Paur and the Pittsburgh: requiem for an orchestra

Paur and the Pittsburgh: requiem for an orchestra – Emil Paur

Robert F. Schmalz

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is unique among the major orchestral ensembles of the United States in boasting two distinct histories during its ninety-three years of existence. In the first of these histories, three distinguished music directors (Frederic Archer, Victor Herbert, and Emil Paur) guided an ensemble, known simply as the “Pittsburgh Orchestra,” from struggling infancy through a period of remarkable artistic success to its disbandment as a result of chronic financial problems — in only fourteen seasons (1896-1910). Following its collapse, sixteen years passed before Pittsburgh established a second professional orchestra — and, in the process, laid the foundation for the first-rate ensemble that is still identified with the city today.

A wealth of detail pertaining to the early history of the Pittsburgh Orchestra exists in the extensive collection of correspondence, newspaper clippings, and concert programs now housed in the music division of the city’s Carnegie Library.(1) These papers, with their accounts of financial failure in the face of musical success, suggest uncomfortable parallels with the plight of several orchestras today.

Incentive for the establishment of a permanent professional orchestra in Pittsburgh was provided when Andrew Carnegie donated to his adopted city the imposing Carnegie Library building, complete with its sumptuous music hall. The beginnings of the orchestra were modest; during its first year, fifty players were employed for a twelve-week season. Ten afternoon and ten evening concerts were presented under the direction of the maestro Frederic Archer. Yet by 1903-4, Victor Herbert’s final season as its conductor, an ensemble of sixty-five players performed a regular Carnegie Music Hall series of thirty-six performances, in addition to thirty-three concerts in a burgeoning touring schedule that included both regional and national appearances. A total of 448 concerts was given during the first nine years of the orchestra’s existence; 260 of these were regular season performances in the city, with the remainder (188) constituting the ensemble’s increasingly ambitious touring schedule.(2)

Thus, although there was a widespread sense of loss in March 1904 when news of Victor Herbert’s resignation was announced, an air of optimism about the future of the orchestra prevailed among those directly responsible for the ensemble’s financial support. To be sure, the orchestra was anything but the self-supporting proposition that the most optimistic of its backers had anticipated. Its yearly deficit had escalated steadily from $22,000 to $31,000 in four seasons, between 1900-1901 and 1903-4.(3) Yet the orchestra exhibited positive signs of growing fame; it had performed to critical acclaim in the cities of New York and Boston, the nation’s acknowledged cultural centers. Herbert’s unorthodox programming seemed to have paid dividends at home as well, extending the orchestra’s appeal to a much broader segment of the Pittsburgh community than had been the case during the Archer years (1896-98). Herbert often ignored convention by beginning his programs with a symphony, insisting that the best should come first, while his audiences were fresh enough to enjoy it.

Another signature of the Pittsburgh Orchestra under Herbert’s baton — programming a larger percentage of lighter works than was common among his contemporaries — proved to be a mixed blessing. Although the ensemble’s audiences swelled with converts, the response of Pittsburgh’s professional musicians and experienced concertgoers was less enthusiastic. The community found itself pilloried in the national press, notably the Musical Courier, for hiring a bandmaster and composer of operettas to lead its orchestra. One wag published the following parody of a “typical” Pittsburgh Orchestra program:

Overture — Wizard of the Nile V Herbert

Serenade — from the Serenade V Herbert

Cello Solo V Herbert, soloist

Symphonic Poem — Pince Ananias V Herbert

Fantasie — The Idol’s Eye V Herbert

(In case of an encore of Mister Herbert’s cello solo, Mr. Herbert

will accompany himself on the piano.)(4)

Adolph M. Foerster, one of Pittsburgh’s better-known composers, also had reservations about the repertory of Herbert’s concerts. Foerster, however, expressed them more gently:

Possessing great familiarity with orchestral resources, and being

a persevering worker, his influence exerted itself beneficially for

the orchestra. Brilliancy and verve were the most promising characteristics

of his work; sometimes though, his exuberance seemed

excessive. What often appeared as an advantage in modem music

proved to be detriment in the classical. Mr. Herbert’s advent was

marked by virility and his programs were never tedious.(5)

One individual who did not mourn the passing of the “Herbert era” was George Wilson (fig. 1), the orchestra’s manager and the administrator most responsible for its day-to-day operation since its inception. Wilson, a Massachusetts native, had gained some distinction as a music critic, writing program notes for the Boston Symphony in addition to a weekly column for Edward Everett Hale’s paper, the Commonwealth. These activities were sufficient to prompt Theodore Thomas to acquire Wilson’s services as director of musical arrangements for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Wilson also managed Thomas’s orchestra prior to accepting the position of manager of the newly formed Pittsburgh Orchestra in 1896.

Although Wilson was instrumental in the selection of Herbert to replace Frederic Archer, the orchestra’s first conductor, the relationship between Wilson and Herbert deteriorated during the six years of Herbert’s association with the orchestra. A struggle over control of the lucrative off-season touring business, together with the conductor’s demand for autonomy in all artistic decisions relating to the orchestra, contributed to the mounting friction between the two men; their mutual animosity was already being reported in the local newspapers by late 1903. To further complicate matters, Wilson apparently believed that the Catholic, Irish-born conductor had been judged socially unacceptable by Pittsburgh’s elite Presbyterian families — a situation which, if true, could have had an adverse impact on the financial stability of the organization.(6) For his part, Herbert, who was a popular figure with the general public, demanded the orchestra manager’s resignation as a precondition for his continuing as Pittsburgh’s conductor.

