Chicago Tribune, December 18, 1892
The story of music in Chicago begins with the strains of the fiddle of Mark Beaubien, which furnished rare delight to his guests and the Indians in 1826 at his tavern, “The Sauganash,” says George P. Upton in the New England Magazine, it was the first frame building in the city, standing then on the site where, thirty-four years afterwards, Abraham Lincoln was nominated for the Presidency. This chapter closes amid the preparations for the jubilant music of the colossal Columbian Exposition and for the exhibition of the progress of the world in the divine art during four centuries. Measured by years, the real history of music in Chicago is brief, though the accomplishment has been great and significant. Forty years will easily span it. For while Mark Beaubien brought the first violin to the city in 1826, and his brother, Jean Baitiste, the first piano in 1834, and there was a little band of singers, known as the Harmonic Society, which made bold to give a concert in 1835, it was many years after this before music obtained a real foothold in the young city.
A few dates will show how brief is the record and how great the strides that have been make. The first operatic representation was given in 1850, and the first oratorio in 1858. The first orchestra was organized in 1850, and the first Italian opera troupe came to the city in 1859. Chicago heard its first English opera in 1857, and its first German opera in 1865, in which year was built its first opera-house. It is almost summed up in the records of three structures, the Crosby Opera-House, the Central Music Hall, and the Auditorium. They include substantially its past, present, and future. They have been the home of music in Chicago, the centers from which influence has radiated, and the scenes of triumphs. Much history has been made outside of them, especially during the of material reconstruction following the great fire, when music “boarded round,” having no home of its own; but these chapters of the history are fragmentary, valuable they may be as contributions to the complete work.
The record of music in Chicago prior to the great fire needs only to be stated in brief. Philharmonic societies played an important part in developing the popular taste. Thq first of these was organized by Mr. Julius Dyhrenfurth in 1850 and gave several series of concerts. The programs were of a light and desultory character, and the. orchestra a small one, numbering but twenty-two pieces. An overture was the height of its ambition. but there was progress in its work, as is shown by the gradual betterment of its programs. In 1852 it gave place to a new Philhharmonic society, which was regularly incorporated by the Legislature under the flippantly expressed authority of “an act to encourage the science of fiddling.” It led a checkered existence for seven or eight years and finally died of inanition, its end being hastened by time organization of new societies, the appearance of new bands in the field, and the debuts in concert of many prominent Europeaniartists. Among these societies were the Musical Union and Mendelssohn Society. There was also the competition of the Great Western Band orchestras organized by Henry Abner and Julius Unger, both of had been members of the well known Germania Orchestra. In addition to these there were numerous concerts at which such artists as Parodi, Lagrange, Thalberg, Ole Bull, Vicuxtemips, D’Angri, Formes, Laborde, Picolomini, Colson, Adelina Patti (Eheu, fugaces ami!) appeared, besides operatic seasons, Which about this period began to be a regular feature.
The field was so well occupied that there was but little room left for the Philharmonic—so little. indeed, that it expired in 1858.
A New Musical Lion.
The Philharmonic idea, however, was not dead. There was ample material in the city for another Philharmonic organization. It only needed the leader, and he soon appeared. In June, 1857, Hans Balatka came from Milwaukee to Chicago to conduct the annual festival of the Northwestern Sängerbund. His success was so decided that three years later he was invited to take the leadership of a now Philharmionic society. He accepted the post and filled it such satisfaction that his concerts became the rage. Even the opera was not able to draw such brilliant and fash- audiences, and Mr. Balatka soon be- came the musical lion of the city. During a period of eight years the society gave fifty concerts. It died insolvent in 1868, but it ac- complished a great and lasting work in the education of the people toward the higher music.
The choral societies which exerted the widest influence during the ante-lire period were the Musical Union, the Oratorio Society, the Mendelssohn Society, and the Germnania Männerchor. Of these the last-named alone remains at present, and it is the representative German musical organization of the city. The Musical Union was organized Jan. 31, 1857, with Sir. C. M. Cady, recently deceased, as conductor. It lasted eight years and did good work, especially in the introduction of oratorios..
