Musicians, Writers, & Activists Respond

1893 Chicago World's Fair and Exposition

Compiled by K.L. Nichols



This Page:
Music at the Fair
Selected Performances



Music at the World Columbian Exposition

Therese Schwartze's Willem Mengelberg, 1912.
(The great Dutch conductor who recorded
Dvorak's well-known symphony in 1941.)

It is well for the pilgrim to the World's Fair if he have music in his soul and be moved with concord of sweet sounds. Not that even so the fair is a bed of roses, for there is most awful cacophony to be heard upon the Midway Plaisance. There are two or three authentic and awful bagpipers caterwauling attention to one of the side-shows, to wit, the 'World's Congress of Beauty.' Then there are a Turkish orchestra, an Egyptian orchestra and an Algerian orchestra, all of the same model, comprising a giant mandolin and a violin played like a cello, and drums beaten by hand. Yea, there is a Chinese orchestra: nay, there are two Chinese orchestra—one in the theatre, and one outside calling attention to the performance—each more terrible than the other. These are in Ercle's vein. The Javanese orchestra is more consoling, consisting of mild flutes, and an assortment of, as it were, zithers, and a large, so to speak, violin: but they are all soft and inoffensive instruments. All the same, the lover of what the civilized modern man means by music will get little good out of the barbarous bands."

Music of every description abounded at the 1893 Exposition, from the elaborate concerts and recitals that were part of the official program, to the performances described above by the disapproving critic from Harper's Weekly, who did have a few kind words for the German and Italian musicians to be heard there.

Lovers of symphonic, chamber, choral and military band music had much to choose from. There was an official Exposition Orchestra, conducted at various times by Theodore Thomas, William L. Tomlins, Max Bendix and Antonin Dvorak. (Dvorak met one of his most important students at the Exposition, African-American violinist and composer Will Marion Cook). The Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New York Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Arthur Nikisch and Walter Damrosch, respectively, both performed two concerts. The Lineff Russian Choir performed for a week. The Cymdodorian Society of Chicago, sponsored an eisteddfod choral competition for Welsh choirs. America's oldest choir, the Stoughton Musical Society from Massachusetts, performed the works of 18th Century American hymnists William Billings, Oliver Holden, Jacob French and Daniel Read in colonial garb for an audience of over 2,000 in August.

New pieces commissioned for the Exposition and premiered there included George Whitefield Chadwick's 'Dedicatory Ode,' and John Knowles Paine's 'Columbus March and Hymn.' The first performance of Paine's piece featured at 5,500 voice chorus and the band of John Philip Sousa. At the dedication of the Women's Building on May 2, three new works by women composers were featured: 'Grand March' by Jean Ingeborg von Bronsart of Weimar, 'Dramatic Oveture' by France Ellecot of London, and 'Jubilate' by Mrs. H.H.A. Beach of Boston. American composers were also invited to submit new compositions for possible performance at the fair, including 'Overture: Witichis' by Margaret Ruthven Lang, 'Suite Creole' by John A. Broekhoven and 'Carnival Overture' and 'Suite: The Ruined Castle' by Harry Rowe Shelley.

More than sixty organ recitals were given on an instrument specially built for the fair, an enormous creation with 3,901 pipes.. Featured organists included French virtuoso Alexander Guilmant, who improvised on 'The Star Spangled Banner,' and Clarence Eddy, who pronounced it one of the few great organs in the world. After the fair, it was disassembled and found a new home on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor.

John Philip Sousa's six-week run at the fair was one of the most popular engagements of all, and a key event in his career. Sousa's band was barely a year old at the time, and his exposure at the fair brought his music to hundreds of thousands, if not millions. The year before, Sousa left the band of Patrick Gilmore, composer of 'When Johnny Comes Marching Home' and one of the first superstars of American popular music. Gilmore died in September of 1892, following his performance at a dedicatory event for the Exposition. His band survived for a time, and was conducted at the fair by D.W. Reeves. Other featured bands included Frederick Neal Innes' 13th Regiment Band of New York; the Iowa State Band directed by Frederick Phinney, `Michael Brand's Cincinnati Band, Adolph Liesegang's Chicago Band, the Banda Rossa, and the Carlisle Indian band and choir.

The Presto, a weekly national music magazine based in Chicago, set up an office on the fairgrounds and distributed a one-sheet guide to musical happenings at the fair called the 'Daily Presto,' from June 1st to the end of the exposition. Throughout the fair, the Musical Courier, another weekly, published a 'Columbian Letter' and other coverage of music, musicians and instruments at the fair.

The "village" concept from the 1889 fair was modified and greatly expanded. There was a South Sea Island Village, a Java Village, a Turkish Street Village, the Street in Cairo, a Persian Village, an Algerian Village, the East India Bazaar, the Chinese Village, the Dahomean village, the Irish Village, the German Village, the Austrian Village, the Lapland Village, and the Aztec Village. Other nationalities, including Native Americans, Hungarians and Brazilians, held forth in theaters, restaurants and other venues built for them.

