Paderewski, Parlor Music, Piano Professors, and Progress: The Piano at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Part 2

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

The Alfred Dolge company’s exhibit in the Manufactures Building. Note the Lampposts in the shape of piano hammers.

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.

Paderewski, Parlor Music, Piano Professors, and Progress: The Piano at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Part 1

On May 2, 1893, Polish piano virtuoso Ignaz Paderewski performed at the inaugural concert of the Music Hall on the grounds of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago (also known as the Chicago World’s Fair). The program opened with the 114-member Exposition Orchestra, conducted by Theodore Thomas, playing Beethoven’s “Consecration of the House” overture, followed by Paderewski performing as the soloist in his own piano concerto, playing his preferred Steinway instrument. This was followed by a selection of solo piano works by Chopin and Schumann. The orchestra returned to conclude the concert with Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger.

This apparently unremarkable story of a performance actually encapsulates the story of music, particularly piano music, at the Chicago World’s Fair. Every aspect of the performance—the event itself, the program, and the instrument—can serve as a window into the context of the Fair’s musical activities. At the same time, this seemingly routine account masks tensions regarding American identity, between highbrow and lowbrow forms of entertainment, and over the status of women and African-Americans that disturbed not only the Fair but also Gilded Age American society as a whole.

The Chicago World’s Fair

The Fair commemorated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America. It was located in Jackson Park on the shore of Lake Michigan, seven miles south of the Loop, where landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and supervising architect Daniel Hudson Burnham created what became known as the “White City.” The individual fair buildings, although designed by different architects, adhered to a common Neo-Classical style, known as “Beaux-Arts” from the school in Paris where many architects trained, and were all painted white.  The main exhibition buildings, such as Machinery Hall, the Agriculture Building, and the gigantic Manufactures and Liberal Arts building, were arranged around a basin carved by Olmsted out of the marshy lakeshore and called the “Court of Honor.” Perpendicular to the fairgrounds proper ran the “Midway Plaisance,” a wide boulevard about a mile long.  Here were gathered not only food concessions, rides, and other entertainment options—giving its name to the “midway” of every subsequent state and county fair with their carnival rides and cotton-candy stands—but also living ethnological exhibits and the Fair’s signature attraction, the great Wheel designed by George Washington Gale Ferris and intended to surpass the iron tower constructed by Gustave Eiffel for the Exposition Universelle held in Paris in 1889.

The World’s Columbian Exposition was dedicated on October 21, 1892.  Hold on, you say, isn’t Columbus Day October 12? Yes it is, but New York City had scheduled its Columbus commemoration for that day and Chicago didn’t want to compete either for attention or for dignitaries—they were hoping U.S. President Benjamin Harrison would attend. So they creatively reasoned that if the Gregorian calendar had been in use in 1492, the day Columbus sighted land would have been October 21, not October 12, which makes October 21 the “real” Columbus Day. As it turned out, Benjamin Harrison couldn’t come, as his wife was dying, but he sent Vice President Levi Morton in his place. Morton expressed the overall purpose of the Fair when he dedicated it “to the world’s progress in arts, in science, in agriculture, and in manufacture.”1 The new President, Grover Cleveland, did attend the Opening Day of the Fair on May 1, 1893. The building of the Fair continued through the winter of 1892-93, and it opened to the public on May 1, 1893, closing six months later on October 31.

Next: The Paderewski Concert

For Further Reading:

Badger, R. Reid. The Great American Fair: The World’s Columbian Exposition and American Culture.

Harris, Neil, Wim de Wit, James Gilbert, and Robert W. Rydell. Grand Illusions: Chicago’s World’s Fair of 1893. Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 1993.

Larson, Erik. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. New York: Vintage Books, 2004.

Levine, Lawrence W. Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1988.

Mucigrosso, Robert. Celebrating the New World: Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Chicago: Ivan R.  Dee, 1993.

Rydell, Robert W. All the World’s a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876-1916. Chicago and London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1984.

Rydell, Robert W., John E. Findling, and Kimberly D. Pelle. Fair America: World’s Fairs in the United States. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2000.

Teaching with Produce, Episode 1

I use a lot of images in my classes, especially art and architecture from the time periods we’re studying. It can be challenging, when studying architecture, to visualize a 3-dimensional structure when all you’re looking at is a 2-dimensional photograph. One way of meeting this challenge is by learning to read different kinds of 2-dimensional representations, like ground plans and elevations. Another way is to use 3-dimensional models. And sometimes you can make your model out of produce.

When I teach Renaissance art in a core course on modern Europe, I choose three examples, one each of painting, sculpture, and architecture—all from Florence, all from about 1430, and all one of the first of their kind. So we take a look at Donatello’s David, the first free-standing bronze nude since antiquity;Masaccio’s Holy Trinity, one of the first uses of vanishing point perspective; and Brunelleschi’s Pazzi chapel, an early example of a domed building modeled on the Pantheon.

Unlike the Pantheon, however, where the dome sits atop a round drum, Brunelleschi’s dome sits on a square base. The transition is achieved by means of pendentives, the curvy triangles on either side of the semicircles. This is extremely hard to visualize from a photo alone—so I bring out the grapefruit. I owe this demo to my college art history professor at Santa Clara University, Dr. Brigid Barton (one of my pedagogical role models).

Take one grapefruit, the largest and roundest you can find, and slice it in half. You now have two hemispherical domes; set one aside. Then, with the cut side down, make four vertical cuts in the shape of a square. And voila! You now have a square base transitioning to a round dome, by means of pendentives. Thanks, Dr. Barton!