Striking a Chord: First Century Families and the Centennial of the Founding of the Los Angeles Philharmonic

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

In 1939, Mary Foy, the first woman head librarian for the City of Los Angeles, and Charlotte Workman Masson, a grand-niece of Homestead founders William and Nicolasa Workman, launched First Century Families, an organization composed of descendants of those who lived in the City of Angels during its first century from 1781 to 1881.  Another organizer was Thomas W. Temple II, whose family built La Casa Nueva at the Homestead and who was a historian and genealogist of note in the region.

This afternoon, First Century Families held its 81st annual luncheon and the program was in commemoration of the centennial of the founding of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  The presenter, Diane Hoffman Dixon, is a descendant of Lynden E. Behymer, who has been mentioned in several posts on this blog as the preeminent musical promoter in the city for decades in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The short-lived orchestra led by A.J. Stamm and which performed for two years from 1892 to 1894.  All images here are from the book. The Philharmonic Orchestra of Los Angeles: The First Decade, 1919-1929 by Caroline Estes Smth and published in 1930, except as noted.

Dixon gave an interesting and fact-filled talk about the development of professional symphony orchestras over the course of roughly thirty years before the Philharmonic was launched in 1919 with foundational support from mining heir, amateur musician and book collector William Andrews Clark, Jr.

She especially noted the role of Behymer and Harley Hamilton in the Phil’s predecessor, the Philharmonic Orchestra of Los Angeles, which was launched in 1893 at the same time as the Woman’s Symphony Orchestra, also led by Hamilton.  The former continued to be active until the World War I years and then was supplanted by the Clark-funded Philharmonic.

Tonight’s post highlights a related artifact from the Homestead’s collection, the 1930 book, The Philharmonic Orchestra of Los Angeles: The First Decade, 1919-1929, written by Caroline Estes Smith.  Smith opened with “Los Angeles’ Early Symphonic Awakening,” in an interesting way, stating:

to go back to the beginning of music in Los Angeles one must muse upon the tom tom of Indians, the later arrival of the Franciscan Fathers who introduced stringed instruments and castanets; the coming of the railroads; the arrival of the piano; the gradual gathering of musicians; the first theatre; a church; an organ; all of the adjuncts necessary to the founding of a city musically.

She noted the transiency of bands between 1870 and 1890 that, while short-lived, did provide something that “awakened in the mind of the people an interest in another kind of art than the old barbaric strains.”  She identified the proper history of “serious music” with Adolf Willhartitz and Ralph Klages and the formation of the Philharmonic Society and Orchestra of one hundred and twenty choristers and forty musicians.  It was 1887, when Los Angeles was fully in the throes of the famed Boom of the Eighties.  The organization only lasted a few years, but, for Smith, it properly launched professional classical music in the city.

The Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, which existed from 1893 to 1919 and conducted for sixteen years by Harley Hamilton.

Klages, meanwhile, created, also in 1887, the Y.M.C.A. Orchestra and Smith indicated “this proved to be the root of orchestra work in Los Angeles, because most of the men in it were included in or directed other musical organizations.”  The ensemble also did not last long, but, she added, “it gave experience to a number of musicians who later were found in more permanent settings.”

In 1893, A.J. Stamm, who operated a music school and was organist at St. Vibiana’s Cathedral, organized the Philharmonic Orchestra of thirty-five musicians.  The debut concert was 9 January 1893 at the Grand Opera House, formerly Childs’ Opera House, built by pioneer nurseryman, banker, and real estate developer Ozro W. Childs.  Harley Hamilton was the concert master and the performance cleared $700.  Major supporters included banker John M.C. Marble, Albert Bartlett of the Barlett Music Company, and lumber magnate William H. Perry, who all contributed $1,000 to the organization.

The 1890s, however, were tough years with the end of the boom, years of drought, and a national depression that burst forth in 1893, the year the orchestra was created.  The Stamm outfit disbanded, but the Woman’s Symphony Orchestra, launched by Mrs. M. Larrabee and Mrs. L. Loeb and led by Hamilton, continued on and remained in operation for decades (a blog post here focused specifically on this ensemble.)

Adolf Tandler, who replaced Hamilton in 1913 and conducted the symphony orchestra until it folded six years later.