Patrick J. Touhey, one of the greatest Irish uillean bagpipers, performed at the Irish Village. Farida Mazar Spyropoulos, a dancer in the Street of Cairo productions billed as 'Fatima,' introduced audiences to belly dancing, making the Street of Cairo the single most popular attraction of the whole fair. The Dahomean village, which was seen by many as representative of humanity's lowest stages of development, still captured the imagination of many, and performances there provoked discussion among scholars such as E. H. Krehbiel and Abigail Christensen about the links between African and African-American music. In 1902, the African-American vaudevillians Bert Williams and George Walker collaborated with composer Will Marion Cook and writer Paul Laurence Dunbar, who did attend, to create In Dahomey, a musical fantasy about two American blacks who gain control of that African nation. Americans also got their first glimpse of Hawaiian Hula dancing at the Hawaii Exhibit, thanks to a troupe of dancers and musicians from the still independent island nation. Unfortunately, the names of many of the Midway performers are lost to time. Nearly every major instrument maker in America exhibited, as did many from abroad. Many countries promoted their national music and instruments in their own buildings on the main fairgrounds in Jackson Park. The Guatemalan building drew many visitors with the giant marimba, played by Samuel and Pedro Chavez, Lucio Castelanos and Antolin Molina, who received a special award from the Exposition for 'a musical instrument of original design known as the "Marimba" upon which the player is able to render European compositions as well as selections common to their own country, Guatemala.' Contemporary accounts state that while at the fair, the four men learned to play such hits of the day as 'After the Ball' and 'The Bowery.'

The 1893 World's Columbian Exposition introduced millions of Americans to many performers and forms of music. The cumulative influence is hard to assess, but it can be found throughout the nation's musical life. Subsequent expositions were similarly influential, and often created explosions in popularity for styles and instruments, and made the reputations and careers of many artists. Several musical features of the Columbian Exposition were repeated at subsequent fairs, including many of the ethnic villages, organ recitals on new state-of-the art instruments, band concerts and the Welsh eisteddfod. It has been suggested that ragtime music was played on the grounds of the fair, and that it's subsequent national popularity can be traced here, but this is highly speculative, and no evidence has come to light to suggest that any ragtime was actually heard at the fair, though the music was by this time in nascent state and might have been elsewhere in Chicago by visitors.

There was an active and vital local and national music press in America by this time, but in the days before radio, and with the recording business in its technical and commercial infancy, no performer could wish for greater national exposure than that afforded by a successful engagement at the Columbian Exposition."

Source: from a Library of Congress article "The 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago".


This Page:
Dvorak's "New World Symphony"
Opening Day Ceremonies: John Knowles Paine, et al.
Women Composers: Amy Marcy Beach, et al.
Negro Jubilee Day: Will Marion Cook

Selected Musical/Recitative Performances at the Fair

Premiere of Dvorak's "New World Symphony"

Antonín Dvorák's "Symphony No. 9 in E minor," ('From the New World'), Op. 95, B. 178. Originally it was commissioned to be performed at the Columbian World's Fair, but due to unavoidable circumstances, it premiered instead at Carnegie Hall in New York, 1892. This beautiful symphony has four movements:
00:33 - I. Adagio - Alegro molto;
10:10 - II. Largo;
22:22 - III. Scherzo (molto vivace);
30:03 - IV. Allegro con fuoco.

Dvorák was famous for his slavic folk-inspired music associated with the national struggle of Bohemia and Moravia to be free of the control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As he worked on the "American themes" of his latest compositions, he observed that "In the Negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music." His music also had an influence on future American musicians/composers like Duke Ellington, among others. (Source).

Bohemian Day, August 12, 1893

"'Bohemia ruled the World's Columbian Exposition yesterday. It was the special date set apart for that nationality, and its citizens invaded the White City at every entrance by the thousands,' wrote the reviewer in the Chicago Daily Tribune.
On August 12, 1893, 8,000 people packed into the fair's Festival Hall to hear the Exposition Orchestra—the Chicago Orchestra expanded to 114 players—under the batons of Vojtech I. Hlavác, professor of music at the Imperial University in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and the director of New York's National Conservatory of Music in America, Antonín Dvorák." (Source).


Opening Day Ceremonies: October 21, 1892

This was a big event. The 190-piece orchestra conducted by Theodore Thomas was accompanied by an immense Columbian Chorus (reportedly 5,000 or more voices) under the direction of William L. Tomlins. The spectators were numbered at 100,000 or more. President Grover Cleveland gave the welcoming address. (And a young John Philip Sousa led one of the fifty bands of fifty musicians each and a drum corps of fifty, that performed also in outdoor concerts throughout much of the summer.)

