent orchestra had stimulated Boston to put aside its obsolete system, it was now the Boston orchestra, invading New York annually, which pointed up the anachronism of the cooperative Philharmonic. Without financial subsidy, and the quality of its performances constantly subject to odious comparison with the Boston orchestra, it was eking out a threadbare existence, at the point of death from sheer inanition. No first-rate conductor could be attracted under such hopeless conditions.
But it would not be fair to conclude that this was willful stubbornness and sheer inertia. Two dominant forces were operating to buttress the status quo: (1) the strength of the obsolete system of the cooperative organization, and (2) the aloofness of wealth, whose indispensability was demonstrated in the experience of other cities.
Paradoxically enough, it was the very weakness of the organization that constituted its strength. If the orchestra did not yield much in financial and aesthetic returns, it was also true that not much was expected from it. With such a flexible foundation, it could absorb all the vicissitudes of fortune without collapsing. The members, who controlled its destiny by their votes, opposed change for a variety of personal motives. Some feared replacement, others resented disciplined rehearsals, and all were beset by the uncertainties of the proposed new order. They were essentially a group of democratically self-employed musicians who saw no reason why anyone should interfere with their enterprise as long as they were content to maintain it. As for fashion and wealth, it was preoccupied with the opera, which was still in its Augustan age, and had not yet developed solicitude for the orchestra and its affairs. When neither players nor civic leaders sensed a strong need for change, the mechanical law of inertia prevailed.
At this time, however, certain philanthropic elements were moving to capture the Society with a view to its reorganization. Andrew Carnegie had accepted the presidency in 1901, and his friend Walter Damrosch, who had relinquished his post in the Symphony Society and was always good for a half dozen votes in the annual Philharmonic elections, was finally elected conductor for 1902-03. This aroused hopes of financial relief from that segment of society in the city that had always been cordial to him.
One would suppose that an orchestra would seize with alacrity any opportunity of greater financial security. However, gifts come high, and conditions attached to such financial assistance were still considered prohibitive by the membership of the not quite lifeless Philharmonic. During that season, Carnegie and other friends had established a fund of $25,000 for four years, which was pledged to the Philharmonic under the stipulation that the Society would:
(1)admit to the fifteen-member governing board seven members representing the contributors
(2)make certain radical changes in personnel
(3)increase the number of concerts and rehearsals
This was correctly interpreted by the organization as an attempt to destroy the fundamental democratic system of control, and allegedly designed to place the incumbent as permanent conductor during the life of the proposed agreement. The offer was therefore rejected. When the dust had settled, and the outline of future events became clear, Damrosch superfluously announced his noncandidacy for re-election and proceeded to mobilize the forces for the resumption of the concerts of his own Symphony Society.
The aroused Philharmonic, in an heroic effort to reinvigorate its ebbing strength, resorted to a galaxy of guest conductors. Aided by contributions from John D. Rockefeller and others, some of the most eminent conductors of France, England, Germany, and Russia were invited: Colonne, Henry Wood, Weingartner, Safonoff, Richard Strauss, Mengelberg, and several lesser lights. Theodore Thomas, of Chicago, who had still retained some loyal friends—as well as enemies—in New York after ten years of absence, was to have conducted the last concert of the season of 1904-05, and only death intervened in the plans for his grand homecoming.
The public was thrilled with the relay race of conductors who passed the baton from one to the other. The first season was successful beyond the most sanguine hopes, and it was Vassily Safonoff, a more or less obscure Russian, who stunned the audience with his Slavic renditions of the well-known Russian works. But after the third year of guest conductors, appetites were again jaded, and Safonoff, who had appeared with great success in all three years, was elected permanent conductor with a three-year contract at $20,000 per year. In the end, he too failed to maintain his grip on the audience. When the stunned audience awoke—the thrill was gone! The daringly garish interpretation of his fellow-Russian composers by this musical Tartar turned out to be an impossible mannerism, aberrant and irresponsible, when applied to the general repertoire. Eschewing the baton, he employed a fistic style of direction, vehement and theatrical, which called for rude contrasts and extravagant rhythms and tempi.
After three years, in 1908-09, at long last, the members of the orchestra could not fail to see that the cooperative machinery, which had rumbled along for sixty-seven years, was creaking toward its final breakdown. It simply could not rise to modern demands, and was artistically and financially ruinous. Harassed by the memory of past futilities, and frightened by future prospects of the reorganization of the competitive Symphony Society under Walter Damrosch, the Philharmonic was ready to capitulate. It was, in a way, a pathetic denouement to an originally worthy, but now archaic, principle; for such is the irony of “progress,” and so far had the world moved, that a group of likeminded friends, democratically banded together as a private enterprise in the service of their art, content with a modest pecuniary reward, was not permitted by a sophisticated society to persevere, but was now compelled to submit to the dictates of efficiency and discipline to fulfill its manifest destiny. Like many another private enterprise, it was taken over by society as soon as it was affected with the public interest.
Under the aggressive sponsorship of Mrs. George R. Sheldon, wife of a banker and Republican chairman of New York City, a guarantee of $90,000 for three years was raised among the “best families” of the city, which included such names as J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and Joseph Pulitzer. The conditions of surrender were similar to the terms rejected six years previously:
(1)abandonment of the cooperative plan by which the members controlled the policy and elected the conductors
(2)establishment of an outside board of control, on which the orchestra was, however, to be represented
(3)retirement of the superannuated members, and the addition of younger members
(4)expansion of the season’s activities
(5)replacement of SafonofT by Gustav Mahler, with absolute power over membership and musical affairs,
All members handed in their resignation, subject to the acceptance of the new musical director.
Gustav Mahler, composer of symphonies and opera conductor, who had spent ten years at the Royal Opera of Vienna and since 1907 had been with the Metropolitan Opera, assumed the direction of this new venture with the highest hopes. He had not been entirely happy in Vienna. Being both a Jew and a very egocentric personality, his difficulties of adjustment were insuperable. Anti-Semitism in Austria was at that time more severe than in Germanv. What aggravated the situation still more was that the greatest anti-Semite of them all, Dr. Karl Lueger, was Mayor of Vienna coincident with the tenure of Mahler at the Opera. His conversion to Catholicism was slight protection in such a case. He finally writes, July 17, 1907: “Ich gehe nach Amerika, weil ich das Gesindel nicht Triehr aushalten kann”.
But he could expect great things from America, its tolerance and its unlimited resources—so he thought—and was highly encouraged by the initial enthusiasm of the orchestra officials. He therefore drew his plans in the grand manner. For the first time in the history of the orchestra it was to emerge from the dull routine of a short series of pairs. To the augmented subscription series, he added a Beethoven cycle, a historical cycle, Sunday concerts, and a tour.
But this first experiment in cooperation between conductor and lay board was doomed to disappointment on both sides. It was a stormy regime. Maliler, who in his artistically successful career had hardened himself to obstacles, and had at times defied royalty itself, was not likely to err on the side of diffidence when dealing with a group of social leaders of New York who “failed” in their comprehension of the principle of artistic supremacy. Unreceptive to interference, or even active criticism, he received a full measure of both. The ladies’ committee entered where the Hapsburg Emperor himself had feared to tread. They, who laid down the cash for the project, took an unexpectedly personal interest in the new orchestra and entertained decided notions on matters of programs and soloists. According to Frau Mahler, the ladies ordered him about like a puppet—him, to whom royalty itself did not dictate. He ran afoul of critics such as Krehbiel, who should have known better, for doing what all conductors did then and now—editing the scores and modifying instrumentation.
Nor was the general competitive musical setting auspicious. The Metropolitan Opera was then enjoying one of the most brilliant periods in its history. Gatti-Casazza had assumed the headship and imported Toscanini as principal conductor. Among their stars were the glamorous Caruso, Farrar, Nordica, Homer, Gadski, Sembrich, and Melba. Another opera company, of brief existence, was the Hammerstein company, which crashed the orbit of the Metropolitan like a comet with Tetrazzini, Mary Garden, and John McCormack. As if that were not enough, a popular, preseason, Italian opera company held forth at the Academy of Music and siphoned off some of the city’s musical enthusiasm. Between 1880 and 1910, New York was very fertile in the creation of new millionaires, some of whose metamorphosed mansions still speckle uptown Manhattan. This new wealth sought its social dividends in opera.
As for the orchestra, which had recently slipped out of the protective cocoon of the cooperative system, and had eased through three years of guest conducting, it was hardly ready for Mahler’s savage prosecution of musical ideals and the continuous discipline of a leader of thorough experience and an abundance of selfconfidence. Neither did his almost pathologically irritable temperament and blunt speech alleviate the tense situation. The final melancholy fact was that the attendance “failed to meet expectations.” The spring of 1911, the time of Mahler’s retirement and death, therefore found the long-suffering Philharmonic exhausted after its first brush with big-time company, and its vitality at its lowest ebb. It was drifting toward extinction, but was revived by one of those strokes of fortune that almost every organization requires occasionally, and of which the New York Philharmonic has enjoyed its quota.
This stroke of good fortune consisted in a bequest of almost $1,000,000 from the estate of Joseph Pulitzer, owner and editor of the New York World, who had died in 1911. The stipulations set forth in this—one of his many well-known benevolences—were as follows:
(1)establishment of a permanent orchestra
(2)a list of 1,000 contributing members
(3)low rates of admission
(4)less esoteric programs and “not too severely classical,” with preference for his favorites Wagner, Beethoveri, and Liszt
Within a few months, the conditions of the will were fulfilled and the court was petitioned to implement the bequest.
At this juncture, in its search for a conductor, the board turned to a relatively unknown young man. Having tried previously a mature musician of established eminence, and found him a partial, if not complete, failure; they now imported a relatively untried Kapellmeister, the thirty-nine-year-old Joseph Stransky from Germany. He turned out to be more than amenable to the stipulation of the Pulitzer bequest to lighten the programs. A person of affable demeanor and a gbod administrator, he enjoyed a large personal following. Given the benefit of more rehearsals than any previous conductor in the history of the orchestra, he was credited with being a good drill master even by those critics who did not impute to him more profound musical talents. There is no question of his unique service to his organization in reviving the old, and generating new, public interest in orchestral music. If higher criticism condemned him for pandering to the public taste by playing an excess of Dvorak, Liszt, and Wagner, it was exactly that policy which reflected itself favorably in the box office. While Aldrich of the Times soon began to lament the fact that the Philharmonic audience no longer included the passionate few of “the cultivated, the most Exacting among the city’s music lovers,” the concerts were selling standing room. If he was not the “greatest conductor in the world” as some of his followers naively contended, there is still no doubt that he earned his $30,000 salary by contributing a service that was vitally needed at that particular moment. The seventy-fifth anniversary (1916-17) was less a pleasurable and triumphant celebration than an occasion for serious stock-taking of future prospects of the orchestra, and an evaluation and assessment of the widely divergent views on the conductor.
The Philharmonic could not escape odious comparison with its sister orchestras. The Philadelphia orchestra, with its sensational young conductor, Leopold Stokowski, carried the competition into home territory and was beginning to electrify New York audiences. Boston and Chicago had previously attained national and international prominence, and New York, responding to these rival pressures, could not hold back. In the meantime, New York had also absorbed the lesson taught it by the experience of Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago, that no orchestra could attain the now generally established musical standards without adequate financial subsidies.
At this very time (1920) there were three subsidized orchestras in New York: The New York Philharmonic, which had enjoyed an inadequate subsidy since 1909; the New York Symphony under Walter Damrosch, which had been supported by Henry Harkness Flagler since 1914; and the National Symphony, whose financial sponsors were Clarence Mackay, president of the Postal Telegraph Company, and Adolph Lewisohn, copper magnate. The last-named orchestra was founded in the spring of 1919 with the rather Gertrude Stein-like title of “New Symphony Orchestra of the Musicians’ New Orchestra Society,” with thirty-five-year-old Edgar Varse, a modern composer recently arrived from France, as conductor. Varese, however, conducted only one concert and was followed briefly by Artur Bodansky, who had been associated with the Metropolitan Opera. In the fall of 1920, its ambitious guarantors secured William Mengelberg, who had not only had a brilliant career at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, but who raised the pitch of excitement of the concert patrons in New York to a height never before experienced. That Mejngelberg could realize his genius was, of course, the result of the generosity of the philanthropists who gave him the green light on expensive rehearsals and high salary scales—which was also the rock upon which his orchestra was destined to be wrecked. New York was only now learning the hard way that rehearsals, at union rates, constitute one of the “concealed” items in the budget of a competent orchestra. It was a magnificent season, the Mengelberg season of 1920-21, as long as it lasted. But it was too costly to endure. The significant features of this experience were, however, first that New York was taking an interest in orchestral music and showering it with the attention that had hitherto been bestowed only upon the opera, and secondly that standards of excellence, long since established in other cities, were finally being courted in New York.
A print from the original of the very first program of the New York Philharmonic concert, December j, 1842. Note the mixture of symphonic works, operatic arias, and chamber music, assisted by three vocal solos. In those days, the music was more important than the conductor, whose name was omitted from the program. The Beethoven Symphony was conducted by U. C. Hill (violinist); the Overture to Oberon, by D. G. Etienne (piano or horn); and the Kalliwoda Overture by H. C. Timm (piano or trombone). During the vocal solos, the orchestra was directed by Mr. Timm. (Courtesy New York Philharmonic-Symphony Society)
WALTER DAMROSCH AND THE NEW YORK SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Next to Theodore Thomas, Walter Damrosch was the most traveled conductor. Between 1885 and 1928, he covered the United States with orchestra and opera. Here, he and his orchestra are leaving Pennsylvania Station, about 192$. The bearded figure in the foreground is the famous flutist 3G Georges Barrere. (Culver Service)
Since the dispersion of the financial and musical resources over three large orchestras was disastrous, the solution obviously indicated their amalgamation.
With the avowed ambition of making the oldest symphony orchestra also the finest in the world, it absorbed Mengelberg’s National Symphony Orchestra. Stransky, who had proven his great box office appeal, was retained for the first half of that season; Mengelberg, who had earned the respect of the critics and philanthropists, took over the second half. Arthur Judson, manager of the Philadelphia orchestra, was appointed manager.
The major competitor of the Philharmonic had long been the New York Symphony Society, founded in 1878 by Leopold Damrosch and enduring for almost fifty years, with only periodic interruptions, under Walter Damrosch. Much of its strength lay in the personal following of the Damrosch family, thereby dividing musical New York into two factions, both socially and financially. Many patrons had furthermore come to enjoy the Damrosch offerings, which, in the later years, were much richer in novelties than those of the more conservative Philharmonic. Musically, however, it could never challenge its senior rival. Now that Walter Damrosch had reached the age of retirement, and both organizations were beset with financial worries, and the Symphony Society had gratified normal sentiment by rounding out the half-century, the stage was set for the consolidation of forces that had been proposed as early as 1910.10 The merger was announced in February, 1928. Both Mackay, who had come to the Philharmonic board from the National Symphony, and Flagler, who had spent over $1,000,000 on the New York Symphony during the preceding decade, were included in the reorganized board, thereby effecting an important consolidation of financial forces.
There were those who genuinely regretted the demise of the Symphony Society because they feared that the new orchestra would present a less enterprising repertoire than had Mr. Damrosch, that concerts would be less frequent, and that not all patrons could be accommodated in the telescoped schedule. Some even bluntly asserted that it was motivated primarily by the desire of the “impoverished millionaires” to get out from under. The merger was symbolized in the union of the names, the Philharmonic-Symphony Society, and Arturo Toscanini, the conductor of the hour, was entrusted with the selection of the personnel, twenty of whom were to be drawn from the Damrosch group.11
Toscanini had already stirred his audiences during his tenure at the Metropolitan Opera, 1908-15. He was known for his inflexible discipline, his unappeasable frenzy for technical perfection, his scoreless conducting, and, his implacable demand that prima donnas, who had been traditionally considered a law unto themselves, be subservient to the conductor. Added to his phenomenal control of the score was an equally phenomenal repertoire of invectives hurled against his musicians, probably evident enough to the custodian who swept up the broken batons, but entirely unsuspected by those members of the audience who melted under the spell of the translucent perfection of the performance. Although Toscanini’s experience had been almost exclusively operatic, he had conducted some concerts in Italy,12 and the Metropolitan orchestra in a few concerts in April, 1913. During the postwar season of 1920-21 he had also visited the United States with a handpicked La Scala orchestra in a goodwill tour of over forty concerts, from New York to Omaha. Suffused with all the trappings and sentiments of patriotic ardor, the occasion thrilled the old subscribers of the Metropolitan Opera who cherished memories of a decade and more ago. Most patrons readily overlooked the scattered comments, floated by a few critics when they had taken their second wind, that his orchestra was technically inferior, and, in fact, that the maestro had really not proven himself a symphonic conductor at all.
Toscanini made his debut with the New York Philharmonic as guest conductor on January 14, 1926—as had been announced more than a year previously—and made his last appearance on April 29, 1936. During these ten years, while serving either as guest or permanent conductor—never for a period longer than about half a season, often less—he evoked a frenzied adulation almost more characteristic of a sports stadium than of the dignified halls of a symphony concert. With crowds jamming the entrance way and cheers and exclamations from the audience, he, who had suppressed all grandstand play on the part of the operatic prima donnas, now became himself the supreme star featured above the orchestra. During the last season, the management, loath to lose the benefits accruing from this high-salaried (estimated at $100,000 for ten weeks)13 sensation, added fifty cents to the price of the single ticket, which it guaranteed to refund on the “nonappearance of the conductor scheduled for this concert.”
What was the secret of the fantastic and unprecedented grip of this virtuoso conductor on the emotions of the public? It would be too naively simple to answer that it was exclusively musical, for every discerning conductor and manager knows better, and every critic can cite conductors of high scholarship who do not obtain comparable deserts in adulation.
No pat answer is forthcoming, not only because the capture of public acclaim is a complex achievement, but also because not all elements of an impression ever rise into consciousness. Consequently, not all observers would agree on the diagnosis of his magnetism. An academic listing culled from contemporary critical commentary includes both aesthetic and nonaesthetic ingredients: (1) absolute finesse and vigor in rendition to the last detail, and razor-sharp precision achieved by no previous conductors; (2) noncontroversial, uncomplicated, almost reactionary repertoire, consisting of Beethoven, Wagner, Brahms, some Mendelssohn, and a liberal condiment of tuneful Italian overtures rendered with the aforementioned exquisite precision; (3) absence of distorted and individualistic readings that would draw critical fire, but rather fidelity to the “intentions of the composer,” and a characteristic forthright performance without “crude rubatos” resorted to by “romantic showmen”; (4) colorful personality, tales about phenomenal memory, the inexorable demands upon his musicians, his driving discipline, his temperamental explosions, which date back to the “Met” days; (5) his open defiance of the dictators Mussolini and Hitler,14 which endeared him to a large element of the New York population and visibly affected attendance at concerts at a time when both psychological satiety and the depression presaged a lull in patronage.
It is clear that this conductor had something for everybody, including even the nonmusical, a kind of omnibus appeal that is necessary for those who would attain popular success. But public acclaim was not without its discordant notes in press and corridor gossip. Some critics observed that there was less emphasis on tone and more on structure; less on poetry, more on meticulous cultivation of technique. To the modernist, his repertoire was utterly conventional, threadbare, and unenterprising. Some deplored his neglect of the American composer. To others, the virtue of meticulous clarity and the chiseled, metallic contours became a passionate fault which inhibited the flexibility and mellowness of style so essential to genuinely satisfying performance. His vigorous execution often became so strident that the pastel shades of gentler moods were entirely obliterated; his tempi were often hurried when restraint was called for. As for his temper tantrums, and his famous hour-long sulks in the Green Room, it was not clear to the commentators whether they were the manifestations of a divine frenzy of a supreme artist, a dramatic hoax to “get results,” or whether they derived from a strange sense of showmanship.
However, such scattered criticisms never attained sufficient momentum to precipitate ugly arid cacophonous public controversy—as was the misfortune of almost every other conductor of comparable stature: Nikisch, Theodore Thomas, or Stokowski. He was never torn between social factions, a kind of struggle which New York had by this time outgrown. On the contrary, there was an extraordinary unanimity of acclaim—rare for a public figure. After sitting through a half dozen seasons of such uniformly noncontroversial performances, a critic might well have worried where his next adjective was coming from!
Nevertheless, it is interesting to speculate how Toscanini would have endured if, like Theodore Thomas, Frederick Stock, Stokowski, Koussevitzky, Monteux, and others with long tenures, he had had to risk boring his audiences by conducting concert after concert, year in and year out, with only minor midseason vacations, vvith a variegated repertoire, without “playing it safe” with standard works that are “sure to please.” Be that as it may, the Toscanini decade was for the new Philharmonic-Symphony Society a golden age during which it savored to the full the novel and exhilarating experience of flirting with greatness.
But even Toscanini could not escape the symptoms of economic adversity of the depression years. In the fall of 1934, there were rumors of still another merger—this time with the Metropolitan Opera.15 Both organizations were suffering the economic afflictions of the threadbare ‘thirties, and Gatti-Casazza had announced his retirement at the close of the 1934-35 season. The plan, however, never jelled. Two obvious objections were that it would have meant the dismissal of the “Met” orchestra, and that the Philharmonic orchestra could not possibly have acquitted itself well in both capacities. Although such collaboration is rather general in Europe where the symphonic season is shorter, the long and arduous orchestra schedule in symphony-minded United States made such a project impractical. Consulted on this desperate depression-born project, the Maestro advised against it, and it was definitely abandoned almost before it emerged from the rumor stage.
Toscanini conducted his last Philharmonic concert April 29, 1936, amid a riot of public frenzy. It was generally, but mistakenly, assumed to be the end of his American career.16 The farewell concert, which was not in the subscription series, packed Carnegie Hall, and a thousand persons waited in line for standing room to which only 140 were admitted. Tickets had gone on sale at $10 top and $200 a box, in one final fantastic splurge. Mounted police and fifty foot patrols kept order. This episode is indicative of the incredible public ado that the orchestra and Toscanini had aroused. After the concert, he proceeded almost immediately to Palestine to conduct the newly organized Israel Philharmonic at the instigation of Bronislaw Hubermann, the eminent violinist.
No specific reason was publicly advanced for the retirement of Toscanini, except that he wished to be “free,” that he was tired, and was of an age to retire anyway. On the other hand, it was “confidentially” asserted in the press that it was not entirely a secret that his resignation was the result of dissatisfaction on both sides, that the Maestro made demands as to salary, rehearsals, programs that seemed excessive—all of which was “officially” denied with equal facility, with the public as usual a perplexed bystander. It seems certain that management strove, for both artistic and commercial reasons, to retain the conductor.
There was no unanimous appraisal of his long-run worth. That he had a favorable effect on public interest was an unquestioned corollary to his unprecedented drawing power. However, the Toscanini cult produced possible harm in the prominence accorded the “star” conductor. His very popularity was a liability in that, both in the eyes of the public and in the esteem of the orchestra, he dwarfed every conductor who had to fill out his unfinished seasons. The rehearsal experiences of these “guest-of-the-month” conductors, and the untenanted seats in the auditorium, confirmed the folk wisdom that no orchestra can serve two masters. So obvious was the demoralization of both orchestra and audience that some critics actually declared Toscanini’s departure not a catastrophe but a blessing in disguise if the orchestra management were only wise enough to learn its lesson. The choice of his successor was therefore a critical one.
In February, 1936, two weeks after the publication of Toscanini’s retirement, it was announced that Wilhelm Furtwangler, Europe’s most eligible conductor, would assume the baton the following year. Then fifty years old, conductor of Europe’s two most noted orchestras in Berlin and Leipzig, he was not unknown in New York where he had done a turn during the seasons 1924-27. His urgent desire to return to America was common knowledge. Furtwangler, however, had been embarrassingly involved in the Nazi regime which, since 1933, had aroused hatred, revulsion, and fear in the rest of the world. Although he had publicly espoused the case of Hindemith against the Nazis and had dramatically resigned his post in Berlin as a protest against their creeping control of things musical, his skirts did not seem sufficiently clean to appease the smoldering anti-Nazi sentiment in New York, which was about ready to burst into flame. To a certain extent, Furtwangler had patched up his differences with Hitler on the professed principle of the separation of art and politics, and had conducted only “as guest” in Berlin since the spring of 1935. But to clinch his embarrassment, the German government calculatingly heralded Furtwangler’s “reinstatement” on the very evening of the New York announcement. Unable to ignore the powerful, but by no means unanimous protests, the Philharmonic, after an exchange of communication with Furtwangler, accepted his resignation because “political controversy [is] disagreeable to me.”17
The position was again vacant. On the chance of securing a “find” who might be on the rise, the board’s choice fell on a thirty-sevenyear-old Englishman of Italian extraction, John Barbirolli, who had achieved precocious success in England both with opera and orchestra. To be catapulted into such a position—successor to Toscanini and substitute for Furtwangler—was a fate not to be wished on one’s worst enemy. Not only would the new incumbent be vulnerable to comparison with his immediate predecessor, but he would necessarily expose his relative inexperience to his own orchestra. A steady grind of concerts is a physical and intellectual burden that is absolutely unknown to the European conductor. After the first year Barbirolli was entrusted with the responsibility of the entire season, with only a short midwinter holiday. The added fact that the depression had brought a decline in patronage, which had been felt even during the Toscanini regime, probably added its harassing and disheartening effects on the new incumbent. The task proved an insuperable one, and Barbirolli ultimately returned to England, with a few voices still proclaiming that he had been the victim of a raw deal.
The centennial year, 1941-42, was memorialized by a bevy of nine guest conductors for short turns on the rostrum. It was a feast for the sensation seeker, and a field day for the critics, who seized the unusual opportunity to assess the relative merits of conductors controlling exactly the same material. The podium was, however, again untenanted.
Artur Rodzinski, formerly assistant conductor in Philadelphia, who had acquired a reputation in Los Angeles and Cleveland for whipping orchestras into disciplined shape, and had “guested” for some weeks during Barbirolli’s very first season (1936-37), received the new call, which carried the title of Musical Director, a status which presumably conferred more authoritative responsibility than the title of mere “conductor.” Hired for the purpose of renovating an orchestra with which he was already somewhat familiar, he signalized his entry upon his new duties by dismissing, before the first rehearsal, fourteen men, including the concertmaster and a half dozen other first-desk men. Reasons were never made public, but surmises were plentiful. After an excited skirmish with the union, a compromise was reached by the reinstatement of five members.
The rebuilding proceeded apparently to the entire satisfaction of critics and public. All the more severe was the shock when, in midseason of 1946-47 during negotiations for a new contract, Rodzinski submitted his resignation embellished with accusations against management of crass invasion of the province of conductorial responsibilities. Management shrewdly refrained from participating in the public recriminations, but its rebuttal consisted in an immediate release from his contract, while the press reviewed the general philosophy of the division of powers, managerial and artistic, and bemoaned this new “evidence” of the subjection of art to material considerations. Before discharging his parting salvo, Rodzinski had in his pocket an offer from Chicago where another “repair job” was supposedly in order. Thither he betook himself in 1947.
In search of a successor, the New York management again pondered the possibilities of dividing its heavy annual schedule between two co-conductors, as had been done in the days of Toscanini and Mengelberg. The success of such a dual arrangement was, of course, difficult to assure. It is a real question whether it “worked” in the twenties and thirties. Mitropoulos and Stokowski shared the podium for one year (1949-50), but the following year the Minneapolis conductor was given full appointment as conductor-in-chief.
The fall of 1950 was marked by a very radical departure in concert policy, namely the appearance of the orchestra on the stage of the Roxy motion picture theatre for a four-a-day concert during a two-week period. Apparently conceived by Spyros Skouras, who was a member of both the Symphony board and the Roxy management, this engagement was a reply to the pleas of the orchestra personnel for a longer season, and to the desire of the Philharmonic to gain new friends. The orchestra for this occasion was no streamlined “pop” compromise, but included the complete roster from concertmaster to percussion, Mitropoulos conducting.
Editorial opinion was not unanimous on this break with tradition. The symphony orchestra had struggled for a century to attain an exclusive status, and had laboriously trained the audience to sit in silence during a full-length concert. It was therefore natural that many should regret the decision to accept the role of sideshow to a motion picture, however discriminatingly that picture might have been selected. It recalls the scandal caused by Richard Strauss in 1904 by conducting a symphony concert in the auditorium of Wanamaker’s department store. On the other hand, the proponents of the venture view it as a method of bringing good music to that part of the populace that would not dream of coming to it. To them it is a clue to the “solution of the symphony problem.” The readiness of the New York Philharmonic-Symphony to embrace on a small scale an opportunity to humanize the concert repertoire, may some day be considered the turning point in the history of the orchestra.
REPERTOIRE A century of uninterrupted orchestral programs of the New York Philharmonic affords an extraordinary view of changes in musical taste. No other orchestra in America covers so long a span, but it is exceeded by the London Philharmonic, the Gewandhaus of Leipzig, the Societe des Concerts of Paris, and equalled by the Philharmonic of Vienna, except that the last-named suffered several dark seasons. What the European orchestras gain in antiquity, however, they more than lose in the sparse number of concerts, the low volume of repertoire, and the heterogeneity of orchestral offerings. The American repertoire, especially in later decades, is mixed with less nonorchestral “chaff.” As a consequence, the New York Philharmonic repertoire remains a unique phenomenon in the annals of world music. In depicting the life spans of composers in a greater variety of stages, and unfolding a complete turnover in certaiii styles of composition, such a hundred-year record discloses, in conjunction with the leaner records of other cities, the principles underlying the shifts in taste, which a snapshot observation would never disclose.
At the time of founding of the New York Philharmonic Society, Beethoven was supreme in solitary glory, although he has since that time shared his exalted status with Wagner, Brahms, and Tschaikowsky in various orchestras. In the first three years, his compositions” occupied forty per cent of the repertoire, and were represented on nearly every program. Mendelssohn, a star of lesser magnitude, was also at the peak of his eminence, but faded perceptibly after his death (1847).
