This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

Adolphe Dumont and the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra

08 March 2013

In the summer of 1931, Loyola University in Chicago arranged to present a series of Sunday concerts of classical music. It would feature a new symphony orchestra, the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, led by conductor Adolph Dumont. The orchestra had just been organized earlier that year for the NBC radio station WGN in Chicago. Its first concert in January 1931 was with the Australian composer and pianist, Percy Grainger. These summer concerts were to be performed in Loyola's open air stadium, and would be broadcast across the country on the NBC radio network.

This wide format photograph (17" x 7"), made by the aptly named Daguerre studio of Chicago in 1931, shows Adolphe Dumont standing center at the podium.   Seated to the left is Isador Berger, the concertmaster of the 72 musicians of the Chicago Philharmonic. Their full complement of strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion were much larger than the typical radio orchestras of this era like the Detroit News Orchestra, which played on a small studio sound stage.

It's interesting to note that the sections of the orchestra are set up differently than modern American orchestras. The 1st and 2nd violins are seated left and right respectively in the old European fashion. The cellos are inside left with the violas inside right, and double basses are at the back left, which is rarely done today. There are also 5 horns instead of the usual 4.  And as this is 1931, there are no women, and no one of color.

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For some time, I've been looking for an easy way to best display these large photographs. This  widget from is intended for detailed custom maps but it also works with very large image files. The file (6000p x 2056p) was uploaded to the MapLib website which then created a tile set that it put into the Google Map viewer. The website produced an HTML code that I could then embed into the post.
I hope that it works for everyone.
Let me know in the comments if there are problems. 
Try the full screen button too.

There is very little history on Adolphe Dumont and his orchestra. There is a present-day Chicago Philharmonic which was first organized in 1988 by professional musicians of the Chicago Lyric Opera orchestra, but it has a limited season of only 4 concerts each year, and has no connection to the earlier philharmonic.

Despite its grand name, the philharmonic orchestra was not a rival to the more famous Chicago Symphony, but the players were still some of the best musicians in the city who worked in its many theaters and clubs. Dumont had led the Grand Opera of Chicago as well as several cinema theater orchestras in Chicago and also in New York.

The concertmaster, Isador Berger, was a noted soloist and had been a member of Belgium's Royal Orchestra, London's Queen's Hall Orchestra, and the Chicago Symphony. During the years 1915-25 he toured the Chautauqua circuit playing all the great violin concertos in recital with a piano accompaniment. One program in 1916 included his own compositions that tried to depict abstract paintings in music. Berger was also a collector of violins, and at various times owned several instruments of Stradivarius.

Adolph Dumont was born in France in 1888, and immigrated to the United States in 1890. Though undoubtedly a talented musician, Maestro Dumont was still a typical autocratic conductor of his time, and evidently prone to fits of temper. The Chicago musicians union newsletter of February 2007 for Local 10-208, American Federation of Musicians, reprinted an official union board report from May 1926.  Adolphe Dumont was found to have violated the union rules and fined $1,000.    

For many years the Defendant, Mr. Dumont, has made a practice of publicly humiliating Musicians in the Pits of those theaters wherein he has been directing. Despite repeated warnings given him by President Petrillo he persisted in his overbearing, offensive attitude towards those laboring under him.
The present case against him was instituted as the result of a particularly flagrant breach of ethics, and only when it became all too apparent that reasoning and pleading with him were absolutely ineffectual as corrective measures. The message contained in the verdict rendered is clear enough for everyone to understand and profit by, if they care to. CONDUCTORS, afflicted with a temperamentum abnormis, are advised to heed the warning and govern themselves accordingly.

The 1920s brought many changes to musical culture. The increasing popularity of cinemas brought a demand for more musicians to provide music for silent films. These orchestra players had to be versatile at all kinds of musical styles. The music used for accompanying films was rarely specified, and music directors like Dumont assembled new scores for each production made up of popular songs and dances as well as excerpts of classical symphony and opera music. In 1926, he was quoted in a newspaper report on theater music.

Adolphe Dumont, former Chicago grand opera conductor now directing music in one of the theatres, evaluated this changing public taste as a boon not only for good music but also for good musicians. His own orchestra, he said, has Just been increased to more than fifty pieces.

"More grand opera music is played in the large motion picture houses each day," he said, "than is played by grand opera orchestras in a week. We play grand opera four times a day, week days, and five times. Sunday, The grand opera orchestras and Symphony orchestras hardly ever play a program more than three times a week.

"A public demand for more and better music has been recognized. Eight years of patient work, interpreting the emotions of the movies, as only grand opera music can do, created the demand.

