Striking a Chord with a Program for the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, 18-19 December 1914

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As noted here previously, “serious music” took a serious leap forward in 1898 when the Harley Hamilton-led the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra gave its first concert and then performed with distinction and aplomb for about a quarter century until William Andrews Clark, Jr. launched the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, which is now 103 years old.

In 1913, Hamilton passed the baton to Adolf Tandler, who conducted the ensemble for a half-dozen years (when the LA Phil was formed) and then devoted some years to his own Little Symphony organization. The featured historic object from the Homestead’s holdings for this edition of “Striking a Chord” is a program for the second concert of the 18th season, and the second under Tandler’s direction, of the orchestra, held on 18-19 December 1914 at Trinity Auditorium.

Los Angeles Times, 13 December1914.

In a brief preview on the 13th, the Los Angeles Times observed that the ensemble had an “unqualified success of its first appearance of the season” with changes to the program since it was previously announced involving the shelving of the performance of a Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart symphony in favor of Ludwig von Beethoven’s Third Symphony, known commonly as the “Eroica.” Another adjustment was that Settimio R. Valenza, a musician of long-standing in greater Los Angeles, would perform a solo on a Concerto for Harp by the English virtuoso on that instrument, Elias Parish-Alvars (1804-1849).

The paper added that “speaking from the rehearsal of a few days ago,” Valenza’s “performance will be as noteworthy as any on the programme, as he has selected a charming and not too intricate concerto as his number.” Meanwhile, as the legendary Beethoven was born on 17 December 1770, “the birthday . . . has not been overlooked,” with the substitution of his third symphony for the Mozart work.

Los Angeles Express, 18 December 1914.

Claude Debussy’s symphonic poem, the “Prelude to ‘The Afternoon of a Faun,'” which premiered almost exactly two decades prior and the overture to the 1866 opera, “The Bartered Bride” by Bedrich Smetana was also on offer. Perhaps hinting that the first season under the conductor was a transitional one, the article concluded that “Tandler now has his big organization well in hand, there has been no skimping of rehearsals, and the perfection already achieved warrants the prediction that this second concert will totally eclipse the first from every viewpoint.”

Two days later, Tandler and an octet of musicians from the orchestra traveled down to Redondo Beach to present “a musical program altogether out of the ordinary run of entertainments and with unique, attractive features.” This was in the form of a talk by the conductor, followed by a “practical demonstration of ‘musical instruments and their place in the orchestra,” so, while Tandler provided “interesting and instructive remarks about each instrument as individual players were introduced,” though what these were was not delineated, “each one rendered selections which were received with heartfelt plaudits by an appreciative audience that filled the auditorium, every seat being occupied.” Tandler ended by inviting members of the crowd to attend free rehearsals at the Auditorium.

Times, 19 December 1914.

On the 17th, the Times reported that, after weeks of discussion, it was agreed that the orchestra, in conjunction with the Women’s Lyric and Ellis clubs of amateur musicians, was to take on the challenge of presenting, later in the season, Beethoven’s monumental Ninth Symphony, the first to include choral and solo singing into the genre when it premiered in 1824. The two clubs were to provide the chorus, with J.B. Poulin of the Ellis handling that element, while Tandler was the conductor of the entire piece.

In its review of the Friday matinee performance of the 18th, the following day’s edition of the Times stated that

With its harp soloist, its “Eroica Symphony,” and two splendid descriptive numbers [the Debussy and Smetana works], the second concert of the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra . . . proved in certain respects to be an even greater success that the season’s introductory program [held about a month earlier.]

The unnamed critic, however, sniped that the late start was “a fatal mistake, which does incalculable harm not only to the programme of the moment, but more so to those which are to follow” and this, apparently, was because “it put one in an impatient frame of mind,” though how it effected other performances was not elucidated. Because of the half-hour delay, it was wondered if the finale of the Eroica “dragged” or it seemed to do so because of the thirty minutes lost to whatever caused the miscue.

Notably, the writer observed that the symphony was written in honor of Napoleon, but the dedication was pulled when the French leader declared himself emperor, which displeased the composer, and this history was particularly interesting considering the outbreak of the First World War months before the concert. Because the Eroica was a tribute to greatness and the achievement of great things, Tandler’s conducting was considered “of decided moment.”

As for Valenza’s showcase, it was averred that the Parish-Alvars work was not especially musical, but it was “calculated to tax the ability of even so accomplished a performer as the signor,” whose efforts were such that “he acquitted himself with honor” and that this was “sufficient proof of his expertness.” The critic was particularly pleased with the Debussy piece and Tandler’s handling of the fanciful theme, so that the conductor “proved worthy his baton.” As to the Smetana work, which was adjudged to be “difficult” because of the composer’s deafness and impending insanity, but it was performed “with conventional efficiency.”

The program has a distinctive front cover image of a gift from the prominent women’s organization, the Friday Morning Club, of what might be termed a sculptural relief, showing a muse playing a harp and a panel with the phrase, “Love is Priestess at the Altar of Truth / Music the Expression of Her Praise.” A page listed the officers including the president, Dr. Norman Bridge, the subject of a previous post here, and, as two of the vice-presidents, the wife of the owner of the famed South Pasadena hotel, the Raymond, and Harriet Williams Russell Strong of Whittier, whose diverse activities included social activism, water development and conservation, woman suffrage, being the first woman member of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the preservation of Don Pío Pico’s El Ranchito residence (now a state historic park) and composing.

