Switzerland & Midwest Connections: Rudolph Ganz B-A-C-H Vitamins

Welcome to the History Blog featuring the connections between Switzerland and the Midwest. I am Joerg Oberschmied, Deputy Consul General in Chicago. My interest in history started at an early age and continues to this day. The views expressed are solely mine and I hope you enjoy these journeys through time.

They rank among the most innovative classical composers of the 20th century and today are famous worldwide. Names like Bartok, Debussy, Korngold, Ravel and Schoenberg were unknown in the United States until Swiss composer Rudolph Ganz introduced their music to American audiences. Ganz became the first pianist to perform Ravel’s music in America. In 1908, Ravel in turn dedicated Scarbo from Gaspard de la nuit to Ganz. In 1923, Rudolph Ganz was awarded the French Legion of Honor for introducing Ravel and Debussy to American audiences. He also invited Arnold Schoenberg to join the faculty of the Chicago Music College in 1934, but Schoenberg’s health would not permit his living in Chicago.

Coming to America

Born in Zurich in 1877, Rudolph Ganz was an outstanding Swiss composer, conductor and pianist of the 20th century. He studied music at the Lausanne Conservatoire and later became a pupil of Ferruccio Busoni. In 1899 he made his piano debut as soloist with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra playing works by Beethoven and Chopin.

In 1900 Rudolph Ganz married American soprano Mary Forrest and in the fall of that year the couple moved from Berlin to Chicago, where he joined the piano department of the Chicago Musical College. In 1903 a son was born, Anton Roy, who later served as Swiss ambassador to the Soviet Union, Iran, Yugoslavia and Algeria. From 1905 until 1908 Ganz lived in New York and at the outbreak of World War I, he taught at the Institute of Musical Art (later The Juilliard School). In 1921 Ganz became the fourth music director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, where his symphonic programs attracted national attention. He returned to Chicago in 1928 and rejoined the Chicago Musical College, serving as artistic director and later as president. In 1931 he founded and conducted the National Chamber Symphony, which was especially known for performing contemporary music.

In the 40’s Ganz became permanent conductor of the Young People’s Concerts in New York, San Francisco and Chicago. The Associated Press called Ganz “one of the most successful musicians with children.” In 1959, he had just conducted two Bach Chorals at the New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concert, which as a great success. He said “my young friends, please remember all your life, Bach is the vitamin of music.” Then came a wave of letters from mothers asking Ganz where they could buy these B-A-C-H vitamins, because the boys insisted on procuring them.

Later Years and Roosevelt University

In 1954 the Chicago Musical College merged with Roosevelt University and Ganz became president emeritus of the college. Until 1966 he continued teaching, giving lectures and interviews for educational radio and television. Following the death of his wife Mary in 1956, Ganz married Esther LaBerge, a soprano and associate professor at the Chicago Musical College. They performed in joint recitals of contemporary music. In 1957, Louis Sullivan’s handsomely restored Room at Roosevelt University was renamed the Rudolph Ganz Memorial Recital Hall. It was restored in part with financial support from the Swiss Benevolent Society and received the Chicago Landmark Award for Preservation Excellence in 2003 as well as the American Institute of Architects Chicago Design Excellence Award in 2005. Mayor Richard J. Daley named Rudolph Ganz in 1964 “Honorary Ambassador of Music from Chicago to the World” and Governor Otto Kerner in 1967 officially designated February 24th “Rudolph Ganz Day in Illinois.” In 1972 Rudolph Ganz died at the age of ninety-five. A Chicago newspaper headline read: “A last link with Liszt passes on”.

Special thanks go to the Newberry Library (www.newberry.org) and Roosevelt University (www.roosevelt.edu) for their assistance with this article.

Rudolph Ganz in 1901 (courtesy Newberry Library).
Ganz Hall at Roosevelt University in Chicago (courtesy Roosevelt University)

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Switzerland in the USA

Switzerland in the USA

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