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Music: Death of a Believer

2 minute read

Quietly, as on other Thursday evenings, the 94 musicians of the Chicago Symphony filed to their accustomed places before the aged, gold organ pipes of Orchestra Hall. Before them, on the small, railed conductor’s platform, a score lay open on the familiar wooden music stand. But the platform remained empty. From one side of the stage Assistant Conductor Hans Lange led the orchestra, like a riderless steed, through the memorial music of a

Bach andante. Frederick Wilhelm August Stock, Chicago’s grand old man of music, had died at 69 of a heart attack two days before.

For 38 years Stock, the son of a German army bandmaster, had conducted the Chicago Symphony in the Midwest’s finest music. Methodical, unassuming, affable, he had brought to the Chicago Symphony no such spectacular ups & downs as those which have dramatized other ‘orchestras. No showman, “Papa” Stock stuck strictly to music.

He handled his orchestra with a gentle, paternal hand, appealed to his players’ artistic consciences rather than attempting to dominate them. Under him, the Chicago Symphony developed a bouquet all its own: subtler than that of the hard-driven Eastern symphonies, it was more akin to the Rhine wine that he loved so well. For years the U.S. music limelight almost passed him by. But when, on one of its rare tours, the finely balanced Chicago Symphony gave a concert in Manhattan in 1940, critics rated Frederick Stock among the world’s greatest.

Conductor Stock loved Chicago. His mission, in which he largely succeeded, was to foster in Midwesterners the belief that symphonic music could be as American as Milwaukee beer, as free of foreign snobbery as Michigan Avenue.

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