Cover image for Theodore Thomas : America's conductor and builder of orchestras, 1835-1905
Theodore Thomas : America's conductor and builder of orchestras, 1835-1905
Schabas, Ezra, 1924-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Urbana : University of Illinois Press, [1989]

Physical Description:
xvi, 308 pages, 22 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML422.T46 S3 1989 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
ML422.T46 S3 1989 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



This biography examines contemporary profiles, concert reviews and programs, and Thomas' own notes on repertoire, conducting, and musical life. Includes photos. Annotation(c) 2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

A biography of the conductor who helped transfer the European symphonic tradition to North America in the late nineteenth century. Schabas' portrait of Theodore Thomas concentrates on the orchestras in New York and Chicago that Thomas helped develop as part of his musical activities in the U.S., but Thomas' education and early career in Europe are also charted. The influence of Thomas on American musical life is also demonstrated in accounts of his many national tours, which impressed communities throughout the country with the need for, and value of, local music organizations. Conflicts with impresarios and boards and rivalries with other conductors play their roles in Thomas' career, but Schabas emphasizes the conductor's role as a benevolent tyrant and an idealist who used his virtuoso skills for the benefit of the composer, the score, the orchestral musician, and the audience. Lady Valerie Solti, wife of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's current music director, contributed the foreword. Chronology, notes, and bibliography; index. --John Brosnahan

Publisher's Weekly Review

The author traces the career and achievements of the imperious conductor with unlimited energy and ego whose ideas permeated American musical life during the late 19th century. Like the men of his time who built this country's industries and cities, Thomas built orchestras. Tireless in his efforts to develop audiences for good music and introduce them to the works of new composers, including Wagner, Berlioz and Liszt, he led the New York Philharmonic and his own Theodore Thomas Orchestra in hundreds of concerts across the continent. His crowning achievements were the founding of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and its home, Orchestra Hall. Schabas, professor emeritus of music at the University of Toronto, gives a lucid treatment of the accomplishments of this domineering man with a towering personality who was always the center of controversy and whose influence on American orchestras is still felt today. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

During the last quarter of the 19th century, no man was more important to the welfare and vitality of American concert music than Theodore Thomas. Known as a Wagner specialist, he toured widely with his own ensemble and later led to prominence both the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony. That he is less well known today than his rivals, Leopold and Walter Damrosch, can be attributed in part to his autocratic manner and colorless personality. Schabas treats his subject dispassionately; this is a warts-and-all view of a genuine hero of American music. The book also contains a fascinating social history of the men and women who helped shape the cultural scene during the Gilded Age. Well researched and documented.-- Larry Lipkis, Moravian Coll., Bethlehem, Pa. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

In this solid, straightforward narrative biography there is a great deal of information and less in the way of critical interpretation. The focus is Theodore Thomas and his developmental work as a conductor in New York, Cincinnati, and Chicago during the last half of the 19th century, as well as his extensive tours through the entire US. The author also touches on the changes in American musical tastes during the era and gives some attention (if only enough to establish a general context) to nonmusical historical events. There are copious quotes from and about Thomas and his conducting, from contemporary critics, from fellow musicians, and from his own writings. The book is solidly footnoted. It includes a useful bibliography, lightly annotated, and a good index. The author is obviously an experienced conductor, teacher, and listener. The book can be read by the general audience, but will also serve more advanced students. It is a worthy member of the "Music in American Life" series. -J. McCalla, Bowdoin College