Although by all accounts a less personable figure than Herbert, Wilson was unquestionably a capable and experienced manager. The wealth of surviving documentation relating to the orchestra under his management reveals him as a man with a “balance sheet” philosophy: Wilson ran the orchestra as a business expected to make a profit. That approach endeared him to business entrepreneurs such as the Mellon family, George Westinghouse, Henry Clay Frick, H. J. Heinz, Robert Pitcairn, J. J. Vandergrift, G. M. Laughlin, and Joseph Home, who formed the core of the orchestra’s financial support.(7)

In the final outcome, these powerful supporters would carry the day Herbert’s ultimatum was rejected, which assured his resignation and the appointment of a third conductor who would guide the Pittsburgh Orchestra into the 1904-5 season.

Wilson’s first choice for Herbert’s successor was Walter Damrosch of New York City, an established American conductor with impeccable credentials. In a letter to the chairman of the Art Society (the group with administrative responsibility for the Pittsburgh Orchestra and thus his actual employer), Wilson explained his reasons for choosing Damrosch. His assessment is uncannily prophetic of the fate of the organization.

It is a larger problem, finding a successor to Mister Herbert, than

appears at first glance. It is undoubtably true that many of the

musicians will go back to New York at the end of the season…. A

foreign conductor, however noted, would have the greatest difficulty

in organizing in New York an orchestra for Pittsburgh; the

men would take advantage of him and want enormous salaries.

Moreover, any foreign conductor of distinction would be so academic

in character and tradition that his programs would not fit at all with

those Mister Herbert has established and which I have come to think

are admirably fitted for the purpose. (Italics added)(8)

Wilson then summarized his reasons for endorsing Damrosch:

First, he is ready to assure us that he can provide as fine or better

an orchestra than we have had for the contract period. Secondly,

the general opinion of Damrosch is that he is a greater man than

Herbert and should we be able to engage him there would be a

greater response among the cultivated people hereabouts to the

orchestra cause, and an enhanced ticket subscription, than would

be the case under any other conductor. Mister Damrosch has personal

qualities that would make him welcome in the best houses

in Pittsburgh (which is not the case with the present conductor), and

this, you will admit would mean much to the orchestra. Finally,

Mister Damrosch’s programs would not be a direct change from

those established by Mister Herbert. (Italics in original)(9)

It should be noted that after negotiations with Damrosch collapsed, the Pittsburgh management did in fact turn to an established European conductor. Their choice, Emil Paur (fig. 2), was in several respects the musical and personal antithesis of Herbert.

Wilson’s reservations about the suitability of foreign conductors aside, he appears to have played a major role in preliminary negotiations to bring Paur to Pittsburgh in 1904. The apparent catalyst in this process was the eminent music critic Philip Hale of Boston. It is evident from Wilson’s letters that Hale suggested early in 1904 that Paur be considered for the position.(10) Hale and Wilson had had ample opportunity to become acquainted with each other in the four years that elapsed between Hale’s move to Boston in 1889 and Wilson’s departure from that city in 1893. As music critic, first for the Boston Post and later the Boston Herald, Hale was well suited to assess the abilities of Paur, who conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1893 to 1898.

In a letter dated March 4, 1904, Wilson calls Paur a “dear friend” (see quoted letter below). This suggests that Wilson was personally acquainted with the conductor prior to the negotiations that took place to bring Paur to Pittsburgh. Although nothing concrete remains to indicate when or where the two men met, their paths might well have crossed many times during the years Paur conducted orchestras in Boston and New York.

Pittsburgh’s new candidate to succeed Victor Herbert was born in Czernowitz, Austria, on August 29, 1855. He entered the Vienna Conservatory at the age of eleven, studying violin and composition. Paur conducted his first orchestra in Cassel at twenty-one years of age. After a brief sojourn in Konigsberg, he accepted the post of director of the court opera at Mannheim in 1880. He then conducted the Leipzig Stadttheater, leaving in 1893 to succeed his mentor, Arthur Nikisch, as director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

When he arrived in Boston in 1893, Paur was thirty-eight years old and virtually unknown in the United States. Mirroring the thoughts of many of the orchestra’s patrons, the Boston Journal noted:

Who is Emil Paur? The musical dictionaries know him not. The

other men mentioned or sought for the position are described by

musical biographers at greater or lesser length: Richter, Weingartner,

Mottl, Levi, et al.

But Paur is not even spoken of by Riemann in his Musik Lexicon

of 1887. He comes from Leipzig, a town that is today of little

authority so far as music is concerned. Maestro Paur, however, is

said to be greater than his surroundings.(11)

The columnist August Guessbacher introduced Paur to the American audience in the issue of the Musical Courier for July 1, 1893, stating: “That the American public should wish to see their finest institutions in the hands of flickering great lights, for the sake of beholding an illustrious name at the head of their programmes, has been a source of regret to me. Paur or Weingartner were names that came to my mind from the first and with Director Paur at the helm, the Boston Symphony will be in the hands of one of the most thorough and conscientious conductors of the present time.”(12)

In 1898 Paur was named as Anton Seidl’s successor as music director of the New York Philharmonic, accepting as well the post of director at Jeanette Thurber’s National Conservatory of Music, where his appointment ended the interregnum caused by the departure of Antonin Dvorak. He remained in New York until 1902, when he relinquished both posts to return to Austria. Paur then spent the next two years serving as guest conductor for many of Europe’s finest orchestras.

