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Over the course of his career Theodore Thomas became one of the most influential figures in the development of nineteenth-century American musical culture. He is best known today for his role in the foundation of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but this was only a small part of his role in the musical development of the United States. Also important was Thomas's involvement with the Cincinnati Musical Festival, a biennial event considered in the conductor's lifetime to be one of his greatest achievements. This concert series is a paradigmatic example of the grand American festival, a popular nineteenth-century performance tradition. While working within this performance tradition, Thomas had to make careful decisions between his own musical values and the expectations of the American public. Because concerts were primarily dependent upon ticket revenue, American performances were unusually responsive to the audience's whims. Theodore Thomas's experiences growing up in America as a young entrepreneurial performer made him particularly aware of the pragmatic side of his art, an awareness that he applied to his experiences in Cincinnati. In Cincinnati countless influences shaped the festival. These influences included the predominance of German culture in the area and the city's highly developed singing tradition, but most significant was the Cincinnati Music Hall, built in 1878. This massive hall was the musical pride of the city, and Thomas was keenly aware of its important role in maintaining support from the city and financial success at the festival. For this reason, the conductor adapted works to suit the dimensions of this hall and the large chorus that performed there. The work that required the most adaptation was Bach's B-minor Mass, performed in its entirety at the 1902 and 1904 festivals. This Mass held a place of special significance for Thomas, but it required more adaptation than any other work performed during his involvement with the festival. Fortunately, the score from his 1902 performance has been preserved and is currently in the Midwest archives of the Newberry Library in Chicago. Examination of this score reveals that Thomas made extensive changes and additions to the work's orchestration, instrumentation, and ornamentation to adapt it to Cincinnati's hall and to his modern orchestra. Despite these changes, Thomas believed that he maintained the spirit of the composer and presented the work in a respectful manner. Throughout his career Thomas developed firm views about his own musical ideal, but he also understood the significance of the American public in furthering his art. His 1902 performance of Bach's Mass in B minor demonstrates the conductor's ability to balance his own musical priorities with those of the American public. Out of this compromise came a new performance tradition that responded to the American aesthetic in a way that only an American could.
Johann Sebastian Bach, Cincinnati Musical Festival, Theodore Thomas
Date of Defense
Date of Defense: May 31, 2006.
A Thesis submitted to the College of Music in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Music.
Includes bibliographical references.
Florida State University
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