Several now totally forgotten composers were then still popular: Kalliwoda (1801-66), a German symphonist; Lindpaintner (1791-1856), a conductor and much respected composer of operas, symphonies, and overtures; Hummel (1778-1837), whose chamber music and brilliant piano concertos competed favorably with those of Beethoven in his day. Though never considered of first magnitude* they had not yet lost their places on the boards.
After its birth and infancy in Germany, the new romantic school was not long in shaking itself loose from the old anchorage. Though Beethoven was still revered as the father of romanticism, the more dramatic innovators, Wagner and Liszt, pushed forward aggressively and soon established a cult of their own. In New York, these names appeared on the program almost as soon as they did in Europe. Bergmann introduced Wagner in the early fifties and Liszt a few years later, to the dismay of the conservative members of the audience.
With the election of Theodore Thomas (1877) to the leadership of the Philharmonic, a new era was inaugurated. Without minimizing the services of Eisfeld and Bergmann, the first more or less regular conductors of the Society, it is still true that Thomas was the first American symphonic conductor in the modern disciplined sense. He embarked on a still more expanded repertoire and introduced many “first times” to the American audiences. Though he has gone down in history for his militant sponsorship of Wagner, this aspect of his regime has been exaggerated because anything pertaining to that controversial public figure engraved itself on public attention. Thomas embraced all other new figures as well—Richard Strauss, Dvorak, Tschaikowsky, and the resurrected Bach. He cultivated Beethoven in the traditional fashion, up to about twenty per cent of the repertoire, while Liszt, Schubert, Schumann, Berlioz, Rubinstein, and Mendelssohn, and a host of miscellaneous composers, made regular appearances with a range of two to seven per cent. A cold, quantitative calculation indicates that there has probably never been a conductor of the New York Philharmonic who has displayed a less distorted taste or presented a more balanced and eclectic series of programs.
A shift in soloist policy was introduced about 1870. Since its inception, the Philharmonic had always considered that it conferred an honor upon its soloists, which the latter were happy to recipror cate with performances rendered gratis. Many of these were undoubtedly the result of mild intrigue and marginal negotiation. The fact that many of these soloists were hardly likely to add splendor to the reputation of the orchestra, or even to themselves, had been a matter of public and critical comments. During the last quarter of the century, however, the glamour soloist emerged. Though the traveling virtuosos were not as abundant as today, such international artists as Anton Rubinstein, Wieniawski, Wilhelmj, Julia Rive, Remenyi, Georg Henschel, Emil Fischer, and Lilli Lehmann trickled into the programs, beginning about 1875.
With the departure of Theodore Thomas for Chicago (1891) to found a new orchestra, Anton Seidl, coming from the Metropolitan Opera, introduced innovations of a different sort. He had come to the United States almost direct from the Wagner household, where he had worked and studied with the master himself. If, after Bergmann, Thomas, and Damrosch it was no longer necessary to introduce Wagner to the American audience, the new conductor was nevertheless able to import a new style of conducting. The romantic school of Wagner and Biilow charged the conductor with the responsibility of personal interpretation and expression, and Seidl flavored even the classics with flexible tempi and unconventional nuances; in short, he startled the sophisticates with the “Wagnerization” of the classics.
Quite in keeping with these personal predilections, he doubled the incidence of Wagner’s compositions from four to eight per cent of the repertoire, and that of Liszt from two to four. As would seem right to a Wagnerite, Brahms was reduced from about six per cent in the previous five-year period, to three during the Seidl tenure. Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, and Schumann suffered analogously. Beethoven declined a bit, but was beyond much tampering. The most violent skew was the growth of Dvorak from four to twelve per cent, that derived from totally different circumstances. Dvorak was resident in New York from 1892 to 1895 as head of the American Conservatory. Seidl premiered the New World Symphony, December 15, 1893, and presented other compositions in deference to the distinguished visitor and to the undoubted delight of the public.
After the short regime of Emil Paur and the bevy of guest conductors corralled for the purpose of infusing vitality into the moribund organization, Safonoff electrified the public with his bombastic interpretation of Tschaikowsky’s Pathetique. In a few years it was perceived that he had hardly been successful at anything else. The Russian composers occupied almost one-third of the repertoire. Tschaikowsky, alone, carried off about twenty per cent of the total, while Glinka, Rimsky-Korsakoff, Rubinstein, Glazounoff, and Scriabin, the last named a former pupil of Safonoff, bring up the rest of the Slavonic family. Brahms declined to the vanishing point; only Beethoven was sufficiently immune to maintain his approximate position, though exceeded by Tschaikowsky for the first time in the career of either of them.
The advent of Mahler (1909) marked an expansion in programming as well as financial administration. By adding to the regular pairs a Beethoven cycle, and an historical cycle, the programs were given an educational tone; and the supplemental Sunday afternoon series, which since 1930 have been broadcast by CBS, compensated for this trend by expanding the audience to the less mature groups. The addition of a tour to the aforementioned innovations indicated the serious purposes and exalted ambitions of Gustav Mahler for this orchestra which he, himself, was not permitted to exploit fully. The building of an audience was left to his successor, Josef Stransky, a conductor of lesser capacities, but infinitely more adaptable in the implementation of his plans.
Stransky opened the season of 1911-12 in the spirit of Mr. Pulitzer’s bequest, which had attached to it the provision that his favorite composers be given a! hearing. Beethoven, Wagner, and Liszt, who had long ago survived their controversial period, were accorded most generous hearings. He featured other favorites—Tschaikowsky (nine per cent); Dvorak, his Czech compatriot (five per cent); and Richard Strauss (five per cent). The orchestra prospered financially. For the first time since the days of Thomas and Seidl, they experienced the luxury and thrill of sold-out houses. But if there is an incongruity between material prosperity and aesthetic progress, here was an illustration of it; and the more sophisticated members of the audience and critical fraternity clamored for a change.
Since 1923, when Stransky relinquished the post, nearly all of the world’s great conductors have occupied the podium for a shorter or longer period. None, however, persisted through so long a period, nor lifted the public to such a pitch of frenzy as did Toscanini. The analysis of his repertoire, compared to the composite repertoire of the ten other orchestras for the same period, gives evidence of the degree of his conservatism, which indeed the conductor himself had always acknowledged. By his own declaration, he wished to “come nearer the truth of Haydn and Beethoven” and leave to younger men the responsibility to promote new music.18 Beethoven constituted nearly a quarter of the repertoire, as against half that amount for the national average. His meager American repertoire comprised only the following items: Hanson, Symphony No. 2; Ernest Schelling, Impressions of an Artist’s Life, for piano arid orchestra (composer at the piano); Bernard Wagenaar, Symphony No. 2; Hans Wetzler, Symphonic Dance, Basque Venus; and Abram Chasins, Flirtation in a Chinese Garden and Parade. The Chasins and Wagenaar compositions were world premieres. On his European tour in the spring of 1930, he played no American compositions. The most notorious novelty of his career was the first American concert performance of Ravel’s Bolero, November 14, 1929, which he allegedly played about one-third faster than indicated by the composer.19 Toscanini’s detractors, however, seized on his warped proportion of Italian music, which comprised a list of twenty-two assorted composers, including repeated performance of seven of Rossini’s overtures, and the revival of other and lesser known compatriots. (As conductor of the NBC orchestra, he somewhat liberalized his repertoire, and on November 2, 1942, actually played an American program consisting of the works of Loeffler, Creston, Gould, and Gershwin.)
The well-known conservatism of Toscanini is indicated by the high proportion of Beethoven, the large amount of Italian music, and the meager place given American composers.
After Toscanini’s departure, the German and Italian compositions very quickly resumed their accustomed levels. Barbirolli, however, consonant with his English heritage, showed some favoritism for his countrymen: Elgar, Purcell, and several minor writers; while the American contingent increased a trifle, principally because the Toscanini level had been so depressed.
The history of the New York Symphony Society is practically coincident with the professional life of the Damrosches—Leopold, the father, and Walter, the son. At the time of his arrival in New York in 1871, the elder Damrosch found the musical affairs of the city dominated by the “benevolent despot,” Theodore Thomas, who naturally looked upon the newcomer as a rival. We have his son’s testimony for the subsequently oft-repeated anecdote that the fortythree-year-old Thomas, after being introduced to the newcomer, only three years his senior, expressed the threat: “I hear, Dr. Damrosch [Damrosch was an M.D.], that you are a very fine musician, but I want to tell you one thing: whoever crosses my path, I crush.”20 Whether or not it is true that the adherents of these notable men felt the rivalry more strongly than did the principals themselves, it is true that the conflict in the New York arena never did end in a clear-cut victory for either one. While Thomas dominated the orchestral field as long as he remained in New York, he was finally obliged to leave the city because his economic position was untenable in terms of his demands. On the other hand, Leopold Damrosch secured a good foothold in opera, gained the support of highly influential families, all of which redounded to the long-term benefit of his son, and assured the periodic financial security of his orchestra, while the New York Philharmonic was eking out an existence on its accumulated prestige.
Leopold Damrosch was a violinist, who had played under Liszt in Weimar and had acquired some conductorial experience in Breslau before emigrating to the United States at the invitation of the Arion Mannergesangverein of New York. Of course, this position with the Arion society was never meant to occupy the full time of such an energetic and schooled musician. Damrosch’ major opportunity came with the retirement and death of Carl Bergmann, who had been head of the Philharmonic. To Damrosch fell the task of resuscitating the flagging public interest in the Philharmonic. He failed and the dividends of the season 1876-77 sagged to the lowest point in history. His son, Walter, a lad of fourteen, played second violin in the orchestra “just for the experience.” Some have declared that his first failure was due to circumstances beyond the control of the conductor—but the stigma had its effect, for when Thomas, who had succeeded Damrosch as conductor of the Philharmonic, departed for Cincinnati, the Society elected not Damrosch but Adolph Neuendorff, who had been conducting German opera in New York for some years. The vote of forty-six to only twenty-nine for Damrosch may not have been a too disgraceful defeat since a shift of nine of the seventy-five votes would have upset these results. But it definitely ended for two decades the threat of the Damrosch faction to capture the Philharmonic, a venture which was not again to be attempted until 1902 when the son, Walter, was involved. In both instances, they responded to the rebuff by establishing their own orchestras.
With the election of Theodore Thomas to the headship of the Philharmonic in the fall of 1877, which was to end the hostilities between the Thomas private orchestra and the Philharmonic, Damrosch collected an orchestra of his own from the supply of musicians remaining after Mr. Thomas had selected the best. With this orchestra Damrosch offered a series of symphonic matinees during the season of 1877-78. With Thomas safely (it was thought) ensconced in Cincinnati the following year, the opportunity seemed propitious to move into the vacancy left by the popular leader, and this, by inevitable Damrosch logic, led to the founding of the New York Symphony Society. According to its minutes of October 22, 1878, the Society was founded “to assure the continuance of concerts threatened by the departure of Theodore Thomas to Cincinnati.” Steinway Hall on Fourteenth Street was secured for the dates which had been held for the Thomas orchestra, and it was offered rent-free by Henry Steinway. With the unexpected return of Thomas, Damrosch and his Symphony Society moved to the Academy of Music, which also housed the Philharmonic, now destined to be its rival, potential or actual, for the next fifty years.
As early as 1883-84, the minutes of the Society report informal discussion on plans for a Hall of Music adequate for the purposes of a symphony orchestra, a plan which was later to be fulfilled by Andrew Carnegie, who joined the Symphony Society board in 1886 and was elevated to its presidency in 1888. In later years he was to be joined by other equally impressive families: Rockefeller, Morgan, Roosevelt, Gould, and Vanderbilt.
The enlistment of such an array of wealth for the new society in a brief five years was an achievement the like of which Thomas never attained in New York. It has been ascribed in large part to its leader’s personal characteristics/Leopold Damrosch had always carried the prestige of European training and was a friend of its most noted musical representatives, Liszt, Biilow, and Wagner. Later he conducted a successful Festival of Music, as well as a season of German Opera at the Metropolitan Opera House, which had been built by the rising generation of wealth, some of whose names overlapped with the previously cited Symphony Board. He was personally affable, a cultured conversationalist, and an enthusiastic romanticist. But his conducting never attained the finish of Theodore Thomas: his beat was less distinct, and he never had access to the best players. He was reputed to be at his best in Berlioz and Wagner.
“His nervous manner is quite suited to the nervous vigor of these composers. One is not annoyed by the windmill flourishes of his arms or the wild waving of his hair when there is so much wind and wildness in the music which he conducts.”21
Thus he differed from Thomas in sponsoring the “flexible line” of the Liszt-Wagner-Nikisch school—a line which classicists, such as Thomas, deprecated as exaggeration and distortion.
His son, Walter, married well (a daughter of James G. Blaine) and always had relatively free entree to fashionable society. Indeed, the young Walter is credited with being responsible for inducing Carnegie to invest some of his wealth to further the interests of music by building Carnegie Hall. Walter’s enemies often referred sarcastically to his alliance with millionaires as the chief explanation of his musical success.
Upon the passing of the elder Damrosch in 1885, Walter assumed the responsibilities of the orchestra and Anton Seidl was secured from Germany to direct the German opera. The twenty-three-year-old son had inherited many of the personality traits that facilitated the successes of his father. He, too, was affable and gregarious, charming and witty, and “had a way” with society; but he was never able to achieve recognition as an outstanding conductor. In fact, the contemporary critical press periodically loosed upon him some of the most vitriolic slander in the history of American criticism, more akin to the style of Hanslick in his bigoted moments than what might be expected from tempered “objective” American reporting. In retrospect they seem so sadistic and abusive that they leave one with more respect for the victim than for the guardians of art. But rival claims were at stake. Newspapers and vested interests of various types, the prestige of social cliques, personal reputations—all had a share in the fate of musical personalities. Polite criticism, much less objective and scholarly evaluation, could not thrive in the no man’s land between such contending forces.
The Symphony Society pursued a checkered and clearly opportunistic career. Not only were concerts suspended between 1898 and 1903, but the orchestra was organized along different lines at different times. In the early years (1878-1905) the number of concerts usually numbered only six pairs, the maintenance fund was relatively small, and the orchestral activity made only a small demand upon the musicians. After Theodore Thomas had finally and permanently left New York for Chicago (1891), Damrosch, with the aid of Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Morgan, and others, strengthened the orchestra by importing Adolf Brodsky as concertmaster and Anton Hekking as cellist, and establishing daily rehearsals. It prominently advertised itself as the “only permanent orchestra in New York.” Unfortunately, the guarantee fund expired after a few years and in 1898 the concerts were abandoned.
In 1902, a group of philanthropists extended an offer to the cooperative Philharmonic orchestra designed to reorganize its system and presumably to turn the baton over to Walter Damrosch who had conducted it in the season 1902-03. When the offer was rejected, this group of patrons aided Damrosch in reorganizing the New York Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra passed through a series of reorganizations (in 1903 and in 1907) by which the principal members were eventually placed on a fixed season salary—establishing it to all intents as the characteristic “permanent orchestra” of the time. In 1914, Henry Harkness Flagler, millionaire oil magnate, who with other donors had already carried a large portion of the financial burden, now determined to assume the complete responsibility up to a maximum guarantee of $100,000 per year.
It was in the subsequent period that Walter reached the pinnacle of his entire career. The number of concerts increased to as many as forty or more on the regular subscription series. He toured the country, emulating the barnstorming activities of Theodore Thomas of several decades previously. The orchestra was available for hireas was the custom then with the best symphony orchestras in Europe—for accompaniment to solo recitalists, and for any type of public occasion. His concerts were presented in Aeolian Hall (on Forty-second Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues), in Carnegie Hall, as well as in the large auditorium of Mecca Temple (later the City Center).
He led an exceedingly busy life here and abroad. In 1920, now sponsored by his friend Flagler to the extent of $250,000, the New York Symphony of about ninety members toured the major European cities of our country’s late political allies, where he was openly envied for his fabulous private support.
His lectures on musical topics were always popular with certain segments of society. He imported distinguished musicians for his orchestra, introduced many conductors as his guests to American audiences, and offered a repertoire which was much more imaginative and progressive than that of the antiquated Philharmonic. It is no detraction to suggest that the foreign guest conductors—Albert Coates, Bruno Walter, Klemperer, Goossens, Golschmann—were designed as counterattractions to Mengelberg, who was then mesmerizing the enlightened audience of the rival Philharmonic.
Whatever one may say of his musicianship, his casual and easygoing procedures as conductor, his limited comprehension of certain masterpieces, his lackadaisical rehearsals, or awkward beat, Damrosch nevertheless ranks next to Thomas in his permanent contributions to the cause of music in America during its pioneer and immature period. He toured almost as much as did Thomas, he—more than Thomaswas instrumental in mobilizing wealth to his support. He was an educator, lecturer, and impresario outside the concert hall, a field in which Thomas was exceedingly awkward. Moreover, he conducted and toured successfully with opera troupes, an area which Thomas did not cultivate except for his disastrous fling with the American Opera Company.
Although critics jibed at his propensity for didactic remarks on his concert novelties, there is no question that these contributed much toward keeping the audience in good humor, creating in many patrons an attitude of friendly experimentalism toward novelties that the austere and authoritative take-it-or-leave-it attitude of the disciplined Thomas had never achieved. To Europeans—whose languages he spoke—he was the “dean” of American conductors and was honored accordingly. He was one of the leading spirits in the establishment of the American conservatory at Fontainebleau, opened in 1921, which became the training center for scores of Americans. It attracted many of the most successful American composers, who received their theoretical training from Mile. Nadia Boulanger, to the great enrichment of American creative music.
By 1927, many factors conspired to prepare Damrosch for retirement from active orchestral duties. The competition between the “second-best” Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonic, which had recently waxed in prestige, was becoming more and more costly, however salutary it might have been for the advancement of music. The merger of these orchestras, to conserve the prestige and traditions of both, was a constantly recurring rumor, and it was certain that Damrosch, now sixty-five years of age and with a less than unanimous estimate of his genius, could not hope to head the new body, especially in view of the sensational accomplishments of Toscanini and Mengelberg with the reconstructed Philharmonic.
But he still deserved some homage. In March, 1927, a grand ceremonial concert was instituted in his honor, in which both the Philharmonic and the Symphony Orchestra participated, under the direction of Fritz Busch and Furtwangler, respectively the guests of the two orchestras. In reply to the remarks of Ossip Gabrilowitsch, who presented to the guest of honor a silver smoking set on behalf of the conductor colleagues of the nation, Damrosch acknowledged that he was tired of the labor and routine of a permanent conductor—he would henceforth be a guest conductor and “let the other fellow do the rehearsing.”22
Though the orchestra continued its existence another year to fill out the half century, the plans for the merger went on apace. The exhilarating period of competition between Thomas and Damrosch was long past; the subsequent benefits of that competition between the rivals had been harvested abundantly. But competition can also be wasteful and expensive, and the fruits of this competition had at last become too costly.
After one more year of concerts, presided over by nine guests, including Damrosch, the orchestra ended its fifty-year existence in a nominil merger with its great rival, in which only a small quota of personnel was actually absorbed, leaving the great majority to reenter the crowded labor market. Mr. Damrosch continued his professional activity by becoming the musical consultant of the National Broadcasting Company, and for some years conducted its children’s symphonic hour. Then he went into quiet retirement. He died December 23, 1950.
REPERTOIRE The Symphony orchestra, playing side by side with the New York Philharmonic during its entire career, catered to a different audience and displayed many symptomatic differences from its neighbor. The New York Symphony took its competitive status much more seriously and therefore was more enterprising in its repertoire than was its venerable rival.,
Walter Damrosch gave the Germans a cold shoulder, but warmed up to the French—exactly the reverse of the policy of the Philharmonic. Though his own personal background was German, he had shown, even before World War I, a fashionable affinity for the less hackneyed Gallic composers, Franck, Ravel, Debussy, d’Indy, Berlioz, some of whom he cultivated earlier and more generously than did his unimaginative rival. During the war, he was as French as was Boston with Rabaud and Monteux. He also espoused Rachmaninoff and Scriabin more liberally than any other orchestra. Nor were the English neglected, with Elgar a special favorite.
There was something of the showman and exhibitionist in Damrosch—not the brash and vulgar brand, but rather calculated, piquant, sly, and humorous. In the twenties he offered to the public, which always loves a contest, several annual concerts of “Modern Music-Pleasant and Unpleasant” in which Honegger, Milhaud, Copland, and others could compete in the “open market” with the traditional masters. In 1909, he boldly presented a double-header—the Ninth Symphony performed twice in one evening with fifteen minutes intermission as Biilow had done in Berlin in 1889. The “quartet” consisted of sixteen voices, stationed on a raised platform in the midst of the orchestra. It is reported that many of the audience remained for both performances.
At the time when jazz was a category of marginal respectability from the other side of the railroad tracks, but had started to influence the French moderns and to infiltrate the musical journals, Damrosch commissioned George Gershwin to compose a piano concerto, which he produced during the season 1925-26. Taking this flyer in what had been shortly before a risque area, Damrosch suggested that the “musicians, in their attitude toward jazz, were behaving like the cat hovering around a saucer of hot milk, waiting for it to cool.” He introduced other miscellaneous novelties without too much offense or complaint: Sibelius, Bloch, Bruckner, Schoenberg—always with tactful stage remarks; and it was under his auspices that many subsequently prominent conductors made their American debut: Walter, Klemperer, Coates, and Golschmann.
In the fifty-year history of the Symphony Society about seventy-five compositions appeared on the program “for the first time in America,” and an equally large number were described as “new,” which in many cases meant a world premiere. In his first ten years, Leopold Damrosch presented more than a dozen new works, including Dvorak’s Slavonic Rhapsodies and new things of Berlioz, Raff, and Rubinstein. Besides Gershwin, Walter offered new works of the Americans Copland, Taylor, Dubensky, Hanson, Hadley, Hill, and a half dozen others. The “first” for Sibelius was Tapiola and for Rachmaninoff, the Third Piano Concerto. Tschaikowsky’s Pathetiqtie received its American premiere March 16, 1894. There were also many “firsts” for the British: Hoists’Egdon Heath, several from Elgar, Bantock, Vaughan Williams, and Goossens. Strauss, although on the average conspicuously low in the Society’s favor, had two “firsts”-. Macbeth and the Prelude to Act II of Guntram.
If unfriendly observers have met these innovations in caustic manner, at the time of the merger, many concert patrons feared that they were on the threshold of a less exciting if not a positively dull season. Damrosch was in many ways a prototype of Stokowski, much more subtle and genial, but arousing in many of his followers the same anxious expectancy and stimulating satisfaction.
Though proclaiming his Americanism, his contribution to American music was modest when compared to that of Chicago and Bos-ton. It should be recalled, however, that the American musical lobby was then not as strong as it was later. Since there were then far fewer American composers, it was not the accepted, much less the required, policy to gratify their urge for public performances. However, when in 1920 Damrosch led the first “conducted tour” of an American orchestra abroad, he was accompanied by John Powell, American pianist, and Albert Spalding, American violinist—a considerate gesture which Toscanini did not emulate in 1930, when he toured Europe with the Philharmonic-Symphony without a single page of American music in his library.
In the spring of 1881, Boston was startled at the casual omnipotence lurking in the announcement of Henry L. Higginson entitled “In re the Boston Symphony Orchestra.” The Boston financier therein proclaimed his resolve “to hire an orchestra of sixty men and a conductor, paying them all by the year” and anticipating a “deficit of $50,000, for which $1,000,000 would be needed in principal,” which principal he of course intended to provide.23
Whether he then realized it or not, by this action Mr. Higginson had set the general pattern of financial support of all first-class orchestras for the next half a century. Not until an orchestra was granted the benefit of adequate private aid to supplement the insufficiencies of the box office, could it achieve the highest standard of artistic excellence. In this sense, the Boston orchestra was the pioneer “permanent” orchestra in the United States, founded at a time when the newly rich of New York were about to build the Metropolitan Opera House, and the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston had reached maturity in vocal music. Without detracting from the brilliance of the innovation, still such innovations do not come “out of the blue.” There is a law of continuity in social affairs, as in evolutionary biology, to which all events conform. What, then, was the social climate which was so propitious for the new venture? -
Boston had never been without its music. The early influence of Gottlieb Graupner, who is generally credited with founding America’s first serious orchestra, cannot well be overestimated. Having played under Haydn in the Salomon orchestra of London (1790-91), this versatile musician and publisher brought to America a taste for the current continental repertoire and, what is more important, implemented it. His Philo-Harmonic orchestra of fifteen to twenty members was as rudimentary as the cultural frontier that nourished it. But it cooperated with the Handel and Haydn Society, presented concerts in annual series between 1810 (?) and 1824, and was in its way, a permanent orchestra with a permanent conductor.
Various orchestras followed, which the pedantic historian could enumerate, of which the more important were the Musical Fund Society (1847-55), the Philharmonic orchestra (1855-63), and the Harvard Musical Association, founded in 1837 for the general advancement of music, but more directly responsible for the orchestral series of 1865-81.
The Musical Fund Society, composed of about sixty musicians, was devoted to the higher type of symphonies and overtures. According to Dwighfs Journal (1852), “a band much larger would fall into the modern monster category.” The Philharmonic succumbed to the distractions of the Civil War. After hostilities had ceased, the Harvard alumni undertook the responsibility for the concerts which were to “appeal to persons of taste,” and finally withdrew when Higginson organized his orchestra.
Outside orchestras also exerted their impact on the taste and ideals of the Boston public. Besides the immigrant Germania orchestra, which made Boston its adopted home while touring the country between 1848 and 1854, the most sensational jolt to local mediocrity was the Theodore Thomas Orchestra of New York, which made its maiden appearance in Boston in 1869. While the critic was lamenting over the local Association concert that “a dozen members were absent from the concert” because of “other duties,” he could glowingly describe the Thomas concert which manifested “such pure and brilliant intonation, perfect ensemble and tone color, such sure attack and vital unity in violins, all bowing alike.”24 When things were looking dreary in Boston, the Thomas orchestra exerted a quickening effect upon the orchestra of the Harvard Musical Association. Carl Zerrahn, the conductor, even imitated Thomas’ seating order, by grouping the cellos together in a solid body in middle front, the basses behind them, and the wind band—raised in two long rows above—in the extreme rear. But within a short time, the energy of this fillip was dissipated, and musical affairs were again at low ebb. Anticipating the new era in orchestral finance, the editor of the new Boston Musical Herald, in its maiden issue, January, 1880, had already wistfully opined:
Considering the great value of the existence of a permanent (musical) organization to the city, would it not be well for wealthy and publicspirited friends of music to assure its continued success by the establishment of a guarantee fund, similar to that of the Handel and Haydn Society for its triennial festivals?
Higginson, who had been a music student in Vienna, was well aware what a paternalistic government could accomplish. However, in this country, according to his creed, this function should devolve upon paternalistic capitalism, through the efforts of those who had been financially successful. His new administrative arrangement made the orchestra member a full-time employee, engaged for the purpose of creating music, which would then be resold to the public, of course at considerable loss, by the philanthropically-minded employer. Although this was modestly considered an experimental undertaking, it is remarkable how little the continuing organization of the orchestra, sustained by Higginson for thirty-seven years, deviated from the formula outlined in the prospectus which had issued in the spring of 1881, Minerva-like, in full perfection from his fertile brain. The principal provisions were:
(1)conductor and musicians to be engaged at a contractual season salary
(2)virtually full-time seasonal employment of the musicians and the restriction of their outside engagements to those which are compatible with the priority of the orchestra
(3)low admission prices
(4)full season of weekly concerts
(5)permanent orchestra, for an indefinite period in the future
(6)music of the highest type
(7)conductor to be solely responsible for the artistic direction of the concerts
Pathbreaking as was this economic solution, the musical ideals of the community had been more or less well established by a combination of forces. The programs of the Harvard Musical Association were of high order though execution was deficient as compared to Theodore Thomas’ models of disciplined performance. John S. Dwight, who founded his Journal in 1852, had waged critical battles for Bach, Mozart, and the classical composers, and was passionately interested in the elevation of taste. The city had genteel traditions to uphold, and was moreover a metropolis of more than 400,000, with a homogeneity of population in sharp contrast to polyglot New York. Further, the primacy of Boston culture was at stake. Dwight, in his Journal of September, 1880, lamented: “We have a Hall, an Organ, and an Art Museum. Now we want an orchestra. ... We are falling behind New York. We will become provincial without it!” The audience was therefore willing and expectant, and from the very first concert enthusiastic. Some had feared that the “comparatively low price of admissions would give the audience a ‘lyceum’ cast, but such proved not the case. The assemblage at the first concerts was one representative of our foremost patrons of music and such as an oratorio, an Italian opera, or a Thomas concert could attract.”25 It is therefore evident that Higginson supplied merely the keystone—a favorable economic ideology and the resources—to a structure that was all but complete.
The conductor entrusted with the launching of this new enterprise was the thirty-one-year-old, currently popular German baritone and composer, Georg Henschel, whose appointment had been occasioned by his temporary presence in Boston. He had, for the moment at least, produced a sensation by his energetic conducting of his own Overture with the orchestra of the Harvard Musical Association, and it was he who was invited by Higginson to form the new orchestra, at a salary of $10,000 per season.
As might have been—and was—expected, the sudden catapulting of a yourig, untried, foreign artist into such a position of prominence evoked bitter complaints from the displaced and aggrieved old guard that had been so loyal to Zerrahn, Listemann, and other local conductors “who have devoted their lives to Boston music and now find themselves without orchestras.” By no means an experienced and “routined” conductor, this vocalist was heavily burdened not only with the acquisition of a new accomplishment, but also with the problems of public relations. The critical press, annoyed at the adulation received by the “fair-haired” novitiate, found it comforting to remind the new order: “We have had other conductors in Boston, and good ones.” The Home Journal editorialized: “While we hail the new star, let us not forget the others who have brightened our musical horizon for many years.”