Wilson wrote to Paur on March 10, 1904, two weeks before the official announcement of the conductor’s appointment as musical director of the Pittsburgh Orchestra. That letter provided some insight into the state of the Pittsburgh Orchestra immediately prior to his appointment and outlined the duties of the new Pittsburgh conductor as perceived by the governing Art Society:

Dear Mister Paur:

Several letters in the past months that I have written to Berlin and London seem not to have reached you, and I am sorry for fear you will think me forgetful of a dear friend.

Let me say at once that no one has received an offer from the Pittsburgh Orchestra; Walter Damrosch was talked to here by the [orchestra] committee [of the Art Society] and is reported to have said that he had an offer at a fabulous price. But it is not so, and the publication of this fact has angered the management, who would not now think of engaging Mister Damrosch at any price.

. . . We cannot make any offer until we get a guarantee of $40,000 for each of three years, which we can use for any deficiency in expenses over receipts. During three past years we have had seventy men guarantee each $500, or $35,000 in all. These men guarantee to the Art Society that makes the contracts, and of course we cannot make the contracts until we get the guarantee. We expect to finish the guarantee this month, or perhaps as soon as this letter reaches you. Then the committee will decide and cable you.

We shall have an orchestra either on the basis of twelve or ten firsts [first violins]; now the total is 65, or twelve firsts, but our hall is small and an orchestra of ten firsts might answer and it would save something on our present expenses.

We have a very good orchestra now and as we are likely to go to Europe anyway for a conductor, we [the Art Society] must engage the next orchestra, that is, most of the players. We want to complete our guarantee before the men scatter next week so as to engage such of the present orchestra as seem the best men.

As conductor for a fixed salary for the twenty weeks contract, or the regular season, whoever we engage would be expected to conduct 18 evening and 18 afternoon concerts in pairs, with daily rehearsals and such out-of-town concerts as might be arranged by the management. Under the twenty weeks contract, having 18 sets of concerts in Pittsburgh, we can travel two whole weeks and more, as we did this season, and also go occasionally away from Pittsburgh for a Monday or Tuesday of the home concert weeks.

The enclosed slip shows you what we are doing this year. We may give only 15 weeks, or 30 home concerts next season, thus alloting more time for travel. Our out-of-town and special concerts have become a valuable source of income to us and can be extended.

As to soloists, we have the best obtainable.

This is an outline of what we would expect you to do or any other conductor we might engage for a season’s salary. Please keep this letter confidential. I do hope that we may be able to make you an offer, and I remain.


George Wilson

Manager, Pgh. Orch.(14)

Several of Wilson’s observations deserve comment. Wilson was understandably less than candid in his assessment of Pittsburgh’s flirtation with Walter Damrosch and underplayed his own role in those negotiations. Further, the orchestra manager’s comments about the necessity of rebuilding the ensemble, together with his suggestion that the number of home concerts be reduced in order to allow additional time for profitable touring activities, can be taken as indications of the delicate financial position of the organization — even before a new conductor was chosen.

In any event, on March 24, 1904, the Art Society announced that the three-year guarantee of $40,000 per year had been obtained. Three days later the public was informed that a new conductor, Emil Paur, had been chosen. Paur agreed to a three-year contract which, in its final form, required his services for twenty-five weeks per year at an annual salary of ten thousand dollars.(15) Thus, although the orchestra’s home season remained at eighteen pairs of concerts, the touring schedule was expanded considerably. (Ironically, Paur’s salary was the same as that requested by Herbert but denied by the Pittsburgh management during the final stages of its negotiations with him. The full text of Paur’s contract appears in Appendix 1.(16))

The permanent scars left as a result of the public tug-of-war between George Wilson and Victor Herbert were evident even during this transition. Members of the Art Society remained particularly sensitive to the issue of the music director’s “artistic autonomy.” Thus, when the Art Society learned that Wilson intended to include a section in the orchestra’s prospectus for 1904-5 limiting the performance of encores, and that he had not discussed this new policy with Paur, James Buchanan, chairman of the orchestra committee, quickly reprimanded him, stating:

With regard to the printing of your prospectus, I would suggest

that it be kept in abeyance until the Orchestra Committee can

have the opportunity to discuss with you the question of encores,

or any other question that may involve a deviation from the plan

outlined with Mister Paur. If this cannot be done I do not see how

any departure can be made from the understanding which we had

with him. Personally, I would not think of making any deviation

until after the Committee had met and discussed the subject in

all its phases.

The citizens of Pittsburgh met the new music director for the first time when he arrived from Europe on October 19, 1904. When rehearsals for the regular season began one week later, Paur met a virtually new orchestra. The unusually high turnover was attributed at the time to Victor Herbert’s enormous popularity with members of the orchestra.

