Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
founded in 1895, gave its first concert the following year under the direction of Frederic Archer. Victor Herbert was the chief conductor from 1898 to 1904; he was succeeded by Emil Paur (1904–10).
The orchestra was then disbanded. It was revived in 1926, and over the next decade it was led by Elias Breeskin (1927–30) and Antonio Modarelli (1930–37).
The orchestra was reorganized by Otto Klemperer in 1937. Fritz Reiner was chief conductor from 1938 to 1948, followed by William Steinberg (1952–76), André Previn (1976–84), Lorin Maazel (1984–95), and Mariss Jansons (1995–).
Since 1971 the orchestra has performed in Heinz Hall, the renovated Loew’s Penn Theater (built 1927).
To truly understand Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra we have to understand what symphony is. Symphony is an extended work for orchestra, usually in three or four movements. It is traditionally regarded as the central form of orchestral composition. In the 17th century the term was used in other senses: for concerted motets, for introductory movements to operas for instrumental introductions and sections within arias and ensembles, and for ensemble pieces, which might be classified as sonatas or concertos.
The roots of the symphony are found in the earlier Baroque period, when composers enjoyed creating pieces for small groups of instruments, sometimes featuring a solo instrument. These concertos, such as those by Vivaldi, Bach, and Corelli, were one source from which the symphony evolved. Another was the Italian opera.
... significant non-performance revenues in order to survive. Symphony orchestras receive grant support from various levels of government. ... increases. Performance revenues earned by individual symphony orchestras ranged from 23 to 77 percent of their ... organization. The economic difficulties being faced by the symphony orchestra is not reflected in the collectively bargained wage ...
In particular, the symphony developed from the Italian operatic overture, or “sinfonia,” which by about 1700 had become the expected musical beginning of an opera. The sinfonia was a purely instrumental composition made of three sections, a fast section at the beginning and the end, and a slow section in the middle.
Alessandro Scarlatti (1659-1725) was particularly influential in establishing the sinfonia’s form. Usually the sinfonias had no particular musical connection to the opera they preceded, and sometimes they were performed separately in concerts.
With Italian opera composers such as Leo, Pergolesi, Galuppi and Jommelli, the movements became longer and more developed. G.B. Sammartini was among the first Italians to write concert symphonies; composers of the next generation, including Boccherini and Pugnani, inherited his essentially lyrical approach, but Italian composers were not generally interested in the richer, more developed style favored in Austria and Germany.
Many composers of the new symphony were active in London, Paris, north Germany and elsewhere, but the main centres were Vienna and Mannheim. About 1735 the Viennese symphony, drawing on the opera overture and chamber music, began to establish an independent course, notably in the works of Monn and Wagenseil. They and their younger contemporaries, Gassmann and Ordonez, continued to prefer three-movement form, but with four prolific, gifted composers – Hofmann, Dittersdorf, Vanhal and Michael Haydn – the four-movement symphony, with minuet and trio preceding the finale, became the norm. Their works represent the highest achievements in the Viennese Classical symphony apart from Jozeph Haydn and Mozart. At Mannheim, where the electoral court assembled a concentration of talent, the virtuosity and discipline of the court orchestra led to new developments in orchestral style, particularly ones involving the striking use of dynamics and the stylized use of melodic figures. J.W.A. Stamitz provided the model and the motivation; his ‘army of generals’ included such names as F.X. Richter, Holzbauer, Antonín Fils and, among the next generation, Toeschi, Cannabich, Eichner, Beck and Stamitz’s son Carl.
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Whatever the view of his contemporaries, the early 19th-century symphony is now typified by Beethoven. While his first two symphonies shared a development from Haydn’s, no.3 was a departure: its four movements were on an unprecedented large scale, and its dedication to Napoleon (later erased) proclaimed that its grandeur and power celebrated personal courage and the unconquerable human spirit. The later symphonies work out in fresh terms the same type of struggle, and all end in triumph, for example in the brilliant C Major finale of no.5 in c Minor. No.9, the Choral Symphony, is a solitary masterpiece, bringing together two projects that had long been in the composer’s mind, a gigantic symphony in d Minor and a choral setting of Schiller’s Ode to Joy. Beethoven’s achievements were such that the merits of Schubert’s more lyrical ones were long overlooked, even those of the expansive yet often closely argued ‘Great C major’; while those of later composers tended to be judged by how they matched up to Beethoven’s. The more conservative Romantics, notably Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms, remained broadly faithful to the Classical conception of the symphony even if they sometimes changed the number and order of its movements or sought new ways of unifying them, as Schumann did in his cyclic treatment in no.4.
