Theodore Thomas


Theodore Thomas

Dunum, Landkreis Wittmund, Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen), Germany
Death 5 Jan 1905 (aged 69)
Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, USA
Burial Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA
Plot Spruce Ave., Lot# 6150
Memorial ID 142395733 View Source
Suggest Edits

Conductor. The prolific leader of several major ensembles, he is perhaps best remembered as the founding maestro of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Raised in the small north German town of Esens, he received his initial violin lessons from his bandmaster father and at six was playing in public. By age 10 he had a following, but the family decided that America was the place for a major career and in 1845 set out for New York. In 1848 both the elder and younger Thomas joined the Navy Band, but the following year Theodore was cut loose by his father and had to support himself; he began touring throughout the eastern United States, acting as his own manager and ticket agent, then in 1850 moved back to New York. Intending a return to Germany, he instead studied conducting with Karl Eckert and Louis Antoine Jullien, then in 1852 became the concert master of an orchestra assembled to accompany Jenny Lind, Henriette Sontag, and other operatic stars-of-the-day; invited to join the New York Philharmonic at 19, over the next years he continued performing as a violinist while conducting both full orchestras and chamber groups. The maestro stayed busy; in 1862 he founded his own Theodore Thomas Orchestra which operated until 1888, presenting both full orchestral and chamber works in New York City and as far west as Chigago and St. Louis, in the process doing much to popularize Wagner's music in America. He ran the Brooklyn Philharmonic Society from 1862 until 1891, started the Cincinnati Music Festival in 1873, was in charge of Philadelphia concerts for the 1876 American Centennial, from 1878 to 1879 headed the Cincinnati College of Music while simultaneously holding the podium of the New York Philharmonic, directed the American Opera Orchestra during its 1886 short life, and from 1879 until 1891 served a second tenure as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic. Having famously said: "I would go to Hell if they would give me a permanent orchestra", in 1890 he entered a into discussions with a group in Chicago which wanted to do precisely that. On October 16th and 17th of 1891 he conducted the initial performances of what was then-called the Chicago Orchestra, presenting works that included the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 and Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Over the next 14 seasons he regularly programmed the music of the 'old masters' as well as that of such then-modern composers as Bruckner, Dvorak, Elgar, Smetana, and his friend Richard Strauss whom he invited to become the Symphony's first guest conductor. The maestro did continue to travel, among his important engagements the February 19, 1887 world premiere of Camille Saint-Saens' Symphony No. 3, the "Organ Symphony"; having long-lobbied for a new venue, his dream was realized on December 14, 1904 when he led the first performance at Symphony Hall, a facility designed by Daniel Hudson Burnham, architect of the Chicago World's Fair. Maestro Thomas only got to conduct in 'his' Hall three times, as he led his final performance on Christmas Eve of 1904 and died shortly thereafter of pneumonia. Today, Chicago's Grant Park has a statue erected in his honor; he is a collateral ancestor of the Presidents Bush.

Bio by: Bob Hufford


Theodore Thomas
1835 - 1905

Gravesite Details

Interred March 4, 1905

Family Members



In their memory
Plant Memorial Trees



How famous was Theodore Thomas?

Current rating:

22 votes

to cast your vote.

  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Originally Created by: Bob Hufford
  • Added: 9 Feb 2015
  • Find a Grave Memorial 142395733
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Theodore Thomas (11 Oct 1835–5 Jan 1905), Find a Grave Memorial ID 142395733, citing Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA ; Maintained by Find a Grave .