The program for Paur’s debut performance in Pittsburgh is given in Appendix 2. No soloist was included on this first pair of concerts, nor was the selection of compositions representative of the Germanic, “classical” programming that had marked the conductor’s previous work, which he would shortly return to; Paur would be the focus of attention on this occasion. His manner of conducting without theatrics or exaggerated gestures — so different from that of his predecessor — was generally praised; his interpretation of the programmed works was characterized as “intellectual,’s as would be the case so often during the next six years of his tenure with the Pittsburgh Orchestra.

With his Viennese background, Paur quickly enhanced his reputation for providing audiences with superior interpretations of orchestral staples by Beethoven, Brahms, and Schumann. He also wasted little time introducing compositions by many fine composers who had previously been unknown or little known in Pittsburgh. Concertgoers heard the music of Berlioz, Smetana, Goldmark, Rubinstein, Liszt, and, perhaps as the result of Paur’s association with Boston, Edward MacDowell and Amy (Mrs. H. H. A.) Beach.(19) Beach appeared as guest soloist with the Pittsburgh Orchestra on December 19-20, 1905, performing the Saint-Saens Second Piano Concerto in G Minor. Her Symphony in E Minor (the “Gaelic”) was also included on the program.(20)

Surviving documents leave little doubt that Paur’s approach to programming elicited critical praise from both the local and national press. He was also an instant success with Pittsburgh’s core of affluent, knowledgeable concertgoers. However, Paur’s reserved, retiring personality, coupled with his conservative style on the podium and his classical orientation in programming — the very attributes that endeared him to “traditional” audiences — gradually eroded support from the segment of the public that had been captivated by Victor Herbert’s flamboyant personality and lighter musical offerings.

The musical character of the Pittsburgh Orchestra underwent significant change with the advent of Emil Paur. If Victor Herbert’s “pops” programming had opened the door to larger, albeit less cultivated audiences, the Art Society’s decision to pin its hopes on Paur clearly slammed that door shut. Henceforth the organization would target a smaller community of erudite concertgoers. In older and larger cities, this course had proven risky; in Pittsburgh it proved to be suicidal.

Signs of the deterioration of the financial base of support for the orchestra were quick to appear. The financial report for the 1904-5 season (released April 29, 1905) contained some disconcerting information. An account of disbursements and receipts for that season showed a total deficit of $37,057.95, underscoring the fact that the critical acclaim showered upon Paur’s intitial efforts in Pittsburgh was not enough to produce healthy profits (Appendix 3, “Brief Financial Statements of the Pittsburgh Orchestra for the 1900-1901 through 1908-9 Seasons”).(21) Although funds realized from the ensemble’s expanded touring schedule somewhat reduced the figure, the fact remained that the deficit was the largest yet recorded for the orchestra. That deficit was a significant shortfall, which, while not immediately fatal, should have served as a warning to the orchestra committee. Indeed, if a present-day value of that deficit is calculated, using formulas provided by Gary A. Greene in his article “Understanding Past Currency in Modem Times,”(22) the Pittsburgh Orchestra found itself in debt for an equivalent sum of about $440,000 after its 1904-5 season! (An even more conservative estimate of that debt, based upon extending Consumer Price Index figures to the first decade of the twentieth century, yields an estimate of $189,000 in 1988 U.S. dollar equivalence.) To further illustrate the problem, in 1904-5 the management of the Pittsburgh Orchestra paid each orchestral player an average salary of $884.41, while it spent a mere $6,075 on all soloists. Guarantors of the orchestra were assessed an average of $456 for the season: if we again use Greene’s formulas, the average salary of a member of the orchestra would have been equivalent to $50,000 (1988 currency), and each guarantor would have been expected to contribute $26,000 (1988 currency) to cover the general operating expenses of the orchestra. Viewed from that perspective, it is not surprising that guarantors began to question their commitment to the Pittsburgh Orchestra.

A bright spot in an otherwise discouraging picture of the 1904-5 season was the success of the orchestra’s first spring tour. Emil Paur led a select group of fifty members of the orchestra in thirty-eight performances from April to June 1905 in no less than twenty-nine cities through the states of

Pennsylvania, Ohio, the Carolinas, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, as well as the District of Columbia and Canada. These concerts spread the reputation of the orchestra to more people than ever before. One of these performances proved to be a major national event: George W Vanderbilt III, the railroad-shipping czar, invited the ensemble to perform at the opening celebration of his recently completed Biltmore House.(23)

From an artistic standpoint, the 1906-7 season was the most successful of Paur’s years in Pittsburgh (fig. 3). The orchestra appeared twice in New York City with Toronto’s famous Mendelssohn Choir. At home, the ensemble engaged such soloists as Olga Samaroff, Nellie Melba, and Josef Lhevinne. The highpoint of the year occurred when Sir Edward Elgar appeared in the season’s concluding set of concerts; Elgar, visiting Pittsburgh as part of his extended American tour, conducted his Enigma Variations in a program that included Liszt’s Les Preludes, Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique, and selected works by Wagner. Several local newspapers proudly reported the English composer’s gracious comment: “Not one of the great European symphony orchestras ever gave a better interpretation of my work than the Pittsburgh Orchestra.”(24)

Acclaim of this type may have influenced the city’s prominent businessmen to present the organization with yet another three-year guarantee. In spite of the orchestra’s ominous history of deficits, forty-four public-spirited citizens each pledged an average of $1,000 to assure, at least temporarily, the survival of the orchestra. The number of guarantors, now sharply reduced from 128 guarantors (none of whom had pledged over $500 in the 1904-5 season), may have been an indication that the orchestra had indeed become less popular and that it was reaching a more restricted audience.(25) Pittsburgh was fortunate that such individuals as H. J. Heirtz, George Westinghouse, and Andrew Mellon continued their philanthropic support. The time would come,

Robert F. Schmalz is the Ruth Stoghill Girard Endowed Professor of Music and coordinator of graduate studies in music at the University of Southwestern Louisiana. A native of Pittsburgh, he has published several articles on that city’s musical life in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. however, when even these men could no longer justify the escalating cost of saving the Pittsburgh Orchestra from collapse.