--Harriet Monroe's "Columbian Ode". Music by George W. Chadwick. Vocal/Choral/Piano Score (scroll down the page). For this dedicatory performance, Harriet Monroe mentions in the preface to the published version of her long poem that Chadwick used two extended excerpts, plus a finale, from her poem.

--John Knowles Paine's "Columbian March and Hymn". Lyrics also by John Knowles Paine, music professor at Harvard University. Premiered at Dedication Day Ceremony (orchestra, military band, and chorus):

All hail and welcome nations of the Earth!
Columbia’s greeting comes from every state.

Proclaim to all mankind the world’s new birth
Of freedom, age on age shall consecrate.

Let war and enmity forever cease;
Let glorious art and commerce banish wrong.
The universal brotherhood of peace,
Shall be Columbia’s high inspiring song.

--Choruses by Mendelssohn, Handel, and Beethoven

--"The Star-Spangled Banner" and Philip Phile's Hail Columbia.
The great French musician Alexander Guilmant improvised on America's current national anthem ("The Star-Spangled Banner"), but "Hail Columbia," composed by Philip Phile (pseud.), was, unofficially, the national anthem until 1931. "It was 'composed for the first inauguration of George Washington, titled 'The President's March', and arranged with lyrics by Joseph Hopkinson in 1798 [son of Francis Hopkinson, composer and signer of the Declaration of Independence]. It was the anthem for the President until it was replaced by the song 'Hail to the Chief'. . . . Now the official Vice Presidential anthem. When played in honor of the Vice President, the song is always preceded by four ruffles and flourishes. In addition, the song has been used as a slow march during military ceremonies, often while the band counter-marches."

Hail Columbia, happy land!
Hail, ye heroes, heav'n-born band,
Who fought and bled in freedom's cause,
Who fought and bled in freedom's cause,
And when the storm of war was gone
Enjoy'd the peace your valor won.
Let independence be our boast,
Ever mindful what it cost;
Ever grateful for the prize,
Let its altar reach the skies.

Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.

Sound, sound the trump of fame,
Let Washington's great name
Ring through the world with loud applause,
Ring through the world with loud applause,
Let ev'ry clime to freedom dear,
Listen with a joyful ear,
With equal skill, with God-like pow'r
He governs in the fearful hour
Of horrid war, or guides with ease
The happier time of honest peace.

Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.


Dedication of the Woman's Building / Woman's Musical Congress

The Woman's Building dedication, like all programs held at or in recognition of the Woman's Building, featured women composers only:
--Ingeborg Bronsart, "Grand March";
--Frances Ellicott, "Dramatic Overture";
--Amy Marcy Beach, "Festival Jubilate, Op. 17." Score for chorus/orchestra (.pdf file) and vocal/piano score. Libretto from Psalm 100. Conductor, Theodore Thomas. This loud and joyous chorale was sung by 300 mixed-voice singers from the Chicago Apollo Musical Club. It was Beach's first commissioned choral work (for the Columbian Exposition), as well as the first major commissioned work of an American woman composer in the U.S. (Source).

Woman's Musical Congress, July 5-7, 1893

The audience at this 'women-in-music' event was so large that they had to move to the largest hall in the Art Palace. The program included celebrated opera singers, first generation female professional instrumentalists, and concert violinists. It also featured songs and piano and chamber works by 15 women.

Day 1--Amy Marcy Beach, piano. Two compositions from her recently published set of 4 piano "Sketches, Op. 15" ("In Autumn" and "Fireflies").
Day 2--Maud Powell, violin, and Amy Marcy Beach, piano. First performance of Beach's "Romance for Violin and Piano," Op. 23.
Day 3--Jeannette Dutton, singer, and Amy Marcy Beach, piano, "Sweetheart, Sigh No More", the third song of Amy Marcy Beach's "Four Songs Op.14" (the song on which her "Romance" is based). The libretto "Sweetheart, Sigh No More" is a poem by Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1891). (Source).

It Was With Doubt and Trembling
by Thomas Bailey Aldrich

It was with doubt and trembling
I whispered in her ear.
Go, take her answer, bird-on-bough,
That all the world may hear —
Sweetheart, sigh no more!

Sing it, sing it, tawny throat,
Upon the wayside tree,
How fair she is, how true she is,
How dear she is to me —
Sweetheart, sigh no more!

Sing it, sing it, tawny throat,
And through the summer long
The winds among the clover-tops
And brooks, for all their silvery stops,
Shall envy you the song —
Sweetheart, sigh no more!