The benevolent intention of marketing music at a loss brought in its train the criticism that the cut-rate system was undercutting the unsubsidized concert activities, thereby giving the public false norms of the financial value of musical services. But the near monopoly in musical affairs that wealth and skill conferred upon the new orchestra was partly mitigated by Higginson’s considerate policy of employing almost exclusively local musicians in order to avoid offense to those who had labored unselfishly for years in the.unproductive vineyard. In the relentless pursuit of perfection by both management and conductors, such delicate gestures of sentiment were soon to become an obsolete virtue. The lesson was soon learned that, if it was to achieve, an orchestra could never be local, excepting in name; for, like a baseball team, which similarly evokes its due share of civic enthusiasm, it was bound to seek its players in the open market, without regard to regional sentiment.
Henschel’s inexperience, his unconventional tempi in some of the classics, his vigorous, bombastic, “drum-major flourish,” the constitution of some of his programs, and the inability of the band to submit itself to an authoritative beat—all drew forth major critical assaults. The musicians were frequently preoccupied with many other musical functions of a less noble sort, they played under other conductors, and the priority of the new orchestra could not be enforced. All members from percussion to concertmaster were paid alike: six dollars per concert, and three dollars per rehearsal, of which there were three. As gratifying as was Henschel’s initial success during his three years’ tenure, it was evident that the orchestra had not been much more than a loose and easy-going aggregation. Higginson demanded more.
When Viennese Wilhelm Gericke, Henschel’s successor, replaced concertmaster Listemann with twenty-year-old Franz Kneisel of Bucharest and Berlin, and added to his ensemble almost a score of other European importations, there was no doubt among the jolted players and patrons that a new order was established, not only in the matter of personnel but also, as they were soon to discover, in methods of work and discipline. Prophetically enough, the editor of the American Musician advanced his considered opinion that “the Gericke firings would not have happened if the musicians had been unionized as they are in New York.” Gericke culled out the deadwood which, either because of technical deterioration, superannuation, or personal insubordination, became an impediment to the realization of his artistic ideals. Contractual provisions were tightened. Nonattendance and tardiness were subject to “liquidated damages, non-arrival of steam or horse cars not excusing delay in arrival.” To make possible longer seasons and more enticing contracts for those who were to come from afar to cast their professional lot in a new home, tours as far west as St. Louis were undertaken, and spring Promenade series were introduced.
To him who succeeds, much is forgiven. The success of the orchestra in Philadelphia and in New York, as well as at home, was unequivocal. If Gericke’s style of conducting was cold and without dramatic force, the playing was for the first time precise and well coached. Gericke had “made” the orchestra, but it had been a hard pull. He had to establish a personal discipline to which Americans were not accustomed; and the patrons sometimes literally walked out on his severely classic programs. He had conscientiously subjected himself to the most grueling duties, and he suffered unceasingly from the pangs of homesickness. When he had arrived in Boston, “his English lasted about fifteen seconds” and continued as a handicap in making friendships here. He was ready for a rest, and could not be induced to remain longer than five years. He departed from “cool and cultured Boston,” according to L. C. Elson, “amid floral tributes and gyrations of hats and handkerchiefs” and an auf Wiedersehn.
The pattern of turning to Europe, that almost inexhaustible arsenal of musical talent, was now firmly set, and this time (1889) Higginson enticed to his organization the First Conductor of the Leipzig Opera, Arthur Nikisch, then thirty-four years old, but already a mature conductor of more than ten years’ experience. Nikisch was an adherent of the Liszt-Wagner-Billow school of conducting which deliberately set itself off from the metronomic and brittle Mendelssohnian tradition established at the Gewandhaus. Gericke, the technician, was now to be replaced by Nikisch, the poet, who would enliven the strong and well-articulated skeleton of Gericke’s making with the flesh and blood of full romantic vividness.
Contemporary critical reports leave us a rather accurate portrayal of this exotic figure, the first conductor in America to display the major symptoms of the “prima-donna.” A man of distinguished appearance enhanced by sartorial elegance and a well-trimmed beard, he slowly bestrode the stage, his black forelock vibrating over his forehead. To many visual-minded auditors he was undoubtedly a great conductor even before he had raised his baton. His conducting from memory, daringly novel in that day; and the pulsating rhythms of his flashing white cuffs, and other personal idiosyncrasies, so different from the ramrod dignity of his predecessor, inevitably drew upon his head the epithet of “poseur.” By his ability to get himself talked about, he may have been among the first, but certainly not the last, to be accused of diverting public interest from the music to the conductor thereof.
But Nikisch also commanded compensating nonvirtuoso traits which contributed much to his success. He never lost his temper; he was gently persuasive rather than dictatorial with his men and was loved and respected by them. His gestures, although emphatic, were restrained and consciously interpretative rather than effusive. Finally, he lacked that passion for precision of rendition and driving discipline which often harasses the players to the limits of their endurance.
But such a man could not expect to avoid controversy. There were many who warned that the spit and polish of the old Gericke machine was going to ruin. One lesser known critic, distinguished for his uninhibited language, pronounced the new conductor downright incompetent. Nikisch soon divided the city into two factions, those who missed the predictable fidelity which Gericke had cultivated for them, and those who revelled in the fire and drama and spontaneity of his successor.
Classicists described him as given to erratic tempi, uncontrolled rubatos, extremes in slow and rapid rhythms, exaggerated pianissimos and bombastic outbursts of mere sound and fury. He was at the same time subtly poetic and frankly bizarre, he modernized the classics, arid “denuded Beethoven of all dignity.” In his first season he caused a sensation by slowly declaiming the opening measures of Beethoven’s Fifth, and picking up the tempo on the sixth measure.26
In the Schumann Spring Symphony, as one critic averred:
the sparkling violin passages are so heavily weighted by Nikisch with minute nuances in the form of frequent ritartandos and unexpected accents, that the flow of these rippling figures is completely arrested, and they nearly lose their sparkle.
the opening movement of the Freischutz overture was taken at so slow a pace that the rhythm suffered and the quartet of horns sustained their tones with difficulty, or in other words, the melos did not come out.27
Philip Hale, the most influential critic in Boston, bemoaned the
undue passion in comparatively passionless melody. It is seldom. under Mr. Nikisch, that you have any theme given in frank simplicity; that a piano is observed strictly for more than two or three consecutive measures. Thus in a symphony of Mozart or Haydn, there is almost constant overstress . . . there is the absence of repose demanded by the spirit of the work.28
Later, at the Gewandhaus, the Leipzig critics echoed similar sentiments, commenting on the “new tempi” and the “prominence given certain instruments when Nikisch conducts.” He “drags certain passages in order to work up to greater climaxes.”29 He was also considered a master of the powerful climax. A Berlin critic reported that he took the four measures of the well-known C major entrance of the Finale of Beethoven’s Fifth in a tearing crescendo from pp to fff, the effect of which was inexpressible in words.30
It is, however, quite understandable that some should enjoy as a thrill what to a staid and composed temperament would be a shock. Krehbiel, of New York, who heard Nikisch only periodically,] in contrast to such resident critics as Philip Hale, asserted that Nikisch, was of “the type that put an end to the music-box style of interpretation,” who “with the utmost freedom in time changes, yet in a general way adheres to the normal unit of measure.”31 One Boston critic admitted that the
slow tempo at which he took the opening measures of FingaVs Cave Overture was an innovation, but as it was in entire harmony with his conception of the work he was certainly warranted in interpreting it according to his idea instead of blindly following the traditional readings.32
His constant endeavor was to invent a new twist to an old phrase, and “never played a piece twice alike.” The superb orchestra was trained to follow his every momentary impulse with the hope that “things would click” in public. Sometimes they did not!
Although there are many pitfalls in retroactive judgments, and although it is difficult to recreate the norms against which such contemporary criticisms were written, such concrete descriptions of the conductor’s interpretation are a rather clear indication of the early romantic interpretative styles employed by Liszt and Wagner, and for which the classicist Weingartner so severely criticized Biilow.33 Nikisch was representative of a period which is today obsolete. While personal readings still are common, the range between the Mendelssohnian time-beating and whimsical “Biilowisms” has been very much narrowed. Individual deviations have become much more subtle—an inevitable outgrowth of the very gradual but definite development qf audience familiarity with orchestral repertoire, with which drastic liberties cannot be taken with impunity. The Wagner school, which searched out and emphasized the melos in contradistinction to mere rhythmic performance, produced and even encouraged great license with the dynamics of the written score. Its extreme sponsors evolved a kind of fluoroscopic school of interpretative conducting, in which all the intimate inner details of the score were revealed with clinical clarity. As a Leipzig critic remarked in 1908: “Those who wish to hear the click of the metronome do not like to listen to Nikisch’ Beethoven.”34 It was an era of Sturm und Drang which was later to be transformed into a period of mastery and restraint. It is a significant chapter in the styles of conducting as well as in the history of aesthetic theory.
Speaking broadly, neither party in the Boston situation was happy, and Nikisch departed abruptly before his five-year contract expired, leaving behind him the two contending camps of adherents and adversaries. His last Boston concert provoked a hysterical ovation to which he responded in a short speech of gratitude and apology. Whether the critics drove him from Boston, as his friends assert; or whether he had contractual disputes with Mr. Higginson, as contended by others; or whether, as Pfohl,35 his German biographer, avers, he was fatigued from railroad travel and unendurably impatient with the half-baked culture in the United States—all this is immaterial since such eventualities usually have multiple causes. In any case, he returned to Europe to enjoy a career of triumph and adulation of a magnitude attained by few. He held simultaneously the conductorship of the two finest orchestras in Germany, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Leipzig Gewandhaus, and served frequently as guest conductor at home and abroad, thereby achieving the picturesque sobriquet of “conductor-on-wheels.”
As conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic-Symphony 36 and the NBC Symphony Orchestra Arturo Toscanini is commonly regarded as having attained the greatest heights in conductor ial perfection. (NBC Photo)
A REUNION IN BOSTON, 195 I
Left to right: Pierre Monteux (San Francisco Symphony); the late Serge Koussevitzky (of the Boston Symphony), and Charles Munch (who had just succeeded, him in Boston). (Lenscraft Photos. Courtesy of George E. Judd, Boston Symphony Orchestra)
In 1912, after several years of persistent rumors that he would return to Boston, he visited this country for a triumphal tour with the London Symphony Orchestra. In several concerts in New York, the houses were generally completely sold out. The first night, Monday, April 8, however, showed many of the boxes unoccupied. Some interpreted this as spite work of the old buccaneering days; others saw it as a boycott of Brahms, who was on the program. The real reason was, however, that the first concert conflicted with the “fashion night” at the “Met,” whose patrons amply filled the seats of the remaining Nikisch appearances. The New York critics, who always had a good word for the unrestrained romanticist in his Boston days, again exhausted their expletives. But in Boston, Symphony Hall was not full, and Philip Hale, who now observed considerable mellowing in Nikisch’ conductorial style, still entertained lingering doubts about it “as a steady diet.”
After Boston’s failure to induce Gericke to return, and after Theodore Thomas, then in Chicago, and Hans Richter, probably the most celebrated conductor in Europe at that moment, had declined, the choice as Nikisch’ successor in 1893 was Emil Paur. He was likewise “on the romantic side,” although he lacked the polish and personal magnetism of his predecessor. Intensely devoted to his art, he was less gregarious, refusing to be the social lion and roar for his money.
After five years of Paur’s service, Boston turned again to the Viennese classicist for whom Higginson, himself a conservative, had never quite lost his attachment. Gericke remained for seven years. But the audience was no longer the same. After having been exposed to Nikisch and Paur, it listened to the old “efficiency” with new ears. It was not long before the critics found that “he had grown cold,” that “he repressed the instruments.” A dangerous apathy began to settle over the audiences. By 1903, one reviewer observed that the icy Gericke was “ceasing to draw.” Although publicly Higginson maintained a fine standard of correctness toward Gericke by assuring him that he could remain in Boston, privately he was more than happy to see him depart. Philip Hale cites Higginson’s personal communication in attesting to the points of friction between the conductor and the philanthropist. One of these was Gericke’s refusal to accept guest conductors with whom Higginson had hoped to recoup some of the growing deficits. The possessive Gericke, on his part, feared deterioration of the orchestra in the hands of strange conductors.36
With the new century, the time was propitious to strike a more modern note. Boston had achieved a high reputation and earned the full praises of the few foreign conductors who had been permitted to preside on the podium. The orchestra was installed in a new home, Symphony Hall, of excellent acoustics, which was built in 1900. If, as many people complained, it monopolized the musical scene, and the usual miscellany of concerts and recitals were neglected, it was equally true that the drawing power of the orchestra alone called attention to the city as a musical center and in its own right attracted students and achieved prestige. It is not surprising, therefore, that the ambitious community should seek what it had never before obtained: a ranking conductor, who had already “arrived.” Nikisch himself now amply fulfilled such qualifications, and there were the aforesaid persistent rumors of his return. However, the final choice was Dr. Karl Muck, Conductor of the Royal Opera in Berlin and distinguished Wagner interpreter, who served brilliantly in Boston from 1906 to 1914, with a four-year interlude filled by Max Fiedler.
Like Nikisch, Muck was undemonstrative and economical in gesture on the podium; but unlike his great compatriot, Muck was -“ever faithful to the composer,” and was pre-eminently the type of conductor who does most of his work behind the scenes and during the rehearsal. He was essentially scholarly, and again unlike Nikisch, Dr. Muck, though some considered him uninspired, nevertheless enjoyed the united approval and general enthusiasm of the Boston patrons and management. The story of his departure is interesting and important, since it demonstrates that even in Boston, where music was cultivated in an ivory tower and protected from the chilly winds of the competitive world, it could not remain “above the battle.”
War was declared on Germany by the United States on April 6, 1917, after a slow but steady accretion of anti-German sentiment following the sinking of the Lusitania in the spring of 1915. However, America was hesitant in manifesting these hostile feelings in the concert hall, and for a number of reasons: she was proud of her tolerance and individual freedom, and was self-consciously broadminded; not everybody was at first convinced of the wisdom of American entry into the war; German music constituted the central core of American repertoires, and it was inconceivable that it should be curtailed; and finally the philosophy of the neutrality of art was deep-seated in the aesthetic thinking of the era. Philip. Hale, some weeks after the declaration of war, feelingly epitomized these sentiments: “Men of various nationalities and various sympathies, united in the purpose of maintaining the high reputation of the Boston Symphony orchestra, knew in rehearsals and concerts only one country, the great Republic of Art.”37
The cruel fact, however, was incontrovertible: America was involved in a serious war. The dramatic story of this conductor-friend of the Kaiser, which was a blend of “spy scare,” of superpatriotism, of sudden “dislike” of German music, and of obstinate bungling of public relations, has been related many times.38
Very briefly, the facts seem to be as follows: After some months of sniping at Dr. Muck and rumors, beginning at least as early as February, 1916, that Muck was disloyal and even supplied information to the enemy, the patriotic groups of Providence, R. I., where the orchestra was to appear in November, 1917, determined to make an issue of his patriotism by demanding that he conduct the Star-Span gled Banner. Higginson, never a person to be intimidated, refused to consider the request, which turned out to be an ineffable blunder for which Muck was innocently accused. However, in subsequent concerts, the national anthem was played, both in Boston and other cities, and this particular crisis had apparently blown over. Though the January and February (1918) visits to Philadelphia found “many boxes were vacant,” and some critics complained of Muck’s “torpid rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner and though he had run into violent patriotic opposition in New York, it still came as a surprise when, in March, 1918, almost a year after the declaration of war, Dr. Muck was suddenly arrested and interned, for reasons never officially made public. It was informally alleged’ that the charges were of a personal nature, irrelevant to the prosecution of the war, but that he had preferred to accept political arrest to the prosecution of the “genuine” charge. After the armistice he returned to his native Germany where he pursued a long and successful career, and died in 1940 at the venerable age of eighty years.
More was implied in the event, however, than a mere routine shift in conductors; for the momentous social and artistic changes trailing Muck’s departure constituted a veritable crisis in Boston, and indeed throughout America. Mr. Higginson, the sole source of security for thirty-seven years, was now old, and his finances so shaken that at his death (1919) it had become impossible for him to provide for any endowment of the orchestra, with the exception, of course, of his music library. Mr. E. B. Dane donned Higginson’s mantle and served as the “good angel” to save the orchestra for several years. But the best evidence that a financial reorganization was imminent came in the fall of 1923 with the revelation that the average annual deficit since Higginson’s retirement had been about $100,000 and now exceeded the capacity of the philanthropists to overcome. Like other cities, Boston would have to devise a plan for a broader base of support. At that time her list of three hundred guarantors for the current season was published, and with it a general plea for all citizens to join in the cause!
Another symptom of the new era was the shift of artistic orientation from Germany to France. Of course, there had always been French music and French musicians, usually in the woodwind section, although it was German music which had evoked the sympathy of the Boston orchestra as well as that of every other orchestra in the United States. During and immediately after the war, it was obviously impossible to look for Muck’s successor in the accustomed places. Although sentimental leanings were strong toward France, Sir Henry Wood, Rachmaninoff, and Toscanini were approached. Rachmaninoff declined (for the second time since 1912) and negotiations with Toscanini collapsed before they could be terminated one way or the other. After a year’s visit by Henri Rabaud, the trustees selected Pierre Monteux who had behind him varied experience with opera, ballet, and orchestra, and who was destined to serve the orchestra during the most critical postwar period of 1919-25.
The most severe shock resulting from the impact of the changing postwar world was the musicians’ strike of 1920, which grew out of the issue of unionization. Seen in present-day perspective, it was inevitable that the Boston orchestra, like every other enterprise, would sooner or later encounter the issues of management and labdr relations. The scale of wages of the rank and file in the orchestra was admittedly not so favorable as formerly. The musicians, however, had accepted as compensation the prestige of membership in the most noted orchestra in the country. But the postwar rise in cost of living was now beginning to overtake the musicians, and they accordingly submitted a request for wage readjustments. Supported by the local musicians’ union in these demands, they were only following the accepted labor practices. Boston, conservative and isolated, was merely grappling with a question already settled in other communities.
The union had a strong bargaining position. Musicians were scarce, not only because the European supply was largely cut off, but also because of increasing demands for musicians in the new symphony orchestras then being founded in the western cities, and the new symphonic ensembles installed in the palatial motion picture theatres. Consonant with the principles firmly enunciated by Mr. Higginson many times before, the present board refused to bargain collectively, i.e., to recognize the union. Harassed by deficits, it further declined to consider the needed wage increases. The concertmaster, Frederic Fradkin, sympathized with the reform and joined the union. As a direct outcome of this gesture, the conductor and the concertmaster engaged in an altercation backstage previous to a concert on March 5, 1920. The concertmaster retaliated during the concert by refusing to rise with the orchestra in acknowledgment of the applause, which the conductor desired to share with his men. On his dismissal for insubordination, thirty-six musicians failed to appear for the Saturday evening concert.
This was not the first “strike” in the history of the major orchestras—Walter Damrosch had suffered a brief walkout in 1893—and, of course, it was by no means the first labor dispute in musical circles—but it was by all odds the most disastrous to the orchestra and costly to the men involved. Although Boston, alone of all the orchestras, was not unionized, there were still in the country a sufficiently large number of open-shop industries to create an understandable expectation that the Boston orchestra might reniain indefinitely an exception to the general rule. The strike was broken, but the orchestra lost one-third of its personnel, mostly in the German strings, and Monteux was faced with a task, similar to that of Gericke forty years previously, of building an orchestra almost anew and in an atmosphere of bitter hostility. The consensus of opinion is that he succeeded quite as well as his illustrious forebear. But if he had led the orchestra out of the wilderness, he was not permitted to lead it into the promised land. Monteux had gained the admiration of many people in Boston, but his New York critics and audiences remained cool toward his undemonstrative manner and his French programs.
The harvesting of the fruits of the arduous spade-work and the establishment of the Boston orchestra on a new level of brilliance was to be reserved for Serge Koussevitzky, the Russian virtuoso on the bass viol. Koussevitzky had had a varied career, not only as soloist in the music centers of Europe (he had been announced for tours in the United States although he had never carried out the projects), but also as conductor and publisher in enterprises which his personal means handsomely supported. Known to the American musical press many years before the Russian revolution, Kussewitzki (as the name was spelled before the adoption of the French orthography) was by 1917 considered the most famous conductor of his native land, and was accordingly elected to head the Russian “Orchestra of the State.’’ Political events, however, prevented the actual realization of this plan and in 1920 he left the Soviet Union, settling in France where his Concerts Koussevitzky attracted immediate attention. His nationality, his political severance from the “despised” Soviets, his personal bearing, and, of course, the advance critical notices of his concert activities—all made him the logical candidate for a community in which the world-renowned orchestra was the center of musical and social life.
During the period of its grievous collapse, the Boston orchestra had suffered in national prestige while Stokowski was bewitching his public in Philadelphia and New York. Koussevitzky was to recapture its old glory, and re-establish the rivalry between Boston and Philadelphia, annually fought out in the arena of Carnegie Hall.
It could not be expected that there would be unanimity on his interpretations of the classics and on his choice of modern works. Although some felt the magnetism of his interpretations, others decried his exaggerations in tempo and romantic leanings. “When slow movements are played slower, Koussevitzky will play them” ran the parody on the popular automobile ad. However, before many seasons of his American career had elapsed, Koussevitzky was, by common consent, included in the trinity of America’s Great with Stokowski and Toscanini. His regime in Boston reached a new high in personal adulation, and before its close he had become a “living legend,” one of the many outward symbols of which are the four honorary doctorates conferred upon him by as many different universities, and several biographies both reverential and critical.39
It was during his tenure, beginning in 1924, that the dead hand of the past relaxed its hold and the union question was finally settled. For Higginson, unionization had been a menace to the vital principle of artistic supremacy which alone could permit the prosecution of musical ideals, unhampered by rules and regulations of the union order. The philanthropist had rejpeatedly threatened to abandon the orchestra on that issue. But the Boston orchestra had long ceased to be a personal enterprise—an elongated shadow of its owner and benefactor. Even its exceptional musical excellence could no longer justify its exemption from the ordinary process of collective negotiation which had become standard practice in orchestral and industrial contracts.
Evolutionary changes in our economic order were conspiring to render untenable the privileged position of the Boston orchestra. With the union in full control over broadcasting and recording, which had become indispensable sources of revenue; with the current custom of guest conductors and soloists; and with the appearances of the orchestra on its tour, it was relatively easy by means of the boycott for the union to engage in a pincer movement that made ultimate surrender the only alternative to annihilation. Simply stated, it was impossible for a nonunion orchestra to live in a unionized world. When, finally, James Caesar Petrillo succeeded to the headship of the Federation of Musicians in 1940, he menacingly announced a fight to the finish. Capitulation was only a question of time and appropriate circumstance. Bruno Walter and Chavez were forbidden by Petrillo to appear as guests; Howard Hanson had to cancel his engagement to direct his own symphony; Zimbalist, Szigeti, and Serkin could not accept invitations to perform with the orchestra. Financially, too, the orchestra was very vulnerable. Deficits were growing; concert halls were threatened with blacklisting for harboring the orchestra on tour; radio and recording were banned. Finally, after extended negotiations and some minor concessions on the part of the union, agreements were signed in December, 1942.
Another important venture during the Koussevitzky regime was the inauguration of the Berkshire Festival and its attendant functions. The devastation of Europe had thrown America upon its own resources in summer entertainment, in the training of orchestral musicians and conductors and in their continuous employment. The associated enterprises of the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood helped to satisfy these demands by instituting a series of festival concerts, establishing a school for players, conductors, and composers, and incidentally rounding the year’s contract for the members of the orchestra.
Amid the flurry of his seventy-fifth birthday anniversary, his twenty-fifth in the United States, Koussevitzky announced his retirement, retaining however some participation in the Berkshire enterprise. Rumors had been persistent for some years that Mitropoulos, whose American debut he had sponsored, would inherit his mantle. Instead, to the surprise of many, it reposed in 1950 on the shoulders of Charles Munch, a French Alsatian, who had been an active conductor in Paris for twenty years, and had more recently visited the States with the Orchestre National of Paris.
Koussevitzky’s farewell was a civic occasion and eulogies were extravagant. He was “the greatest all-round conductor of the day.” He not only performed his concerts, and “never walked out” as did other conductors at times, but he also stimulated the creative minds of the time; he was a musical benefactor, and “as a citizen of Boston, lived an irreproachable private life.”40 His friends established an anniversary fund for the benefit of the orchestra so that, as the celebrant noted in a letter, the orchestra “to which I have devoted mv best efforts for a quarter of a century shall never flounder or fail through lack of adequate financial support.” Koussevitzky died on June 4, 1951.
REPERTOIRE Three different features characterize the Boston repertoire and distinguish it from those of all other orchestras in this country. First of all: Boston has been the most conspicuous and consistent proponent of American music. Although there has been some inevitable fluctuation in the intensity of this zeal, the cultivation of American music seemed to be little affected by the turnover in conductors, by passing historical, circumstance, or economic conditions of the orchestra. Whether it was the three per cent under Henschel and Gericke in the eighties, or the ten to twelve per cent under Koussevitzky in recent decades—the quotas almost always exceeded those of every other orchestra. Only during World War I, when Chicago and St. Louis were affected by political considerations, did an ephemeral rival in Americanism intrude.
If the reasons for this nativistic enthusiasm do not lie in passing circumstance, they must be sought in the abiding conditions of that region. New England in general and Boston in particular have always been imbued with old American attitudes, and it was there that American arts flowered. Early American literature, painting, and architecture, as well as music, had their life and being in New England and not in polyglot New York. Most of the prominent early composers—Foote, Chadwick, William Mason, Converse, MacDowell, Paine, Mrs. Beach—spent part or all of their musical careers in and around that city. Harvard University, in nearby Cambridge, established the first chair of music in 1875, and through its students and graduates set the tone for musical activities. The New England Conservatory of Music, founded in 1867, and the Boston Conservatory were among the first of their kind in the United States. The Boston publishers Oliver Ditson and especially Arthur P. Schmidt recognized and encouraged American composers by publishing their works.
Changing taste, the normal decline of interest in older composers, and the termination of individual careers, have, however, caused a complete mutation in the character and personnel of the American list. The original New England portfolio of compositions presented by Henschel and Gericke has been displaced by a broadly national group that encompasses not only the native-born from various parts of the country (Harris, Hanson, Copland, Barber, Carpenter, etc.) but also Americans by adoption (Berezowsky, Loeffler, Bloch). The flavor and concept of American music has also been modified. Formerly dominated by German models, it now carries the imprint of French instruction. To the ever-present motive of loyalty to native composers has consequently been added, in the case of contemporary music, the interest in modernism. The length of his tenure and his zeal for the music of his adopted country enabled Koussevitzky to contribute more substantially to the recognition of American composers than any other conductor. His abundant and discriminating selection of American works has been memorialized on frequent occasions.
A second persistent trait of the Boston repertoire has been the scanty attention to Wagner. In the early days, during the first burst of American enthusiasm, it was well below the average, and since the beginning of the century Boston has presented only one-third to one-half of the national average. The passion for Wagner, grown to a flame in the heat of controversy by Bergmann, Thomas, Damrosch, and Seidl in New York and Chicago, never exceeded a simmer in Boston. However, similar effects are often attributable to diverse causes. Boston’s early conductors, Lieder-sing^r Henschel and the Viennese Gericke, could hardly have been expected to carry the torch for the German revolutionary. Henschel was an intimate friend of Brahms. Though by profession a singer, he was not an operatic performer who might have been instilled with fervor for the new school. Gericke, who occupied the podium in two installments for a total of thirteen years, was a stern classicist, molded in bourgeois Vienna where the anti-Wagnerian Hanslick had presided over the taste of that conservative city. The critical atmosphere of Boston was to some extent a duplicate of that of Vienna. Higginson, who had received his musical training in the Imperial city, was himself an aesthetic conservative, as was John S. Dwight, editor of the recently defunct D^gfe’y Journal of Music. Both were outspoken anti-Wagnerian critics of influence. In commenting on an early Thomas program in Boston (1869), Dwight reacted as follows: “The Tannhduser Overture led off. . . . Never did we hear it so well played—Never did we enjoy the work so little.”
On one occasion, Georg Henschel had protested against Dwight’s antagonistic attitude toward Wagner. In reply, Dwight wrote a letter of explanation and apology which allows us to reconstruct the era (he was opposed to all moderns, including Chadwiek!) and the state of mind of those who found Wagner so intolerable.
Your informant must have wholly misunderstood my half playful and (I admit) quite extravagant remark. I have not and could not have had the slightest wish to prevent your making a memorial concert of Wagner music, and I should be the last man in the world to vote for any prohibitory committee or board of censorship. You have the right to make your own program according to your own feeling of the occasion, and I admired the earnestness and energy with which you set about it. What I said (either to, or in the hearing of, Mr. Dannreuther) had no reference to this concert or this orchestra, but was in continuance of some conversation . . . in which I expressed the depressing effect which so much of the more modern ambitious modern music had upon my mind—so many big words, which by their enormous orchestration, crowded harmonies, sheer intensity of sound, and restless swarming motion without progress, seem to seek to carry the listeners by storm, by a roaring whirlwind of sound, instead of going to the heart by the simpler and divine way of the still small voice. And, then it occurred to me that it might even justify a high court—a world’s court of censorship—composed of the greatest, clearing the musical atmosphere of many heavy clouds and of much murky musical malaria. It was a sudden freak of thought, and of course an utterly impractical extravaganza. But when I meet a red-hot Wagnerite, I am sometimes tempted in a humorous way to say the worst I can upon the other side,41
In justice to the memory of these two Boston citizens, however, it must be added that Higginson never abused his power by exerting pressure on conductors or public to enforce his private predilections, and that Dwight liberally opened his Journal to educational and critical articles on the new musical trends—a magnanimous example of objective journalism worthy of emulation today.
It could plausibly have been anticipated that Karl Muck would reverse the Wagner trend. When he arrived in Boston, he had already attained secure prestige as a Wagner interpreter in Bayreuth itself. Furthermore, Wagner was by then a universally accepted composer whose orchestral innovations had already been succeeded by still newer trends. However, Muck brought with him a distaste, common among exponents of the Wagner music-drama, for tearing the Wagner fragments bleeding from the context. To be sure, Wagner himself did so in the interest of certain public contingencies, as did Muck and other disciples. But the conductors’ disinclination to torture the supposedly integrated unit by forcibly extracting from it sketchy morsels was not conducive to a liberal proportion of Wagner in the orchestral repertoire.