The possibility of the organization’s collapse became ever more threatening after 1907. That year was marked by a global panic that had an immediate impact upon the ability and resolve of the wealthy to continue sponsorship of many cultural organizations. Uncontrolled stock market speculation resulted in the tightening of money and a rash of bankruptcies in late spring of that year. The inability of New York City to float a loan twice offered for public subscription in 1907 and the bankruptcy that summer of the $34,000,000 Westinghouse Electric Company were indications of the extent of the economic crisis.(26) The subsequent run on banks and trust companies created a depression in the United States that lasted well into 1909.

Although the Pittsburgh Orchestra temporarily averted collapse in 1907, its precarious financial situation was recognized as a symptom of the general unhealthy state of American orchestras at the time. The following comment from the Musical Leader and Concert-Goer is illustrative:

There is something wrong about the entire scheme [of these things]

when not one orchestra in this vast country is able to meet its

expenses. The Pittsburgh Orchestra is said to be about five thousand

dollars [further in debt] than last year and the guarantors are

facing the question of raising thirty-eight thousand dollars to meet

their deficit. The Philadelphia Orchestra meets an annual loss of

fifty thousand dollars and the Chicago Orchestra continues on its

old gait of paying for experience and comes about as near to

meeting expenses as usual. The Cincinnati Orchestra with [Frank]

Van der Stucken is still heavily in debt to its guarantors…. The

feeling regarding orchestras is that they do not justify the expenditure

and, unless kept at the highest [musical] standard, are valueless

from an artistic standpoint.(27) The author then suggested that the solution to the problem was to create a national orchestra: “It is not difficult to realize the enormous possibilities existing in a really high class orchestra, led by a great conductor, which could tour the country under efficient management.”(28)

Managers of many American orchestras made regular season “runouts” a fact of life for their musicians in the first decade of the century, and ambitious post-season or season-extending tours became more popular as well. The Pittsburgh Orchestra’s management, like many others, attempted to widen its geographical market in this manner, as evidenced by the expanded touring schedule undertaken by Paur during his first three seasons as conductor. (That such activities were important to the orchestra may be inferred from the figures shown in Appendix 3.) Although the profits realized from such tours were not sufficient to avert disaster, they at least helped postpone the orchestra’s inevitable financial collapse.

Some orchestras also actively competed for touring business and jealously guarded territories that they considered their own “spheres of influence’ ” Competition of this nature is recorded, for example, between the Pittsburgh and Chicago Orchestras in the early 1900s in documents preserved in the Pittsburgh Orchestra Correspondence and Scrapbooks. Wilson circulated a prospectus for Paur’s first season (fig. 4), distributing it to individuals and organizations in a dozen cities targeted as possible touring stops for the Pittsburgh Orchestra, apparently encroaching upon Chicago’s territory. His actions provoked a strongly worded letter from Frederick Wessels, treasurer of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra:

My Dear Wilson:

The enclosed is one of several communications which reached

me on our last tour. It looks as if our published itinerary had been

used for the purpose of soliciting business in each of the Cities

mentioned. This does not seem to me to be the right thing to do,

and I wouldn’t think of doing such a thing as taking a list of cities

where you were playing and writing in for the purpose of trying

to take away business which you had probably worked hard to


I really hope this thing has been done without your sanction.

Yours truly,

Frederick Wessels


Another letter from the Chicago management to Wilson indicates that the competition between the Pittsburgh and Chicago Orchestras intensified (Appendix 4). The writer in this instance curtly dismisses Wilson’s objections to Chicago’s plans to perform in Buffalo, New York, a city that Wilson considered Pittsburgh’s territory. It is difficult to imagine that the writer’s proposal for coordinated touring schedules, to be overseen by the Chicago management, was offered in good faith. (The writer’s spelling of “Pittsburg,” on the other hand, probably represented carelessness rather than malice.) In any event, the management of the Pittsburgh Orchestra continued to book its own tours, albeit under new leadership. Near the end of the 1906-7 season, George Wilson resigned the managerial position he had held since 1896, prompted, perhaps, by the tensions created by these territorial disputes. W. T. Mossman succeeded him as manager of the Pittsburgh Orchestra for the 1907-8 season.

Emil Paur continued as musical director of the Pittsburgh Orchestra through several more seasons, though his difficulties off the podium mounted, Paur’s strong will, one of the few personality traits he shared with Victor Herbert (and the very quality that assured his success as a conductor), proved to be his undoing. His policy of importing musicians “wholesale” from Europe aroused anger and lasting professional antipathy for him in the local musical community. His contract as director had given him final authority in artistic matters, and he extended that license to include also the right to hire musicians.(30) He was quick to assert that he needed a free hand to engage Europeans (primarily Germans and Austrians) in order to improve the quality of the ensemble.