The Mendelssohn Society, organized in December, 1858; was a potent factor in the musical progress of the city, though it made few public appearances, its time being devoted to diligent and painstaking study of music under the competent leadership of Mr. A. W. Dohn.
The Chicago Oratorio Society was organized early in 1869, with Hans Balatka as conductor, and for its first performance gave “The Creation,” with Mme. Parepa Rosa and Messrs. Nordblon and Rudolphsen as the soloists. It flourished up to the time of the fire, when it lost all its possessions. It subsequently struggled hard to regain its footing and the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston lent a helping hand by donating 600 volumes to its library; but fire overtook it again in 1873, and from this second misfortune it did not recover.
The Germania Männerchor was organized in 1865 by Mr. Otto Lob from a male chorus which was collected for the purpose of musical participation in the obsequies of President Lincoln while his body was lying in state at the City Hall.
Chicago’s First Opera.
Chicago heard its first opera July 30, 1850 at Rice’s Theater, then located on Dearborn street, upon the site where “sky-scrapers” now tower aloft. It was a notable occasion. The troupe vhs composed of artists unknown to fame. The opera was La Sonnambula. While the performance was in progress the theater took fire and the audience had to be dismissed. Chlcago had no more opera for two years, and even then the performance was bad to justify another fire. Then it waited five years, and an English opera troupe came with Rosalio Durand at its head, and gave some creditable performances. But the first strong and effective troupe was brought to the city by the late Maurice Strakoseh. It was Chicago’s first formal introduction to Italian opera. The troupe was a notable one, including such artists as Pauline Colson, Teresa Parodi, Cora Wilhurst, Amalia Palti, Brignoli, Squires, Amodio (the elder), Nicola, Junca, aind Barili. It gave fifteen performances at McVicker’s Theater with success musically and financially; and when it closed Chicago felt that she was a big girl ready to go into society, with fan, furbelow, and lorgnette.
It was not until 1865, however, that Chicago had an opera-house of its own. April 20 of that year Crosby’s Opern-House, undoubtedly at that time one of the handsomest and mast elegantly structures of the kind in the country, was dedicated to art with a performance of Il Trovatore, Mme. Zucchi, Mlle. Morensi, Signors Massimiliani and Bellini, and Herr Mueller appearing in the east. It was the scene of numerous brilliant seasons of opera year after year, and was at the height of its fame when the all-destroying fire wiped it out literally in a few moments of time.
Crosby’s Opera House
Artist: Louis Kurz
Publisher: Jevne & Almini
Location: Washington street, between State and Dearborn streets
Published: March 1866
Since the Fire.
Such is the record up to 1871 of the art in Chicago. Then on that never to be forgotten night of devastation, and terror, Oct. 8, 1871, came the great conflagration, and all the daughters of music were laid low. The revival came earlier than the most sanguine had dared to hope. The musical phœnix rose from the ashes sooner than some of the others. Early in the summer of 1872 a score or so of male singers met one evening and organized a musical society known as the Apollo club. It was tne first musical event in the city since the calamity six months before. Mr. A. W. Dohn was its first conductor, and its first concert was given Jan. 21, 1873. That concert marked the beginning of a new impulse in music, which was destined to blossom out in an unexpected manner and to give the club a national reputation. The membership of the club increased rapidly, and the number of associate members. to whom alone the were given, taxed the capacity of such halls as could be found in the newly rising city. Its first concerts were given at Standard Hall, which was outside the fire limits. It subsequently dedicated McCormick’s Hall in the North Division, then the Central Music Hall on State street. Lastly, it dedicated the great Auditorium, and it is now the nucleus of the colossal World’s Fair chorus. In 1875 it changed from a male to a mixed chorus. Mr. Dohn resigned the leadership, and Mr. William L. Tomlins was chosen to the position. ‘Under his skillful direction the club, now numbering 500 voices, has achieved a national reputation for the excellence of its singing and the high character of its programs.
The Beethoven Society.