While many of the more radical Romantics found a congenial outlet for their ideas and aspirations in the Symphonic Poem, there were some for whom the symphony was a challenge. In the Symphonie fantastique and Harold en Italie Berlioz sought to unite the Beethoven conception of the symphony with his own penchant for descriptive, literary-inspired music by means of a recurrent idée fixe. His example was followed by Liszt’s pupil d’Indy in the Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français. Lalo’s Symphony and Saint-Saëns’s Third also show Liszt’s influence in their style and the use of thematic transformation, and Franck’s d Minor Symphony, although non-programmatic, goes further in that direction.
Although some nationalist composers, including Borodin and Balakirev in Russia and Dvorak in Bohemia, felt close enough to the center of a tradition to contribute to the genre, by the end of the 19th century it had become largely a bastion of the orthodox. Only Bruckner succeeded in creating a new model, basing his symphonies first on Beethoven’s Ninth and secondly on a Wagnerian expansiveness and (to some degree) style and orchestration. He extended the sonata-form tradition in some of his first movements to involve three rather than two thematic and tonal groups; wrote long and deeply contemplative adagios, often capped by a huge orchestral climax, and scherzos which often have a demoniacal drive contrasted with lyrical middle sections; and he extended finales, often again with three tonal areas, sometimes incorporating chorale-like material and (from no.3 onwards) ending with a recall of the symphony’s opening theme.
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The period 1901-18, during which Mahler, Sibelius, Elgar and (though his greatest symphonies came later) Nielsen were active, brought the Romantic symphony to its fullest maturity and to its end. The sense of an end is strongly present in the music of both Mahler and Elgar, and, although Sibelius’s structural innovations (culminating in the single-movement Seventh Symphony of 1924) seemed to point a way forward, changes in the artistic climate and in the language of music after 1918 threatened to undermine the concept of the symphony. Avant-garde composers either did not write them or wrote symphonies in which received standards were deliberately outraged.
Composers closer to the 19th-century tradition, and particularly those whose music has retained links with tonality, have continued to write symphonies in the traditional mould (for example Ives, Honegger, Roussel, Prokofiev, Myaskovsky, Henze, Martinu, Vaughan Williams, Simpson, Tippett, Sessions, Harris and Vagn Holmboe).
But among 20th-century composers of international stature, perhaps only Shostakovich, whose symphonies range from the political manifesto (nos.2 and 3), the heroic and sometimes programmatic (nos.7 and 10-12) to the bitterly ironic (nos.13 and 14), has found in the symphony a natural vehicle for his most challenging and original music. Others like Adler pail in comparison to the like of Mozart and Beethoven whose music survived through ages to reach us and touch the lives of millions.
Europe is the cradle of Symphony and symphony orchestras. Vast majority of the famous composers are natives of European continent. The birth of orchestra is connascent with creation of secular instrumental music as a cultured art form and arises out of transition from modal polyphony to monody. It coincides with inception of purely instrumental music from bowed string instruments and with the bdginning of the fradual nbsolescdnce of the viol type rendered inevitabld by the superiority of the newlx inventdd violins.
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Modern orchestration rose with the likes of the previously mentioned Mozart and Haydn. The transition is chronologically spanned by the works of Gluck and a group of secondary composers (Phillip Emanuel Bach, Hasse, etc).
Many times creation and existence of the symphony orchestra and symphony composition depended on the political situation in the country. Bach had small public reach during his lifetime and long after his death; the comparative isolation and limited influence of Purcell; the obscurity of Schubert’s life and the favorable condition of Lulli at the court of Louis XIV of France; the advantages by Haydn as an orchestral composer under princely patronage.
The diffusion of orchestral music before the 19th century depended largely on the circulation of manuscript copies of the scores and the personal travel of the composers. City of residence of a great composer, who had the patronage of the government, would be much a fertile ground for a symphony orchestra. Lengthy stay in one locality produced works designed for the orchestral combination to which the composer had access.
In comparison with European music, the beginnings of the American orchestra were pathetically meager. For in this country there were no luxurious courts and castles which could sustain a Haydn, nor a landed nobility which could pension Beethoven, nor rich tradition in which whole nation takes pride, and are thereby automatically impelled to nurture the arts and set standards for emulation. Still awaited in the United States were the counterparts of their European forbearers the philanthropic amateurs, who were to deliver such decisive impetus to the development of music a half-century later, and the financiers and captains of industry who would seize upon the symphony orchestra to proclaim their civic pride.