Paur’s policy soon engendered a storm of protest, and the issue was taken very seriously by some. In May 1907, the International League of Musicians (ILM) charged him with attempting to “foreignize Pittsburgh musical life.”(31) The union also complained that the conductor’s actions constituted a violation of the Contract Labor Law.

Paur’s difficulties with the union spurred rumors that “outside forces” were working to destroy the Pittsburgh Orchestra; these problems were soon compounded. Luigi von Kunits, Pittsburgh’s popular concertmaster, resigned when management was forced to reduce players’ salaries, and Paur encountered difficulty trying to replace him: he was unable to secure a concertmaster from the recently disbanded Cincinnati Orchestra, for example, and he met similar refusals in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. When the principal cellist Henry Bramsen resigned from the Pittsburgh organization in order to take a higher paying job with the Chicago Symphony, Paur similarly had difficulty replacing him; the principal cellist of Theodore Thomas’s Orchestra flatly refused his offer, basing his refusal on protests made by the International League of Musicians.

Paur responded to the International League of Musicians by ignoring the union. During May 1907, he scheduled his annual trip to Europe to fill vacancies in the Pittsburgh Orchestra. Following that trip, he named a sizable contingent of foreign musicians to the orchestra’s roster for the 1907-8 season, among them was a new concertmaster, the violinist Wladislaw Wyganowsky.

That the Pittsburgh management endorsed Paur’s hiring practices is clearly evident in the following letter from S. H. Hamilton to Colonel J. B. Finley (members of the Orchestra Committee of the Art Society):

Col. J. B. Finley

Pittsburgh, Pa.

Dear Col. Finley:

The enclosed letters explain themselves. I have written to Mister

Paur that you would write him your opinion of bringing over these

two musicians and keeping them here until they can join the union,

as he suggests. I have told him that in my opinion we could not

afford to arouse any great antagonisms now, considering the future

of the orchestra. Further, [I told him] that I thought as [the ILM

representative] Weber comes here next month we will have an

opportunity to discuss this matter and that he will probably give

his permission for those men to come over. As for paying $400.00

for keeping them over the Summer, it would be almost as cheap

to pay the fine or penalty the union would exact for bringing them

in next Fall.

In any event nothing definite can be done until Mister Weber

shows his disposition on the occasion of his visit. His letter to

Mister Paur is a very unpleasant and threatening one and I am

amazed at Mister Paur’s temperate reply. It proves his willingness

to subordinate his personal feelings to the good of the cause, and

for a real musician that is an unusual characteristic.

Truly Yours,

S. H. Hamilton(32)

Relations with local musicians continued to deteriorate. Fully half of the members of the Pittsburgh Orchestra refused to commit and renew their contracts: eight violinists, five cellists, two trombonists, one flutist, one trumpeter, and one comet player failed to return for the 1908-9 season.

With news of mounting internal problems regularly disclosed to the public, the Pittsburgh Orchestra found that its subscriptions declined at an alarming rate. When it became obvious that the very existence of the ensemble was at stake, the local newspapers once again issued an appeal for public support. This appeal succeeded in assuring the orchestra’s survival through the 1909-10 season.

Although the issue was far from clear at the time, such a reprieve would not be repeated. The orchestra’s fifteenth season would be its last. Notwithstanding the fact that the Pittsburgh Orchestra had achieved a level of performance under Paur’s leadership that invited comparisons with the Boston and Chicago Orchestras, Pittsburgh was unable to overcome the problems with which it was beset.

The collapse of the orchestra resulted from a combination of factors. Perhaps the most compelling cause was its tendency to incur deficits. Over one million (early twentieth-century) dollars had been poured into the ensemble during its brief history. The individuals who had borne the bulk of this financial burden had grown reluctant and, in some cases, were unable to continue their support. Pittsburgh was a working-class town during the first decade of the twentieth century–impatient, ambitious, and somewhat rough around the edges. Although several exceptionally wealthy and well-educated families lived there, they were ultimately not enough to support the orchestra indefinitely.

In retrospect, the Pittsburgh Orchestra clearly suffered from an identity crisis. Frederic Archer, its first conductor, had been fired primarily because critics claimed his programs were too academic, even “stodgy.”(33) His replacement, Victor Herbert, built an ensemble that reflected his own philosophy, which was that the success of an orchestra depended upon its ability to draw a significant portion of its audience from the general public rather than from knowledgeable concertgoers–some critics contend that although Herbert succeeded in attracting a new type of audience, he did so only by creating a “pops” orchestra in Pittsburgh. When Emil Paur attempted to model the ensemble in accordance with his more classically-oriented vision, repercussions were immediate; ironically, the upgrading of the quality of the ensemble during his tenure actually hastened the orchestra’s end. Without the audiences that Victor Herbert drew with his “pops” concerts, burgeoning deficits became a fact of life.

