Theodore Thomas (October 11, 1835 January 4, 1905) was an American violinist and conductor of German birth. He is considered the first renowned American orchestral conductor and was the founder and first music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (18911905).
Thomas showed interest in the violin at an early age, and by age ten, he was practically the breadwinner of the family, performing at weddings, balls, and even in taverns. By 1845, Johann Thomas and his family, convinced there was a better life for a respected musician in America, packed their belongings and made the six-week journey to New York City.
In 1848, Thomas and his father joined the Navy Band, but in 1849 his father ceased to support him, and he set out on his own. Thomas soon became a regular member of several pit orchestras, including the Park, the Bowery, and the Niblo. He then toured he United States performing violin recitals. During this time Thomas served as his own manager, ticket sales, and press agent. He reached as far south as Mississippi.
Thomas returned to New York in 1850, with the intent of returning to Germany for advanced musical education; instead, he began his studies conducting in New York with Karl Eckert and Louis Antoine Jullien. He became first violin in the orchestra that accompanied Jenny Lind in that year, Henrietta Sontag in 1852, and Giulia Grisi and Giuseppe Mario in 1854. Also in 1854, at the age of nineteen, he was invited to play with the Philharmonic Society's orchestra.
He led the orchestras that accompanied La Grange, Maria Piccolomini, and Thalberg through the country. Meanwhile, in 1855, with himself as first violin, Joseph Mosenthal, second violin, George Matzka, viola, Carl Bergmann, violoncello, and William Mason as pianist, he began a series of chamber music soirées which were given at Dodworth's Academy. The Mason-Thomas concerts lasted until his founding of the Theodore Thomas Orchestra in 1862. That orchestra would in turn have a chamber music connection of its own: Joseph Zoellner, who was at least for a time its concertmaster, later went on to form the Zoellner Quartet, another pioneering promoter of classical music in the United States.
In 1864, Thomas began a series of summer concerts with his orchestra, first in New York City, and later in Philadelphia, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and eventually Chicago. The orchestra toured regularly and received consistent critical and popular acclaim, despite persistent financial setbacks. One such setback occurred on October 9, 1871, when he and his orchestra arrived in Chicago for a new concert series, where they learned large portions of the city were destroyed by fire the night before, including the Crosby Opera House where he was to perform. The orchestra was ultimately dissolved in 1888.
Thomas was also music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1877-78 and from 1879 to 1891; of the short-lived American Opera Company in New York in 1886; and of the Brooklyn Philharmonic Society 1862 to 1891. He was director of the Cincinnati College of Music from 1878 to 1879, and from 1873 to 1904 the conductor of the biennial May festivals at Cincinnati. To Theodore Thomas is largely due the popularization of Richard Wagner's works in America, and it was he who founded the Wagner union in 1872.
Thomas always received an enthusiastic welcome in Chicago. In 1889, Charles Norman Fay, a Chicago businessman and devoted supporter of the Theodore Thomas Orchestra, encountered Thomas in New York and inquired whether he would come to Chicago if he was given a permanent orchestra. Thomas's legendary reply was, 'I would go to hell if they gave me a permanent orchestra.'
On December 17, 1890, the first meeting for incorporation of the Orchestral Association, organized by Fay, was held at the Chicago Club. Less than one year later on October 16 and 17, 1891, the first concerts of the Chicago Orchestra, led by Thomas, were given at the Auditorium Theatre. The concert included Wagner's Faust Overture, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 with Rafael Joseffy, Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, and Dvořįk's Hussite Overture.
During his tenure, Thomas introduced several new works to his Chicago audiences, including the United States premieres of works of Anton Bruckner, Dvořįk, Edward Elgar, Alexander Glazunov, Edvard Grieg, Jules Massenet, Bedřich Smetana, Tchaikovsky, and his personal friend Richard Strauss who became the orchestra's first guest conductor, appearing with his wife Pauline de Ahna in April 1904 at Thomas's invitation.
During this time, he also conducted in other places. For example, on 19 February 1887 at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, he conducted the U.S. premiere of Saint-Saėns's 'Organ Symphony' (Symphony No. 3).
Thomas, who was never completely satisfied with the Auditorium Theatre (finding it far too cavernous and nearly impossible to sell over 4,200 tickets twice weekly), fully realized his dream of a permanent home, when Orchestra Hall, designed by the Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham, was completed. Thomas led the dedicatory concert on December 14, 1904. He would only lead two weeks of subscription concerts in the new hall, after contracting influenza during rehearsals for the dedicatory concert. Though he continued with his customary vigor, he conducted his beloved Chicago Orchestra for the last time on Christmas Eve 1904 and died of pneumonia on January 4, 1905.
His post was assumed by Frederick Stock, who in 1905 wrote a symphonic poem Eines Menschenlebens Morgen, Mittag, und Abend, dedicated to 'Theodore Thomas and the Members of the Chicago Orchestra.' The work was first performed on April 7 and 8, 1905. Text source : Wikipedia (Hide extended text) ... (Read all)
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