Paderewski Concert: The Event
Let’s return to the Paderewski story. Theodore Thomas, a prominent conductor in late-nineteenth-century America, had recently become the conductor of what would later be known as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; the Exposition Orchestra was in fact mostly made up of Chicago Symphony musicians. Thomas was also the Director of the Music Bureau of the Fair, and he had planned an ambitious series of concerts for the Fair’s six-month run. The Paderewski concert was the first of what was intended to be a series of orchestral concerts in the Music Hall; additional concerts were planned for the Choral Hall, the Fair’s other indoor music venue, as well as outdoor band concerts.
Paderewski Concert: The Program
The program for Paderewski’s concert was all well-known works by European composers, all (except for Paderewski himself) dead and all (except for the Poles Paderewski and Chopin) German. The program choices fit in with one of Thomas’ stated aims, to educate the American public and elevate their musical taste: “to bring before the people of the United States a full illustration of music in its highest forms, as exemplified by the most enlightened nations of the world.” To Thomas, the “highest form” of music was symphonic; the “most enlightened nation” was Germany. This aim perhaps conflicted with Thomas’ other goal, “to make a complete showing to the world of musical progress in this country.”1 Thomas had commissioned two works by American composers for the Fair’s Dedication Day in October 1892, the “Columbian Ode” by George Whitefield Chadwick and “Columbus March and Hymn” by John Knowles Paine, two leading American composers of the day and members of what is now known as the Second New England School.2 But when it came time to inaugurate his concert series, he chose a European musician performing European repertoire.
Paderewski Concert: The Instrument
Paderewski played the concert on a Steinway piano. He was what we would now call a “Steinway Artist”—Steinway and Sons supplied the instrument for his entire U.S. tour.3 Many pianos were on display in the immense Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building on the Fair’s Court of Honor. Piano-makers like Chickering, Kimball, Everett, and many others now forgotten showcased their latest models. Makers of accessories like piano stools and component parts like piano wire were also present. Some displays were quite creative: Alfred Dolge and Son, maker of hammers, dampers, and, as the official report on the display of musical instruments put it, all the “woolly parts” of instruments, adorned his display with lampposts in the shape of giant piano hammers.4
It is not surprising that pianos should be featured so prominently at the Fair. 1893 was in the midst of the Golden Age of the piano—it was standard equipment in every middle-class home, and a standard part of the education of every middle-class young girl, one of the “accomplishments,” along with drawing and needlework, that would show she was a lady. Many of the piano companies exhibiting at the Fair employed such accomplished young ladies, referred to as “pianistes,” to demonstrate their products.
Furthermore, the piano conformed to the Fair’s ideology of progress. The design and manufacture of pianos underwent significant improvements in the course of the nineteenth century. In 1895, Charles Daniell asserted that if Bartolomeo Cristofori, the 18th-century inventor of the modern piano, had “visited the World’s Columbian Exposition he would have been amazed at what he saw.” Daniell explained that “the evolution of the piano has been very great, from the tinkling little clavichord of the early eighteenth century to the perfect instrument of today.” He concluded that the exhibitors at Chicago “proved their spirit of progressiveness as never before.”5 It is fitting, therefore, that the first Music Hall concert should feature the piano.
The piano exhibitors, however, did not find it fitting at all. They had nothing against Paderewski himself or the choice of repertoire; it was his Steinway piano they objected to. Steinway and Sons, as well as some other eastern piano companies, had chosen not to exhibit at the Fair because they objected to the procedure to be used for awarding prizes. When the exhibitors heard that Paderewski planned to play his accustomed Steinway, they protested, demanding that he use a piano from one of the exhibiting companies. He refused, and what we would now call a flame war ensued in the Chicago and New York papers. Supported by Theodore Thomas, Paderewski prevailed, but it was not an auspicious beginning to Thomas’s concert series.
The inauspicious beginning didn’t get much better. After Paderewski’s opening concerts, which probably benefited from the soloist’s celebrity status (not to mention the publicity generated by the piano controversy), the remainder of Thomas’ carefully-planned Music Hall concerts played to near-empty houses. Maybe it was the one-dollar admission fee—twice the cost of admission to the Fair itself—that kept the crowds away. The Panic of 1893, a serious economic depression that began that summer, probably also contributed. Maybe it was Thomas’ insistence on programming “serious” music with no concession to popular taste, since the more pops-oriented concerts, which were free, packed them in. In fact, the most popular musical performances were the open-air band concerts. By August 12, Thomas’ accumulated problems led to his loss of support by the Fair’s organizers, and he resigned.
Next: Progress and Parlor Music
For Further Reading:
Abbott, Frank D., and Charles A. Daniell. Musical Instruments at the World’s Columbian Exposition. Chicago: The Presto Company, 1895.
Guion, David M. “From Yankee Doodle Thro’ to Handel’s Largo: Music at the World’s Columbian Exposition.” College Music Symposium 24, no. 1 (Spring, 1984), 81-96.
Hume, Paul, and Ruth Hume. “The Great Chicago Piano War.” American Heritage 21, issue 6 (1970), 16-21.
Mazzola, Sandy R. “Bands and Orchestras at the World’s Columbian Exposition.” American Music, vol. 4, no. 4 (Winter 1986), 407-24.
McKinley, Ann. “Music for the Dedication Ceremonies of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1892.” American Music, vol. 3, no. 1 (Spring 1985), 42-51.
Miller, Kiri. “Americanism Musically: Nation, Evolution, and Public Education at the Columbian Exposition, 1893.” 19th-Century Music 27, no. 2 (Fall 2003), 137-55.
Taylor, David A. “Paderewski’s Piano.” Smithsonian March 1999.