Without royal patronage early American orchestras were forced to survive upon their own resources. First American soil orchestra is considered to be Graupner “orchestra” of Boston, started by Gottlieb Graupner. He gathered dozens of musicians to play the symphonies of Gyrowetz and Haydn, and to study such other scores as were available I nthe incipiently cultured Boston that day. Soon thereafter every other city also sprouted its musical organization. Philadelphia, Cincinatti, St. Louis, San Francisco, and other communities as they attained a modicum of wealth and leisure attracted German and French immigrants to perform in the orchestras.
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Further development of the American orchestra should be attributed to visiting tours of European great orchestras. Germania Orchestra, having gained initial and greatest success in Boston responded to a demand from cities as far west as Beethoven and played Beethoven to sold out audiences. Members of this group later scattered to city orchestras from Boston to Chicago thereby continuing the work of fructifying American musical culture to its everlasting benefit.
American ballet evolution continued with the life of Theodore Thomas, who started out a as an 18-yr old violinist in the New York Philarmonic. As a conductor, Thomas was the first modern conductor to completely fulfill the promise of symphonic ideals. As his first venture he found a permanent orchestra that performed in New York’s central park. Then this group migrated throughout East Coast and Chicago wetting the appetite of the audiences for the disciplined performances.
Financially these orchestras for the most part were either cooperative systems as was the case of New York Philarmonic or the private enterprise of the Theodore Thomas orchestras. The first orchestra to profit from unlimited philanthropy was the Boston orchestra. It was modeled on the court of troupes of Europe and was established, owned, and administered by one man who looked upon and treated his musicians as his salaried employees.
The Pittsburgh Symphony, originally called Pittsburgh Orchestra was founded in 1895 with the support of 25 public spirited citizens in the Art society of Pittsburgh. Fifty two instrumentalists were recruited from several smaller defunct orchestras. Concerts were given in the newly built Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland under the direction of Frederick Archer. For the first three years the orchestra played 10 pairs of concerts each season in addition to special or tour concerts. Victor Herbert took over conducting duties in 1898, while the orchestra added 15 new players and changed the type of programming. In 1904 Emil Paur, who enjoyed 15 successful years as a director, succeeded Herbert. During his reign PSO presented almost 1000 concerts and was classed as third in artistic importance in America, behind Boston and Chicago.
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Early history of PSO was marred by financial troubles. By 1907 dwindling public support created severe financial troubles for the orchestra. In 1910 The Art society of Pittsburgh withdrew its support and faced with very large debt orchestra disbanded. Same year Pittsburgh Orchestra Association organized to try to reestablish the orchestra. Another attempt was made in 1916, but little accomplished. Local music was yielding to the orchestra at the nearby Carnegie Institute of Technology.
Pittsburgh Symphony opened again in 1926 in Syria Mosque in Oakland. The orchestra’s conductor was Antonio Modarelli had many guest conductors visit between 1930 and 1937: Walter Damrosch, Eugene Goossens, and others. The orchestra made its first series of radio broadcasts beginning in 1936. By 1937 it enjoyed national coverage.
In 1937 Fritz Reiner was appointed permanent conductor. During his 10 years in that position he restores the ensemble’s former prestige and once again PSO ranked among the nation’s major orchestras. By 1944 season orchestra has expanded to 121 people, more than doubling original number of 52. This number grew to over 200 by mid 80’s. In 1944-1945 season the orchestra performed 107 programs, including a two-month tour, seven popular programs, and concerts for young people.
In 1948 financial difficulties once again affected Pittsburgh Symphony. The season was reduced from 28 to 25 weeks, Fritz Reiner quit and was replaced by Vladimir Bakaleinikoff as acting musical director. In 1952 William Steinberg was hired as permanent conductor and remained as such until his retirement in 1976. Steinberg’s reign was a period of stability for the orchestra without any major financial crises. During this period orchestra toured all major U.S. cities, Europe and Japan.
In the early 1960’s Henry Heinz II and other prominent Pittsburghers were discussing the possibility of finiding a new home for the orchestra. The fear of future deficits obviated one ideal location adjacent to Civic arena and a further search located Loew’s Penn Theater in downtown Pittsburgh, which was scheduled for demolition. In 1968 decision was made to purchase and renovate the structure as a multifunction hall for performing arts. Work began in May 1970 and inaugural concert took place on September 11, 1971. The new hall was named Heinz Hall for Performing arts. It has 2850 seats and excellent acoustics.