Hamilton, Smith continued, was the prime mover of the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, which began rehearsals in fall 1897 and had its first performance the following February.  The venue was a second-floor auditorium in a Soring Street building, where a raised stage and movable chairs and the location was found through the agency of Perry and his son-in-law and musician Charles Modini Wood, who was married to Mamie Perry, a fine soprano who studied operatic performance in Europe (Dixon noted that their grandson was the actor Robert Stack, best known for The Untouchables for one generation and Airplane! for another.)

While there were some musical and financial challenges, the orchestra did complete twenty-three seasons,  An early supporter was Emily Earl, formerly of San Francisco, one of the few women to have the means to provide funding to such organizations.  As for Hamilton, Smith lauded him, writing:

For sixteen seasons Harley Hamilton, founder and inspiring genius, noted for his well balanced programs, guided the destinies of the organization, thus realizing his own dream of a permanent orchestra.  At the end of that period of arduous service he gave up the work in order, for the benefit of his health, to pass some time in Europe.

The baton was then passed, in 1913, to Adolf Tandler, who was brought from Vienna to Los Angeles by hotelier Albert C. Bilicke, the subject of a recent post on this blog on the Hotel Alexandria.  Tandler led a quartet that performed at that hostelry and he then replaced Hamilton as conductor of the orchestra, though he was also a fine composer.  Tandler introduced concerts for schools, sunrise performances, children’s concerts and other programming.  He also introduced over fifty new works to local audiences.

William Andrews Clark, Jr., son of a powerful mining magnate and United States Senator from Montana, and who was the founder of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Smith then turned to William Andrews Clark, Jr., born in 1877, but studiously avoided any mention of his father’s immense mining empire, only briefly mentioning Clark’s own efforts in Butte, Montana, where he also had a law practice after graduating from the University of Virginia.

Clark was a talented violinist and, in 1911, not long after moving to Los Angeles, formed the Saint Saëns Quartet, which soon expanded to a quintet, though Clark, owing to business matters, frequently had a substitute.  In June 1919, Smith went on, “Mr. Clark expressed his intentio of forming a symphony orchestra, the burden of whose support he would personally guarantee.”

Initially, this was to the tune (!) of $100,000 a year, but he quickly realized this was inadequate and, two years later, doubled that amount.  Smith suggested that

Probably no single achievement in the musical world has attracted such nation-wide attention as the founding of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and its subsequent development.  For years this undertaking has been a cherished ideal with Mr. Clark who has devoted his time and enthusiasm to such an orchestra as few could vision.

Moreover, the author added, “few people realize that Mr. Clark personally supervises the management of the orchestra and its personnel.  No move other than reglar business details has ever been made without his knowledge and direction.”  Smith then revealed that she was Clark’s “personal representative,” so her statements like “every detail having been executed with his customary, princely generosity, the result [of his management of the ensemble] exceeds one’s wildest expectations.”


Moreover, Smith noted that her “happy duty” was “to see that his wishes are carried out” when he was away from Los Angeles and that she was allowed to study in the country and overseas to learn better “all the details connected with orchestra development.”  She then added more fulsome praise of her boss, such as “generosity has reposed in his heart from the moment of his birth” but also noted that “questioning seems wholly out of order” when it came to Clark’s firmness in decision-making and acted because “he is convinced in his mind that he is right.”

She pointed out that Clark was an avid enthusisast of astronomy, having a six-inch telescope at his estate, which the public could use.  He also donated his impressive library of 15,000 titles to the recently formed U.C.L.A. and the collection included many rare volumes.  It remained under his control until his death at which time the university would assert management.

The section on Clark, naturally, had to conclude with more paeans to the Philharmonic’s benefactor who “shuns publicity, [and] is even embarrassed by it,” though he made rare appearances at the Philharmonic stage {performances then were at the Temple or Philharmonic Auditorium, also mentioned several times in this blog) declaiming, she wrote, “Why should they see me?  They have the orchestra.”  Yet, Clark had a perfect ear and could discern problems with a musician being off key or rhythm.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic with Clark and original conductor Walter Henry Rothwell.

Public announcements of the formation of the Philharmonic appeared in June 1919 and the conductor personally chosen by Clark was Walter Henry Rothwell, who was conductor of the St. Paul Symphony in Minnesota.  First, Rothwell went to New York to hire musicians, especially for “first chairs” in instrument groupings, and to purchase music for performance.

The conductor arrived in Los Angeles at the end of September and revealed his choices of music for the debut concert, icluding a Liszt prelude, Weber’s Oberon Overture and Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony, the “New World,” which sampled American folk and vernacular music.