The third characteristic of the Boston repertoire is its tendency toward “progressivism.” Not that such impulses touched every one of its distinguished conductors. Gericke never did cross the musical threshold of late-nineteenth century “modernism.” Muck, though more hospitable and eclectic, nevertheless was not particularly enamored of contemporary trends. Nikisch displayed, of course, ample signs of romanticism. But it was with Koussevitzky that a new era of aggressive modernism set in. In fact, the reputation of his liberal predilections had preceded his arrival in Boston, with the result that his advent was contemplated with such dread by a number of important subscribers as to cause anxiety in management circles. As in the case of Seidl (New York) and Nikisch, his unconventional interpretation of the standard classics was received with lifted aesthetic eyebrows.
The conductors, as usual, impressed their individual stamp on local conditions, as far as those conditions either permitted or encouraged. When Henschel inaugurated the concert series, he was not a seasoned conductor—perhaps not a conductor at all!—with definite traditions and preformed policies. He was not averse to musical titbits which could be instantly enjoyed by the audience, and generally designed his program with appetizing desserts at the end. Some of these pleasant numbers have vanished into the first stage of oblivion—the popular programs—and some have been almost entirely forgotten: the overtures of Auber, Boieldieu, Cherubini, Gade, Nicolai, several of Mendelssohn, and the symphonies of Raff and Gade, while certain other compositions of Mendelssohn, Schubert, and Saint-Saens sound a little too obvious to present-day ears.
On the strenuous side, it was the controversial Brahms, friend and counselor of Henschel, with whom he exercised his audiences. It is difficult for present listeners to realize how austere and enigmatic, how protracted and discontinuous these abstract tonal creations sounded in an age when the programmatic Raff, the melodious Schubert, and the straightforward Beethoven were the regular fare. With his eight per cent devoted to Brahms, Henschel was greatly in advance of the New York orchestras who were playing only two to five per cent. Under such conditions, the leave-taking of the audience between the Brahms symphonic movements assumes added plausibility.
For rigidity of discipline, however, it .was Gericke who was the real molder of the orchestra, both in the realm of cultivated taste and in personal administration of the orchestra. He lopped off the frills and concentrated on rigorous symphonic literature. The complaints of the audience, martyrs to aesthetic standards, got scant attention from one who had a mission to fulfill. L. C. Elson, the Boston reviewer, deplored the “rut of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms to which Gericke clung with Viennese persistence.”42 The repertoire was anchored to the Austro-German traditions which accounted for nearly eighty per cent of it. The Gericke programs therefore lacked the sprightliness to which Henschel had previously accustomed the ears of the patrons, who reminisced nostalgically, “Henschel may not have been as good a conductor, but he is certainly a better program maker.”43 To Gericke, a mixture of such styles was a desecration, and thus it was that the segregated popular programs were instituted to assume the responsibility of the lighter fare.
Max Fiedler and Emil Paur, cultivating less artistic ruthlessness, offered a pleasant interlude for certain segments of the audience by alleviating the severity of the programs. Especially indulgent, Fiedler was very willing to unbend with Wagner excerpts; but physically he retained the stiff German rigidity, taking his bow by bending double exactly in the middle, straightening out, throwing shoulders back, with a military click of his heels.
The programs of the French incumbents Rabaud and Monteux were clearly products of the international crisis. The repertoire of 1918-24 was not the reflection of the conductors, but rather both the conductors and programs were the reflection of the anti-German and pro-Ally political and social climate of the day. While the German classics still bulked large, they had been severely curbed, and the French, swept up by the political tempest, rose to an unprecedented height of one-fourth of the repertoire, featuring some composers, like Saint-Saens, who never again would be rewarded so generously with the favor of serious taste. Monteux, to be sure, had already startled his audiences with Stravinsky’s Sacre du Print emps, but he was limited by time and circumstance in fully unfolding his liberal propensities.
During his twenty-five-year regime, Koussevitzky had ample opportunity to acquire, and in turn to abandon, various affections. In his early tenure, the mystical Scriabin was his compositeur de resistance, of whom he had more recently tired. Sibelius, Prokofieff, and Shostakovitch rate consistently high, and the latter two help to swell the Russian contingent to a new height of almost one-fourth of the total Boston repertoire. In the postwar period, both Sibelius and Shostakovitch slumped heavily, although for obviously different reasons.
Many composers and compositions were given experimental hearings and later dropped. Koussevitzky was most articulate in his policy that symphony concerts must not only entertain and elevate the public, and familiarize it with current trends in composition, but also serve as a training school for a selected group of contemporary composers, who might hear their works performed and profit by the experience. Since the orchestra is an expensive instrument, it can be used for such experiments only when assured of reasonable financial security, an understanding audience, traditions of artistic supremacy, and a conductor of discernment. Koussevitzky, with all his modernism, never strained this tolerance by indulging in the capricious excesses of Stokowski, but was nevertheless perpetually in the vanguard of current musical trends.
Unlike the Eastern cities, Chicago was, in the period of the eighties, not a city of great cultural traditions. It was rather a vibrant and odorous industrial town, famous for its Armour and Swift stockyards, its Pullman sleepers and McCormick reapers, and thus performed much of the dirty work for the growing nation. But the captains of these industries, having attained wealth and leisure, were apparently now determined to emulate the patterns of the East by embellishing the crasser aspects of life with the veneer and polish of the polite arts.
From the standpoint of mere census enumeration Chicago with its million population in 1890 was large enough to support an orchestra; but its musical experience was almost entirely limited to the traveling orchestras, opera troupes, and concert artists that toured the West. In 1890 Chicago was merely an aspirant to rather than a participant in “culture.”
Theodore Thomas44 himself had paved the way for the Chicago orchestra—a service which he had also rendered to the orchestras in Boston, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and other cities. Wherever he went with his traveling troupe, he thrilled audiences with the discipline and precision of his performance, an accomplishment made possible only because he had a permanent body of men who considered the orchestra their chief and specialized employment. After the failure of both Carl Bergmann and Henry Ahner, former members of the old Germania orchestra, to organize local orchestras, Hans Balatka, in i860, enjoyed the first real but transient success. His group aroused some enthusiasm for a period of about six years, then gradually disappeared from the scene after Thomas had made his first of many Chicago appearances in 1869. It was obvious to all that he hopelessly outclassed the local contingent. His playing of Trdumerei, strings muted, pp, in contrast to Balatka’s “straight” reading was one of the sensations of that early season. Even the most untutored of his listeners could understand the difference. During the next two decades he paid many visits to the city, regaled his followers with nine seasons of summer night concerts at popular prices, and thereby practically killed off all indigenous efforts.
But by the end of that time, the now fifty-three-year-old migratory Thomas had become a tired man. His yearning for a permanent orchestra, on the order of that of Major Higginson of Boston, had never been gratified. Instead, he had been stalked by repeated financial and personal failures: the Philadelphia Centennial concerts, the Cincinnati Musical College, the American Opera Company—each of which would make a story in itself. Minor adversities had deepened his depression: The House of Steinway, which had generously supported him for years, was now also tired, and financial aid, which had been forthcoming from other friends, was inadequate; his age rendered it impossible to endure, much less enjoy, the tours that he had undertaken philosophically for twenty years; and finally his own personal temperament was far from adaptable. As he matured, he found it less possible to maintain even a semblance of the graceful cooperation essential to success in public undertakings.
If one wished to prolong the melancholy recital of mishaps and the overwhelming weight of circumstance that can shape destiny, one might continue. After the collapse of the American Opera Company (1885-87), which had toured the United States with opera in English, Thomas did attempt a comeback and returned to concert work in New York. But his absence had shaken his former grip. The New York audience had gone opera-mad; Seidl had captivated New York; Boston had entered the field with its own fine orchestra and was competing with New York, thereby closing that profitable outlet for Thomas; and finally, interstate transportation rules had been tightened so that traveling troupes were no longer eligible for the reduced fares that had previously made touring profitable.
It was at this juncture, in 1889, that Charles Norman Fay, a Chicago friend, had broached to him the possibility of coming to Chicago if guarantees could be raised for a permanent orchestra Thomas’ quickened spirit replied with his oft-quoted retort: “I would go to Hell if they gave me a permanent orchestra.”
During the nineteenth century, the band concert was a popular form of musical entertainment. Mr. Harvey B. Dodworth was the first of the eminent line of band directors in America which included Patrick Gilmore and John Philip Sousa. The “band” concert included symphonic and operatic numbers,and constituted an important stage in the development of American musical taste. Mr. Dodworth was a violinist in the New York Philharmonic orchestra, and his programs can hardly be distinguished from those of the Philharmonic. The youthful Theodore Thomas was featured in the programs as violin soloist, probably with piano accompaniment
THE EARLIEST AVAILABLE PICTURE OF THE CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA—ABOUT 1898.
Theodore Thomas is shown conducting the orchestra in the auditorium. (Courtesy of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra)
Theodore Thomas may be called the ‘‘father of the permanent orchestra.He founded his own full-time orchestra in 1863, purveyed the finest music in New York and on tour as far west as San Francisco, and excited an interest in symphonic orchestras in the major cities of the United States. (Culver Service)
In retrospect, Chicago seems to have been somewhat less than ready for such a metropolitan venture. Thousand-dollar pledges, by fifty persons, for only three years, was riot big money even in those days and did riot betoken complete appreciation of the responsibilities of the, venture. After this short pump priming, its backers expected the orchestra to be self-supporting and even profitable as the Thomas summer concerts had been for ten years. But there were no suburbs where extra concerts could be given to alleviate deficits; although there was some intense musical interest in Chicago, there was no ready audience of sufficient dimensions in size and taste, as there had been in Boston, whose patronage would insure success. In sum, it was an uncomfortably small margin of safety to cover the unknown hazards of possible cooling of interest, or to offset a decline in financial competence of guarantors, and it was a long gamble that necessary additional sponsors could be found.
All these and many other impediments were actually encountered and eventually overcome. But at the moment, there was an element of strength and confidence in the original list of guarantors, who, in addition to Fay, a business executive, included the most noted industrial and commercial names of old Chicago: Pullman, Armour, Marshall Field, Ryerson, McCormick, Potter, Blackstone, Wacker, Sprague, and many others.
Nor was Chicago rich in the requisite professional resources from which to build an orchestra. The city actually engaged not only a conductor, but an entire orchestra, for Thomas imported about sixty men from New York as the nucleus for the new group, to be supplemented by only about twenty-four chosen from the local supply—a circumstance which caused some disturbance in union ranks for a time. In one respect, however, Chicago was well equipped, so they thought: the new Auditorium, designed by the celebrated Louis Sullivan, built primarily to house the opera, had been dedicated in 1889 and possessed fine acoustics and a seating capacity of 4,800.
Thus Theodore Thomas in 1891 founded the first orchestra still surviving in the Middle West, but during the first ten years its survival was many times in doubt. Discouragements “came not single spies but in battalions”: the programs were more erudite than the patrons who had enjoyed the annual light summer series had been led to expect; during the first eleven seasons the annual deficits averaged $33,000, which the guarantors were never quite able to liquidate; the post-Fair depression had caused a miscalculation of returns; some of the original patrons gradually faded from the picture, and new ones had to be recruited. Finally, Chicago was learning what everyone already knew in the East: Mr. Thomas was a difficult personality who made no concessions to the press and very few to the public.
Nevertheless, Thomas could not be tempted to Boston, where he was tendered the conductorship in 1893, just as he could not be diverted from his adopted country by an offer from the London Philharmonic in 1880. However, as the deficits gradually declined, the talk of abandoning the project was no longer heard. Chicago began to notice its new decor and to compare itself with Boston and Leipzig, the only other cities where subscription pairs were heard in excess of the number (twenty) offered in the metropolis of the West. In five years, Thomas was ready to display his achievement before his old New York audience. He had retained many friends in the East, who presented him with a baroque silver bowl, on which were engraved the profiles of Thomas together with the masters whom he had interpreted: Beethoven, Wagner, Brahms, and Berlioz.
To Thomas one of the most serious obstacles to the development of the Chicago orchestra was the Auditorium. It was simply too large. Since it could almost never be filled, the empty seats were depressing. Since patrons “could always get a seat,” very few felt the necessity of purchasing season tickets. Its gigantic spaces required a volume of music which could be drawn only from a much larger group. But players cost money, which was not available. The audience was too far from the orchestra to achieve rapport. Rentals were high. Rehearsals often had to be held in other buildings. Everything was wrong. These torments, together with the merciless newspaper criticisms and the uncongenial climate, caused his position to become so unbearable that in 1899 he declared his determination to resign. The trustees likewise were becoming fatigued and concluded that they could not continue indefinitely the annual payments of $30,000 or more to support an orchestra. They saw clearly the only two alternatives: either abandon the orchestra or put it on a firm and permanent financial foundation. Was Thomas about to hatch another magnificent failure?
It was at this crisis that a truly farsighted solution was achieved. The trustees resolved to endow the orchestra by building a permanent home which would be a source of income and security. A public campaign for subscriptions was instituted which netted pledges ranging from ten cents to $25,000. The orchestra’s present home, capacity about 2,500 persons, was completed and ready for dedication in December, 1904. i
Officially everyone was pleased and enthusiastic with the new music hall. Thomas, who remembered the cavernous old Auditorium, was quoted as approving: “We are now in the same room as the audience.”45
Privately, however, there were many criticisms, for the stage was shallow and the acoustics seemed inferior to the Auditorium. Both of these defects resulted from last-minute modifications of architectural details, occasioned by an event of such seriousness that any protest against them could not then have been entertained. The Iroquois Theatre fire of December 30, 1903, in which 602 persons had perished, so shocked the community that drastic enforcement of new fire laws took precedence over every other aesthetic, architectural, or acoustical consideration. In any case, there was much discussion of what “might have been” and, whatever the truth of these Speculations, it is perfectly plausible to understand that, for Thomas’ Chicago audiences, acoustical habituation to the smaller hall was more difficult than had been anticipated. However, it is probably too much to agree with the somewhat exaggerated feeling of one of the members of the orchestra (“my own instrument never did sound right in the new surroundings”) that it was “grief and disappointment in the new Hall which shortened the life of Thomas.”
Actually, Mr. Thomas did not survive the first concert in Orchestra Hall by more than a few weeks. His passing (January, 1905) was an occasion of world-wide mourning, and in the press of the day there was a remarkable volume of reminiscences on the qualities of the man who had given such a firm foundation to music in the United States.46
Musically, Thomas was a self-made man who had “learned with his public.” He acquired his repertoire and his skill, and even his style of conducting, in public, and in thus fashioning himself, he was indispensably aided by his temperament. He was a man of iron will* with an inflexible determination to have things his own way. He could never compromise with charlatanism and was content with only the best possible musical product. In his conducting he took infinite pains to create effects; he was a conscientious, even severe, disciplinarian, but never cruel or abusive to his men. Some of his men recall even today his solicitude for their personal comfort, their financial and family affairs.
He was not a Karl Muck, thoroughly schooled in all the details of orchestral technique, much less a Nikisch or a Seidl who revelled in personal interpretation. He was rather a conservative, ever “faithful to the score.” His claim to be the only conductor who executed the Bach embellishments according to traditional specifications was typical. There were many who admired the elegance and fidelity of Thomas, but also those critics, like Henry Krehbiel, for whom “polish was not enough” and who preferred the flexible individualistic readings of Herr Seidl.47 Thomas was frugal in gesture and conducted with a beat that the audience could follow as easily as could the men in the orchestra. He had a “good back.”
Although he gave his heart to the classics, it cannot be said that he avoided “modern” works. He sponsored Wagner from the very first concert of his career (1862) and in 1899 introduced Strauss’ Heldenleben to America. In those days such an achievement was much more of a technical and aesthetic triumph than a corresponding innovation would be today, and for two reasons: most orchestras and conductors were not so firmly established as to permit such liberties with the audience, and the technical competence of the musicians was far below the standards achieved by the specialists of today. As one former Thomas musician expressed it, “the average music school orchestra today has a better bassoonist than we had in our professional orchestra fifty years ago.” Thomas could not have dreamed of Stokowski’s boast, made thirty years later, that every man in the first violin section was competent to act as concertmaster. The 5/4 rhythm in the Tschaikowsky Pathetique was a major technical hurdle, as difficult to negotiate, for the orchestra as a whole, as are the intricate rhythms of a Stravinsky score today. The story is told that, in order to absorb the feeling of the complexities of the 5-beat measure, Mr. Thomas—who usually spoke German to the overwhelmingly Teutonic membership—recommended that the familiar phrase, “Ein Glass Bier fur mich exactly one measure in length, be repeated silently by the thirsty musicians while practicing the movement.
Thomas died at the height of his career, the very moment when his life ambition, a permanent orchestra permanently housed, materialized. In recognition of his achievement, the trustees renamed the Chicago Orchestra the “Theodore Thomas Orchestra,” so that its founder might be forever identified with that body. Upon later reconsideration, however, this commendable gesture was found to be more sentimental than practicable. The name of Theodore Thomas, for a living and growing city orchestra, was too personal an association to carry the same significance to a new generation as it had to the past. The orchestra was, after all, a civic enterprise, supported by the citizens of Chicago who were to reap any prestige or advertising value which it might yield. There was likewise the distinct possibility that another orchestra might assume a title using the name of the city, to the detriment of the older and legitimate organization. Hence, the present name was adopted in February, 1913, in which the reference to Theodore Thomas is perpetuated in the subtitle: “Founded by Theodore Thomas.,v
Since Thomas died in midseason, it was obviously necessary to replace him immediately. The provisional choice fell upon a member of the viola section, the thirty-two-year-old Frederick Stock, who had served Thomas as assistant conductor for some time. Although Chicago emulated the Boston system of searching in Europe for worthy leaders, the appointment of Stock became permanent when Mottl, Weingartner, and Richter, among the most noted European conductors, had been considered. The youthful Stock, who had been a fellow-student in Cologne of Mengelberg and of Felix Borowski, the Chicago composer, pedagogue, and critic, was in fact much better prepared, academically, than was Thomas. In contrast to the literal Thomas, he continued to shock many of his men by his liberal excisions and editings of the scores, though for some years he was still a virtual apprentice in the art of practical conducting. However, he was recognized as a musical scholar, maintained fine diplomatic relations with the public, and elicited a firm loyalty from his men, who quite understandably preferred him to some more mature stranger who might have been imported to “reorganize” the orchestra.
Stock’s long regime was momentarily interrupted by the events associated with the first World War. He might easily have become a victim of war hysteria, but he extricated himself by prompt and discreet action. He had applied for American citizenship shortly after his arrival in 1895 but, in the manner characteristic of those peaceful and complacent days, had allowed it to lapse without applying for the final papers. By voluntarily retiring “for the duration” until his papers could be put in order, he appeased the patriots and avoided nationalistic demonstrations which might have irreparably inflamed public opinion against him. In the interim Eric DeLamarter, a Chicago composer and organist, was appointed assistant conductor, aided by a number of distinguished guest conductors.
As in the case of Muck in Boston and Kunwald in Cincinnati, it required over a year for hostile attitudes to come to a head against the prominent aliens. Although war had been declared by thje United States against Germany in April, 1917, it was not until August, 1918—three months before the armistice—that Stock retired, to be welcomed back with cheers, telegraphic felicitations, and floral tributes six months later. Three members of the orchestra, who had also been “retired” or “dismissed,” shared in the amnesty and were reinstated. During his absence, the now naturalized conductor committed his sentiments to writing by composing the March and Hymn to Democracy to celebrate his return to the podium.
World War I had brought home to the United States full realization of its past dependence upon foreign countries for the skilled members of its musical forces. In order to assure its supply of routined musicians, the Chicago orchestra organized an apprentice ensemble, the Chicago Civic Orchestra, for the training of young musicians. The first conductors were Mr. Stock, himself, DeLamarter, and George Dasch, members of the Chicago orchestra. This organization presents periodic concerts of the standard repertoire, and its alumni have been sought by the major orchestras of the country. The almost immediate effect upon the Chicago orchestra was to improve its own personnel by retiring more promptly the superannuated members and replacing those less prepared with the best candidates from the ranks of the undergraduate orchestra. At about the same time, a similar organization was founded in New York: the American Orchestral Association, whose title was later (1930) changed to the National Orchestral Association.
In the postwar twenties the Chicago orchestra was symptomatically threatened with dissolution because of difficulties now commonly referred to as “union troubles.” These so-called union troubles do not grow out of casual and capricious circumstances, but have deep roots in the social and economic soil of the era. With the cessation of the flow of European supply, good musicians were becoming scarce, and competition for them was increasing. After the first World War, the cost of living turned sharply upward; motion pictures, during that expansive period, began to hire orchestras of symphonic proportions, and new orchestras were being established in western cities which formerly possessed only a small amateur group or none at all. All these factors pointed toward a campaign for important revisions in players’ contracts, which management, largely dominated by philanthropists, naturally was loath to grant. In 1923, 1928, and again in 1932 during the great depression, management, always harassed by deficit bookkeeping, repeatedly released alarming publicity indicating an impasse in negotiations, which were, however, as many times resumed when “both sides compromised.” In 192$ the Chicago players had actually been notified that they were “free to seek employment elsewhere,” and in 1932 they likewise received their “discharge notices” when James C. Petrillo (then president of the Chicago local), and the orchestral management delayed in reaching an agreement. Although it is inconceivable at present that the orchestra should thus have been disbanded, musicians today give testimony to their feeling of insecurity during that postwar transition period.
Long, continuous tenures with a single organization are as rare among orchestral leaders as they are among baseball managers and football coaches, for the problems of maintaining public acclaim are analogous. Stock’s career was closed only by his death in the fall of 1942, after nearly thirty-eight years of service, which is a record second only to Walter Damrosch’s interrupted forty-three years’ association with the New York Symphony Society. Mr. Stock was never a sensational or colorful figure; he had no national reputation for stylistic or distinctive readings. He was rather a scholarly, reliable, and substantial interpreter admired by his audiences and respected by his men.
After an interim of guest conductors, Desire Defauw, a Belgian conductor, was appointed in 1943. During his four-year term, he was remorselessly harassed by various critics, both for his programs and his alleged deficiencies. In 1947 he was succeeded by Artur Rodzinski, whose resignation-dismissal in New York had made headlines. Known as the “builder of orchestras,” Rodzinski was hailed by the aforesaid critics of the previous regime as a good omen for the resuscitation of the “rundown” orchestra, only to suffer a similarly violent ejection in Chicago in midseason after demonstrations of independence which the management would not endure. After two seasons of guests, Rafael Kubelik, the scion of the late Czech violinist, was appointed to assume his duties in the fall of 1950.
REPERTOIRE Of all the orchestras in the United States, the Chicago orchestra presents a repertoire which is one of the most diverse in character and catholic in taste. It neither rides inordinate hobbies nor displays any conspicuously unusual phobias. Its two conductors during its first half-century have never been blatantly “progressive” nor have they lagged noticeably in the recognition of newer trends.
Some reasons for this condition are apparent. For nearly thirtyyears, since his first full series of concerts initiated in Irving Hall, New York, October 24, 1863, Thomas conducted seasonal series for all types of occasions and for all levels of audience comprehension without serious deviation or interruption. At the time he mounted the podium in Chicago on October 17, 1891, he had behind him a broader disciplined experience, and was intimately familiar with a more extended repertoire, than any European conductor of comparable prestige ever accumulates in a lifetime. Then, as now, the schedule of the average American symphony orchestra, playing a season of twenty or more regular subscription concerts, gives the conductor a heavier and more relentless schedule than the prima donna conductors of foreign training and prestige ever encounter in Europe. If therefore, a broad, substantial, unspecialized repertoire was to be offered, no man, here or abroad, was better qualified than was Theodore Thomas.
As for the Chicago audiences, they had no fashionable traditions for the exotic and no urge for the dernier cri in artistic creativeness. In fact, in the early days, it is probable that they were below the average of the Eastern cities in respect to aesthetic sophistication and curiosity. Chicago was merely a prosperous Midwest city which sought enjoyment in good music, and considered an orchestra as standard equipment in a dty of its size and pretensions/Since there were no radios or records, a large majority of the potential audience of the Thomas concerts had had little opportunity to get acquainted with serious repertoires, except those offered by itinerant orchestras, of which the Thomas private orchestra had been an illustrious example.
In 1891, when he moved to Chicago, Thomas was almost at the peak of his ambitious career and had built a reputation as a conductor who never compromised willingly with his audiences. His frank interspersal of his repertoire, especially during the first several years, with a number of popular programs which were condescendingly offered for the delectation of the audience is evidence of his 6wn appraisal of its level of sophistication. He did not find in Chicago an atmosphere in which energetic prosecution of experimental music would thrive.
But from Thomas a moderate list of selected novelties could always be expected. Since neither Thomas nor Stock supported onesided or distorted tastes, one looks in vain for a Henschel and his personal affinity for Brahms; a Viennese Gericke who allots eighty per cent of his repertoire to the conservative Austro-German composers; a Koussevitzky and his Sibelius; a Toscanini and his Beethoven; even less a Stokowski with his early uninhibited explorations in cacophony.
The standard repertoire appears in national proportions. For the period of the nineties, Beethoven is perhaps a little low, with twelve to fifteen per cent, and Brahms, with five to six per cent. Known as a friend of the neo-German school, Thomas momentarily gave vent to his early enthusiasm by raising Wagner to the dizzy heights of fifteen per cent, which is a high proportion for any composer with the exception of Beethoven. However, he quickly deflated the German titan to a more normal nine per cent before the end of the century. After having introduced Richard Strauss to America with the world premiere of the Symphony in F Minor, December 13, 1884, he also performed the American premiere of Till Eulenspiegel, Ein Heldenleben, and several lesser numbers.
Next to Boston, Chicago is generally cited as a champion of American music. In his day, however, Thomas had not only failed to make a reputation as a friend of American music, but was actually criticized for his apathy toward it. It can be said only that he played a moderate number of American “classics” (Paine, Chad-.wick, MacDowell, Converse, et al.). Thomas simply affirmed: “I played all there were.”
However, the Chicago orchestra did allow itself the luxury of a few indulgences to offset the drab gray of the “well-balanced” repertoire. Of these, the most unexpected was the ephemeral devotion to the Russians Miaskowsky and Glazounoff. Professor of Composition at Moscow, Miaskowsky had already attained a reputation before the revolution. Whether through aesthetic maturation or ideological expediency, his style grew more amenable to the requirements of the Soviet government. His fertile pen had produced the astronomical number of twenty-six symphonies at his death in 1950. Philadelphia was the first to accord this industrious Russian an American hearing when it played the Fifth Symphony in January, 1926. Since that date other conductors have sampled of the bountiful tonal array, but none with the apparent appetite of Stock, who performed nine of the symphonies. The Sixth must have been consumed with unusual relish, for it was given nine performances. The Twenty-first was composed for the fiftieth anniversary of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and “dedicated to its illustrious conductor.”
Chicago has been second to Philadelphia in the presentation of Bach, and long before Stoko\vski developed his infatuation for him, Stock was playing twice the national average. But with both Beethoven and Brahms Chicago has maintained a consistently lower place than other orchestras. D’Indy was a favorite of Stock, although in general the French composers have had scant attention. Although Chicago was one of the earliest to introduce and favor ProkofiefF, for him, as well as for Stravinsky, there has been no enthusiasm in the last decade. Shostakovitch has never been favored, and toward Sibelius there has been a similar aloofness.
With the passing of Stock, there disappeared some of the conspicuous features of his long tenure. American music declined precipitously; Bach could not maintain his relatively high position; and Beethoven ascended, under Rodzinski and guest conductors, to a position reminiscent of the Thomas days.
Cincinnati has for many years enjoyed the reputation of being a musical city. This Midwestern community with its heavy German population, and its then basic industries of meat and malt liquors, gave Theodore Thomas some of his most hospitable receptions and instituted with his aid the biennial May Festivals, which continue down to the present day. The first of these festivals, projected by Mr. Thomas and Mrs. Maria Nicholas Longworth, was staged in 1873, and exemplified Mr. Thomas’ concentrated devotion to music in general and instrumental music in particular. The stern conductor insisted on two conditions: that the festival be divorced from beer, which had in previous saengerfest years been purveyed in the gigantic barroom under the mammoth stage; and, the granting of coordinate importance to instrumental and choral music.
If today this would seem only a decent and modest requirement, it was nothing short of revolutionary in 1873. Cincinnati, like any other American city with a sizable German population, cultivated choral music. These choral groups, under the name of Mannerchor, Liedertafel, Liederkranz, and Sangerbund, were founded to cultivate conviviality quite as much as the Muses. It was left to such serious leaders as Thomas and Leopold Damrosch, however, to elevate them to the dignity which they since attained. In the earlier days these festivals took on all the airs of a civic function. In 1880, a Cincinnati correspondent reports:
There has been a grand and unprecedented street cleaning, and this has been followed by the efforts of the decorating committee who have made us resplendent with flags and bunting. We have unlimited company from all the neighboring states . . . and we have even more unlimited brag. ... I understand that today there is scarcely a seat left for any performance of the week.48
Today, most of these organizations have succumbed to the pressures of competitive social attractions of the modern way of life. A century ago, however, the choral groups were the nursery of musical training and in many instances, notably in Minneapolis and St. Louis, were the literal ancestors of the present instrumental organizations.
