(Christian Friedrich) Theodore Thomas was a German-born American conductor asnd violinist, who was eminent as one of the pioneers of music, especially orchestral music, in the USA.
Theodore Thomas received his first musical instruction from his father, a violinist, and at the age of 6 made a successful public appearance. The family emigrated to the USA in 1845, and for two years Theodore made frequent appearances as a solo violinist in concerts at New York. In 1851 he made a trip through the Southern States. Returning to New York he was engaged as one of the first violins in concerts and operatic performances during the engagements of Jenny Lind. Sontag, Grisi, Mario, etc. He occupied the position of leading violin under Arditi, and subsequently, the same position in German and Italian troupes, a part of the time officiating as conductor, until 1861, when he withdrew from the theatre. In 1855 he began a series of chamber-concerts at New York, with W. Mason, J. Mosenthal, Carl Bergmann, G. Matzka and F. Bergner, which were continued every season until 1869.
In 1864 Theodore Thomas began his first series of symphony concerts at Irving Hall, New York, which were continued for five seasons, with varying success. In 1872 the symphony concerts were resumed and carried on until he left New York in 1878. Steinway Hall was used for these concerts, and the orchestra numbered eighty performers. In the summer of 1866, in order to secure that efficiency which can only come from constant practice together, he began the experiment of giving nightly concerts at the Terrace Garden, New York, removing, in 1868, to larger quarters at the Central Park Garden. In 1869 he made his first concert tour through the Eastern and Western States. The orchestra, at first numbering forty players, was, in subsequent seasons, increased to sixty. The programmes presented during these trips, as well as at New York, were noticeable for their catholic nature, and for the great number of novelties brought out. But it was also noticeable that the evenings devoted to the severer class of music, old or new,.in the Garden concerts at New York were often the most fully attended. Thomas's tendencies, it was plainly seen, were toward the new school of music; but he was none the less attentive to the old, and he introduced to American amateurs a large number of compositions by the older masters. The repertory of the orchestra was very large, and included compositions in every school.
Theodore Thomas, who had been a member of the Philharmonic Society of New York since 1853, was elected conductor of the organisation in 1877, but after a single season's activities was called to Cincinnati, Ohio, to become director of the College of Music, an institution which had grown up as one of the fruits of the enthusiasm created by the Music Festivals instituted by him in 1873. In Cincinnati he organised an orchestra to give concerts in connexion with the College, but after a year accepted re-election to the New York post, journeying to the metropolis once a month in order to prepare and direct the concerts. In 1878 he conducted the first complete North American performance of J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) in the Cincinnati Music Hall as part of the Biennial Cincinnati May Festival in Ohio, USA. In February 1880 differences of opinion between him and the other officials of the College led to his resignation and return to New York, where, besides conducting the concerts of the Philharmonic Society, he called his own orchestra back into existence. With it he gave high-class symphony concerts, popular concerts, and concerts for young people until the end of the season 1887-1888, when, discouraged for want of popular support, he abandoned all activities except those which devolved on him as conductor of the Philharmonic Societies of New York and Brooklyn.
In 1891 the Chicago Orchestra (later known as the Theodore Thomas Orchestra, and now since 1912 as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) was organised for him by wealthy music-lovers in the metropolis of the North-West, and he transferred his labours to that city. The 12 years of his connexion with the Philharmonic Society as its conductor were for the society a period of uninterrupted prosperity, towards which he contributed greatly, not only by his artistic zeal and skill, but also by voluntarily relinquishing, year after year, a portion of the sum which under his contract he was entitled to collect. The story of his labours in Chicago belongs to the. history of the orchestra which bore his name. In 1886 and 1887 he was concerned in a disastrous effort to put opera in the vernacular on a high plane in America. He died having been privileged to conduct only three concerts in the new home of the orchestra over whose artistic fortunes he had presided for 14 years. His successor as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was Frederick Stock.
Theodore Thomas was a dynamic apostle of the symphony orchestra in the USA, perhaps doing more to foster classical music than any other in the country's history; besides establishing the older European repertoire, he introduced to the USA the music of Tchaikovsky, Dvořák, Bruckner, Richard Strauss, and many others.