by Paul R. Spitzzeri
One of the many indicators of an increasingly diverse society class in Los Angeles as it experienced enormous incremental growth during the late 19th and early 20th centuries is the development of its arts scene. As has been explored in previous posts in this blog, devotees of so-called “serious music” could, in the last years of the 1800s, enjoy performances produced by local professional and amateur musical organizations, whether they be the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, launched in 1893 and representing the former, or entities like the Gamut Club, Ellis Club and Treble Club, formed by enthusiastic music lovers and which experienced various levels of success over succeeding years.
There was much overlap between the two types of groups, however, as orchestra musicians and conductors would work with both. For example, the Treble Clef Club, organized by a group of women in 1889 just as Los Angeles was easing out of its largest growth boom to date, worked with Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra founder and longtime conductor, Harley Hamilton, over a span of many years.
As the city embarked on another major period of expansion in the first years of the 20th century and attracted more outside talent, expectations grew among many aficionados of classical music that Los Angeles was readied for a leap in both the quality and the quantity of offerings to a presumably growing audience.
Tonight’s artifact from the Homestead’s collection reflects some of those aims, but also tensions that could arise from competing interests in the ambitions of those heavily invested in the arts. It is a 14 September 1908 pamphlet announcing the formation of the Los Angeles Musical Society “recently organized by a number of Ladies and Gentlemen interested in the artistic welfare of this beautiful City.”
There were three stated goals for the Society, including “to raise the standard of Music in Los Angeles” including choral, chamber, orchestral, oratorio and operatic forms; “to assist legitimate talent” such as those who could not afford a formal education; and to support “young local artists, whose talent will be considered by the Society worthy of public recognition” whether they were performing or composing.
Moreover, the organization announced that “eminent musician and conductor Leandro Campanari” was offered the position of artistic director “as guarantee of their enterprise.” It was expected that his his hiring would be well-received by music lovers, businessmen and the press “who insistently have referred to the necessity of the permanence in this City of an artist of international reputation such as Leandro Campanari.”
In fact, Signor Campanari was a major figure in classical music. Born near Venice, Italy in 1859, the violin prodigy studied in nearby Padua and then the Milan Conservatory, where he graduated at the age of eighteen. He toured Europe as a featured soloist and then went to the United States where he was a music teacher in Wichita, of all places, before moving to Boston and organizing a string quartet bearing his name. At the end of the 1890s and first half of the subsequent decade, he conducted orchestra concerts for the famed La Scala opera house in Milan. He was briefly a replacement conductor for the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1907 and then came west for the health of his American wife.
So, being in Los Angeles made sense musically and personally, though Campanari first performed in the Angel City in spring 1905 soon after he returned to America after leaving La Scala. Unfortunately, that debut at Blanchard Hall, which opened several years earlier on Broadway between 2nd and 3rd streets and across from City Hall, did not go as intended as far as patronage.
The review in the Los Angeles Express lamented the “woefully scant audience” that, even as the maestro “gave ample proof of his right to rank as one of the modern masters of the violin . . . the emptiness of the hall created an echo which smothered the delicate shading of his work.” The unnamed reviewer praised his intonation, phrasing, harmonics and tone. He was accompanied by soprano Josephine Wellington whose “breadth and volume combined with purity of tone and a clean enunciation.”
In fall 1907, after his Philadelphia engagement, Campanari returned for another concert at Blanchard, this time under the auspices of the Treble Clef Club. The Express, pointing out that the violinist and conductor had a famous brother, Giuseppe, who was a celloist at La Scala and at the Boston Orchestra before turning to singing and becoming a star at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York until his retirement in 1912, observed that, as part of a plan for some concerts for the club, Campanari “desires more than a hundred voices.”
By the next spring, the Los Angeles Times referred to the maestro as “a restfully contented citizen of Los Angeles” and reported that “he has interesting ideas about the musical possibilities of this city.” Specifically, he told the paper that, with $100,000 “it would be possible for Los Angeles to have a permanent and honorable operatic organization” and with five months of performances a year”upon a wholesome artistic plane” such an enterprise would draw singers and musicians “as a magnet draws particles of iron.” He argued that, as orchestras were never self-sustaining, having an opera company in conjunction with the local orchestra would be more akin to the situation in Europe where the two were inseparable.