Cincinnati was among the earliest cities to mobilize substantial philanthropic aid for musical activities. That/ the effort proved abortive is merely evidence that its citizens had not yet accumulated the necessary experience for the organization of musical activities in our American culture. In 1878, the College of Music of Cincinnati • was founded by a group which included such names as George Ward Nichols (chairman), Springer, Longworth, Shillito, and a score of other financial and civic leaders. Theodore Thomas was offered, and accepted, the headship. If Thomas did not dream that this was destined to be the second of his “magnificent failures,” his intimates did. The single-minded conductor had never been distinguished for his adeptness at administrative functions in a democratic society. In fact, Divighfs Journal editorialized with a decorous touch of understatement: “Among the many discriminating friends whom Thomas made as an orchestral conductor, there were not a few who hesitated to form an opinion as to his fitness for the directorship of an educational institution.”49 Within less than two years, he was back in New York. The Thomas-Nichols imbroglio produced a national sensation. In general, the musicians were supporting Thomas; businessmen who knew that Thomas was receiving a salary of $10,000 from the College, plus other perquisites, “could see the other side.” One can only speculate on the developments if the Cincinnati philanthropists had recognized the principle of “artistic supremacy” and if Mr. Thomas had been possessed of a more compromising spirit. Thomas’ subsequent association with Cincinnati was limited to the direction of the Music Festivals, which he maintained to the last—1904.
In mid-century, Cincinnati was one of the terminal points of the growing German immigration. From these issued several local orchestras which were organized in 1857 and afterward under F. L. Ritter, and George and Michael Brand. The venture of 1857 under Ritter, who is best remembered today for his Music in America and other literary works, was the short-lived Philharmonic Society, organized on the cooperative pattern of the New York Philharmonic. A more pretentious undertaking was that of a Mr. Hopkins, who in 1865 not only organized an orchestra and choral society and paid the musicians, but also built a small auditorium. A much larger hall was built in 1878, at the instance of Mr. Springer, who contributed $200,000, matched from other sources. It is the same hall originally intended for the music festivals, which is still in use today as the home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
In 1895, the year of the founding of the present orchestra, Michael Brand was the leader of a small orchestra of about forty men. It was in that year that a number of women, including Mrs. William Howard Taft, envisaged a plan for a permanent orchestra, subsidized by private benefactions, and conducted by a musician of note. Cincinnati was thereby to take its place beside Boston and Chicago, which had already attained national recognition. The conductor was to be chosen from a list of three who were invited in the spring of 1895 to conduct three concerts each, with an orchestra of forty-eight men, largely recruited from the orchestra of the aforementioned Mr. Brand. Of the three guests—Henry Schradiek, Anton Seidl, and Frank Van der Stucken—Van der Stucken was proffered the permanent appointment
As Van der Stucken was at that time conductor of the Arion Society of New York, a position which paid a salary of $4,000, as well as church organist, and conductor of free lance orchestral concerts, it proved difficult to induce him to embark on a new project in the West. However, the attractiveness of orchestral prospects, together with that of the directorship of the College of Music, overcame his hesitation. With Van der Stucken as Dean of the Music Faculty, the Cincinnati College of Music was considered an important feeder for the orchestra. Under the changed circumstances, Van der Stucken was able to perform an effective job where Theodore Thomas, the first incumbent, had failed. The new director established standards of discipline and artistic achievement that made it a real distinction to win a diploma from the College. As a conductor, he excelled in chorus work. He was a disciplinarian, a picturesque gentleman of vigorous and uninhibited speech, though off stage an affable and convivial personality.
In order to strengthen his orchestra, the new conductor imported from New York and elsewhere the principal players, who were put on salary while the local men were paid by the concert. Such a course was not at all unusual, and invariably accompanied the founding of every major orchestra in the nation. But the inevitable threat of noncooperation of local musicians was averted when the success of the project became apparent.
Van der Stucken is popularly referred to as the first native-born American conductor of a major symphony orchestra. Born in Texas (1858), he was taken to Antwerp as a child of eight years, received his musical training in Europe, and had attained a certain distinction there before returning to America in 1884. It could be argued, however, that Walter Damrosch and Theodore Thomas, both of whom arrived in this country in childhood and received all their training in the United States and so exclusively confined their activity to this country, were more American than Van der Stucken, whose American activity was flanked by professional residence in Europe.
But the fiscal problem reared its ugly head. At the close of the season 1906-07, the Cincinnati orchestra was disbanded, the official reason given as “labor trouble.” Van der Stucken departed and accepted engagements in the East as well as in Europe.
Since there was no intention of allowing the orchestra to languish, the following two years were employed in fortifying the system of financial guarantees. By the spring of 1909 pledges of $50,000 per year for five years allowed the management to put the whole orchestra on season contract, and to engage a young English conductor, twenty-seven-year-old Leopold Stokowski, who had since 1905 been organist in St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York.
From his subsequent eminence, it is not surprising that Stokowski’s incumbency was impressive, even though without benefit of the podium trappings that he conjured up in later years. Inexperienced as a conductor, he was quite conventional, employed the score and the stick. But he was enthusiastic and dynamic, knew his repertoire, and he precociously scolded his audience for restlessness. He was democratic, especially when the orchestra was on tour. The men, as well as the management, genuinely regretted his departure after a short three-year turn. With his contract still two years to run, he requested release, pleading “lack of cooperation.” Another view of his abrupt departure saw an implied slight to him in the continued use of outside orchestras and conductors for the May Festival. That fall, Stokowski assumed direction of the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he was able to consummate his grandest ambitions.
His successor was Dr. Ernst Kunwald, who had held several posts in Europe, including that of conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic popular concerts. Kunwald was a master of detail and was noted for his fine memory. His regime was rudely interrupted by the war. His status of enemy alien, together with certain indiscretions on his part, led to his arrest and ultimate deportation. As in other cities, hostile public sentiment was, hpwever, slow to crystallize. At first, the public, especially that part of the public concerned with music, was proud of its American broad-mindedness and, steeped in sympathy for German culture, conveniently distinguished the blameworthy German government from its innocent people. In May, 1917, a month after the American declaration of war, Kunwald could close the season with Haydn, Bach, and Beethoven, and was the recipient of a vote of confidence in the form of a floral offering.
But with the intensification of hostilities, news of battle casualties, and the mushrooming of war activities, sentiment was bound to take an unfavorable turn. Kunwald, who had been dutifully conducting the national anthem, was now accused of not acknowledging its applause. The Vienna-born musician had never kept his loyalty to Austria a secret, though he claimed always to have acted “correctly.” If reminiscences of some of his players are to be trusted, he expressed, in his remarks to his audience, his willingness to remain in America and build up the “finest orchestra in the country” if the public wished it, though he frankly acknowledged that “my heart is with my country.” His first resignation was not accepted. Arrested in December, 1917, he was interned in Fort Oglethorpe (official accusation never divulged), from where he was later deported. Guest conductors for the remainder of the season were: Walter Rothwell, Victor Herbert, Henry Hadley, Gabrilowitsch, and Eugene Ysaye.
The obvious political strategy was to turn to our allies for the next conductor, although many critics protested against the apparent indifference to American candidates. Ysaye, the Belgian violin virtuoso, who had turned down the New York Philharmonic in 1898 and now found himself a refugee from his devastated native country, was engaged at $25,000 on a five-year contract. He was a romantic figure of leonine proportions and imposingly groomed. The acknowledged “king” of violinists of the pre-Kreisler age, he played with abandon and enthralled those who enjoyed the free, unrestrained rubato style. But now his powers were on the decline. Suffering from several physical ailments, his virtuosity deserted him. Nor had he kept abreast of current trends. He, who had thrilled his audiences with the concertos of Vieuxtemps and Wieniawski, found that Stravinsky “made me dizzy; and all modern music was just that much noise.”50 In his conducting he became erratic, affected in manner, lackadaisical in discipline, and was neglectful of even the simplest administrative requirements in planning and executing the repertoire. In 1922 after “differences with the Board,” he departed for his native country, where he died in 1931.
Wounds of war had healed sufficiently to allow a reversion to the country which before the war was the most reliable source of talent—Germany. The Cincinnati post was offered to Fritz Reiner, who was then conductor at the Royal Opera in Dresden, after a rumored rejection by Koussevitzky. Reiner, then thirty-four years old, was almost unknown in America although the Dresden Opera had carried him to prominence in Europe. He spoke English rather fluently, and was obviously a thoroughly schooled musician.
THE FIRST CINCINNATI MAY FESTIVAL, 1873,
THEODORE THOMAS, CONDUCTOR
The period of music festivals and Saengerfeste was an epoch of expanding musical interests. Note the seating arrangement of the orchestra, with the cellos and double basses in the middle. (From a contemporary sketch. The Bettmann Archive)
A Greek contribution to American music, Mitropoulos is shown conducting the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra. From 1937 to 1949, he directed the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. (Courtesy of New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra)
Reiner left in 1931 to accept a post in the Curtis Institute, Philadelphia, and was followed by Eugene Goossens, one of the most versatile of present-day conductors. He had created a sensation in England in a brief career with his own specially assembled group. His enterprising and antiromantic repertoire included in 1921 Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps, which made a profound impression on his Queen’s Hall audience, and many other contemporary works. His experience embraced the opera, in which he was a protege of Thomas Beecham, and the ballet, in which he conducted the Diaghileff troupe. Composer of over a half hundred compositions, his name has appeared on the programs of orchestras both in Europe and the United States. Goossens was not a glamorous conductor, and lacked therefore the popularity that derives from a colorful personality. He did his conducting ‘‘straight” without flourish or temperament, and he was rather democratic in his relations both with the public and his men. Because of his diversified experience, his repertoire was expanded to include the ballet and the opera.
In 1947, after sixteen years of association, both Mr. Goossens and Cincinnati were reconciled to a change. When Goossens announced his acceptance of the directorship of the orchestra in Sydney, Australia, there was considerable agitation to appoint the noted Frenchman, Paul Paray, who would presumably have placed the orchestra among the best in the nation, But, if Paray ever had any intention of accepting the offer, it was not evident in his prohibitive ‘ financial terms.
The choice settled on a young American, Thor Johnson, then a member of the Juilliard faculty in New York. A product of Koussevitzky’s Tangle wood school and a student of European teachers, he had created a sufficiently favorable impression in guest appearances in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati to merit the offer of a permanent post. Cincinnati thereby became the oldest major orchestra with an American conductor, with Detroit and Los Angeles the only major orchestras with an American director at that time.
The orchestra has inherited fine auditorium facilities. During its first two seasons, the concerts were given in Pike’s Opera House. But from 1896 to 1911, the orchestra used the famous old Music Hall, built in 1878. With its capacity of 3,600 this auditorium proved too large—a problem also encountered by Theodore Thomas in Chicago. The hall could never be filled, tickets were never at a premium, and consequently morale was low. At this time, Mrs. Thomas J. Emery had undertaken the construction of an auditorium for the Ohio Mechanics Institute, which proved easily adapted to the needs of the orchestra from 1911 to 1936, when expanded needs turned them again to the historic Music Hall.
The orchestra has accumulated an endowment fund, heavy contributions to which were made from the estates of Cora Dow (1915), Mrs. Nicholas Longworth (1923), and Mrs. Victoria Hoover (1924). This capital amount is, of course, far from adequate to cancel the inevitable deficits of an active organization. Friends of the orchestra undertake to raise an annual maintenance fund to supplement the endowment. Among the most generous patrons of the orchestra have been Mr. and Mrs. Charles P. Taft, who not only quietly assumed the deficits of the orchestra during the twenties, but likewise were the motivating force in founding the Institute of Fine Arts for the permanent civic sponsorship of the arts.
REPERTOIRE A unique reputation for diligent cultivation of the American composer had preceded the Texas-born Van der Stucken when he made his debut in a guest program in Cincinnati in 1895 and amply fulfilled this promise with an all-American program of Chadwick, Foote, Victor Herbert, Parker, and MacDowell. He had been enacting similar exploits in New York since 1884, and was reputed to have been the first to reverse the customary flow by carrying to Europe a sample of American creative music. He presented an all-American program on foreign soil at the Paris Exposition in 1889.
Away from the Eastern atmosphere, where the physical presence of the American composers and the nativistic journalism exerted their pressure, his Americanism quickly subsided. But he was still the aggressive, enterprising conductor, espousing liberally the music of Sibelius, three per cent, and Strauss, five per cent. But his somewhat excessive devotion to Liszt (seven per cent) and Saint-Saens (six per cent) was not sufficient to avoid the accusation of modernism.
If Stokovski (in the then current orthography) had not yet evinced the symptoms of his later experimentalism, his regime did expose his romantic inclinations by allowing Tschaikowsky (fourteen per cent) to dispute the traditional throne of Beethoven’s thirteen per cent. Brahms receivedthe normal allowance, while Strauss’ six per cent was at that time twice the national average. The potentialities of a blend of these romantic propensities with the classic Bach apparently had not yet occurred to the twenty-eight-year-old conductor.
Kunwald was almost completely enclosed in the Austro-German orbit musically as well as politically. Like Gericke and Muck in Boston, Kunwald followed the broad and safe path leading from Haydn, through Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Schumann, to Wagner and Strauss, and accumulated a total Teutonic repertoire, for the immediate prewar years, of seventy per cent of the entire Cincinnati repertoire. His modernism hardly extended beyond Strauss, and almost completely avoided even such “novelties” as ■ Debussy.
With Ysaye, the French influence had its day for the first time, and rose to the unprecedented total of over twenty per cent, the result of a coincidence of the temper of the war period and the predilections of the conductor. Saint-Saens, d’lndy, Franck, and Berlioz prospered, and several of these tasted prominence for the last time. ;
With Reiner and Goossens came the inevitable postwar return to “normalcy.” International tensions, which produced temporary affectations in the taste, were eased. The French contingent was deflated from a previous twenty-two per cent to nine per cent in the first five years of the Central-European Reiner, while the Austro-German group recovered some of its lost prestige. But the day of the German-saturated sophisticates, dictatihg an unchallenged Teutonic program was gone forever. The Mucks, Gerickes, and Kunwalds were notrecalled, and the high priorities granted the German stalwarts before the war were not to be regained. But never has this reaction been sufficient to dislodge the Teutons from their position of dominance.
Goossens’ impulsion in the British direction was not unexpected, and from an ignominious two per cent under the Teutonic Reiner* the British leaped to a respectable seven per cent within several years. American representation likewise gained under Goossens, who had spent an American apprenticeship of eight years as conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic. By 1945, for the first time since the days of Van der Stucken, Cincinnati competed with Boston itself for the premier position in the espousal of the American composers, among whom, of course, Goossens by this time could count himself.
The musical ancestry of the Philadelphia Orchestra extends back almost into colonial days. This orchestra did not have the Minervalike birth of the Boston or Chicago orchestras, whose sponsors called into being full-fashioned structures which immediately launched distinguished concert series. Neither can it show the unbroken, but precarious, duration of the New York Philharmonic, whose almost miraculous survival concealed the fundamental vicissitudes that it had undergone.
Officially, the Philadelphia Orchestra appeared on the scene late, after New York, Boston, Chicago, and even Cincinnati and St. Louis all had well-established institutions. This lag is sometimes ascribed to the survival of austere Quaker traditions that frowned on the pleasures of instrumental music and other pastimes that seemed incompatible with modest and industrious existence.51 This theory may seem to gain support in the existence of blue laws which, prior to 1934, forbade Sunday concerts (and baseball) for an admission fee; but ignores the fact that, throughout almost 150 years, Philadelphia had been enjoying a continuous musical life quite commensurate with its size and commercial importance. It had a well-established opera series in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and harbored musicians of some note from it:s earliest days, among whom were Reinagle, Hopkinson, and Fry. The city was included in the toiirs of sensational soloists, Jenny Lind, Sontag, Patti, and of the leading orchestras, such as the Theodore Thomas, Jullien, Musard, and Germania groups. Manufacturing and publishing were in thriving condition. As early as 1854, we read in a letter from a Philadelphia correspondent:
Although this is termed the Quaker City, and you know that Quakers are opposed to music, yet so much attention is paid to it, and so much interest is felt, that those engaged in the pianoforte business cannot get instruments enough to satisfy half the demand. ... Musical entertainments pay remarkably well. Jullien gave four concerts to crowded houses.52
While it is true that the Society of Friends discouraged levity and was hostile toward musical indulgence, it must be remembered that by no means were all Philadelphians affiliated with that faith, and that Quakers were characteristically tolerant toward divergent beliefs.
The records of public concerts in Philadelphia begin as early as 1757 when a series of programs was offered, admission one dollar, one of which George Washington attended. James Bremner, organist, composer, and teacher, settled in Philadelphia in 1763 and organized a concert program in 1765 that included a Stamitz overture, a Geminiani concerto, and overtures by Martini and Arne. In the post-Revolutionary period similar programs were instituted by John Bentley and Alexander Reinagle, who included in their repertoire the compositions of Corelli, Mozart, Haydn, Stamitz, and K. P. E. Bach. During the period of the Constitutional Convention, George Washington again indicates by entries in his diary his attendance at the Reinagle concert.
The most important single local antecedent to the present orchestra during the first half of the last century was the establishment of the Musical Fund Society in 1820. Its origin dates back to a concert given in 1815 for the benefit of the poor, which yielded over $ 1,000. From this success sprang the idea of a series of concerts “for the relief and support of decayed musicians and their families and the cultivation of skill and diffusion of taste in music.”53 These two objectives, formulated on similar English models, were admirably pursued during the active period of the society from 1820 to 1857, and somewhat more sporadically even up to the present time. This society enlisted the aid of the nonprofessional but music-loving public, whose subscriptions furnished a broad base and a solid foundation for the “Fund” with which to implement their idealistic purposes. Their auditorium, Musical Fund Hall at Eighth and Locust Streets, erected in 1824, had a capacity of 2,000, was available for opera and miscellaneous public purposes, and constituted an important source of revenue to the society. However, during the period of unprecedented economic prosperity in that city after 1850, interest in the Musical Fund Orchestra waned while the more sumptuous opera gained adherents. Therefore, with the construction in 1855 of the Academy of Music, an auditorium with a capacity of 3,000, the Musical Fund Society went into partial eclipse.
The Academy, an appellation of prestige at the time, was so named after the New York Academy of Music at Fourteenth Street and Irving Place, then the home of both the opera and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The new hall in Philadelphia was advantageously located in the then “quiet” section of the city at Broad and Locust. This Renaissance structure, which still serves the Philadelphia Orchestra today, was built on the plan of La Scala in Milan, Italy. It is famous for its excellent acoustics and is now the oldest concert hall in the United States in use by a major orchestra. In order to insure its preservation, a controlling block of stock was purchased in 1950 by the Orchestral Association.
Though opera gained ascendancy, a succession of ensembles kept an interest in orchestral music alive. The Germania Orchestra, a professional cooperative organization similar to the New York Philharmonic, founded in 1856, overlapped with the Musical Fund Society Orchestra for nearly forty years—until 1895—and constituted a kind of orchestral backdrop for the city’s music activity. About half of its membership was later absorbed by the orchestra founded by Henry Gordon Thunder, a Philadelphia organist and composer, which became, in turn, the nucleus for the present Philadelphia Orchestra, founded in 1900.
However, these forerunners of the present orchestra were exclusively local affairs with no formal sponsorship and economic support, and were artistically tentative in taste and technical competence. Until Theodore Thomas was spirited to Chicago, Philadelphia had regularly enjoyed its quota of his concerts. After that period, the New York Symphony under Damrosch, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Gericke and Nikisch periodically satisfied the cravings of the more discriminating tastes with five to ten concerts per season. This expedient of borrowed plumes could hardly be a matter of pride to a city of over a million population, nor yield adequate aesthetic gratification to the growing number of cultivated amateurs. A large number of these avocational players had, in 1893, formed the Philadelphia Symphony Society, an amateur organization conducted by W. W. Gilchrist, and it was this group which supplied the organizational spark though not, of course, the professional personnel, that energized the new movement.
During the summer of 1899 Fritz Scheel, a German musician recently from San Francisco, conducted a series of concerts at Woodside Park. In these concerts, as well as subsequent ones, Scheel created a tremendously favorable impression. Here seemed to be the man and the occasion to kindle interest in a permanent orchestra. Mr. Dunglison, president of the Musical Fund Society, acting in consonance with the ideals of the society, called a meeting of civic leaders, secured 120 guarantors who raised $15,000 to which the Fund contributed $500, and announced the first six concerts of the Philadelphia Orchestra to begin November 16, 1900. Previously, Theodore Thomas and Walter Damrosch had had their supporters for the proposed new orchestra. In fact, Mrs. E. D. Gillespie, warm friend and patron of Thomas, and President of the Woman’s Commission of the Philadelphia Centennial, was moved to boycott the new project with the failure of her candidate. Some progress had also been made toward inviting Walter Damrosch and his New York Symphony Society to transfer to Philadelphia, as Thomas had moved to Chicago. This plan engendered violent opposition and was soon dropped.
Scheel, who had been an assistant to Bulow in Germany, had conducted an orchestra at the Columbia Exposition in Chicago (1893) and a San Francisco orchestra in 1895-99. He possessed an extensive knowledge of repertoire, was a good judge of musical talent, achieved disciplined command of his men, and maintained high standards, if not an advanced taste. Such qualities, though admirable, are not of a sort to insure wide public participation after first enthusiasms have been dissipated. Scheel used to remark that he was thankful that the conductor always turned his back to the audience so that he could forget its vanishing size. In an auditorium with a capacity of 3,000, the orchestra, during its first years, frequently had to content itself with an audience of only 600.
Although Dr. Edward I. Keffer, an amateur violinist and dentist by profession, was the leading spirit at its founding, the Orchestral Association must attribute its subsequent stability to two converts to the cause, who had previously evinced no interest in orchestral music, but became most faithful workers in the vineyard: Alexander van Rensselaer, its president for thirty-five years (1900-35), and Edward Bok, editor of The Ladies Home Journal, who is generally conceded to have “saved” the orchestra, with an annual contribution of $100,000 from 1916 to 1920. He joined the board in 1913.54
The Woman’s Committee, founded in 1904, when the infant orchestra was in financial straits, has also played a major role in the social and financial security of the orchestra. Its activities have for years been directed by Miss Frances A. Wister, a member of one of Philadelphia’s oldest families* who still presides over the ritual of presenting, from the stage of the Academy on the last Friday matinee of the season, the traditional gold watch to memorialize a player’s completion of twenty-five years of service to the orchestra.
During the first year of its existence, the orchestra was still composed of local musicians, who had joined the orchestra to supplement their professional income and to gratify their higher taste. As in every other city, it was soon discovered that no first-class orchestra could be forged out of local talent. It was necessary to tap a wider market, which, in keeping with those times, was, of course, Europe. For this purpose, Scheel was authorized to go abroad to recruit new members, a move against which the pathetic protests of the local musicians were entirely impotent. The assurance of the committee that “it would accept every Philadelphia musician who was competent” consoled only those few who could compete with the available European importations. Many local players were ruthlessly replaced, to the undoubted benefit of the artistry of the orchestra, but to the great personal grief of the less proficient. Like the other orchestras, this one had inevitably floated helplessly along in the stream of events. Initiating the laudable project of a Philadelphia symphony orchestra, the committee had announced its belief that
with a sufficient number of rehearsals, under a capable director, our home players will be able to render great orchestral compositions efficiently and acceptably.
But within less than two years
Fritz Scheel ... changed the personnel list so it read like the roster of every court orchestra in Germany.55
Unable to endure the heavy demands made upon his varied services to the community, Scheel. died in 1907, and was followed by Karl Pohlig, who had to his credit a considerable experience in Germany, Austria, and England, and was brought to Philadelphia direct from Stuttgart. His five-year regime in Philadelphia was undistinguished—a kind of interregnum between the lamented Scheel and the dazzling Stokowski. Temperamental friction hastened his relinquishment of his $12,000 job. Pohlig returned to Germany in 1912, received a life appointment as General Musical Director of the Court Opera in Braunschweig, where he died in 1928.
Scheel and Pohlig survived several real crises, and put the orchestra on a fairly secure musical footing, but were not able to enlist great wealth in support of the orchestra. It was left to Leopold Stokowski to exploit public support to the limit and to elevate the organization to a place rivaling the best in the world.
In Philadelphia, Stokowski quickly succeeded in riveting the attention of the public upon his work by his daring technical and administrative innovations and his unconventional programming. The management was kept in perpetual nervous suspense over his next demand, and his audience, in a dither of curiosity for the next surprise. He abandoned score and baton; he reseated the orchestra; he played incomprehensible music and scolded the audience for its indifference toward it. Experimentally, he permitted the violinists to bow independently; in 1929, he passed around the concertmaster position in alphabetical order. He virtually compressed evolutionary eras into the span of a few years.
But he elicited loyalty from patrons and civic bodies and capitalized upon every circumstance to gain notoriety for himself, for the orchestra, and for the community. His contemporaries among the orchestra personnel, patrons, and associates still recount anecdotes of his kaleidoscopic temperament: his modesty and conceit, his generosity and his cruelty, his permanent reforms as well as his experimental failures, his affability and his social aloofness, his wit and sarcasm, his “Polish accent” and his lapses into conventional English. Like so many other colorful figures, he was an enigma in that he had his enthusiasts as well as his detractors. But whether he is viewed as a poseur who impressed the ladies and inhibited the critics, or a musician of discernment and inspiration, a charlatan or a genius, he packed the house, and there were until recently occasional voices who proclaimed that the orchestra was still traveling on the prestige of his era.
One of his early predilections was the staging of monumental works, as for example: Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rexy and Prokofieff’s Pas d’Acier. The first and most sensational of these was the Mahler Symphony No. 8, The Symphony of a Thousand, in the spring of 1916. Stokowski had attended the world premiere of this symphony in Munich in 1910, which had given him a sensation like that of “the first white man to behold Niagara Falls.” Shortly after his arrival in Philadelphia, this thirty-year-old conductor launched his plans for what was then considered a fantastic project. It required an appropriation of about $15,000, which the board skeptically approved. The symphony was performed nine times in Philadelphia, and was transferred to New York for a single performance at a cost to the New York management of $12,000. The nine Philadelphia performances left $10,000 worth of orders unfilled, while ticket scalpers reaped the benefits of the short supply—a thing almost incredible to contemplate for a symphony concert!
The affair was both sensational and musically notable. It brought the professional elite to Philadelphia. Patrons gasped at the technical and administrative virtuosity of the youthful conductor, but were less unanimous on the aesthetic contribution of the work. Some critics condemned it as a circus performance of Kapellmeistermusik, sanctioned by newspapers and promotion-minded board members more bent on flamboyant publicity than sincere advancement of a noble cause. Whether or not such a cynical view is justified, there is no doubt that the event catapulted the city, the orchestra, and the young conductor into an intoxicating position of notoriety from which each and all distilled the last ounce of profit. The Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce was moved to pass a resolution of commendation, in which it ventured the opinion that the symphony orchestra “was a commercial asset to the city, rendering it thereby more attractive to visitors, a better home for its citizens and of greater value to the nation.”56 The orchestra was lifted from its sixteen-year-old status of a stepchild, during which “the story ... is one of constant begging on the part of everybody connected with the institution,”57 to a position of strength from which it was able to launch two endowment campaigns netting nearly two million dollars within several years—a success sufficient to convert even a carping critic to the belief that the cause of music had been advanced. As for Mr. Stokowski, who engineered the project and had conducted the massive spectacle without a score, it marked him as “the” conductor of the decade, won him a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, and four years later, the Philadelphia award of $10,000 for having made the greatest contribution to civic affairs. It also precipitated the recurrent rumor that he would probably soon “go to a larger city”—all of which likewise redounded to the benefit of every one concerned. That this advantage should not slip away unexploited during the crucial five-year endowment campaign, the provision was agreed upon that “the contract of the present conductor, Leopold Stokowski, shall be extended to cover this period of five years.”
The extended story of the performance of the Mahler Symphony No. 8 testifies to a unique circumstance: never before, and probably never since, has a permanent symphony orchestra and its activity been so thoroughly integrated with the life of a city. Never before had there been such a genius for publicity who extended the functional boundaries of a concert so far into nonmusical realms. It was a civic enterprise in which one thousand citizens cooperated in the actual performance, in which commercial and cultural interests were well mobilized, and in which, still more miraculously, each interest was completely gratified with the results.
The new conductor felt that the desirable improvements in orchestral performances, as well as their audience effect, could not be achieved with the conventional disposition of the personnel. To that end, Stokowski instituted a number of rearrangements in the seating of the orchestra, one of which has been extensively copied by other orchestras: the shift of the cellos to the front right, a position occupied traditionally by the second violins for more than seventy-five years.
A more drastic transformation, more melodramatic than valid, was that of the “upside-down”58 orchestra, sprung upon the audience in 1939-40, in which the strings were ignominiously shunted to the rear of the stage, and the woodwinds, brass, and tympani moved to the front. This promotion of the winds was in part a recognition of their growing importance in modern instrumentation; but it was likewise conjectured that the strings, being weaker than the winds, would be reflected more effectively from the rear walls of the shell if they were located nearer to that surface. This seating plan gained no adherents whatsoever and was quickly and quietly abandoned. But it was an indication of Stokowski’s growing curiosity concerning the problems of acoustics, electronics, recording, and broadcasting, which began to be apparent some ten years previously while he was experimenting with the Bell Telephone Company. In 1932 he was probing new types of recordings with the Victor Company in Camden; in 1933 he toyed with the transmission of sound by telephonic reproduction projected into the auditorium “with undistorted sonority giving a concert from an empty stage.” In order to achieve “close understanding between engineer and conductor,” he at one time (1933) placed the control engineer on the stage directly in front of the podium instead of in the sound booth.59 In fact, in such quick succession did those devices trickle from their source, that th t Musical Courier was provoked to editorialize in March, 1933, that “no musical season can properly be called complete, apparently, until it has been the occasion for at least one startling innovation by the ingenious Leopold Stokowski.”
Mindful that the final test of music is its effect upon the ear of the listener, Stokowski undertook to reduce visual distractions by darkening the stage during the performance. Thus on October 19, 1926, the New York audience found a yellow insert in its program book which carried the following legend:
The conviction has been growing on me that orchestra and conductor should be unseen, so that on the part of the listener more attention will go to the ear and less to the eye. The experiment of an invisible orchestra is for the moment impossible—so I am trying to reach a similar result by reducing the light to a minimum necessary for the artists of the orchestra to see their music and their conductor. ... Music is by its nature remote from the tangible and visible things of life. I am hoping to intensify its mystery and eloquence and beauty.
