Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The American Orchestra & Theodore Thomas - Winner, Biography, 1928

The American Orchestra & Theodore Thomas
By: Charles Edward Russell
Doubleday, Page & Company, 1927

In The American Orchestra & Theodore Thomas Charles Edward Russell takes on a subject that I had never considered before. Before Thomas began the Theodore Thomas Orchestra, there had not existed a permanent orchestra fully supported by public benefactors and ticket sales. Orchestra's did exist that were supported with government fund but none that could support itself. These government funded orchestras in the United States played music that, Thomas felt, was substandard in the world of music. He sought, with his orchestra, to introduce to the country great European composers like Beethoven and Wagner. His first orchestra made it's home in New York, but later it traveled the country. Thomas ended his career as the creator of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra which still plays in the orchestra hall he dreamed of and was finally able to have built shortly before his death in 1904. The hall still has the name Theodore Thomas Orchestra Hall inscribed in it's facade.

The story of Thomas and his orchestra is a painful one. Thomas spent most of his life in debt, partially due to his generosity and partially due to the fact that this type of orchestra was a novel idea in the United States and took some time to gain a footing. Thomas was also often criticized for not playing the type of music that the public wanted to hear - his standards were very high and he refused to lower them to play the waltzes and polkas demanded by the people. In the end, though, he succeeded in raising the standards of the people.

Russell knew Thomas and covered him as a journalist before writing this biography. Because of this he often writes in the first person. This is generally against all rules for this type of writing, but I found it a bit refreshing. It gave the story a more personal note - Russell knew this or that because he had witnessed it first hand. I truly enjoyed reading about this particular part of American history that I had never read about before.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Bridge of San Luis Rey - Winner, Novel, 1928

The Bridge of San Luis Rey
By: Thornton Wilder
Albert & Charles Boni, Inc., 1927

The story begins with the collapse of an old Incan rope bridge over a canyon in Peru. Five people die, one person witnesses the event. That one person is Brother Juniper, a friar. Brother Juniper decides that there must be a reason that each person was on this particular bridge at this particular time, which must have been destined as the time for each of their deaths, and sets out to probe all possible nooks and crannies of their lives to determine what that reason might be.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey reads almost like a parable. Brother Juniper examines each life lost on the Bridge for any signs that would give good reason for that individual to be removed from this earth at that time. I won't go into the details of the lives so as not to give away exactly who dies, but it is true that each of the lives are connected to the others in some way. There is one woman who connects them all and, ironically, her life is not taken.

The question Brother Juniper seeks to answer is an age-old question that inevitably appears when tragedy strikes. "Why?" Was that person just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Is there a "destiny" on each of our lives that determines precisely when we will die? Why does it appear so unfair when the seemingly undeserving suffer? I believe that we often just have to place our trust in God at such times, knowing that we won't always have answers.

Thornton's book is very short (I think I read it in 3 hours) and easy to read. I recommend you read it to see what you think about his conclusions on why tragedies might inexplicably strike.