The treasurer was another individual with a wide-ranging portfolio of interests and activities and who also happened to be on the Management Committee but who also was one of the half-dozen cellists in the orchestra. This was G. Allan Hancock, who, with his mother Ida Haraszthy (daughter of one the great winemakers of 19th century California) inherited the Rancho La Brea from his father, the controversial surveyor Henry Hancock. Hancock realized a fortune from oil found on the ranch and had many interests including aviation and, of course, serious music.

Among the many directors were the wives of Hancock Banning, Fred Bixby, Edward L. Doheny, and Howard Huntington, among the most prominent of local capitalists, while “Mrs. C. Modini-Wood,” was Mamie Perry, the daughter of Los Angeles lumberman William H. Perry and who was a very talented operatic singer (her grandson was the well-known actor Robert Stack). Albert C. Bilicke, builder of the well-appointed Hotel Alexandria, real estate developer and bank director William I. Hollingsworth, and attorney John G. Mott (whose mother was from the well-known Sepúlveda family and whose father, Thomas, was a prominent Angeleno) were among the several men on the directorate, along with Bridge and Hancock.

A page devoted to the list of Associate Members includes many of the Angel City elite with such names as Baruch, Brunswig, Chandler, the wife of W.A. Clark, future Catholic Bishop Conaty, Earl, Germain, Guasti, Jess, Lacy, Otis, Rindge, Rowan, and Torrance, among the more recognizable. The Ebell and Friday Morning clubs were also on this roster.

Soloist Settimio R. Valenza, the orchestra’s harpist.

As for the 66 musicians in the orchestra, many supplemented their work with the ensemble as performers in smaller groups, such as The Brahms Quintet, which advertised in the program, or as teachers. It appears that all but one were white, with several Italians and others appearing to be German and Russian, while the English Horn player was H.T. Espinosa, the only Latino in the aggregation.

One of the trumpeters was “H.A. Wiedoeft,” who moved to Los Angeles a decade earlier and was 28 at the time of these performances, though he soon left the ensemble to form his own popular dance band orchestra, which achieved local renown as the house band for Cinderella Roof Club at the new Biltmore Hotel and went to garner attention on local radio and then recordings released nationally by Brunswick Records. Wiedoeft, however, died in a car crash in 1928 at the height of his notoriety.

Also of interest are the Program Notes, which provide historical background and summaries of the movements with samples of the scores to accompany main points of the works. As noted by the unidentified Times critic, a copy of the Eroica was intended to be sent to Napoleon in his honor but the news of the assumption of the title of emperor reached the composer who “was furious with chagrin and anger” and “threw it on the floor and trampled it.”

Debussy’s prelude, based on a poem of Stephané Mallarmé, was described as “the cloak of his musical fancy” while “the evanescent, shimmering music, though it defies analysis, is a fitting expression of the poem.” Parish-Alvars, who is little known today, was praised for seeking “new effects from his chosen instrument” and harpists of the early 20th century were indebted to his “originality and ingenuity” in “his technical studies.” Finally, Smetana’s overture to “The Bartered Bridge” was known to command “enormous popularity” for its sprightliness and “latent charm of folk humor and sentiment that depends more on tradition and sympathy than on mere notation.”

Also of interest is the photograph of the Trinity Auditorium, managed by the ubiquitous impresario Lynden E. Behymer and which was across from the northern side of Central Park, renamed Pershing Square after the end of the war in honor of General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, leader of the American Expeditionary Force that turned the tide of the conflict in favor of the Allies against the Germans. The pricing for seats for the Friday afternoon and Saturday evening performances, ranges from a quarter for Gallery seats to $1.50 for prime orchestra and balcony ones. There were 400 unreserved seats at the ends of the floor that were sold for 25 cents each after the others at that price were sold out.

At the end of the program was the listing of the program for the third concert of the season, held on 15-16 January and including Beethoven’s violin concerto in D-major, Hector Berlioz’ “Damnation of Faust” and César Frank’s Symphony in D minor, with the orchestra’s concert master and violinist Sigmund Beel as the soloist. Dates for the following three performances in February, March and April were also provided, but without indications of the programming.

Advertisements paid for the costs of the program and also provide information on some of the businesses, with the range of enterprises including banks; automobile dealers (the Stevens-Duryea, anyone?); music stores (the Southern California Music Company, run by Frank J. Hart, brother of North Whittier (Hacienda) Heights founder Edwin G. Hart, emphasized Christmas gift giving with a phonograph or piano); clothing stores (evening clothes for gents, for example); the Hotel Alexandria; mid-winter music courses run by Behymer and featuring notables like Irish tenor John McCormack, opera prima donna Alma Gluck, and violinist Efrem Zimbalist, Sr. (father of the noted television actor); the Mt. Lowe Railway; and many of those music teachers mentioned above.

Programs like these, whether for music, theater, or film, were accompaniment (!) of the dramatic growth of greater Los Angeles during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and we’ll continue to share more examples of these in the “Striking a Chord” series of posts on this blog.

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