The Pittsburgh Orchestra was afflicted with the same naive assumption that had proven fatal for several similar organizations. From the onset, members of the Art Society, who held prime responsibility for overseeing the orchestra, based key decisions upon the premise that the ensemble would be self-supporting. When the assumption was proven wrong, they resolved to issue periodic pleas for financial assistance from the public. Citizens were urged to commit short-term pledges (or guarantees) that would be called upon only in the event of a “temporary” shortfall. When it became obvious that temporary guarantees would mean permanent subsidies for the orchestra, the organization’s prospects became increasingly tenuous.

Historically, this method of financing has been susceptible to external influences. When Paur’s difficulties with the musicians’ union surfaced in local newspapers, the success of the orchestra’s fund-raising declined. Similarly, when the local economy suffered from the general recession of 1906-9, the finances of the orchestra were affected. Crises of these sorts might have been avoided had the orchestra’s management opted to secure a more permanent base of support.

In fact, local Pittsburgh newspapers announced a plan in February 19 1 0, which would have provided the orchestra with an annual income of $50,000 generated from the interest of a $1,000,000 endowment. That plan came too late, unfortunately, to save the orchestra. On March 15, 1910, just five days before the endowment drive was to end, only $16,000 of the projected $1,000,000 had been raised. In order to carry on fund-raising efforts in a “more strenuous manner,” the drive was extended indefinitely.(34) These efforts were to no avail. On May 16, 1910, the Art Society announced that it had insufficient funds to permit negotiation of contracts with the conductor and musicians. The management reluctantly concluded that it had no choice but to suspend operations for one year. When the funding situation failed to improve significantly in the months that followed, the suspension was extended indefinitely.

Sixteen years would elapse before Pittsburgh would again have a resident professional symphony orchestra. A newly reconstituted Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra presented its inaugural concert on Sunday, April 27, 1927. Immediately following the event, nine of the orchestra’s board members were, in Ida Reed’s dignified phrase, “brought before a magistrate” for violating Pennsylvania’s infamous “blue laws.”(35) That, however, is another story.


Articles of Agreement between the Art Society of Pittsburgh and Emil Paur

Articles of Agreement, made and entered into this first day of April, A.D. 1904, by and between the Art Society of Pittsburgh, by its Orchestra Committee, party of the first part, and Emil Paur, party of the second part.

Witnesseth: That the party of the first part engages the party of the second part to render his services as Conductor of the Pittsburgh Orchestra, for twenty-five (25) weeks annually, for three series of concerts to be given by said Orchestra during the seasons respectively of 1904/5, 1905/6, and 1906/7, each of said seasons to be included between the 24th day of October and the 3rd day of June following, respectively, and in addition to give such time and labor as may be necessary prior to the said 24th day of October in each of said seasons, for the proper assembling of the preparation and rehearsals for said concerts; said services so to be rendered to be as follows:

First–To organize, conduct and assume entire charge of the musical department of said Orchestra.

Second–To select, engage and discharge, subject to the approval of the Orchestra Committee, all orchestral musicians required for all of said concerts to be given by said Orchestra under the auspices of the Art Society of Pittsburgh during the seasons provided for, except that for the first season all said orchestral musicians may be selected and engaged by said party of the first part. Also to select and order all orchestral music and scores required. The total cost for players and music should not exceed the amounts estimated for these purposes by said party of the second part and [should be] approved by said Orchestra Committee. Also to verify all accounts rendered for the same before the vouchers are presented to the Chairman of said Orchestra Committee for endorsement.

Third–To conduct a number of afternoon concerts (not exceeding eighteen (18) of each during each of three seasons) to be given by the said Orchestra under the auspices of said Art Society in the City of Pittsburgh, on such afternoons and evenings during each season of the engagement as said Orchestra Committee may select, together with all preliminary rehearsals necessary therefore, and to conduct such additional concerts either in or outside of said City and said Orchestra Committee shall arrange and contract for during the respective three seasons above provided for.

Fourth–To certify the accuracy of the weekly payroll of said Orchestra during each annual period of its engagement; to advise and consult with the press agent or manager as to newspaper paragraphs and analytical matter to be inserted in programme books; and to advise and to consult with said party of the first part as to the selection and engagement of all vocal and instrumental soloists required for all above mentioned concerts.

In consideration of the covenants and agreements hereinafter made by the party of the second part and of the faithful performance of the duties of his position as outlined above, the party of the first part agrees to pay the party of the second part, for each of said three seasons, the sum of ten thousand (10,000) dollars in manner following: the sums of twelve hundred and fifty (1250.00) dollars on the 24th days of November, December, January, February, March, April, May and the 3rd of June, respectively, of each of the three seasons aforesaid.

In consideration of the foregoing, the party of the second part hereby accepts the position outlined above and agrees to render such services to the best of his ability. And further during the term of this engagement not to connect himself or allow his name to be used in connection with any similar organization in the City of Pittsburgh or any musical school or conservatory in this City, without the consent of the Orchestra Committee.

It is further agreed that when any concerts during said seasons shall be given in cities other than Pittsburgh, the necessary travelling and hotel expenses of said party of the second party shall be borne by said party of the first part in addition to the compensation herebefore agreed upon; and said party of the first part also undertakes to pay a reasonable sum for the passage of said party of the second part from Europe to America, prior to the beginning of the first of said seasons.