Another society came into existence shortly after the organization of the Apollo club, which for a few years made a strong impression upon the musical status of the city. In 1873 Mr. Carl Wolfsohn came to Chicago on a visit from Philadelphia. His friends induced him to remain in Chicago by promising to organize a vocal society for him, and they were as good as their word. In the fall of 1873 the Beethoven Society gave its first concert under his leadership, and in the following spring he gave piano recitals of all the Beethoven sonatas to most appreciative audiences. The society lived about six years, during which time it produced, among larger works, Gounod’s “St. Cecilia Mass,” Mendelssohn’s “Loreley,” and “Elijah,” Rheiaburger’s “Toggenburg,” Gade’s “Comala,” Verdi’s “Manzoni Requien,” and Max Bruch’s ‘Odysseus.” The society for a time flourished famously, but the competition of the Apollo club proved too, strong for it at last and it was dissolved. Mr. Wolfsohn has since devoted himself to music and is still a power for good in the musical progress of the city.
The Amateur Musical Club, composed entirely of women who are capable amateurs, is one of the leading features of Chicago’s musical life. The club grew out of a little social gathering of women who sang or played together, and has increased so rapidly that it now numbers 500 asssociate and 200 active members. Its object is to develop the musical talent of its members and to promote the interests of the city. It gives fourteen concerts a year, seven regular members’ concerts and seven for the entire membership of the club. It has also given several concerts in aid of various charities in the city, which have netted the beneficiaries a handsome profit. Out of it has grown the Juvenile Amateur club, composed of young girls not yet sufficiently advanced to qualify them for membership in the parent organization. The programs of the club’s concerts are of a high order of excellence, and it has done and continues to do solid work in musical education.
Part Played by the Auditorium.
In the latter day progress of music in Chicago the great Auditorium holds a prominent place. It was dedicated to art Dec. 9, 1889, and on that memorable evening President Harrison said to the large audience:
I wish that this great building may continue to be to all your population that which it should be, its doors from night to night, calling your people here away cares of to, those enjoyments, pursuits, and entertainments vhich develop the souls of men, which will have power to those whose lives are heavy with daily toil, and in.this magnificent and enchanted presence lift them for a time out of those dull things into the higher things where men should live.
The felicitous words of the President foreshadowed the uses to which this elegant temple of art has been dedicated. Its formal opening was followed by a brilliant four weeks’ season of Italian opera, in which Mme. Patti and the phenomenal tenor, Tamagno were the stars. In August of that year, owing to the fire which destroyed McVicker’s Theater. it was utilized for the drama and proved to be as thoroughly adapted for dramatic as for operatic performances. It has been the scene of the Apollo club concerts and festivals and of the orchestral concerts given by the Thomas band. Charity balls, German opera, light opera, spectacular lectures, and entertainments given by various charitable organizations have occupied its immense and perfectly appointed stage, which is provided with hydraulic mechanism and all the improvements known to the large Europern opera-houses. As a work of art the Auditorium will always be a pleasure to the eye, with its general ivory and gold color scheme, its marble, rosewood, and bronze staircases, its rich mosaic doors, the attractive mural paintings and the allegorical array of figures in the proscenium decoration, the Future and Past on either side of the Present, the artistic effect of which is produced by strong lines and rich masses of color laid on a ground of duUs gold and Eufficiently subdued so as not to mar the dual tone of the general scheme of decoration. The acoustics of the house are perfect, and the stage is visible every seat. In the same structure is a small ball known as the Recital Hall, which, from the artistic point of view, is treated in the same style as the larger audience room. It is particularly well adapted for piano recitals and chamber musie. The Auditorium is also the home of a conservatory and many teachers of music, and thus is one of the musical centers of the city.
An Influential Factor.