(signed) Leopold Stokowski
The stage was accordingly darkened, each music stand equipped with an individual desklight, and a dim yellow Pentacostal spotlight floated down from the ceiling to play directly on the head of the conductor. Public reaction to this starlit atmosphere can be imagined. For every critic who found the new arrangement “restful to the eye,” two others observed how it “brought into dazzling prominence his mass of golden-colored hair,” but that it “left the magnificent playing of the orchestra quite unaffected.”
There is perhaps some validity to the notion that the sawings and scrapings and other gymnastic contortions of the players and conductor are merely so much machinery which should, in the interest of aesthetic purity, be mercifully concealed from the audience. However, even when music is not associated with any other art or activity, there is some psychological loss in transmission to the sense organs through an artificial and arbitrarily enforced segregation of the senses. Instead of interfering with one another’s reception, the simultaneous appeal to various sense departments more commonly intensifies the stimulus. The sense of smell enriches taste, the eye reinforces the ear, one sense responding unselfishly in the service of the other. While conflict and distraction are, of course, perfectly possible, a well-modulated coordination of gestures of the conductor and the rhythmic movements of the players aid the listener in focusing his attention on the music and accentuate the various fragments and contrasts in the composition rather than conflict with their enjoyment. This belief, without its academic trappings of psychological theory, seems to have been naively sensed by audience and management alike, and constitutes one of several reasons why this interesting excursion was quickly abandoned.
Stokowski is most popularly associated with his batonless conducting introduced in 1930. Although Safonoff had dispensed with the baton thirty years previously, his manual technique had not been elevated into an art of its own, and it was to this art that Stokowski gave its climactic development. His arms, wrists, and hands to the very tips of his fingers became interpretive clues to musicians and audiences alike, and his digital choreography became itself the subject of discussion and admiration. The baton had become merely a “stick,” a lifeless encumbrance, inadequate to transmit the refined and delicate nuances of an inspired soul.
Stokowski was the last of the concert-platform lecturers. He was rivaled only by Walter Damrosch, who was already retiring from such competition. Today chatting across the footlights, never extensively cultivated, is a lost art. Stokowski’s own personal eccentricities were perhaps epitomized for his audiences in these podium talks. At any rate, the audiences seemed at the moment to acquire personalities of their own, too. They also became eccentric. They had often carried on conversations, coughed, shammed apathy and walked out, and finally they hissed. And “Stokie” rebuked them for hissing. The occasion was Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces. “You have a right to make such noises,” he told them, “we on our part have a right to play the things we believe in.”60 In the fall of 1929 he told the New York audience that there was a large waiting list for the Philadelphia concerts and that the subscribers who did not like the programs might give up their seats to accommodate others. He would often render didactic explanations of new works, as he did on the occasion of his presentation of Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps, when he urged the audience to understand it: “It is not beautiful music, but expresses a state of nature.”61 At times he could be entertaining and witty. Thus, in the fall of 1926, when he was prominently mentioned as the conductor for the merger of the Philharmonic and the Symphony Orchestra of New York, he boasted to the audience, after receiving vociferous applause for a Bach program, “You think they play well? . . . Ah, you should hear my two New York orchestras! “62 It was about the same period that he initiated a referendum on whether to abolish applause, which to him was “a relic of the dark ages.” “The strange beating of the hands has no meaning,” he declared at the concert of November 8, 1929.
Stokowski was now at his peak, and generally included with Toscanini, Koussevitzky, and Furtwangler in the quartet of the world’s greatest living conductors. His salary reached a reported high of more than $100,000 a year.63 But it was inevitable that such a dynamic character, full of color and showmanship, would have differences with his board. It is also normal that after fourteen years his fascination for the audience should have been to a certain extent dissipated, and the unity of his Board of Directors should be ruptured. After a leave of absence (1926-28), he gradually reduced his conducting load. From 1936 to 1940, he conducted only a few concerts, in the fall and spring.
In the fall of 1936, Eugene Ormandy, then conductor at Minneapolis, was appointed co-conductor. From the first he undertook most of the conducting and became Musical Director in 1938. After several “resignations” and reconciliations, Stokowski finally retired from his position as conductor-in-chief, to take effect at the close of the 1935-36 season, timed to synchronize—intentionally or not—almost exactly with the resignation of Toscanini from the New York Philharmonic-Symphony. In perfect conformity with his flamboyant career, he closed the season with a transcontinental tour which ended in a triumphant epilogue in Madison Square Garden on a Sunday evening in May, 1936, where he conducted a concert before 12,000 persons, only about two weeks after Tosqanini’s frenzied farewell in Carnegie Hall before an audience one-fourth that size.
With the passing of Stokowski, the orchestra lost some color in the eyes of many patrons. But at the same time, the growing musical maturity of the audience made such theatrical excitement much less necessary. Consequently the orchestra, under Eugene Ormandy, now settled into a period of quiet dignity and reserved distinction.
Running true to form, the orchestra suffered from persistent attacks of deficit budgeting. Although it has at times shown a nominal surplus, the cumulative losses outran the efforts of all philanthropic appeals. When the union, in the fall of 1948, demanded a higher scale, the bankrupt management threw the public into a mild panic by officially announcing the abandonment of the concerts. But, of course, the incredible could not happen. Two days later, the usual “compromise was reached.” But it was becoming only too evident that the symphony orchestras of the land were left orphans by the death of the philanthropic parents who had originally brought them into life. Since 1947, the management had been appealing to the city fathers to adopt the child. Finally, in the fiftieth year of the orchestra’s existence, the City Council voted $50,000—a sum equal to the annual amusement tax paid to the city by the orchestra—to purchase four free public concerts in Convention Hall. These were performed before an average audience of 15,000 citizens. Thus one more city has followed what seems to be the emerging pattern of financial relief of the harassed symphony orchestras.
On the eve of its semicentennial, the orchestra was able to fulfill a promise that it had made to itself as long ago as the heyday of the Stokowski era: an excursion across the water. But depression and war had conspired to cheat it out of a junket that it amply deserved. Under the sponsorship of a British impresario, it finally embarked on a tour of England in the spring of 1949, during which it regaled the enthusiastic audiences of ten cities with twenty-eight concerts within a period of about three weeks. This was the fifth American orchestra to have undertaken such a cross-cultural mission, the others having been the New York Symphony under Walter Damrosch, in 1920; the New York Philharmonic with Toscanini in 1930; Toscanini’s NBC orchestra and Stokowski’s Youth Orchestra to South America in 1940. The only blemish which marred the orchestra’s visit in Britain is noted by the British critic, Ralph Hill:
The recent costly and badly organized adventure of bringing the Philadelphia orchestra over to England is a good example of the public’s inability to pay fantastically high prices for seats, even for an exceptional occasion.64
REPERTOIRE Fritz Scheel and Karl Pohlig had nourished the orchestra on the conventional Germanic fare, alike in essentials, differing only in such particulars as Pohlig’s downright idolatry of Wagner, and the somewhat more balanced programs of Scheel. Pohlig neglected Beethoven in favor of the more popular Wagner and Tschaikowsky, and gave unusual weight to Goldmark when in other cities he had almost dwindled to the vanishing point.
If ever a conductor injected his personality into the repertoire, it was Leopold Stokowski. His incorrigible and restless experimentalism often made the Philadelphia repertoire a temporary shelter for composers who appealed to the conductor as worthy of at least one venturesome performance. It was thus that Carillo, the “microtone” specialist, Varese, Ornstein, Brooks, and others received isolated hearings. This policy was, of course, a bone of contention with the Board of Directors, while audience reaction was a mixture of excitement, amusement, and resentment. In 1932 this “debatable” music was attached as a trailer to the regular program, so that the less stouthearted members of the audience could, if they desired, escape the hazards of its emotional eddies.
A more permanent contribution was the conductor’s affection for the master of his first instrument: J. S. Bach. He arranged for orchestra several dozen titles: chorale-preludes, suites, preludes, fugues, and miscellaneous numbers, treading in the footsteps of Mendelssohn and Joachim in inaugurating another Bach revival. The propriety of making “gorgeous tone poems” out of classic models may be a matter of taste and aesthetic philosophy, but the enrichment in variety, scope, and volume of the Bach repertoire, which was less well known to orchestral habitues than to piano and organ students, was a grateful pedagogical service to the general cause of historical erudition. His all-Bach program, with a Bach encore (December, 1926), is probably as unique in repertoire annals as are the left-wing laboratory compositions that caused so much gossip. That Bach, aided by these arrangements, should top Tschaikowsky, Strauss, and Mozart, threaten Wagner, and approach within one or two percentage points of even Beethoven and Brahms with enthusiastic acclaim from both audience and management, is a worthy feat.
Stokowski seemed to have an affinity for compositions that lent themselves to rich sonorities and pliant melodic lines. Tschaikowsky, Rimsky-KorsakofF, Strauss, Sibelius, and Wagner all loomed large in his concert portfolio at some time or other. Philadelphia led all others in the volume of Rimsky-KorsakofF. But Stravinsky, Miaskowsky, Shostakovitch and many others he also welcomed with “first-time” performances. The American composer, by and large, did not profit from his explorations, and not even during World War I did American music exceed a modest six per cent. Responsibility for this inhospitality to native composers throughout the history of the orchestra probably derives from the conductor’s disinclination toward American composers and from their relative scarcity in Philadelphia as compared to Boston, T^ew York, and Chicago.
Under Ormandy the breath-taking experimental quality of the repertoire disappeared. The program structure became no less virile but more predictable/There were, of course, the normal fluctuations in favorites. Rachmaninoff had developed an especial friendship for the orchestra, and his proportion in 1935-40, several years before his death, was about three per cent, with a slight increase since that time. The vitality of Tschaikowsky remained, while that of Strauss, Sibelius, and, Wagner all fell to previous levels. With the departure of Stokowski, Bach could not retain his extraordinary preferment, but was reduced by half, to little more than three per cent. The Austro-German group, never excessively high during the preceding twenty-five years, declined to a still substantial fifty per cent, of which thirty per cent is accounted for by those bulwarks of the repertoire, the three B’s.
The Minneapolis orchestra began as an adjunct to a choral society: the “Filharmonix” Choral Society which was founded in 1892 to gratify the musical propensities of the Germans and Scandinavians. In time, however, with expanded tastes, they felt the need for reliable orchestral accompaniment, which could be assured only by a wellorganized permanent orchestral body to which members had a certain loyalty, and to which they were bound for rehearsal and concert time.
Emil Oberhoffer, German-born musician, then »an organist in Minneapolis and conductor of the renamed Philharmonic club since 1901, undertook to assure himself such an orchestra by enlisting the interest of philanthropic citizens in this more costly project. The civic leader in this enterprise, a man to whom the musical community owes its greatest debt, was Elbert L. Carpenter, lumberman, amateur musician, and co-founder with Oberhoffer of the new orchestra. It was he who not only contributed of his own wealth but, still more significantly, organized the business and commercial interests in support of a type of project that had already gained acceptance in the Eastern cities. Thus in 1903 the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra was officially founded, with Oberhoffer as its conductor, a membership of sixty men, and a guarantee fund of $10,000 annually for three years.
But Minneapolis was still a relatively small city with a population only slightly exceeding 200,000, the smallest city in the United States to be entertaining such metropolitan ambitions even when the “Twin Cities” are taken as a unit. Facilities were primitive; the orchestra could not even find a home. A wanderer in the city, it performed its early concerts in churches and other available auditoriums. This embarrassing condition was soon corrected by an unusual arrangement with the Northwestern National Life Insurance Company. In exchange for $5,000,000 in life insurance to be sold by the orchestra and its workers, the insurance company agreed to erect on its downtown property (Eleventh and Nicolett) an auditorium on the model of Symphony Hall of Boston, for the benefit of the orchestra, to be let at a nominal rental.
The orchestra prospered, its guarantees were increased, and the conductor, who adapted the programs to the gradually maturing tastes of its patrons, was popular. Having outgrown its vocal beginnings, the partnership with the choral organization, which had been sharing a considerable proportion of the concert offerings, was dissolved in 1907, leaving the orchestra as an autonomous body, sponsored by the newly-formed Minneapolis Orchestral Association, Mr. Carpenter president.
The Association was characterized by aggressive administration in that it not only offered the regular subscription concerts and Sunday “pop” concerts, but also initiated very early (1913) ^ series of children’s concerts. These concerts are still affectionately remembered by the present middle-aged patrons whose early tastes were awakened by the illuminating explanations of Mr. Oberhoffer, his illustrations at the piano, and the orchestral fare of his musicians.
Nationally, the orchestra was most distinctive for its tours, which were begun in 1907 and confined principally to the Middle West and West. Other orchestras have occasionally made more spectacular junkets, but the Minneapolis orchestra was then, and is still today, the most consistent and the most extensive touring organization of all the orchestras in the country. Unlike the Thomas “Highway,” which hit only the high spots, the Minneapolis Highway wove through the smaller cities, the university and college towns, at a time when fine orchestral music was to them a real and inspiring novelty. It was not yet the general custom to travel with the complete home personnel. With a complement of fifty instruments, about twothirds normal size, perhaps the strings did not always balance the brasses in a Wagner excerpt. But the Minneapolis orchestra, with its conductor of such dignified bearing and graceful gestures as to seem the very epitome of musical genius, took his message to the grass roots quite as significantly as Theodore Thomas had to the metropolitan culture zones a half century earlier.
But there is rarely a virtue without some necessity. The circumstances which necessitated these magnanimous feats of tourism were somewhat analogous to the circumstances surrounding the early travel activities of Theodore Thomas—the need for a long and favorable contract with the musicians. This supplement to the home schedule is the key to the difference between merely indifferent talent and paucity of rehearsals, and competent musicians with adequate rehearsals. If one adds to this the natural inclination of the local business interests, who subsidized the orchestra to advertise their community, the motivation for orchestral tours is almost completely explained. In recent years a derivative financial benefit accrues to the orchestra in the increased sales of recordings, yielding greater royalties, as a consequence of the creation of widespread interest in the organization.
During its near half-century history of existence, the Minneapolis orchestra has inevitably experienced the same oscillations of fortune that beset other communities. Its continuance was threatened in the early twenties when, in response to postwar inflation, wage levels were rising and had to be met from meager resources. Another serious crisis occurred in 1929, when the very roof over its head was sold. The Northwestern National Life Insurance Company,’ having outgrown its quarters, disposed of its properties, including the “home” of the orchestra, to a realtor who promptly proceeded to raise the nominal rental that the orchestra had been enjoying to a prohibitive figure. Since the cost of housing is always a prominent item in any budget, public or private, this was no minor dilemma. However, here as elsewhere, adversity was turned to sweet uses.
It so happened that the housing crisis of the orchestra coincided with the construction (1929-30) of a new auditorium—the Cyrus Northrup Auditorium with a capacity of nearly 5,000—on the campus of the University of Minnesota. The idea struck root that the orchestra might be housed in that beautiful hall.
There were, of course, legal complications. The university was a tax-supported institution without authority to rent its hall to a private enterprise, or to divert any of its funds to such a purpose. There were, however, some extenuating factors. The orchestra was a cultural asset not only to the university and the city, but to the state as well. Educational institutions quite generally recognize such cultural obligations by setting up extracurricular music and lecture series, and reimbursing themselves through ticket sales, without encumbering the regularly appropriated academic funds. Why could not the university, it was asked, similarly engage the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra for its total output? The university could sell the tickets and apply those funds to the expenses of the orchestra. The orchestra would still retain its autonomy. The Minneapolis Orchestral Association would continue to manage the orchestra, engage personnel, and solicit funds from philanthropic sources to cover the customary deficits.
This cooperative arrangement, which was facilitated by certain “connections’; between the respective boards, was instituted in the fall of 1930. The manager of the orchestra today functions very much as does any other department head in his relations with the university administration, requisitioning funds, coordinating his activities with the department of convocations in order to avoid conflicts in the engaging of soloists, and scheduling the use of the auditorium to mesh with the many other activities of the university. Like any member of the university staff, the manager has even qualifled for membership in the campus club. In recognition of the mutuality of this arrangement, members of the university are accorded reductions in season concert tickets in a manner similar to the reductions usually enjoyed by students and staff on athletic and other functions.
This unique plan has been of incalculable benefit to the orchestra. In fact, it is generally admitted by its spokesmen that the orchestra could not have survived the depression without this providential intervention. The large auditorium accommodates in a single sitting an audience that in Chicago, New York, or Boston would require a pair of services, while the administrative offices of the orchestra, its library, and its instrument room are also available at an economical “rental.”
It solved still another problem—the rivalry with St. Paul. That city had for some years tried to lead a separate musical life. From 1908-15 the St. Paul Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Walter Henry Rothwell. After his departure, local demands were satisfied by engaging the Minneapolis orchestra for a series of St. Paul concerts. The auditorium of the state university was now, however, neutral territory, conveniently located for both cities, and large enough to absorb the St. Paul project.
The founder-conductor of the Minneapolis orchestra, like so many other conductors of a half-century or more ago, was a selfmade man. A precocious pianist and violinist at the age of ten, and later a student of Philipp in Paris, Oberhoffer, like them learned his conducting “in public.” His symphonic education virtually began with his appointment to the conductorship of the symphony orchestra. But he was a diligent student, industrious and eager in personal self-development as well as in the administration of the orchestra. A man of charm and a certain aloof dignity, aristocratic in bearing and demeanor, extremely gifted, he was relaxed in his gestures and had a “good back.” In his interpretations, he constantly sought the melodic line, although he was not too meticulous in supplementary detail. If such discipline was not within the vision of the conductor, neither was it within the general competence of the pioneer orchestra.
In Minneapolis, as well as on tour, Oberhoffer was an educator who, like the young Thomas, started very much at the level of the audience and like many another conductor of yesterday “cut” the long compositions judiciously and expertly, adapting them to the length of the program and to the tolerance of the audience. His association with the orchestra endured for nineteen years—a record eclipsed only by Walter Damrosch, Stock, Stokowski, and Koussevitzky. In 1922 Oberhoffer was granted a year’s leave of absence, after which he retired.
After a year of guest conductors—Bodanzky, Coates, Damrosch, Gabrilowitsch, Verbrugghen, and Bruno Walter—the Belgian violinist Henri Verbrugghen was appointed in the fall of 1923. Verbrugghen was a mature conductor and a veteran concertmaster of both French and British orchestras, with additional experience as choral and orchestral conductor in England and Australia. Well-schooled in orchestral routine, he introduced section rehearsals and established a discipline and precision hitherto unknown to that orchestra. However, as an interpreter he was more conscientious than inspired; his classic pedantry was unrelieved by vitality and warmth, and he failed to exhilarate his audiences. Such exhilaration was to be forthcoming in his successor.
In the fall of 1931, after having conducted only the initial concert of the season, Verbrugghen retired because of illness. An emergency call secured the thirty-two-year-old Eugene Ormandy. Ormandy’s rise had been spectacular. In 1920 he had come to New York as a violinist for a recital tour that did not materialize. In desperation he joined the orchestra at the Capitol Theatre at a time when the larger theatres were establishing concert orchestras of symphonic caliber. He quickly rose to the position of concertmaster and conductor, was discovered by Arthur Judson and engaged for radio programs. After an appearance with the Philadelphia orchestra at Robin Hood Dell, in the summer of 1931, he substituted for the absent Toscanini in November, after which the reports of his success filtered through the nation.
It was at this moment that the Minneapolis post became vacant. Called as a guest, Ormandy remained as permanent conductor. His first appearance was dramatic: he conducted without stand or score, he rearranged the seating of the orchestra according to the “Stokowski shift”—cellos right-front, and won enthusiastic approbation of his program. He easily maintained his hold on the Minneapolis public for five years, when he resigned rather suddenly, succumbing to the irresistible attraction of an invitation to conduct the Philadelphia orchestra, contact with which he had maintained by annual guest appearances.
Very few orchestras are in a position to engage a mature and well-established conductor; but, like any other enterprise, they feel themselves fortunate when they discover a prospect on the rise. This time Minneapolis and Boston joined in an invitation to a guest conductor, whose success in Europe left little doubt of his future usefulness. .The Athenian, Dimitri Mitropoulos, made his American debut in Boston in 1936, followed immediately by a guest appearance in [ Minneapolis. Engaged by Minneapolis as ^permanent conductorpin I 1937, he remained with the orchestra until 1949. A^ll^sinewy figure, gaunt and austere, he conducts without score or baton, mimicking the music with vibrating arms and fingers in an almost choreographic tremble. His players testify to his phenomenal memory, to his rehearsing the most modern composition, as well as infrequently used accompaniments, without benefit of score. He has maintained his pianistic skills and occasionally performs with his own orchestra in the simultaneous roles of conductor and soloist. For some years Mitropoulos had been serving as guest conductor with the New York Philharmonic. During the season of 1948-49, he absented himself for about half a season, sharing with Stokowski, as co-conductor, the responsibilities in New York. The permanent transfer was completed, and Mitropoulos was succeeded by Antal Dorati, formerly of Dallas, as full conductor in the fall of 1949.
REPERTOIRE Since the Minneapolis orchestra had its origins in a choral society, the first years of its existence are weighted with the choral performances of Messiah, Haydn’s Creation, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and other oratorios. However, after four seasons, the chorus was abandoned and the repertoire presented the typical symphonic .character.
Although Oberhoffer was of German extraction, his tenure is not marked by the near-monopoly of the Austro-Germans that characterized some of the other orchestras of that day. He was, after all, not a schooled conductor, whose long training had molded his tastes and frozen his allegiance in advance. During the early decades, the Sunday popular concerts constituted the larger part of the programs. The orchestra played to full houses in the days when the motion picture, the radio, and the automobile had not yet exacted their competitive toll from concert audiences. Even the subscription concerts did not demand from the audience a too sophisticated taste. Oberhoffer blended the solid fare of Brahms and Beethovenrapproximately proportioned to the national average of that time, with relatively liberal quantities of Tschaikowsky and Wagner. As a gesture to regional national sentiment, Scandinavian composers—Alfven, Atterberg, Svendsen, Grieg—were given their day. These are not unusual names, but with the total repertoire much smaller than in the Eastern orchestras, they received greater relative emphasis. That Oberhoffer was not unmindful of current trends is attested by the appearance of such names as Sibelius, Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, Borodin, Debussy, and Respighi, then relatively new to American concertgoers.
Verbrugghen will be remembered as a Beethoven exponent, who featured him to the extent of sixteen per cent, which was heavyenough to arouse “vox pop” protests from the audience. There were no other symptoms of top-heaviness. He dropped Sibelius, but enlarged the Handel contribution by the revival of Messiah.
Ormandy succeeded in glamorizing the programs from the very first concert, when the young unknown introduced the then novel number: Weinberger’s Polka and Fugue from Schwanda. Ravel, Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Richard Strauss, Sibelius and other recent composers were welcomed with greater hospitality by both conductor and the well-prepared audience than by his predecessors, but without crowding out the classics. Emulating the trends in Philadelphia, where he was destined to transfer his activities, he shared in the Bach revival by offering in moderate quantity arrangements by himself, as well as those of Boessenroth (a member of the orchestra) and several other transcribers. Today, however, in reminiscing about “Gene,” none of the experiences are remembered in Minneapolis with more relish than the popular concerts in which a score or more of Strauss Wiener-Walzer were tossed off with rhythmic elegance unmatched, in the minds of the patrons, before or since.
The repertoire of Mitropoulos is peppered with modernistic works that were passed in review without a second hearing. As in the case of Stokowski in Philadelphia, such performances often serve a pedagogical and clinical, rather than an aesthetic purpose, and are likely to inject controversy into public reactions. During this period, too, American music was at its lowest ebb as measured in purely quantitative terms. However, by including Barber, Copland, Bloch Griffes, and Harris—to mention only a sample—Mitropoulos has given a hearing to a group of standard composers who amply satisfy the nativistic curiosity of most audiences.
Like all other cities, St. Louis has seen a series of more or less sporadic musical organizations that have served as forerunners to the present orchestra. Prompted by the twin motives of professional livelihood and the cultivation of musical ideals, players began before the middle of the last century to form musical ensembles. The first local orchestra approaching balanced completeness was the Polyhymnia, consisting of thirty-five musicians—about the size of the eighteenth-century Haydn orchestra—which offered concerts from 1845 to 1852. Their avowed purpose was “the cultivation of musical art and the promotion of musical talent chiefly in the instrumental branch of the art, by common rehearsals and public performances.”65
These beginnings were further stimulated by the visits of the excellent Germania orchestra, that small group of twenty-five immigrant Germans who implanted the desire for musical education in the principal cities east of the Mississippi between 1848 and 1854. In their first visit in May, 1853, this group of “instrumental solo performers” rendered the Beethoven Second Symphony complete, the first time it had ever been heard in St. Louis. This was followed a year later by a series of five concerts. The Theodore Thomas Orchestra of New York, on its many tours throughout the country, naturally included St. Louis on its famous “highway,” making its first appearance on its first national tour (1869) as a “Grand Concert Organization of Forty Eminent Musicians, Comprising all the Celebrated Soloists of his Grand Orchestra.” Thomas was destined, of course, to make many more appearances in the course of the next quarter-century.
But local musicians were beginning to capitalize on the growing musical interest of the rapidly expanding city. The most ambitious attempt at establishing a permanent musical organization occurred in i860 when the newly founded St. Louis Philharmonic Society engaged Eduard de Sobolewski, who had previously held posts in Koenigsberg, Prussia, and in Milwaukee, at a contractual salary of $1,000 per season. Sobolewski (1808-72) had been a student of Weber and Zelter, and co-worker of Robert Schumann on his journal. Entering the United States in 1859, he was one of the thousands of professional German musicians to emigrate to this country to form the nucleus of a thriving American musical life.
The Philharmonic Society was formed “to advance the study and to promote the progress of music in St. Louis, and to encourage the reunion and social intercourse of the lovers of music in our city.” It differed from previous organizations in that it combined choral and symphonic units. Its monthly concerts provided the first opportunity for the St. Louis population to hear the classics at regular intervals. The venture was financed by subscription memberships at fifty dollars per season, and performing dues of five dollars annually. In 1950 this society was in its ninetieth season; as a nonprofessional body, it presents several concerts per season.
The immediate antecedents to the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra are traceable to the year 1880, from which it officially dates its founding.66 On September 1 of that year Joseph Otten, a Catholic organist and choral conductor, organized the St. Louis Choral Society, which presented one pair of concerts—its first—in the spring of the next year. Its choral offerings were of the highest type and included many of the works that are still standard: Handel’s Messiah, Beethoven’s Mass in C, Gounod’s Redemption, and others. This group also collaborated at times with Theodore Thomas in local festival productions. Beginning with 1884-85, Robert S. Brookings, manufacturer, merchant, and philanthropist, recently better known as the benefactor of Washington University of St. Louis and the Brookings Institute of Washington, D. C., became president of the infant musical organization and established its finances on such a firm footing that the concerts broadened their scope by interspersing a few orchestral numbers among their choral works.
Almost contemporary with this well-managed choral group was the St. Louis Musical Union, an orchestra founded in 1881, which had likewise been rather well financed. The orchestra numbered fifty-four players and presented an average of six concerts per season in that city of 350,000. It was the merger of these two organizations in 1890, into the St. Louis Choral-Symphony Society, that constituted the next step in the direction of the present organization, and prophetically assigned to the orchestra a place equal with the chorus.
This organization ran true to form, however, in that mounting deficits soon threatened its survival. Mr. Otten, who did not relish retrenchment, resigned, and his place was taken by a young, temperamental musician, Alfred Ernst, imported from Germany in 1894 to guide the orchestra of fifty-two members. Ernst was an excellent pianist, a gifted musician, an aggressive leader, but a conductor “by the Grace of God.” Contemporary accounts charge him with failure to study the score and depending on his musicians to follow his improvisations of the moment. With mediocre material, sparse funds, and rehearsals often weeks apart, there was produced something less than an artistic blend.
Nevertheless, the orchestra gained in flexibility and explored a progressive repertoire, although especially in the first years of his regime, the choral interests maintained a dominant position. Thus, in 1900-01, the chorus of two-hundred voices and the orchestra of fifty-five, presented three oratorios, three symphony concerts, two mixed popular concerts and two artist concerts. But under Ernst, orchestral music soon assumed new importance, and in 1905-06 he introduced a series of Sunday “pops” which for years to come were eagerly consumed by the general population of the city. However, finding it difficult to adjust himself to American ways, Ernst finally returned to Germany at the close of the 1906-07 season, to supervise the production of his operatic works. He died of wounds as a soldier in the German army of World War I.
The drift toward a bona fide symphony orchestra culminated in 1907 when the chorus was abandoned and Max Zach, violist of the Boston Symphony, was engaged by the newly organized St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Zach had enjoyed a distinguished career of orchestral playing, having been brought to this country as a twentytwo-year-old lad by Gericke in 1886. He later became a member of the famous Adamowski String Quartet and conducted the Boston “Pops” from 1887 to 1897.
In accordance with the trend of the day, the members of the St. Louis orchestra were now placed on regular seasonal salary, the number of concerts was gradually increased, the orchestra enlarged, the repertoire modernized, and tours instituted. Zach also continued the Sunday afternoon “pops” series. They were given weekly throughout the season, exceeding the subscription pairs in number, and constituted a genuine contribution to the incipient musical culture of the community.
Fortunately, Zach could supply what Ernst lacked—discipline and precision. He himself had been tutored by the very paragon of the stern school of conducting, Wilhelm Gericke of Boston. But, like Gericke, Zach lacked the romantic impulse, the warmth and suppleness, demanded by the romantic repertoire. Players in his orchestra have remarked that Zach never did succeed in catching the required pliability of spirit to accompany faithfully such soloists as Rachmaninoff and Pablo Casals, who “bothered” him with their interpretative liberties.
Zach died in midseason, February, 1921. Among the guest conductors who finished the season was the noted pianist Rudolph Ganz, subsequently given a permanent appointment, at $20,000 per year after the Society had made an unsuccessful bid for Fritz Kreisler.