"Day after day, showing sometimes slapstick comedy to the tune of the 'Ride of the Valkyries'; love scenes to strains from 'Tristan and Isolde' and Charlie Chaplin's antics to Debussy's 'Girl of the Flaxen Hair,' the moving picture orchestras have given audiences a taste for classic music that many of them would have formerly disavowed. Great music consequently has found a new significance and importance. It gives motion pictures
dramatic intensity."

The following year saw the release of The Jazz Singer,  the first film with recorded sound. The golden era of the silent film was finished. Within a decade, live performances of theater orchestras would be finished too, and the many musicians who accompanied those movies would have to find new work.

Many would find it in the new medium of Radio. The National Broadcasting Company or NBC started its first regular broadcasting in 1926. Using telephone lines to transmit signals to other stations across the country, it soon became the dominant radio network, divided into the NBC Red and Blue networks. The Chicago Philharmonic was just one of several orchestras and music ensembles that competed for listeners every week in the early days of radio. The effect on culture was profound. Until the advent of broadcast radio, music could only be heard either in live performance or on short recorded media like Edison's phonograph records. Finally the great repertoire of classical music could reach all of the public from big city apartment blocks to farmhouses on the prairie. A new audience had first row seats in the concert hall. For free. 

The Chicago Philharmonic concerts disappeared from the radio schedules after 1932.  In March 1934, Adolphe Dumont died of a heart attack during an orchestra rehearsal. Was it an infuriating trombone that pushed him over the edge?

We'll never know. His obituary is short on such details.

Sadly he would miss an opportunity to conduct one of the greatest orchestras of radio, the  NBC Symphony Orchestra which gave its first broadcast on Christmas Day of 1937 under the conductor Arturo Toscanini, another maestro noted for his fiery temper.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you might find other landscape photos this weekend.


Kristin said...

Very interesting. I wonder what exactly he did to humiliate the musicians in his orchestra. And that was a very appropriate death for a conductor.

Brett Payne said...

That's a great widget, Mike - I may well use it myself in due course, thank you.

Perhaps it's an archetypal image not truly representative, but I've always thought of conductors as temperamental and dictatorial.

Peter said...

I am not really surprised that an American orchestra and a French conductor did not get along too well. I remember the stories about "conductor" Eisenhower who tried to make De Gaulle play his part ...

Karen S. said...

Ah yes the life and times of an artists especially in the music industry!

Bob Scotney said...

You have furthered my musical education again. Toscanini I knew about but none of your interesting story about Dumont.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

I have never stopped to think about what things were like before sound in movies and that there would be orchestras playing in the theater. I just imagine all would be quiet. Also, I can imagine times before t.v., but not times before the radio.

What great post, and thanks for the widget tip too.

Kathy M.

Postcardy said...

The widget worked well. I didn't realize there was so much live classical music with silent movies.

Kathy Morales said...

"a temperamentum abnormis" - I might want to remember that one. Interesting post; widget worked well.

anyjazz said...

A fine look at the history of the orchestra through a few decades. A fine post. And thanks for the tip about the widget. I may make use of that.

tony said...

The widget works just fine.Infact ,its a smooth & effective way of displaying the photograph.
Looking at the facial expressions of the players, they do look slightly pensive.....I wonder at their reactions to his heart attack?

Karen S. said...

I learn so much from your blog- and it's enjoyable at the same time!

Tattered and Lost said...

Oh I can imagine his face getting red and those curls flying around his forehead. Must have been a site all bluster and spit.

And the image worked great. I loved seeing the fellows brave enough to wear two tone shoes.

Wibbo said...

Interesting post and the widget works well - great to be able to see such a large image.

Wendy said...

I was surprised to read Dumont welcomed movies to showcase grand opera. He seemed more likely to look down on Hollywood's contribution to entertainment.

Little Nell said...

The widget worked really well Mike. Congratulations on coming up with a solution. Once more an enjoyable and interesting post. I see his mother was a 'prima donna' and we have been told that they too have a reputation for temper flare-ups, so perhaps it was an inherited trait.

Teresa Wilson Rogers said...

Having worked for a couple of autocratic, egomaniac bosses in the past, one in particular, I can truly imagine the ways he made his musicians' lives miserable.

And thanks for the widget tip. That could really come in handy.

Alan Burnett said...

I do love the post and I do love the widget. It allows you to get inside the photo and talk a walk within it. If ever there was a Sepia Saturday widget that is it.


Temper, temper!
Not to be confused with Tempo!!...
I used to have a couple of Toscanini's recording on vinyl,
which didn't survive the digital transition in my home over time.
Progress made music one of the most democratic expressions and we all have to be grateful for that.

Did Monsieur Dumont ever learned to control his temper?


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