He had interesting ideas as to the makeup of chorales, as well, claiming that the rage for having all Italian singers was wrong-headed. He averred that it was optimal to have an ensemble that was “cosmopolitan” with “ambitious young American students, pretty American girls, a dash of French folk, and Italian here and there, maybe a German now and then.” After lavishing praise on Arturo Toscanini of the Met and his ability to conduct operas without need of a score, while maintaining strict discipline, even for the likes of the “spoiled” Enrico Caruso, the most famous opera singer in the world, Campanari noted that Americans placed such performers on a pedestal, while in Europe singers were treated no differently than an orchestra musician or an actor.”
In mid-May 1908, the Times, in advance of a performance conducted by Campanari for the Treble Clef Club, echoed his assertions by stating “with a permanent and peaceful choral society, we could take up combined orchestra and choral works the like of which has never been attempted in the West[ern states].” But, the maestro “is the one possibility in sight for the amalgamation.”
The paper obliquely referred to “one thoroughly capable man,” perhaps Hamilton, “who shows no disposition” to work with a large choral group, while “we have a number of others who exhibit a forty horsepower [that was considered a lot back then!] ambition and one mouse power of talent.” The paper hoped Campanari would remain in Los Angeles and further his relationship with the Treble Clef Club.
Then came a rift within that organization centered around the conductor. The pamphlet included notice that a first act of the Los Angeles Musical Society, led by Campanari, was to organize a women’s chorus of sixty and then a male chorus of twenty fewer performers. Those who wished to join these ensembles were encouraged to contact Mrs. Jack Hammer (yup!) for a membership application. Rehearsals for the female chorus were to start in early October and the men’s group would begin a month later. Further news on concert dates and subscription information were to come.
A month later, the Times ran a lengthy article titled “Treble Clef Off The Key” and which reported that “at the present moment everything is chaos” within the organization, which was approaching its twentieth anniversary, but which “seems almost in the throes of dissolution.” A fissure developed so that one faction sought to hire Hamilton as director, while the other which “retains charter and constitution” also sought to keep Campanari as the director. One of the eleven signatories styling themselves in the pamphlet as “the promoters of the Los Angeles Musical Society” was Josephine Wellington, the singer who appeared with the maestro in 1905, and who was married by the time of the fracturing of the Treble Clef Club.
It was noted by the paper that this was not the first split within the ranks of the organization as, several years before, dissidents left and formed the Woman’s Lyric Club, which “has come to be one of the city’s leading singing bodies.” In any case, the Times recalled the successful spring concerts conducted by Campanari for the Treble Clef Club but added that while further performances were planned, “there were no more concerts.”
It turned out that the mounting of the concert with the orchestra and the chorus put the club into some significant debt, requiring the levying of an assessment to members to deal with the financial strain. Moreover, some orchestra members went unpaid and the concert master, Arnold Krauss, who was delegated by Campanari to get the orchestra organized for the shows, was forced to make up the difference, leading him to consider a suit against the club.
Then there was “the problem of maintaining Campanari as director” because, as having led well-known orchestras, he was acclimated to appropriate salaries. This led to another “heavy tax upon members” proposed because he was to be paid $100 per month, as well as “a series of notes” that put the club into a situation of “complications of finance that might stagger a national bank.” The schism then ensued.
As for Campanari, he affected a studied indifference, telling the paper that the matter was about “women’s arguments” and that the brouhaha was “a question of precedence, of feminine jealousies.” He assumed a stance of distance averring “I don’t bother myself about it. Really, this trouble is a very small matter.” The leader of the opposing faction informed the Times that it intended to continue with a new organization and that “our friends on the other side may continue as before.” Yet, when this group tried to retain Hamilton, it was reported that, after a few rehearsals, he felt that “the condition of affairs was far from artistic peace,” so “he withdrew.”
The paper concluded by noting that the club had up to sixty members, but, despite its history, it was not particularly active for a period after the departure of an active president “until Mr. Campanari came upon the scene.” From all appearances, though, not only did the Los Angeles Musical Society not come to fruition, but the Treble Clef Club also dissolved. As for Campanari, his wife soon recovered her health and there was a move to San Francisco, where he became director of the California Conservatory of Music, teaching violin and voice. He lived thirty more years and died in the City by the Bay in 1939 at age 79.
This pamphlet is an interesting piece of Los Angeles “serious music” history, even if the Los Angeles Musical Society progressed no further, evidently, than the production of the brochure, and it also reflects issues within the world of music clubs in the years before professional organizations like the Los Angeles Philharmonic, organized in 1919 by railroad and mining heir William Andrews Clark, became predominant.