Ganz, who had had little orchestral experience, was a convert to that role. However, he conferred great glamour upon the organization, possessed fine social gifts, and was a personality of elegance, dignity, and refinement. But in general it cannot be said that he achieved extraordinary success, except in the children’s concerts. In these he was so effective that his services were for some years in great demand by the New York Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony orchestras. He resigned in 1927 and soon rejoined the staff of Chicago Musical College, where he had previously been active. >
After a frank attempt to revive a flagging public interest in the orchestra, through a four-year policy of guest conductors, Vladimir Golschmann,, a young Frenchman of Russian parentage, was recommended by Damrosch and Koussevitzky as permanent conductor. He had been known in Paris as the “youngest conductor,” having instituted the “Concerts Golschmann” in 1919 at the age of twentyfive. Like nearly all the conductors in Paris of the postwar period, including Koussevitzky and Monteux, he displayed pronounced modern tendencies.
With the advent of Golschmann in 1931, the Sunday “pop” series, which had for years loomed so large in the orchestra’s schedule, were dropped, and only an occasional popular concert substituted. This was a result of the ominous competition of other forms of diversion which had developed since the war: palatial moving-picture theatres, radio, and other miscellaneous forms of commercial entertainment. In addition the public had, of course, been weaned from the light fare of the William Tell Overture and the Peer Gynt Suite, and had graduated into the subscription class where the symphony no longer held the terrors of earlier days.
In the fall of 1934, the orchestra moved to its new downtown home, the Kiel Municipal Auditorium, with a capacity of about 3,500, where it enjoyed reduced rent in exchange for several free public concerts. Its previous home, the Odeon, a smaller hall of about 2,000 seats, located on midtown Grand Avenue, had been destroyed by fire. The move to the new hall stimulated subscription sales and constituted a profitable arrangement.
The St. Louis Symphony, like some of the younger orchestras, has no endowment fund but depends almost exclusively on the annual “maintenance fund” to cancel the inevitable deficits. Consequently, the orchestra has passed through recurrent financial crises, which have earned for St. Louis the reputation of being apathetic toward its musical organization. Whether, in relation to its resources, these crises have been more virulent than in other cities, could be established only by marshaling the details of local circumstances. However, the orchestra has never been forced to suspend operations.
REPERTOIRE Although Max Zach, the first conductor of the “new series,” as it was then called, had gained his orchestral experience in Boston under the central European conductors loyal to their native art, he himself displayed more flexible tastes. The two poles of the classic sphere, Brahms and Beethoven, which had served for years as the axis of the Boston programs, here lost some of their importance. Zach’s Beethoven proportion of eight per cent, and Brahms’ six per cent, would be considered modest at that time. Instead, Zach featured the French (Saint-Saens, Berlioz, Franck), the Russians (Rachmaninoff and Tschaikowsky), as well as Dvorak and Wagner. Such a musical offering was no doubt more suitable for an orchestra less emancipated from the box office than was Boston, and more tasty to his St. Louis patrons than to the audiences in his previous home.
If he did not import the austere programs from the East, he did carry in his portfolio the scores of American composers, many of them from his old haunts in New England. The names are familiar: Chadwick, Converse, Hill, Loeffler, Foote, MacDowell, Henry Hadley, Strube (German-born member of the Boston orchestra), David Stanley Smith (New Haven), together with a few additional local names in St. Louis: E. R. Kroeger, the leading musician of the city, arid Samuel Bollinger. These made up a total of five to ten per cent of the repertoire—a percentage similar to Boston itself—during the first eight years of the Zach tenure. In 1917, with the necessity of asserting its nativistic faith, this city with its huge German population, enjoyed a repertoire of which twelve per cent—the highest of any orchestra—was of American origin. When the war fervor subsided, it was no longer necessary to profess one’s Americanism in such stilted proportions. So, Rudolph Ganz, who had ascended the podium in 1921, deflated the quota to a more normal five per cent, which in turn shriveled to an “all time low” during four years of guest conductors—practically all from foreign lands.
The Parisian Golschmann surprisingly enough restored Beethoven and Brahms to their wonted place of prestige, but as compensation he favored the French during the first five-year period to the extent of a high fourteen per cent. This enthusiasm cooled a bit after a period of acclimatization in this country, and was replaced by a corresponding generosity to the American composer. In both cases, however, the composers selected were not the stereotyped members, but rather the less conventional advance guard. Between 1940 and 1950, the repertoire carried a definitely experimental tinge, with the inevitable number of single performances. By 1945-50, St. Louis was playing a reasonably liberal six per cent of American music. Prokofieff, Shostakovitch—by now less controversial figures—also ranked high.
Coexistent with the vigilantes and the lurid Barbary Coast, there thrived in San Francisco at mid-century a musical life analogous to, if more rudimentary than, that of the cultivated cities of the East. After the trek of the forty-niners, this lusty village witnessed a sensational efflorescence of culture which was manifest in the building of theatres and in the consumption of elegant merchandise. Wealth moved with great ostentation. Clippers and steamers entered the harbor laden with the luxuries of Europe, and departed with millions in gold dust. In fact, it was a common saying that San Francisco was only one ship’s passage behind the latest Parisian styles.
From the earliest days, the city was visited by the more intrepid itinerant musicians who had to sail “around the Horn” to reach this gold-infested American outpost, whose isolation was not finally broken until the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869. In 1850, Henri Herz, the French pianist, who had lost his fortune in a Paris piano factory, included San Francisco in a long American tour designed to win it back again. Contrary to a persistent San Francisco legend, Jenny Lind did not appear in California, although two theatres were named after her. However, Catherine Hayes, the Irish songstress who was almost equally famous in her day, was toured to the West Coast by Barnum in 1852. Taking the cue from the hysterical worshippers of Jenny Lind in New York, the San Francisco fire department gave “Kate” Hayes a scarlet escort; and it was a $1,165 “top” that was paid the twenty-six-year-old soprano from Limerick for the auctioned seats, while the “Swedish Nightingale” could command a top premium of only $650, obtained in Providence, Rhode Island.
From 1854 onward, local ensembles began making their appearance in that teeming city of 40,000. Beginning in that year, Rudolph Herold, who has been termed the “father” of San Francisco’s orchestral music, offered concerts intermittently for over twenty-five years. In 1880 Louis Homeier, aided by John Parrott (real estate and banking) as patron, organized an orchestra of forty men which had a life of several seasons. In the same decade, the young Gustave Hinrichs, later associated with Theodore Thomas in the melancholy venture of the American Opera Company, established a rival Philharmonic, which also enjoyed philanthropic assistance, and was later led by minor conductors. Hinrichs, after leaving San Francisco, gained some distinction as conductor of the Metropolitan Opera at the beginning of this century.
A more serious, but hardly more enduring enterprise, was that of Fritz Scheel, better remembered today as the founder of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1900. This German conductor turned up in San Francisco in 1894 to entertain the patrons of the midwinter fair with the same kind of repertoire that he had offered at the Chicago World’s Fair the previous year. He remained in San Francisco for most of the succeeding five years, offering variety concerts on the German beer garden style, as well as more formal performances with the Philharmonic, again subsidized by Parrott. Leaving San Francisco in 1899, he transferred to Woodside Park, Philadelphia, for a summer series where local sponsors discovered him and pressed him into service to form the Philadelphia Orchestra, over which he presided with eminent success until the year of his death in 1907.
By 1910 the Philharmonic Orchestra, in about thirty years of intermittent existence, had been led by various conductors and was aided financially by several persons of wealth. In addition, musical taste had been fostered by significant, though infrequent, visits of the two itinerant purveyors of good music: Theodore Thomas and Walter Damrosch. By the turn of the century, the growth of permanent symphony orchestras in the Eastern cities had instilled a desire for emulation in the rapidly growing metropolis of the Pacific Coast,
The occasion for its inception was the disastrous earthquake and fire of 1906. The problems of reconstruction caused civic leaders to take stock of their community needs and resources, and to formulate appropriate projects for future fulfillment. On this agenda was a symphony orchestra.67
Immediate conditions were, of course, unpropitious. The fire had destroyed all the theatres, including the Grand Opera House and the essential requirements for physical relief naturally sidetracked nearly all of the cultural amenities of life. But by 1909, with the determination to “foster music in all its forms and particularly to establish a symphony orchestra,” the Musical Association of San Francisco was organized. The Association matured slowly. Not until the fall of 1911 was it assured sufficient funds to enable the sponsors to announce the actual establishment of a “permanent orchestral body along the lines of those maintained by the larger cities of Europe and the East,” and to list the first season’s schedule of six subscription concerts. Henry K. Hadley, American conductor and composer, was called as conductor, and on December 8, 1911, he presided over an orchestra of sixty musicians at the first concert in the new Cort Theatre—later known as the Curran—seating capacity 1,827. He offered the following cautious program:
On the face of it, it seemed to the less sanguine observers that this orchestra differed in no significant respect from the numerous orchestral episodes of the abortive past. Some local critics rehearsed the failures of philanthropy in the orchestras of Scheel, Holmes, and Steindorff, and urged that: a “permanent” orchestra could be secured only through a permanent form of financing. Apparently they were taking their cue from the Chicago experience, where the orchestra patrons had become tired of annual deficits and finally presented the orchestra with an endowment in the form of an auditorium and office building which is, to this very day, an indispensable source of predictable income. The San Francisco musicians were not permanently employed by the orchestra but were still dependent for their livelihood on their respective jobs in theatres and restaurants. It was, in short, still a pick-up orchestra, the “same” orchestra which had failed before. However, this orchestra did differ from previous embryonic endeavors in that its support was broad-based and did not depend on the whim of an individual benefactor; and the determination of its backers seemed to be more aggressive, as was evidenced in their formal organization, and in the importation of a conductor of some note at $10,000 per season.
The years of infancy of this new creature were attended by all the usual hazards. In the first place, basic financing did not proceed with the expected celerity. Even at the time of the first concert, survival of the orchestra seemed by no means assured, for it was observed in the prospectus that “the membership has now reached 300, but it is earnestly hoped that a membership of 500 may be obtained which would insure a permanent orchestra owned and controlled solely by the association.”
Furthermore, professional resources were inadequate and physical facilities deficient. For its first concert, the orchestra had no nucleus of players, no chairs, no stands or equipment, and no library. Musicians had been hastily recruited from cafes, hotels, and theatres, while pnly a few first-desk men could be imported from New York. Because of previous commitments by the local musicians to their employers, concerts were scheduled on their free afternoons. Scores were borrowed from Seattle, where Hadley had previously conducted, and from the state university. Other scores were purchased on credit, and through the generosity of a well-wisher, the library of the recently disbanded Pittsburgh orchestra was acquired for a nominal expenditure. All these obstacles: limited library, inadequate rehearsals, the preoccupation of the men with more remunerative tasks in hotels, theatres, cafes, dance halls, and cabarets must be included in the reckoning of success and failure of these early enterprises. By the third season patronage became precarious, and a deficit, over and above the guarantees, became an ominous certainty. The Argonaut and the Pacific Coast Musical Review were also beginning to criticize the conductor for inadequate study of the scores and for deficient temperament and magnetism.
If it cannot be said that Hadley scored a popular and critical success in music, the debonair conductor, handsome, trim and “corseted” of figure, was quite congenial to the social group that sponsored him. During his sojourn in San Francisco, he composed the first of his three Midsummer High Jinks (1912) commissioned by the famous Bohemian Club, which had urged his original appointment. As early as 1900, he had composed his Overture In Bohemia for these same Bohemians, which, however, was not performed at that time because of his departure for Europe.
At this critical juncture in the development of San Francisco music, the city was visited by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which had been invited on the occasion of the Panama-Pacific Exposition held there in 1915. This organization, under the precise and scholarly German, Dr. Karl Muck, presented a series of fourteen concerts in ten days, and for the first time awakened its Western audiences to a realization of quality performance. Plans were projected at once for the improvement of the local orchestra and for launching it on a national career. The orchestra personnel was increased from about sixty-five to eighty, and Alfred Hertz, then in the city, was secured to revitalize their ambitions.
The forty-three-year-old Hertz had enjoyed a distinguished career. For thirteen years (1902-15) he had been conductor of German opera at the Metropolitan Opera House where he had staged the first performance of Parsifal outside of Bayreuth on December 24, 1903, and had introduced Strauss’s Salome, Rosenkavalier and other novelties to his American audience. He, too, had come as guest of the Exposition to conduct a Beethoven Festival during German-American week, at a time when this country was still neutral toward the year-old war. His conducting created a tremendous impression and it was with the greatest enthusiasm that he was selected for the renascent orchestra.
The fourteen-year tenure of Mr. Hertz was not a tranquil one. He was greeted with hostile agitation because of his German origin. This was quieted by his acquisition of citizenship in June, 1917, made possible by the fact that he had filed his first papers prior to the declaration of war. In the second year, he suffered some competition from other orchestras in that city of half a million. Among these, the People’s Philharmonic Orchestra under Sokoloff, supported by a patron of means, was making a special bid for the popular field. In an effort to strengthen its competitive position, the San Francisco Symphony was reorganized in 1916 on a permanent basis, its members were employed full time and were, by contract stipulation, not permitted to play in any other orchestra without written consent of the conductor. Like every other city, San Francisco had yet to learn the difficult lesson that there was never room for two good orchestras. Alfred Hertz never knew a united San Francisco.
Financial struggles are, of course, never a novelty. Warnings were repeatedly issued declaring the organization in danger of collapse. Invidious comparisons with Los Angeles, where one opulent benefactor was able to accomplish more than four hundred patrons in San Francisco, were periodically drawn. President William Howard Taft, when breaking ground for the Fair in 1915, less than ten years after the quake disaster, had coined the rallying cry: “San Francisco knows how.” But it was now feared that this challenge was destined to be countermanded. After fifteen years, apathy and friction reached the breaking point. Hertz resigned in the spring of 1930 with the din of a final salvo of frantic applause in his harassed ears, but manfully expressing the hope that a change of leadership might revive the flagging public interest. He retained many loyal followers and later had the consolation of frequent guest appearances.
However, the landscape was by no means all gray. Hertz was a picturesque figure known to many a man on the street for his distinctive “foxy grandpa” visage, and had more than succeeded in selling the orchestra to the public, especially in the popular concerts. Since 1922, these supplementary concerts had been bought by the Board of Supervisors of the city of San Francisco and presented in short annual series, either free or at popular prices in the huge Civic Auditorium, capacity 10,000.
To be sure, there had been detractors, both social and aesthetic. Certain groups continued their aloofness from the impecunious and sorely pressed orchestra, and critics commented on the heavy-handed German style of interpretation, stemming from the conductor’s predilection for Wagnerian brasses that caused an unpleasant reverberation in the limited confines of the Curran Theatre. In their amiably franker moments, they referred to that auditorium as the “boiler factory.” But, in the end, there was no question that the orchestra had become one of the accepted civic institutions.
Previous dissension and the ravages of the depression did not make its path a rosy one. Basil Cameron, an English conductor, recommended by Grainger and Beecham; Dobrowen, a momentary flash, and many other guests filled the interim of several seasons with a vanishing personnel. It was beyond the point of rallying to a periodic shot in the arm by a guest conductor, however. The vitality of the organization continued to ebb, and in 1934-35, the funds being completely exhausted, the symphony concerts were entirely suspended. Musical politics often run deep. Described as a “pawn of competing social cliques,” the orchestra was fast sliding toward extinction, if indeed it had not already arrived there, when two new forces entered the scene to rescue the victim in good Western melodrama style!
In May, 1935, the electorate passed an amendment to the city charter exacting a half-cent tax for the benefit of the orchestra. In order to circumvent the constitutional prohibition of public moneys being diverted to private purposes, the act, which yielded about $40,000 provided for the appointment of an Art Commission that would “buy” the concerts from the symphony management, and resell them at popular prices to the public. This was then, and still is, an almost unique administrative invention for the support of symphony orchestras. What forces moved the public to vote taxes for such a musical luxury?
Through the agency of the Board of Supervisors and one of its members, J. Emmett Haydn, the city had actually been buying concerts since November, 1922, with moneys from a general publicity and welfare fund, and had thereby set a pattern that needed only to be modified in legal details. These concerts were performed in the Civic Auditorium and were well attended. The mayor and other officials favored the measure; the musicians’ union, of course, supported it and enlisted the sympathetic support of the other crafts. Interested persons, including members of the symphony orchestra, carried on an energetic personal campaign, accosting the voters on the streets and in public conveyances, in an attempt to arouse them to the loss of prestige involved in the demise of their great civic asset. Finally, since there was no important voice raised against the proposition, it passed with a comfortable margin.
Although the passage of this measure injected a powerful excitant into the exhausted body of the orchestra, it alone would never have been sufficient to revive it. The new administrative board, reorganized to include a social segment not hitherto adequately represented, was a stronger tonic toward its convalescence. It also brought, after a short time, to the headship of the board, Mrs. Leonora Wood Armsby, from the “Peninsula,” who has ever since been the genius of the governing body and the organizer of the community resources, and who, probably more than any other single force in the history of the symphony, is responsible for its present prosperity.
In the meantime, the housing problem of the orchestra had also been solved. For many years it had performed in the Curran, Tivoli, and Capitol theatres, all small auditoriums and often provided reluctantly by their owners because of competition with more profitable theatrical lessees. The urge to secure an adequate and exclusive home, which sooner or later besets the supporters of every orchestra, had likewise begun to attack the local promoters in San Francisco. Now, however, the city could boast of two auditoriums. The Civic Auditorium, a million-dollar coliseum-like structure, had been built for the Panama-Pacific Exposition to accommodate the many conventions and assemblages attracted to the city on that occasion. After the Fair this cavernous auditorium, conveniently located in the Civic Center but with acoustics something less than perfect, was bequeathed to the city. The smaller auditorium, the War Memorial Opera House, as its name implies, dedicated to the heroes of World War I, is also municipally owned (then the first municipally owned Opera House in the country), and seats 3,252. Likewise situated in the Civic Center, this gorgeous auditorium famous for its acoustics, was dedicated in 1932 and provided office space and all necessary facilities for the Symphony Orchestra and the San Francisco Opera, a practically ideal accommodation. Truly, wars and depressions furnish occasions for projects which we cannot afford in times of peace and “prosperity”!
The choice of the new conductor, Pierre Monteux, betokened an especially determined bid for national, and even international, status for the revivified orchestra. This resolve was echoed by the new conductor himself when he enunciated his objective “to restore the San Francisco orchestra to its former place among American ensembles, to give the public the best of classics and a suitable allotment of modern compositions.” In his previous stewardship of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1919-24), of the Diaghileff Ballet, of the Metropolitan Opera and the Concertgebouw orchestra of Amsterdam, and as guest of nearly every major orchestra in the country, he had achieved a reputation for scholarship, clinical virtuosity in scorereading and orchestral technique. If, because of the sobriety of his gestures, he lacks the glamour and demonstrative appeal of some of the prima donnas, he is still, according to the testimony of musicians throughout the country “a musician’s conductor,” and soloists attest to his flexibility and understanding. He has gained general affection by his restrained and equable temperament. His first concert was given in January, 1936, with an orchestra of eighty-six musicians. After nearly fifteen years, there is still a veritable “cult Monteux” and the public is as united as could be humanly expected. In March, 1945, the University of California awarded him the LL.D. degree.
To insure the audience of the future, the Musical Association established a novel affiliation with the students of the colleges of the Bay area. About 1938, student groups began to meet informally for advance study of symphony programs. The Association cooperated at first by supplying musicians to lead the discussions, and more recently by scheduling a third concert, duplicating the regular pairs, to which these forum members are admitted at a special rate. Youth Concerts, conducted formerly by Ernest Schelling and more recently by Rudoph Ganz, are likewise a part of the season’s activities.
But audiences alone will not assure the perpetuation of the symphony orchestras. This can be done only by financial supplements from other than audience sources. Although tax support has contributed somewhat to its security, observers are concerned about the possible cross purposes and embarrassments of divided sponsorship of political and private agents. There is no question that the Musical Association would much prefer a direct subsidy, to be applied according to its own administrative discretion, to the indirect method of selling the services of the orchestra under circumstances which give it no voice in the control.
A second weakness in the San Francisco organization is the absence of summer activity. Music is everywhere a highly seasonal industry and, like all seasonal industries, has often attempted to straighten out and level off the hazardous fluctuations in employment, But although some off-season attempts have been made, San Francisco has no Ravinia Park, Lewisohn Stadium, Hollywood Bowl, Robin Hood Dell, Open Air Opera, Boston “Pops,” Esplanade, Berkshire concerts, or Summer Opera. The continuity of employment offered by such summer activities not only extends the season for the musicians of the respective orchestras, but sometimes actually maintains the musical ensemble intact, and eliminates the necessity for the players to earn a livelihood by outside employment. These prospects tend to attract and hold good musicians and are therefore reflected in the quality of the orchestra and its accomplishments. The San Francisco Opera, in setting its schedule noncompetitive! y in the early fall, does inestimable service to the Symphony by employing a large segment of symphony personnel. Any circumstance which jeopardized the existence of the San Francisco Opera would to that extent jeopardize the quality of the Symphony Orchestra.
REPERTOIRE During the first four years under Henry Hadley concerts were relatively infrequent, the days were troublesome, and programs were largely determined by available scores and funds. The balance listed toward the romantic side, with Wagner and Tschaikowsky matching Brahms and Beethoven with roughly ten per cent each. Saint-Saens, Goldmark, and Dvorak, all popular in that day, were included, with Richard Strauss unexpectedly neglected. An American composer himself, Hadley nevertheless paid scant attention to his colleagues, though he performed about half a dozen of his own compositions, which is not, as conductors go, considered unseemly. In general, the repertoire was one that was not too taxing on a fresh orchestra; one that would be appropriate to an audience not too intent on strenuous edification; and one which a discreet conductor would consider safe and sane during the first tottering steps of an infant institution.
Hertz started in the classic manner with the staple Brahms and Beethoven. While he did not avoid Wagner, he gave him no undue prominence but rather paralleled his characteristic postwar decline in other orchestras. For the most part he pursued the general trends, drawing heavily on Tchaikowsky, Dvorak, and Strauss, and for diversity picked up some of the more contemporary figures, Respighi, Sibelius, Debussy, and Mahler. By no means distinguished for an urge to promote the Americans, he nevertheless made a nominal gesture of recognition toward native composers, especially those who were associated in some manner with the Pacific Coast: Ernest Bloch, who was director of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 1925-30; Albert Elkus, professor of music in various schools and colleges of the Bay area; Frederick Jacobi, Stillman Kelley, and others, Carpenter, Eichheim, Hanson, and La Violette are also represented.
With Monteux, the public was introduced to a more sophisticated inventory, commensurate with the growth in stature and security of the orchestra and the international eminence of the conductor. As could be anticipated, the French at once received delayed recognition with a proportion of fifteen to twenty per cent in 1935-45, by far the highest in the country. These comprise not only the conventional Chabrier, Berlioz, Chausson, and Ravel, but also the more militant Milhaud, Tailleferre, and Honegger. Monteux displays the typical Gallic apathy toward Sibelius and Tschaikowsky. Stravinsky, whom he virtually introduced to the world while conductor of DiaghilefFs Ballet Russe, Hindemith, Prokofieff, Chavez, Villa-Lobos, and Bartok illustrate the conductor’s contemporary outlook. A cross-section of American music is also given its day although, since Hertz, the American repertoire shows an almost complete turnover. In general, the repertoire is liberal and unhackneyed, but not sufficiently divergent from the general course to alarm the audiences unduly, though periodic protests against “modernism” have been raised.
For many years, Cleveland was the beneficiary of the musical achievements of larger centers. Cleveland was on the Theodore Thomas highway. Gericke and Nikisch of Boston followed, as did Damrosch and the New York Symphony. Earlier, Cleveland had entertained the Sangerfest in 1855, 1859, and 1874, as well as numerous miscellaneous soloists who toured the country.
Tentative efforts to establish an indigenous orchestra were made at various times by the musicians among the German immigrants who arrived in the city after 1848. Most of the organizations were necessarily so shortlived that a sample enumeration does them more than justice. In 1852, John Olker organized the Germania orchestra in that city of 20,000. The Caecelian orchestra followed in 1854; the Cleveland Philharmonic in 1881, and the Cleveland Symphony under Johann Beck in 1900.
Between 1901 and 1918 a concert schedule was made up of programs presented by the major American orchestras that included Cleveland in their tours. To administer and, if necessary, to subsidize the concert series of visiting orchestras, the Musical Arts Association was incorporated in 1902, content for the time with the borrowed finery of other cities. In 1913, however, Cleveland was stung with envy when visited by the orchestra from Minneapolis, a city half its size. With the encouragement of Mayor Newton D. Baker (later Secretary of War in the Wilson cabinet), the Cleveland Municipal Orchestra was organized for Sunday concerts at popular prices under the direction of Christian Tinner. But these lapsed during the war.
In 1918 Mrs. Adella Prentiss Hughes,68 a Cleveland musician who has since been gratefully labeled “Mother of the Cleveland orchestra,” attended the Ohio Music Teachers Convention in Cincinnati and heard a lecture by Nikolai Sokoloff, who was at the time conducting summer concerts in that city. Impressed, she secured him for a survey of public school music in her own city that fall. This was the first of a series of significant circumstances which terminated in the founding of the present orchestra,
Externally, the sequence of events seemed quite casual. As Pastor of St. Ann’s Catholic Church, the Reverend J. H. Powers faced the not unusual necessity of raising funds for his parish. He himself was an amateur musician, and proposed to Sokoloff and to the Musical Arts Association the organization of a small orchestra for a benefit concert, with Father Powers (vocalist) as soloist. Fifty-seven men were recruited, and the concert presented December n, 1918. So successful was the venture that twenty concerts of various types were given in Cleveland and seven outside the city during the season.
Sokoloff, born in Russia, had been a student at the Yale School of Music, a violin protege of Charles Martin Loeffler, and a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1904 to 1907. For three years, beginning with 1914, he conducted the San Francisco People’s Philharmonic, which attempted to supply the community with popular-priced concerts. In 1918 he was conducting summer concerts in Cincinnati when he was discovered by Mrs. Hughes.
The Cleveland orchestra began typically as a local band. The musicians, with the exception of the scarce oboe and English horn players, were recruited from local theatres, schools, and other sources. The defunct Municipal orchestra had left about three hundred scores and miscellaneous equipment, which Mrs. Hughes “picked up,” while Sokoloff himself owned a small portfolio of scores. The concerts of the first season were presented in Gray’s Armory (capacity 2,400), but in the following year were transferred to the newly erected Masonic Temple, which was only slightly smaller.
Under Sokoloff the orchestra participated in various community enterprises, offering children’s concerts, sponsoring contests; and in 1927-28 it was joined by the Cleveland Playhouse, a dramatic troupe, for the presentation of Debussy’s Nuages et Fetes and other numbers. During the season 1921-22 the orchestra received $31,000 from the community chest, in payment for concerts in community centres.
The Musical Arts Association, a nonprofit corporation, continued to sponsor the concerts, administer the trust funds, and to acquire and hold its property. To one of the leading members of this association the orchestra is indebted for its present home. On the tenth anniversary of the orchestra, Mr. J. L. Severance, oil and steel magnate, announced a gift of $1,000,000 for an auditorium. Western Reserve University offered the site. These two gifts were supplemented by public contributions to an endowment and maintenance fund. The hall was dedicated in February, 1931, and named in memory of Mrs. Severance who had died since the announcement of the gift. Severance Hall is beautifully designed and situated, highly decorative in appointment, but seating only about 1,800 persons. It is among the smallest auditoriums in America to house a major orchestra.
After fifteen years of pioneer service, Sokoloff announced his retirement, to take effect at the end of the 1932-33 season. In a bid for greater national recognition, the conductorship was offered to Artur Rodzinski, who had come to this country as assistant to Stokowski in 1927 and was then enjoying a successful tenure in Los Angeles. He had gained a reputation for his organizing talent and succeeded in materially strengthening the ensemble. After ten years Rodzinski, who had in the meantime won notoriety as Toscanini’s assistant for the training of the new NBC orchestra, graduated to the Philharmonic-Symphony of New York.
On Rodzinski’s resignation, some critics lamented our subservience to Europe and pleaded for an American conductor. However, he was succeeded by Viennese-born Erich Leinsdorf, thirty-one-year-old operatic maestro, who had created a sensation at the Metropolitan Opera by his appointment as full conductor to that venerable institution at the age of twenty-six and by his public clashes with several operatic stars. Subject to the military draft, his service was brief. Much of his three-year regime was filled by guest conductors, one of whom, George Szell, was appointed permanent conductor in 1946.
REPERTOIRE The infant years of the Cleveland orchestra, which was founded in the year of the Armistice, were influenced by the strong feelings and sentiments engendered during the war. The curtailment of such weighty composers as Strauss and Wagner, adversely affected by current political attitudes, produced a material shrinkage in the repertoire’s German quota. The Austro-German proportion therefore hovered well below the fifty per cent mark throughout the first decade. The old Russians, with Tschaikowsky and Rimsky-Korsakoff, constituted about twenty per cent of the program time, and the French, also profiting from wartime sentiment, only slightly less.
A large fraction of its American repertoire was locally induced. Bloch, who was then on the threshold of his American career, was at that time a resident of Cleveland, and found a generous audience in the 1920’s, but vanished under Szell. Loeffler, the former teacher of Sokoloff, had many renditions; Arthur Shepherd, assistant conductor, and later professor at Western Reserve University; Henry Eichheim, a fellow-student of the conductor; Carleton Cooley, a member of the orchestra; Herbert El well and Beryl Rubinstein, local composers—together with an occasional nationally-known American—comprised six to eight per cent of the Sokoloff repertoire.