During Steinberg years the PSO’s programming emphasized the nineteenth century Germanic composers. Andre Previn, who was the conductor from 1976 to 1984, changed the repertoire to include works by English and Russian masters. While Previn was the conductor the orchestra developed cleaner playing, clearer textures, and greater discipline. The orchestra gained national recognition through televised series “Previn in Pittsburgh”
Following Previn’s departure in 1984, Lorin Maazel agreed to act as Music Consultant while the Orchestra sought a permanent Music Director. He was offered and accepted that position in 1988, having already dazzled the world and won the hearts of the players in the course of numerous guest appearances and three acclaimed tours. The musical legacy of Maazel’s artistic leadership is an Orchestra built upon the multifaceted talents of virtuosic players. For years to come, the high artistic standards inspired by this greatest of living American conductors will be upheld within the Orchestra.
Also under Maestro Maazel’s direction, the PSO commissioned several works to showcase principal players. The first was the Benjamin Lees Hom Concerto, which premiered on May 14,1992 and was performed later that year on the PSO’s European tour by William Caballero. Four commissions followed: Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra for Nancy Goeres, Leonardo Balada’s Music for Oboe and Orchestra for Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida, Rodion Shchedrin’s Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra for George Vosburgh, Roberto Sierra’s Evocaciones and Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, and David Stock’s Violin Concerto for Andrés Cárdenes.
On April 10, 1995, the Orchestra announced the appointment of Mariss Jansons to succeed Maazel in 1996. As eighth Music Director of the PSO, he will usher in the next century of extraordinary music making. His performances and recordings with the Oslo Philharmonic, the St. Petersburg (formerly the Leningrad) Philharmonic Orchestra, and the London Philharmonic led the London Times to call him “one of the most exciting conductors in the world today.”
The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, now in its 105th season, is under the exciting leadership of Music Director Mariss Jansons. With its noble heritage of the finest conductors and musicians and its strong commitment to artistic quality and excellence, audiences around the world have claimed the PSO as their orchestra of choice.
Most recently Mariss Jansons and the Orchestra completed the 2000 European “Bringing Pittsburgh to the World” residency tour, performing to critical acclaim in such cities as Madrid, Amsterdam, Brussels, Vienna and London.
At home in Pittsburgh’s elegant Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, the Orchestra offers 22 weeks of subscription concerts annually and a Pops series of seven weekends. The PSO continues to offer the innovative series Soundbytes, three concerts for music lovers who want to learn about the classics. The Orchestra also performs free of charge education concerts for students in preschool to grade 6. The Fiddlesticks concerts, featuring the PSO’s feline “Ambassador to Children,” are enjoying immense
popularity and have expanded to a three-concert series. In addition, the PSO stages summer, free-admission concerts in area parks, plus a series of year-round community outreach concerts throughout western Pennsylvania.
Since 1982 the Pittsburgh Symphony has received increased national attention through its annual series of network radio broadcasts by Public Radio International. The PRI series is produced by WQED-FM 89.3 in Pittsburgh and is made possible by a grant from the H. J. Heinz Company Foundation and musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Starting with the release of its first commercial recording in 1941, the Orchestra has made hundreds of critically acclaimed discs. Pittsburgh Symphony recordings are available on the Angel, CBS, Philips, MCA, New World, Nonesuch, Sony Classical and Telarc labels. The Orchestra, with Lorin Maazel conducting and Yo-Yo Ma as cello soloist, won a 1992 Grammy award for a Sony Classical disc featuring works by Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky. Another Sony Classical disc features David Zinman conducting Richard Danielpour’s Concerto for Orchestra, a work commissioned by the PSO and given its world premiere performance by the Pittsburgh Symphony. And most recently, Cinema Serenade, a CD with John Williams conducting the PSO and Itzhak Perlman in performances of celebrated film scores, reached number one on the Billboard crossover chart.
Today the Pittsburgh Symphony remains among the world’s top orchestras, continually gathering more fans around the globe. Drawing upon musicians from five continents and music schools throughout the world, the Orchestra has assembled a cross section of musical talent. The Pittsburgh Symphony maintains a strict policy of nondiscrimination covering age, sex, sexual preference, race, religion, political affiliation and national origin. The only criterion for hiring is that the musicians you see have proven themselves to be among the world’s finest. With Music Director Mariss Jansons at the artistic helm of the organization, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is ensured of its role in the lives of music lovers for generations to come.
1. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Copyright © 2000 Columbia University Press
2. The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music edited by Stanley Sadie © Macmillan Press Ltd., London
3. The professional symphony orchestra in the United States, George Seltzer
4. Symphony Orchestra of United States, edited by Robert Craven
5. Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra website.