Other woman composers at the Musical Congress:
--Clara Kathleen Rogers' "Sonata for Piano and Violin in D-minor, Op. 25" (1893). Performed at 1893 World's Fair, Chicago, according to album title page. Movt. I. Allegro; Movt. II. Andante con espressione; Movt. III. Allegro giojoso;

--Margaret Ruthven Lang--her "Dramatic Overture, Op. 12," which premiered several months earlier with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was the first composition by a woman performed by a major American symphony orchestra;
--Helen Hood;
--Adele Lewing;
--Mary Knight Wood.

Periodic Orchestral "Pop" Concerts, conducted by Theodore Thomas (often included women composers).

--Helen Hood's "Summer Song" in the All-American program for the Music Teachers National Association on July 7;
--Margaret Ruthven Lang's "Overture: Witichis, Op. 10" for orchestra on July 29 and twice thereafter;
--Ingeborg Bronsart's "Grand March," Aug. 8;
--Augusta Holmes' Irlande, a Symphonic Poem" (1882) on Aug. 9. (Source).


Colored American Day (aka, Negro Jubilee Day), August 25, 1893 / William Marion Cook.

Organized by Will Marion Cook, violin virtuoso/composer, and Charles Morris, this event was intended to showcase (with the blessing of the elderly Frederick Douglass) the talents of the younger generations of African Americans--namely, by putting on a production of Will Marion Cook's new opera "Scenes from the Opera of Uncle Tom's Cabin" which he had been working on for most of 1892, but it was cancelled for unknown reasons (opera never finished? lack of production funds?).

However, several sources note that either a duet or "several songs" from Will Marion Cook's "Opera of Uncle Tom's Cabin" were performed by Harry T. Burleigh (African American composer and classical baritone) and/or Sidney Woodward (well-known African American tenor) on "Colored American Day." An "advance program" listed two possible songs that might be from Cook's "Uncle Tom" opera: "He shall Burn" (Simon Legree song) and "Thou art gone forever"--but no one seems to know for sure whether they were performed. (Source)

Will Marion Cook's Swing Along
"Swing Along" was not performed at the Fair, but it is included here to give a sample of Cook's work (see vocal-piano score).

Swing Along!
by Will Marion Cook

Swing along, Chillun, swing along de lane,
Lif’ yo’ head an’ yo’ heels mighty high,
Swing along, Chillun, ‘taint a-goin’ to rain,
Sun’s as red as a rose in de sky.

Come along, Mandy, come along, Sue,
White folks watchin’ an’ seein’ what you do,
White folks jealous when you’se walkin’ two by two,
So swing along, Chillun, swing along!

Well-a, swing along, yes-a, swing along,
An’-a lif’-a yo’ heads up high,
Wif pride an’ gladness beamin’ from yo’ eye

Well-a, swing along, yes-a, swing along,
From a early morn till night,
Lif’ yo’ head an’ yo’ heels mighty high,
An’-a swing bof lef’ an’ right.

Cook had studied under Antonin Dvorak, among others, but due to racial prejudice in the world of "serious" music, he detoured into the more lucative field of musical theatre. One of his most popular musicals was the one-act "Clorindy; or, The Origin of the Cakewalk" (1898) written in collaboration with the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. "It was the first all-black show to play in a prestigious Broadway house, the Casino Theatre's Roof Garden." He was also the first African American to conduct a white theater orchestra. In addition, Cook is credited with paving the way for the development of orchestral concert jazz. "The New York Syncopated Orchestra, which he founded, toured the United States in 1918 and then went to England in 1919 for a command performance for King George V." (Source).

The rest of the day's program consisted of:
--A keynote address by Frederick Douglass on "There is no Negro problem" (based on his famous speech "The Race Problem"), followed by some short addresses by whites;
--Musical selections of a classical nature--such as operatic arias by established African American singers;
--Musical selections/recitations from rising African American entertainers.

Other notable African American performances: The popular poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar also read his poem which some sources list as "The Colored American," but since he is not known to have written a poem by that title, the reference is more likely to his poem "The Colored Soldiers" which praised the African Americans of his father's generation who fought so bravely--for the UNION--during the Civil War. And secondly, there was Frederic Douglass' grandson Joseph who played several classical violin numbers. It is unclear whether the Fisk Jubilee Singers did or did not perform the their specialty of Negro spirituals.

Some controversy attended this event. The elderly statesman Frederic Douglass somewhat reluctantly accepted the idea of a special day belatedly but finally recognizing African Americans the way other groups had been on other days, but the more rebellious younger generation, led by activist Ida B. Wells, protested what they feared would be the reduction of African American entertainment to racial stereotypes. In the end, however, the day's program was enthusiastically received by an audience of 2500 persons (2/3s black).



Go to Henry Adams, "Chapter 22. Chicago (1893)," from The Education of Henry Adams

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Sculpture, top of page:
Adelaide Johnson's "The Portrait Monument" (Elizabeth Cady
Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott), 1892, 1920.

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Posted: 4-15-15; Updated: 3-27-19