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Boston Symphony Orchestra



Boston's need for a more professionalized, cosmopolitan and focussed musical community resulted in 1881 in the formation of the Boston SO. This was the brainchild of Henry Lee Higginson, a financier whose lifelong passion was music. Resolving to give Boston a ‘full-time and permanent’ orchestra that would ‘offer the best music at low prices’, Higginson created an ensemble soon regarded as peerless in the USA and comparable to the best abroad. He paid all salaries and deficits, but conferred artistic control on his conductors. Some recent accounts of his philanthropy stress the Gilded Age plutocrat rather than the cultural democrat. It is true that Higginson forbade his musicians to form a union or to play popular music on days they rehearsed or performed (a Wednesday-to-Saturday prohibition sometimes wrongly characterized as full-time); that his own musical tastes were relatively conservative; that his orchestra was a Brahmin cultural stronghold. At the same time, he reserved ‘rush seats’ for non-subscribers and began ‘popular concerts’ – the future Boston Pops.

The Boston SO offered 20 concerts and 20 public rehearsals in its first season, 26 concerts and rehearsals a season later. The first conductor, George Henschel (1881–4), was replaced by an Austrian disciplinarian, Wilhelm Gericke, whom Higginson heard in Vienna, and it was Gericke who polished and refined Boston's orchestra (1884–9). His successor, Arthur Nikisch (1889–93), was a Romantic in outlook and temperament, and less interested in precision; his interpretative liberties in Beethoven's Fifth caused a furore. The orchestra moved to Symphony Hall, its current home, in 1900. Nikisch was replaced by Emil Paur (1893–8), after which Gericke returned (1898–1906).

Boston had by 1900 fostered a vigorous school of composers, to which the Boston SO was notably receptive. John Knowles Paine, whose professorship in music at Harvard University was unprecedented in the USA, was a father figure whose two symphonies (1875, 1879) pay homage to Beethoven and Schumann; but his late opera Azara (1883–98) is Wagnerian. Of Paine's progeny, G.W. Chadwick, whose music resonates with hymns, fiddle tunes and popular song, may be considered America's first significant nationalist composer; his works were played 78 times by the Boston SO between 1881 and 1924. Other ‘Boston boys’ (Chadwick's term) included Amy Beach, Arthur Foote and Horatio Parker. The most progressive Boston composer was the German-born Charles Martin Loeffler, whose influences included the French symbolists. A true community, influential in its day, the pre-World War I Boston composers cannot be fairly described as ‘classicists’ or Germanic clones; their worth is still not recognized. At the same time, Boston's discomfort with Dvořák's ‘New World’ Symphony and ‘American’ String Quartet, rebuked by local critics and composers (1893–4) for absorbing ‘barbaric’ plantation songs and Amerindian chants, revealed a strain of élitist conservatism not evident in New York.

With the arrival of Carl Muck in 1906, the Boston SO obtained a world-class conductor who combined Gericke's efficiency with energy and power; his Boston recordings, the orchestra's first, document an interpretative personality more restrained than Nikisch's (as documented by the latter's recordings in Berlin). Muck was followed by Max Fiedler (1908–12), but thereafter returned, only to fall foul of anti-German war hysteria; interned as an enemy alien, he left the USA in 1918 vowing never to come back. The same year, Higginson relegated control of the orchestra to a group of nine citizens, incorporated as the Trustees of the Boston SO. Postwar Germanophobia insured that the orchestra would not have another German-born music director for decades to come; it also impugned the music of Chadwick and other German-trained local composers, whose works faded from the repertory.

Muck's successors, Henri Rabaud (1918–19) and Pierre Monteux (1920–24), presided over a transitional period. In 1920 more than 30 players who wished to affiliate with the Boston Musicians' Protective Association, the local union of the American Federation of Musicians, went on strike and were replaced by musicians of Monteux's choice. (The Boston SO was the last important American orchestra to join the union, in 1942.) The glamorous Sergey Koussevitzky (1924–49) influentially championed the music of Copland and such other postwar Americans as Barber, Bernstein, Hanson, Harris, Piston and Schuman. It was under Koussevitzky that the orchestra took over the Berkshire Music Festival, acquired Tanglewood and in 1940 opened the Berkshire Music Center (renamed the Tanglewood Music Center in 1985; see Tanglewood). In the meantime, in 1929 Arthur Fiedler, a member of the orchestra since 1915, organized the Esplanade Concerts as free, outdoor programmes of symphonic and light music in the band shell on the banks of the Charles River. In 1930 Fiedler succeeded Alfredo Casella as conductor of the Boston Pops, a position he held until his death in 1979. In 1980 he was succeeded by John Williams, who in turn was followed by Keith Lockhart in 1995. For the Boston SO's 50th anniversary season (1930–31) Koussevitzky commissioned Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, Hindemith's Konzertmusik and works by Copland, E.B. Hill, Honegger, Prokofiev, Respighi and Roussel. Koussevitzky's successors were Charles Münch (1949–62), Erich Leinsdorf (1962–9), William Steinberg (1969–72) and Seiji Ozawa (from 1973).

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Jean Martinon papers

Identifier: Martinon

The papers of composer/conductor Jean Martinon consist of materials created by Martinon himself (including published and unpublished manuscript scores and arrangements of compositions written between 1935 and 1975), and biographical and other materials produced or collected by the Jean Martinon Society and the Association Jean Martinon.

Dates: 1923-1994; Other: Date acquired: 05/12/1988