On 6 October, at exactly 11:00 a.m., Smith had to add, the Philharmonic Orchestra Association of Los Angeles had its inaugural meeting at the Philharmonic Auditorium, situated at Fifth and Olive streets across from Pershing Square, recently renamed from Central Park in honor of World War I general John J. “Black Jack” Pershing.

The Trinity Auditorium, where the Philharmonic played its first season.  This image is from the invitation and program for today’s First Century Families lunch.

Among the Association’s directors were Clark, as president and his brother, Edwin (also a member of the quintet mentioned earlier), Behymer (who was manager of the orchestra), banker Joseph Sartori, lawyer Henry O’Melveny, sanitarium owner Walter Jarvis Barlow, and Smith as treasurer.

With this organization and Clark’s original commitment of funding for five years, Smith claimed, “no symphony orchestra was ever started under more favorable conditions” as “its artistic and managerial sides were carefully considered and provided for.  The first season included 28 weeks and rehearsals began on 13 October 1919 with Clark, board members, critics and others “as enthusiastic listeners.”  Smith testified that “it was indeed a thrilling moment.”

As for the conductor, she went on, Rothwell “kept his coat on, his temper at normal temperature and addressed his orchestra as ‘gentlemen.'”  Smith noted that Clark “was delighted” with “the dymanic yet graceful conductor” and gave Rothwell “an original autographed Mozart manuscript frm his famous collection.”  The first mention of Clark’s father, the powerful mining magnate and U.S. Senator from Montana came in connection with his listening to a rehearsal and that he “expressed his favorable opinion of the Philharmonic Orchestra in no uncertain terms.”

An afternoon concert on 24 October at the Trinity Auditorium on Grand Avenue at 9th Street marked the debut of the Philharmonic and “the elite of the Los Angeles musical and social world  was there to witness the birth of the most prodigious infant in symphonic history.”  Of course, “the premiere was a triumph!” and Smith exclaimed “And the men!  How they responded to this inspired leader, with what surety they played!”  The audience, she continued, followed “the spider web of tonal weaving” and “burst into spontaneous applause as the whole program resolved itself into a grandiose finale.”

The Temple or Philharmonic Auditorium, which was the home of the Philharmonic for many years and was at the northeast corner of Fifth and Olive streets across from Pershing Square.  The photo was taken from the Biltmore Hotel.

This wasn’t all, though, as Smith reported that “members of the audience looked at each other and gasped or nodded in approval” with the “masterly beauty and precision” of the orchestra, while “sighs of content[ment] came from many parts of the house.”  She reprinted rapturous reviews from four critics at great length, but let’s conclude this post with another of Smith’s ecstatic excursions:

Few single achievements of any city in the world have been so far reaching as the establishment of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Los Angeles.  In the amount of notice it created both in this country and in Europe, its stupendous growth, prolific result and in many points of popular appeal it equalled, if it did not indeed excel, the most prominent of Los Angeles’ civic assets of the past.

We’ll continue with posts on the inaugural season of the orchestra through next spring as part the centennial commemoration, so look for those in upcoming months.



3 thoughts

  1. Has anyone investigated the details of why Clark wanted to found an entirely new orchestra that was distinct – indeed, apparently completely disassociated – from the well-established Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra under Adolf Tandler? What were the details? Los Angeles could hardly have had over 150 symphony-orchestra grade musicians in 1919; indeed, Clark went to New York to find extra players, though more could have been certainly found in San Francisco (with its own well-established orchestra whose founding actually antedated the Los Angeles Symphony’s). From what I’ve been able to discover, Adolf Tandler seems to have been rather roughly handled, and he later committed suicide, a forgotten and desolate figure. Some proper credit should be given him, Harley Hamilton, and the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra’s pioneering twenty-seven seasons from 1893 to 1920. I find it actually a little offensive that the LSSO is so neglected in California musical history, and that neglect needs to be properly redressed in modern scholarship.

  2. I beg pardon; twenty-_three_ seasons for the LSSO. However, that is still more than the first Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (originally called the Pittsburgh Orchestra), which included Victor Herbert and Emil Paur as conductors plus the backing of plutocrats like Andrew Carnegie and the Mellons; I believe it only lasted from 1893 to 1910 before folding.

  3. Thanks, Philip, for your comments and particularly for pointing out the history of the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra under Hamilton and Tandler before the creation of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. A few posts on this blog have covered in brief some of that earlier history and it is, as you note, important to recognize the early conductors and musicians in that first orchestra, as well as the work of Lynden E. Behymer and others who supported music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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