The Newberry Library must be regarded as one of the most promoters of musical education in Chicago. It has been most liberally endowed by the late Walter L. Newberry, and of this endowment a generous portion has been devoted to the musical section. By this combination of unstinted generosity on tho part of the trustees, valuable suggestions on. the part of the librarian, and outside expert service in preparing the lists for purchase, the Newberry Library today can boast the largest, rarest, and richest collection of musical scores, periodicals, and literature to be found in the United States, though it is still only in formative condition, and but the nucleus of what is destined to be one of the collections in the world if the present policy
The rarest work in this musical collection is the original edition of Jacopo Peris opera. Euridice, printed at Florence in the year 1600. It is the first opera ever publicly performed in the world, and was written for the festivities attending the marriage of Marie de Mediec of Italy to Henry IV. of France. There is no question that this copy is unique. The trustees have always congratulated themselves that the prize was snatched away from the British Museum, which was negotiating for it. and was secured by the enterprise of Chicago methods as compared with the slow processes of English transactions in library purchases. Accompanying it is a libretto containing the poem by Rinuccini, which is beautifully printed and most artistically embellished. That the only copy left of the original edition of the music played for the marriage of their must sacred majesties nearly 200 years ago should have been preserved so long in the fair city of Michael Angelo, Dante. and Savonarola, and then by a happy chance have found its permanent resting place in this new city of the West and youngest of the great cities of the world certainly is a matter for congratulation. It is now possible to study musical literature and history from its original sources without crossing the ocean or approaching the seaboard. The result has been achieved by a library little more than two years of age in a Western citv barely half a century old.
Music Hall Interior
Culmination of Musical Progress.
The culmination of Chicago’s progress in music will be found in the colossal scheme organized and carried out by her two conductors assisted by Mr. George A. Wilson, secretary of the Bureau of Music of the World’s Columbian Exposition. The musical features of the dedicatory ceremonies, are matters of current record, and the musical directors are now engaged upon the great scheme of music for 1893. It is so far advanced that it is even now possible to obtain a good idea of the various details which will go to make up such a musical pageant as has rarely been attempted in thit world. The backbone of any such scheme is the orchestra, and to secure it the Executive committee appropriated $175,000. This will guarantee an orchestra of 120 skilled players, which will be the nucleus around which the great chorus will be constructed. The committee further agreed upon the construction of the following halls, advantageously situated within the Exposition grounds: A recital hall, for quartet concerts. etc., seating 500 people; a music hall, with accommodation for 120 players, 300 singers, aud an audience of 2,1OO; a festival hall, for performances upon the largest practicable scale, with 900 players, 2,000 singers, and audience of 7,000. The music hall will contain a fine concert organ, and in the festival hall will be placed an organ for chorus support.
The orchestra will give at least 300 concerts during this period, besides furnishing accompaniments for the choral works, and invitations have been sent to the New York Philharmonic Society, Anton Seial, conductor, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Arthur Nikisch, conductor, to give several concerts each. The Chicago Apollo club and the Chicago Festival Chorus together numbering 2,500, will be the nucleus of the choral concerts and festivals, and forty Eastern and Western societies have been invited to participate not only in the mass singing but to prepare an independent work for performance.
A series of musical congresses has also been arranged, which will be held during the week commencing July 3. They will include the general divisions of orchestral art, vocal music, the history and theory of music, songs of the people, organ and church music, musical art and literature, musical criticism, opera houses and music halls, public instruction in music, and music as related to science, education, and life.
These are the principal details of the musical scheme of the Columbian Exposition for 1893. When it is remembered. that these colossal plans have been matured and will be carried out in a city where barely half a century ago the only music it contained was such as a Canadian half-breed was accustomed to make upon his fiddle for the benefit of a handful of prairie pioneers, far dealers, and Indians, the great progress of the art is manifest.
Alexander Glazunov’s Triumphal March on the Occasion of the Worlds Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Opus 40
Kenneth Schermerhorn, Hong Kong Philharmonic
What the Story Demonstrates.
Such is the story of music in this young, restless, energetic, pushing, cosmopolitan metropolis of the “wild and woolly West.” Does it not demonstrate that Chicago is not altogether absorbed in material pursuits, but is slowly and steadily for those higher things which make for sweetness and light? That grain and lumber and lard and hogs are not our only staples? And that in this city of the boundless prairies, swept with panics, scourged with fire, menaced with the bombs of the alien anarchist, palled with smoke and grimed with soot, and fighting for the prizes of material competition, if you will have it so, there are many earnest men and women who have labored all these years for the higher things in which eve should live, and who now see the harvest of fruition in the new Art Institute, the three great libraries, the colossal Chicago University springing forth fult-fledged like Minerva, and the great white city at Jackson Park which will set the seal of success their endeavors?