This level of American participation was continued by his successor, Artur Rodzinski, but with increased national and diminished local emphasis. Though the war hysteria had cooled and Strauss was again admitted into fellowship, and though the Bach transcriptions prospered and the Mahler cult was born, the Germans did not recapture the position of lofty isolation held during the reign of the mid-European conductors. Rodzinski and other non-Teutons were now exalting the Russians and the French. Accordingly, Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff, and Stravinsky were supplementing the pre-Revolutionary stand-bys to augment the Slavic strength.
The Rodzinski period was also marked by the inclusion of opera performances in the orchestral schedule. Victims of the war and other untoward factors, the provincial opera companies in Boston and Chicago had succumbed. Cleveland, as well as Cincinnati and Philadelphia, attempted to rekindle the depression patronage for the orchestras, to salvage operatic literature, and possibly also to gratify the professional passion of the conductors, by incorporating full operatic performances, as well as operas in concert form, in the regular season’s offerings. The Cleveland project was made possible by the happy coincidence that, in 1918, the Musical Association had acquired for a nominal sum the entire collection of books, manuscripts, and scores comprising the library of the bankrupt Boston Opera Company. In five seasons, fifteen standard operas were staged. As in Philadelphia and Cincinnati, however, the opera has now been abandoned and the orchestra has returned to its basic metier.
In 1880 Los Angeles was a small outpost community of 10,000 inhabitants, with a salubrious climate, but with no consciousness of its destiny which has since conferred on it such notoriety. However, the appearance of the characteristic symptoms of its mature personality were not to be delayed. The isolated frontier town was on the eve of a period of rapid growth on completion of the first of the several railroads which made Los Angeles a transcontinental terminal point. This all-important achievement was, in part, the work of William Andrews Clark, mining magnate and empire builder and father of William Andrews Clark, Jr., who subsequently became the founder and chief benefactor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.
It was also the eighties that witnessed the first musical stirrings under the patriarchal Adolf Willhartitz, who had already been active in St. Louis and who now organized an amateur orchestra of forty and a chorus of 120 for the production of light opera and the larger choral works.69 The first exclusively orchestral body was not organized until 1893 when A. J. Stamm, also a German, pieced together an orchestra of thirty-five professional musicians. Lacking such instruments as the oboe and bassoon, they still performed works of Wagner, Rossini, Mendelssohn, Rubinstein, and other standard composers at their maiden concert.
The concertmaster of this aggregation was young Harley Hamilton, who lost no time in organizing his own group, the Los Angeles Symphony Society, in 1897. This orchestra, destined for a much longer life, was at first not much more richly endowed with finances and instruments than was its predecessor. However, with a little aid from such philanthropists as he could rally to his cause, and the personal purchase of the necessary scores, Mr. Hamilton persevered from the time of the first concert, which was given in a converted music hall, Spring Street between Second and Third, on February i, 1898, until he retired sixteen years later. During this period he had laid a foundation of taste by introducing to Los Angeles the standard compositions of Brahms, Dvorak, Haydn, and a half-hundred other composers.
About the close of the century, the most prominent hotel in Los Angeles was the Alexandria, operated by Mr. Albert C. Bilicke. For entertainment and dinner music, he had imported from Vienna Adolf Tandler and several other instrumentalists who were creating a very favorable impression on some of the most influential people of the city. Although there were at least thirty candidates for the leadership of the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra on the retirement of Hamilton in 1913, Mr. Tandler secured the appointment at $3,000 per season. Leaping from a modest dining salon to a concert stage, Tandler was fairly sensational. With an orchestra of ninety men, he often conducted without a score, instituted paired performances and children’s concerts, and programmed many new compositions. Like many other conductors, he had his strong supporters who helped him enlist some philanthropic aid, as well .as his detractors who remained unimpressed and unappreciative of his heroic attempts to simulate a great orchestra.
In the meantime, a significant new force was arising in the guise of a “Higginson” of the West: William Andrews Clark, Jr. The Tandler orchestra was merely a cooperative organization, which relied on local musicians and suffered from all the familiar infirmities attendant upon those circumstances. Mr. Clark recognized these provincial limitations and was determined to organize an orchestra on the contemporary Eastern pattern which would merit national recognition.
Clark was the educated and well-traveled offspring of the afore-• mentioned empire builder, Senator Clark of Montana. He was by profession a lawyer, by avocation a violinist, and by inheritance the custodian of millions in mining and railroad wealth, fabulously augmented by the war prosperity of 1914-18. He came by his musical interests honestly, for he had studied the violin in Paris and Los Angeles, and had already organized in Los Angeles a chamber music group in which he played his instrument. From New York he had brought reminiscences of Anton Seidl, a frequent guest in his father’s home, of whom he often spoke almost in terms of idolatry to his associates in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles had meanwhile become a progressive city of over half a million. All signs therefore pointed to its entrance into the national arena with a more aggressive policy for the cultivation of the arts as a civic asset. With a growth of national consciousness it seemed important to find a nationally recognized conductor, whose experience and reputation would lend immediate prestige. Englishborn Walter Henry Rothwell, then a resident of New York, had conducted opera both in the United States and Europe, and had been conductor of the St. Paul Symphony Orchestra from 1908 until 1915, when it was disbanded. Rothwell, therefore, qualified. He was empowered to employ a concertmaster and personnel—a few from strike-bound Boston—purchase the necessary scores, and make the general preparations for a symphony orchestra, whose inevitable deficits would be personally guaranteed by Mr. Glark. The ninetypiece orchestra opened the series of twelve pairs on October 24, 1919, in Trinity Auditorium.
The immediate effect of such grandiose planning on the old Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra was to induce practically all its members to desert it and contract with Clark for a place in the new organization. Tandler, with some small philanthropic support from a competitive social set still available to him, reorganized his own symphony in an intrepid endeavor to discard the cooperative system in favor of annual financing. After only a year’s survival, however, friction developed with the musicians’ union, which was the occasion, although hardly the real cause, of its demise.
From all indications, Rothwell was popular with the public. This former assistant to Gustav Mahler in Hamburg brought discipline, much needed at the time, to the new orchestra. Not the least significant circumstance in his success was his congeniality with his benefactor. “They made a good team.” Mr. Clark attended rehearsals and frequently sat among the strings where Mr. Rothwell welcomed his presence and comment. ,
Mr. Clark’s solicitude for the new venture was paternalistic and all-embracing. Even before the first concert of the season he raised the minimum weekly salary of his first contracts from thirty-five dollars to fifty dollars in order to offset the rapidly rising (postwar) cost of living. To each member of the orchestra he presented an insurance policy for the duration of his employment. Finding Trinity unsatisfactory, he purchased the lease of Clune’s Auditorium, later known as the Philharmonic Auditorium, capacity about 2,600, which has since been the leased home of the orchestra. He shared with the conductor all the musical and aesthetic problems, and even stood with him on the podium for the conventional photographs. In order to lengthen the season for his musicians and thereby make his contracts more enticing to Eastern musicians, he encouraged, and materially assisted in, the establishment of the Hollywood Bowl summer concerts.70 For three five-year periods, he underwrote the deficits of the orchestra, which cumulated to a total of almost $3,000,000.
But the creeping anxiety that a sole guarantor would eventually become indifferent or exhausted finally realized itself here, as it had elsewhere. Fashions were changing. Instead of the unstable equilibrium of the inverted pyramid, the one supporting the many, there had long ago set in a shift to broad-based support. Higginson, the American progenitor of the plutocratic system, had died in Boston in 1919, just as the Los Angeles Philharmonic was being born. In Philadelphia, Chicago, and other cities endowments or sustaining friends had assumed the responsibilities of the erstwhile “owner” of the orchestra. As long as “Will” Clark was willing, Los Angeles let him do it. But when he died in 1934, uncertain of the future of the orchestra, he had bequeathed his extensive collection of scores to the Los Angeles Public Library, and cut off without endowment the child that he had so long nurtured and reared.
Some months before his unexpected death he had, in fact, announced his definite and final withdrawal from the responsibilities that he had periodically reassumed with increasing reluctance. This had necessitated the reorganization of the board in line with the more popular method of financing. The new organization, the Southern California Symphony Association, solicited subscriptions of one dollar and up, and thus modestly set out to take its first unassisted steps toward financial maturity in the fall of 1934, in the midst of the great depression.
Rothwell died suddenly in the spring of 1927. Emil Oberhoffer, who had conducted the Minneapolis Orchestra for nineteen years and had appeared in the Hollywood Bowl, was available to complete the season in the emergency. However, for the permanent office the Symphony board followed the usual procedure of searching in Europe for an available candidate, and imported Finnish Georg Schneevoigt who, however, remained for only two seasons. It was not a fortunate choice. Schneevoigt was lethargic and uninspired and never gained disciplinary control over his men. During his second season, illness necessitated the employment of several guest conductors, including Artur Rodzinski then assistant conductor under Stokowski in Philadelphia. With the resignation of Schneevoigt in 1929, Rodzinski took over the leadership and remained until the spring of 1933, when he was released to accept the call to Cleveland. This event coincided with the retirement of Mr. Clark.
From the standpoint of fiscal management, as well as conductorial opportunities, the Philharmonic was now on the threshold of a new era. The rise to power of the Nazi regime in January, 1933, had made the position of many German musicians untenable at home. Among the earliest of these to forfeit his position was Otto Klemperer, conductor of opera and orchestra, who had taken an active part in the politically indiscreet cultivation of contemporary and post-Wagnerian music. Already favorably known in the United States as guest conductor, Klemperer was eagerly sought in order to justify the faith of the orchestra in the new popular management. By standards both physical and musical, he was by far the most impressive figure yet to occupy the post as regular conductor. Six feet-four inches tall, he dispensed with the platform. Completely unhampered by baton, score, music stand, or podium, he bestrode the stage and gripped the attention of both musicians and audience with the sweep of his long arms. He was the first musical director of truly international stature and general musical maturity. For six seasons he was an outstanding popular success until at last failing health diminished his efficiency.
There followed, beginning in 1939, a procession of guest conductors: Coates, Stokowski, Walter, Wallenstein, Barbirolli, and others, until finally, among the many candidates, Alfred Wallenstein was appointed to the new leadership. Born in Chicago, he had spent most of his youth in Los Angeles, studied the cello with Julius Klengel in Leipzig, and had played under Stock and Toscanini before he gained recognition as an enterprising conductor of a radio orchestra.
The Philharmonic orchestra had been in great need of new orientation toward the growing complexities of the city’s organization. Under the new regime, the number of paired concerts, which had fallen to as low as nine during the guest period, was increased; new financial resources, including the much discussed “racing fund,” which dispenses its favors to all meritorious enterprises, were tapped; and a pension fund, initiated by a concert conducted by Toscanini, was established. The new conductor, to whom must be given a certain measure of credit for the financial and cultural renaissance (which was not achieved without some partisan conflict and revision in managerial personnel) is personally active in integrating the orchestra into the life of the community. Although children’s concerts were no novelty, the children’s series was strengthened by the purchase of programs by the city school system, and by various pedagogical and entertainment features designed to create an interested juvenile audience.
In addition to the tribulations that beset every orchestra and never are fully resolved, the Los Angeles Philharmonic is less fortunate than most major orchestras in that it has virtually no “home.” The Philharmonic Auditorium is hardly acceptable as a final solution of the housing problem. Of its 2,600 seats, some hundreds are completely unsalable because the view of the stage is obstructed either by pillars or by the awkward angle of vision. The constant use of the auditorium for other functions likewise is a perennial obstacle in the planning of proper schedules, both for rehearsals and public concerts. A new home is ultimately envisioned. On a site already selected, west of the downtown section, according to the Greater Los Angeles Plan, a modern auditorium will be constructed, which will be more accessible than is the present building in the heart of the congested business area.
The welfare of the orchestra is to some extent influenced by unique local conditions. In addition to the prestige of the orchestra and the length of the season, the musician is attracted to Los Angeles by the seductive climate and by the prospect of employment in the studios of motion picture and radio. Employment conditions in the studios until recently have been extremely favorable, with shorter hours and a higher scale of pay. In fact, many musicians who have succeeded in securing posts in the studio orchestras are said to cast condescending glances on the hard-working orchestra player, with his strenuous rehearsal and concert regime, and the lower rate of compensation. Consequently, many excellent musicians are said to accept a chair in the symphony orchestra with one eye on the main chance in Hollywood, with a resulting higher turnover in orchestra membership than is healthy for continuous excellence of performance. The prosperity of the studios has therefore often operated adversely on the fortunes of the orchestra. Per contra, when there is a “depression” in the studios, the position of the orchestra is correspondingly favored.
Hollywood Bowl, a natural amphitheatre which now accommodates 20,000 persons, is also aligned with the fortunes of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. For its opening in the summer of 1922, Alfred Hertz, then conductor of the San Francisco orchestra, was willing to grapple with the hazards of outdoor performances, then not so generally accepted as now, which others had spurned. It was thought, quite rightly, that music out of doors, with ever so favorable acoustics, could not transmit the fine nuances nor convey the subtle emotional connotations to which audiences have become accustomed in the concert hall. And even if this difficulty were overcome, it was thought doubtful that mammoth audiences could be attracted to serious concerts.
It is of course true that throughout the United States outdoor activities of every type have been expanding; and musical activities have shared in this al fresco revolution. The prospects of music in Los Angeles have been enhanced by its equable climate and its reputation as ideal vacationland. According to a boast of one Californian,71 the Lewisohn Stadium is plagued by its fire engines and showers, Ravinia Park by its heat and mosquitoes; while the rainless skies, top-coat temperatures, and insect-free atmosphere of Southern California allow the completest enjoyment of a Bowl concert.
REPERTOIRE The roll call of composers during the first years of the Los Angeles Philharmonic presents no conspicuous deviations from the general taste of the other concert-going communities of that time. Roth well evinced no disposition to specialize, but rather possessed the temperament of a general practitioner. The “old reliables,” Beethoven and Brahms, between them accounted for thirty per cent of the programs; Tschaikowsky competed with Wagner, each drawing off an additional ten per cent. Strauss (five per cent), Debussy (four per cent), Liszt, Mendelssohn, Dvorak and Saint-Saens pulled up next in the ranking of the regulars, Mahler was represented, but Bach had not; yet been launched on his renaissance by Stokowski, and therefore had a barely discernible existence. The New England Americans were given a fair hearing by this Englishborn conductor who, having been educated on the continent, displayed no vestiges of his British origins.
It was during the brief incumbency of Schneevoigt that the centennial of Schubert’s death was commemorated, which accounts for his extraordinary proportion of eight per cent. That Sibelius is not given a more favorable position by this Finnish conductor than his five points would indicate is, perhaps, partly to be explained by the fact that guest conductors during Schneevoigt’s illness showed different enthusiasms.
With Rodzinski, the Austro-German groups reach an all-time low of thirty-eight per cent, brought about by the de-emphasis of Beethoven, and the actual omission of Liszt, Mendelssohn, and other dispensable Germans. The French came into their own with Debussy and Franck, and the Russians expanded with Tschaikowsky, Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, and the emergent Prokofieff. It was Rodzinski’s first responsible conductor’s post in the United States—he had served as assistant conductor in Philadelphia—and he gave vent to his sentiments by lifting the American composer to a respectable six per cent, exceeded only by Chicago and Boston. It was in February, 1933, that he gained his American citizenship, and signalized the event by playing his first pair of concerts with an all-American program capped by the Star-Spangled Banner, a patriotic note that is indeed unusual in peacetime.
Klemperer had been known in Germany for his contemporary tastes. These he brought to this country in 1933 and displayed in his programming of Stravinsky, Hindemith, and Shostakovitch, the latter then on the threshold of his American career. With Bruno Walter, one of his successors in Los Angeles, he shared the espousal of Mahler. Except for his meager attention to American composers, this German emigre cultivated an advanced repertoire. From 1940, however, in part because of the growing composers’ colony in the Los Angeles area, American representation grew apace to almost ten per cent, among the highest in the country. With so much public attention at that time riveted on the Good Neighbor policy, Latin American composers also crept into view: Chavez from Mexico (guest conductor), Mignone, Villa-Lobos and Guarnieri from Brazil. Of these, Villa-Lobos was soon destined to be heard in almost all major orchestras.
The colony of composers in Southern California are attracted, of course, by the studios, as well as by the climate, so salubrious for their declining years. Gershwin and Rachmaninoff, at the time of their passing, were living in that area, and Gershwin’s death was marked by a special Gershwin program by the orchestra. Wallenstein has accorded the Americans an average, but well-selected, representation with relatively little emphasis on “local debts.” In fact, the Wallenstein repertoire rides no hobbies, but has deflated previously exaggerated proportions, and lifted others to more normal statures. It presents a substantial and worthy assortment of standard and modern works relatively devoid of questionable experimentation. He seems to plan his repertoire to “give something to everybody.”
The distribution of symphonic orchestras is much more widespread than might be inferred from the relatively short foregoing list. Many other cities have flourishing orchestras of shorter duration, or have suffered dark seasons which have interrupted significant developments. Because of these gaps in their history and the shifts from impermanent to permanent organization, the “legitimate” date of their founding cannot always be determined; for some managements have been disposed to push back that date as far as possible for the prestige which age confers. Because of the brevity and discontinuity in their history, as well as the shortness of season, it is impractical to analyze their repertoires, which, in general, are more standardized and less experimental than those of the well-established groups.
Among the oldest of these in-and-outers is the Pittsburgh orchestra, founded by the Art Society in 1896. Andrew Carnegie was listed among the contributors., During the first two years Frederick Archer, a local organist, was the conductor. In a bid for wider appeal, the management sought out Victor Herbert, already known for his light operas but who had gathered considerable experience in serious music as a member of the Thomas, Seidl, and the Metropolitan Opera orchestras in New York. If he built a reputation of brusqueness and highhandedness toward the men of his orchestra, he awakened great public interest in his programs and vivacious performances. The orchestra of seventy men, safely financed, toured the region, including New York. It was to all intents a “permanent” orchestra, correctly advertised as being “more than New York has.” But the call of composition was too strong to resist, and Herbert retired in 1904 to devote himself exclusively to his metier.
During the next six years the orchestra was under the baton of Emil Paur, late of Boston and New York. But Paur’s programs were “esoteric,” the audience drifted away, and the guarantors became discouraged. In 1910 the orchestra was dissolved.
In the interval between its collapse and its regeneration in 1937 the city was provided with symphonic music by casual orchestras. In that year Otto Klemperer was “borrowed” from the Los Angeles orchestra to re-establish it as a major orchestra. Pittsburgh followed through with determination by securing Fritz Reiner, formerly conductor in Cincinnati. After having built up the orchestra to ninety men and the season to twenty-eight weeks in his ten years of service, in an economy move BLeiner was threatened with curtailment of both personnel and season. Feeling that he could preserve his artistic integrity only by resigning, he did so in 1948 and the orchestra has since been under the baton of guests.
While never of the highest musical excellence, the Detroit Orchestra has periodically furnished, exciting copy for musical news. The orchestra had its undistinguished beginning in 1914 under Weston Gales, who had successfully sold himself to the city after an experimental concert the previous year. Its first bid for entry into the major class, however, was the appointment in 1918 of the distinguished pianist Ossip Gabrilowitsch as conductor. He reorganized the orchestra by importing new musicians, to the usual distress of the local union. With his wide personal following, Gabrilowitsch lifted the orchestra to great social heights and considerable musical excellence. After his death in 1935, he was succeeded by his associate conductor, Victor Kolar, the Italian Franco Ghione, and occasional guests. The city’s previously high interest could not be maintained, and the orchestra became inactive in 1942-43. The year was bridged, however, by a radio series under distinguished guests, sponsored by a department store, and by a chamber orchestra under the direction of Bernhard Heiden, a young composer from Frankfort, Germany.
At this moment, a strong man took command. A Berlin-born industrial chemist, an amateur violinist in his own right, and fabulously successful as an industrial chemist, Henry H. Reichhold assumed sole responsibility for the revived orchestra. Having tasted of musical philanthropy on a small scale by guaranteeing the Heiden ensemble, he secured Karl Krueger, late of Kansas City, as musical director. He soon increased the personnel of the orchestra to no men, purchased the Wilson theatre, and undertook an aggressive and flamboyant campaign that featured the “world’s largest orchestra.” For a short period, Reichhold had dreams of building a musical empire independent of New York administrators, analogous to Henry Ford’s several decades earlier. Included in this defiant project, in addition to the orchestra, were a musical journal, a concert bureau, radio and records, and finally a fling with the Carnegie “pops” of New York.
Many forces contributed to the collapse of the dazzling six-year scheme, the success of which would have been welcomed by many friends. It is idle to inquire whether the authoritarian nature of the sponsor, his imprudent public strategy, the alleged shortcomings of the conductor, the barbs of the critics, or the disputes with the orchestra personnel, contributed most to the unfortunate debacle. In 1950 Detroit was again without a symphony orchestra.
Baltimore has come to be known as the “cradle of municipal music.” In 1914, when the city administration appropriated $8,000 for a municipal band, it occurred to some that a municipal orchestra would be equally feasible. Accordingly, Baltimore made history by founding an orchestra on a municipal appropriation, a method quite contrary to the philanthropic origins in other communities. But, like the municipal band, the orchestra was a local affair, limited in length of season and artistic horizon. The first conductor was Gustav Strube, formerly of the Boston orchestra, and at the time on the faculty of Peabody Conservatory. Although the city had stepped up its appropriations, they were never sufficient to guarantee an orchestra of a caliber worthy of the seventh city of the United States. As a result of long-smoldering difficulties, the orchestra disintegrated in 1942.
It was during this period that Peabody acquired as its new director Reginald Stewart, founder and conductor of the Toronto Philharmonic Orchestra. After the demise of the Baltimore orchestra, he submitted a plan for its reorganization which involved the coordination of conservatory and orchestral interests, and was promptly entrusted with its execution. He assumed the conductorship of the new orchestra at once. This type of operation had distinguished precedent in Leipzig exactly a century previously, when Felix Mendelssohn was the director of the conservatory, which he founded in 1843, and the conductor of the Gewandhaus orchestra between 1835 and 1848. New members were appointed to the Peabody faculty who would dovetail their services in the schedules of the two institutions. Still relying on the indispensable municipal grant, the orchestra solicits, as do all other orchestras, the funds of friends to balance its budget.
The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra was, until 1929, virtually the pit orchestra of the Eastman Theatre* a motion-picture house. Organized by George Eastman of Kodak fame, it presented the first of its periodic symphony concerts March 28, 1923 under the direction of Arthur Alexander. But with the double catastrophe of sound film and the depression, the basic employment of the orchestra in the theatre vanished. In this crisis the orchestra was taken over by the Rochester Music Association. A permanent nucleus of about forty-five players constituted the Civic Orchestra, which was supplemented to form a complete complement for symphonic purposes. Permanent conductors have been: Eugene Goossens (1924-31), Jose Iturbi (1936-44), and Erich Leinsdorf (1947-); and these have been supplemented by an extensive and notable guest list.
A distinctive feature of the Rochester orchestra is its collaboration with the Eastman School of Music, which is an integral part of the University of Rochester. Not only are the Philharmonic concerts given on the campus, but the orchestra participates in the American Festivals that have been instituted by Howard Hanson, director of the Eastman School, for the advancement of the American composer.
The city of Indianapolis,72 founded in 1821, experienced during the first half century of its existence a musical life that was normal for that period and the maturity of the community. Brass bands, choral groups^ solo recitals, and occasional instrumental ensembles constituted the musical recreation of the epoch. After 1850 such activity was largely supported by the Germans who began to arrive in large numbers in various cities of the United States. The Indianapolis Mannerchor is only one of the many German enterprises that has survived.
Among these Germans, incipient orchestral organizations soon appeared. In 1871, stirred by the fate of stricken Chicago, about forty musicians banded together for a charity concert, and continued to give light concerts as the Philharmonic Orchestra. Karl Schneider made an attempt in 1896 to establish a series with about sixty amateurs and professionals, occasionally importing aid from Cincinnati, but abandoned it in 1900. More enduring and significant was the project under the direction of Alexander Ernestinoff, which prospered between 1898 and 1914. Envisaging the possibilities of popularpriced music, Edward Birge, then director of public school music, organized the People’s Concert Association in 1905 for the purpose of sponsoring choral performances, recitals, and concerts by visiting major orchestras from Chicago, Minneapolis, and Cincinnati. His scheme also embraced the indigenous orchestras which were successively conducted by Ernestinoff, Schneider, and Ferdinand Schaefer, a recent arrival from Germany in 1907.
The present symphony orchestra was founded in 1929, when local musicians found themselves displaced by sound-pictures or just plain victims of the depression. In this crisis Schaefer, again stepped forth to organize an ensemble which would supply serious musical entertainment, to preserve the musical skills endangered by enforced idleness, and to recoup their ebbing livelihood. But nearing three score and ten, Schaefer had already reached the customary retirement age when he assembled his sixty musicians for the initial concert. If the new orchestra was to prosper, the normal course would call for the engagement of a younger conductor. After a visit as guest conductor, November 17, 1936, Fabien Sevitzky, nephew of Boston’s Koussevitzky and like him a double-bass virtuoso, was engaged. Sevitzky had come to this country in 1923 and, in deference to his more famous uncle, had shortened his name very early in his American career. The Indianapolis personnel was enlarged, the season offering increased from six single to ten pairs, season contracts became the rule, and the orchestra was thus placed on a permanent basis. Like his uncle, he dedicated his efforts to advancing the American cause and for some years attracted national attention by including an American composition on every subscription program.
The abandonment of the purely cooperative organization, which involved shopping for talent in a larger market, produced the same anguish in Indianapolis as it had in every other city. The fine sentiments that had nurtured and solidified the depression orchestra were rudely shaken by efficiency methods of the new order. “Indianapolis musicians have worked for seven years and have played rehearsals and concerts for as little as three dollars a concert. Yet they have now been denied the just fruits of their labors.” So ran the petition of protest circulated during Sevitzky’s second season. Of course, the protests remained impotent. In fact, the low return was undoubtedly the best evidence of the imminent collapse of a venture that could be saved only by the very reorganization which they deplored. In this respect Indianapolis was only traversing a stage which New York, Philadelphia, and the rest had already passed and long forgotten.
The orchestra waxed in strength and maturity, but did not escape the hazards that had befallen the older orchestras. It met its deficits, however, in a relatively novel way. Since 1931 the orchestra has been sponsored 011 a state-wide basis and is still administered by the Indiana State Symphony Society which solicits funds in the communities of the state. It was also one of the first to win a grant of tax funds for the outright purchase of concerts for public presentation. In 1943 the Indiana General Assembly passed an enabling act permitting the city to appropriate $50,000 from the school and civil budgets, this amount representing about one-fifth of the annual orchestra budget. These grants are never approved without a skirmish with the “anti-music lobby,” which does not deem an orchestra an, appropriate subject for public subvention, as well as with those civil departments that suffer inconvenient cuts in their budgets.
In almost every country in the world, the political capital is at the same time the seat of cultural leadership of the nation. Paris, London, Vienna, Berlin, and Moscow are mature cities that incorporate all the pursuits of a cosmopolitan community: industry, transportation, commerce, education, and the arts. But the unique history of the United States has decreed another fate for its own capital city. It is, in a sense, a synthetic community, oriented almost exclusively around its political functions. Its industrial potential is negligible; its commerce is restricted by its unfavorable location; its essential population is transient and reserves its community pride for its “home towns.” It follows that, with the exception of a few fine libraries and art galleries, the ingredients for a healthy cultural life hardly exist. Some of the libraries and museums that do embellish the landscape are to a large extent linked with the political functions of the city.
For some years the city imported concerts from New York and other neighboring cities.73 When these were curtailed, Washington was threatened with musical famine. Faltering beginnings toward local sponsorship had, indeed, been made as early as 1902 when Reginald DeKoven conducted sporadic concerts under the name of the Washington Symphony Orchestra. Other conductors met with equally ephemeral success.
More serious efforts were made in the spring of 1930 when a group of resident musicians, driven by depression circumstances,’ banded together for cooperative concerts, and called Hans Kindler to lead them. A Dutch-American cellist, Kindler had previously occupied the first chair in the Philadelphia orchestra, had a modicum of conducting experience, and had been favorably known to Washington audiences.
Although the depression project was soon abandoned, Kindler picked up the challenge and made it his personal responsibility to lay the foundation for a permanent orchestra. The National Symphony Orchestra is almost literally his own creation. It was he who solicited funds, corralled the musicians, and took all the initiative and responsibility for aggressive action.
The founding of an orchestra is never an easy task. Even before the first concert (Nov. 2, 1931), seven important musicians had withdrawn because of schedules conflicting with their more secure and remunerative positions in the pit of the Fox Theatre. Promising players were often enticed by more favorable contracts to other cities. Since extra instruments, extra rehearsals, royalties, and rentals are expensive, programs had to be cut to the cloth of available materials. In fact, it was not until 1946 that Kindler felt safe in scheduling such numbers as Strauss’Till Eulenspiegel and Heldenleben.
Recurrent disputes with the union reached a climax in 1939 when the usual questions of imported musicians, salary scales, and length of season proved insoluble until John Steelman, Federal conciliator, offered the services of his staff for negotiation of outstanding differences.
In 1935 the orchestra was organized on a permanent basis/Musicians were given season contracts, tours were undertaken; in 1940 records were cut for the Victor company; and the fame of the Watergate concerts, the first of which had played to 10,000 persons in 1935, grew apace. When finally, in 1948, the Association had to undertake a deficit campaign to wipe out an accumulated debt of $50,000, one could safely conclude that the National Symphony Orchestra had “come of age”! Kindler, however, was ready to retire in 1949, and soon died. He was replaced by Howard Mitchell, associate conductor, the present incumbent.
The concert hall at the disposal of the orchestra during the twenty years of its existence is a rented home. It is not the worst-, nor yet the best-appointed concert hall. Seating 3,800 persons, Constitution Hall was designed primarily to house the many conventions that crowd the national capital. Its stage facilities are only moderately satisfactory; but more important, the busy schedule of the building often conflicts with its use for rehearsals and other functions related to satisfactory concert performance. The more sanguine friends of the orchestra hope for a new home, which, together with an endowment fund, would satisfy the ambitions of this, one of the youngest of the major orchestras of the country.