In witness thereof. the parties of the first and second part have herein set their hands and seals the day and year first above written, said Orchestra Committee being represented by its Chairman. [Document signed by J. Buchanan, Chairman of the Orchestra Committee of the Art Society, and M. Martin, for Emil Paur]


First Set of Concerts of the Pittsburgh Orchestra, 1904-5 Season, Emil Paur, Conductor

Overture, Der Freischutz C. M. von Weber

Symphony in C Minor, No. 5 Beethoven


“Abendlied” Robert Schumann

Minuet, from L’Arlesienne Suite No. I G. Bizet

Dance of the Bayadere, from Feramors Rubinstein

“Waldweben,” from Siegfried Richard Wagner

Overture, Tannhauser Richard Wagner


Letter of an Official of the Chicago Orchestra to George H. Wilson

March 25, 1905

Mr. Geo. H. Wilson Mgr. Pittsburg Orchestra, Pittsburg, Pa. My dear Mister Wilson:

I am in receipt of your letter of March 23rd, and in reply will say that after this season I think it would be a splendid idea for our Orchestras to stay out of each other’s territory. Of course, for this season and at this late date, I can see no objection or reason why we [the Chicago Symphony] should not go to Buffalo.

… I think that I am in a position, at this time, to take the entire management of your tours for May 1906, giving you five weeks of festival work, the same kind of engagements we are filling this May. I believe, Mr. Wilson, that the way for us to control this orchestra situation in the western country is for us to have both orchestras booked by the same man…. I will be situated so that I could take the entire office work and everything in connection with the tours off your hands, so all that would be necessary for you to do would be to see that the Orchestra fills the engagements when the time comes….

Yours very truly,

[signature illegible]


(1.) These volumes are catalogued under the title “Pittsburgh Orchestra Correspondence.” Carnegie Library has rescued, in addition, a related twenty-two volume collection of published material, entitled “Scrapbooks of Musical Clippings Relating to the Pittsburgh Orchestra, 1896-1910” The chronologically arranged material in both collections (hereafter cited as POC and Scrapbooks respectively) are quoted extensively in this study. (2.) Richard Wolfe, “A Short History of the Pittsburgh Orchestra, 1896-1910” (Master’s thesis, Carnegie Institute of Technology, 1954), 2:426. (3.) Ibid., 2:427. (4.) Ibid., 1:167. (5.) Scrapbooks, 3:n.p. (6.) See Wilson’s comments on this subject in the excerpt of his letter of support for Walter Damrosch, which is reproduced in this article (p. 128). (7.) The contributions of Andrew Carnegie were substantial. He underwrote expenses incurred in building the hall in which the orchestra performed and provided on several occasions direct financial assistance to the ensemble itself. However, his name was never listed as one of the orchestra’s guarantors. (8.) POC, 13:389-91. (9.) Ibid., 13:392. (10.) Ibid., 8:n.p. (11.) Boston Journal, July 7, 1893 (The Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives). (12.) August Guessbacher, “A New Conductor for Boston,” Musical Courier July 1, 1893 (The Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives). (13.) In addition to his sterling credentials as a conductor, Paur established a reputation as a fine pianist. See the New Grove Dictionary of American Music (1986), s.v. “Paur, Emil.” (14.) Scrapbooks, 14:77-79. (15.) See “Emil Paur Elected after Rejection of Herbert’s Terms,” Pittsburgh Leader, May 27, 1904 (Scrapbooks, 8:91). (16.) Edward Gladstone Baynham, “The Early Development of Music in Pittsburgh” (Ph.D. diss., University of Pittsburgh, 1944), 2:260. (17.) Letter dated Aug. 21, 1905 (POC, n.p.). (18.) Scrapbooks, 4:18-19. (19.) Frederick Dorian and Judith Meibach, A History of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (Pittsburgh: Carnegie Library, Music and Art Department, 1987), 6. (20.) The audience reportedly gave Beach’s symphony a cold reception; see Wolfe, “Short History,” 2:523. (21.) See “Orchestra Deficit Nearly $6,500 More than Ever Before,” Pittsburgh Dispatch, April 29, 1905 (Scrapbooks, 9:14). (22.) Sonneck Society Bulletin 13, no. 2 (Summer 1987): 48. (23.) Wolfe, “Short History,” 2:530. (24.) Baynham, “Early Development,” 2:260. (25.) See “To the Guarantors of the Pittsburgh Orchestra, Eleventh Season, 1905-1906,” the Art Society’s Annual Report (POC, 6:30). (26.) Harold Underwood Faulkner, The Decline of Laissez Faire, 1897-1917, Economic History of the United States, vol. 7 (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1962). (27.) POC, 6:82. (28.) Ibid. (29.) Wolfe, “Short History,” 2:536. (30.) See Appendix 1, articles one and two of Paur’s contract with the Art Society of Pittsburgh. (31.) Ibid., 2:542. (32.) Scrapbooks, 8:n.p. Hamilton’s comments in the second paragraph of this letter seem to indicate that the musicians’ complaints were beginning to wear on the nerves of the orchestra’s administrators. (33.) Robert F. Schmalz, “Personalities, Politics, and Prophecy: Frederic Archer and the Birth of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra,” American Music 5, no. 3 (Fall 1987): 305-16. (34.) Dorian and Meibach, History, 7. (35.) New Grove Dictionary of American Music, s.v. “Pittsburgh'” by Ida Reed.

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