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Czerwonky, Richard, 1886-1949



  • Existence: 1886 - 1949


Richard Rudolph Czerwonky (1886-1949) was a distinguished violinist, composer and conductor of Polish-American ancestry. The majority of his career was spent in Chicago where he became an influential figure in the city’s classical music education and orchestra scene during the first half of the twentieth century, especially during the 1930s and 1940s.

Born in Birnbaum, Germany (present-day Międzychód, Poland) he was an accomplished violinist from an early age, having studied with the great Austro-Hungarian violinist, conductor and composer Joseph Joachim in his youth. After winning the Mendelssohn prize at age 18 and completing an extensive European tour, he was debuted with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1906. He moved to the United States to become assistant concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra later that year– a remarkable accomplishment at not yet 20 years of age. In 1909, Czerwonky left Boston to become concertmaster, assistant conductor and soloist with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra– a position he held for nine years when he moved to Chicago in 1918 to head the violin department and conduct the orchestra of the new Bush Conservatory of Music.

He remained based in the Chicago area for the rest of his career, eventually joining the faculty of DePaul University’s School of Music and became head of the violin program in and conductor of the DePaul Symphony Orchestra. In 1927 he reorganized the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted the ensemble for over twenty years– shepherding the organization through the Great Depression. While heading the Chicago Philharmonic, he developed their live WGN Chicago radio broadcasts and led a series of popular concerts in Grant Park. The Chicago Philharmonic was also featured in broadcasts airing on WMAQ and NBC, CBS, MBS and ABC stations during his tenure. He also conducted the Kenosha (Wisconsin) Symphony.

Czerwonky was a promoter of women in classical music evidenced by several actions during his time in Chicago. He assisted in the founding of the Women’s Symphony Orchestra of Chicago in 1925 and served as conductor for their first season (1925-1926) before resigning once the orchestra was able to name Ethel Leginska (1886-1970) as the organization’s first female conductor.

During Czerwonky’s tenure with the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, the organization claimed to be the first professional orchestra in Chicago to include both men and women in its ranks. Czerwonky was also known to feature the works of women in his concert programming as well as the works of local Chicago composers.

In addition to his teaching and conducting, he continued to perform as a soloist and composed extensively for violin, piano and orchestra. He performed as a soloist on his own works or other compositions with many of the major orchestras in the United States and Germany in addition to his own Chicago Philharmonic and the Richard Czerwonky String Quartet. He was also frequently featured in performances broadcast on American and German radio. He was a member of ASCAP and had numerous works published by Carl Fischer and Oliver Ditson. Most of these published works are unfortunately now out-of-print and many are rare.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Richard Czerwonky music manuscripts and papers

Identifier: Czerwonky

The Richard Czerwonky Music Manuscripts and Papers contains manuscript and published scores of violinist, composer and conductor Richard Czerwonky (1886-1949) as well as a small subset of personal papers, writing and ephemera. Czerwonky was a prolific Chicago-based composer and conductor of German-birth who was active in the early decades of twentieth century and an influential figure in Chicago's classical music scene.

Dates: 1902 - 1949