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Frederick Stock (Conductor, Composer, Arranger)

Born: November 11, 1872 - Jülich, Germany
Died: October 20, 1942 - Chicago, Illinois, USA

The respected German-born American conductor and composer, Frederick (actually: Friedrich August) Stock, began studying the violin with his father, a bandmaster in the German army. In 1886, at the age of 14, he won a scholarship to the Cologne Conservatory, where he studied violin with G. Japha, theory and composition with Engelbert Humperdinck, Franz Wüllner, and Gustav Jensen (the famous conductor Willem Mengelberg was among his classmates3). Upon his graduation in 18912 (or 18903 or 18871), Stock joined the Cologne Municipal Orchestra as a violinst and played from 1891 to 1895 under conductors such as Johannes Brahms, Peter Tchaikovsky, and Richard Strauss.

In 1895, Stock met with Theodore Thomas, director of the then fledgling Chicago Orchestra and the man who was to have a decisive impact on Stock's future. Theodore Thomas, who was then visiting Germany in search of recruits for his newly organized Chicago Orchestra, auditioned Stock and gave him a position as violist in the orchestra. Theodore Thomas soon realized, however, that his new violist was also a very talented conductor and in 18993 (or 19012 or 4 years later1), Stock was promoted to assistant conductor. Upon Theodore Thomas's death in January 1905, Stock was appointed as acting conductor, while the Orchestral Association began a search for a permanent replacement. Under Stock's baton, the Orchestra premiered his symphonic poem Eines Menschenlebens Morgen, Mittag und Abend (A person's lifetime: morning, noon, and evening), on April 7 and 8, 1905; the score was dedicated to Theodore Thomas and the Orchestra. The Chicago Orchestra's board of directors failed to persuade Gustav Mahler, Hans Richter, Felix Weingartner, Karl Muck, and Felix Mottl, among others, to take over the position. Only then, on April 11, 1905, the trustees of the Orchestral Association met: "Frederick Stock unanimously elected Conductor. Trustees voted that the Orchestra should now be known as 'The Theodore Thomas Orchestra.'" (In February 1913, the name of "The Theodore Thomas Orchestra" was changed simply to "Chicago Symphony Orchestra," in the belief that it would be easier to solicit funds for an institution that bore the name of the community.)

In 1905, the Orchestra began performing at Ravinia Park, appearing semiregularly through August 1931, after which the Park fell dark under the Great Depression. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra helped to inaugurate the first season of the Ravinia Festival in August 1936. In 1919 Frederick Stock became a naturalized American citizen. During the 1919-1920 season he inaugurated a regular subscription series of youth concerts as well as the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, a training orchestra. He also further developed the Popular Concert series, which featured a wide range of music from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker to Wagner overtures and Strauss waltzes.

As a conductor, Frederick Stock was extremely competent, even though he totally lacked that ineffable quaify of making orchestral music a vivid experience in sound; but he had the merit of giving adequate performances of the classics, of Wagner, and of the German Romantic school. He also programmed several American works, as long as they followed the Germanic tradition. Under his direction, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra became one of America's top orchestras, developing a distinctive brass sound that can already be heard in the orchestra's first recordings. An enthusiast of modern music, Stock championed the works of many then modern composers including G. Mahler; Richard Strauss; Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, who was soloist in the world premiere of his Third Piano Concerto in Chicago; Gustav Holst; Zoltán Kodály, Nikolai Myaskovsky; Josef Suk; William Walton; Arthur Benjamin; George Enescu; and many others.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 50th anniversary during the 1940-1941 season. For the occasion, Frederick Stock commissioned I. Stravinsky's Symphony in C, Milhaud's Symphony No. 1, Miaskovsky's Symphony No. 21, Harris's American Creed, Z. Kodály's Concerto for Orchestra, Glière's Fête ferganaise Overture, Casella's Symphony No. 3, and William Walton's Scapino Overture. Shortly after the beginning of the 52nd season, Frederick Stock died unexpectedly, just three weeks short of his 70th birthday. During his 37-year tenure as music director (the 1918-1919 season excepted), Stock was an inspirational force, continuing in the tradition of Theodore Thomas and truly becoming the Orchestra's "second father." His year tenure as head of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was surpassed in America only by Eugene Ormandy's lengthy directorship of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Soon after Stock's death in Chicago on October 20, 1942, Désiré Defauw was chosen as his successor. The flowering of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was to be accomplished by his successors Reiner and Georg Solti.

On May 1, 1916, Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra recorded Felix Mendelssohn's Wedding March from the Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night's Dream. The recording was released by the Columbia Graphophone Company. In fact, these recordings were the first ever made by an American orchestra under its music director. The orchestra would later record for RCA Victor, then go back to Columbia, only to finally go back to RCA Victor in 1941-1942 for its final series of recordings under Stock. The orchestra's first electrical recordings were made in 1925, including a performance of Karl Goldmark's In Springtime overture; these early recordings were made in Victor's Chicago studios and within a couple of years the orchestra was recorded in Orchestra Hall. Stock's last studio recording, Ernest Chausson's Symphony in B minor, was released posthumously in 1943.

Frederick Stock was also a composer; wrote 2 symphonies, a Violin Concerto (Norfolk Festival, June 3, 1915, E. Zimbalist soloist, composer conducting), and some chamber music.

1. Chicago Symphony Orchestra Website
2. Bakerís Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997)
3. Wikipedia Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (May 2009)

Frederick Stock: Short Biography | Chicago Symphony Orchestra | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Works | Recordings of Works for Orchestra

Links to other Sites

Frederick Stock (Wikipedia)
Frederick Stock (

Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Frederick Stock
Frederick Stock School


P. Otis: The Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Chicago, 1925)
W. Holmes: "Frederick Stock," Le Grand Baton, VI/2 (1969).

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