A Conductor Throws Caution to the Winds
Jan. 19, 1907
Despite his ill health, Harley Hamilton drove himself to conduct a concert by the Los Angeles Symphony because he believed so much in bringing the music of Tchaikovsky (or in those days, Tschaikowsky) to the public. The concert at hand is West Coast premiere of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.
“Harley Hamilton, too ill to leave his house, is just finishing his arrangements for the work of the symphony orchestra,” The Times says of his labors on the concert series.
“During the entire past month the director has devoted the major part of every day, propped up with pillows on his couch, to the preparation of the splendid symphony programmes.
“The symphony orchestra is the darling of his heart—and in several instances it has come near costing him his life. Mr. Hamilton puts more money into the symphony work than he ever receives from it. He has carried the orchestra over the years of comparative failure, supported its burdens almost alone in time of public adversity and devoted his only hours of rest or recreation to a constant effort to better its personnel and its music.”
To make ends meet, Hamilton teaches music students, conducts a theater orchestra and even performs in pit orchestras, coming to the rescue when many players were banned from a performance of “Mignon.” (See “Oh, God, the Bassoon!”)
Of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, Hamilton said: “I am quite a Russian in my tastes. Tschaikowsky’s art is a fundamental bulwark upon which the splendid individual music of modern Russia stands. There is an Oriental richness about his writings—spiced fragrance in every phrase—violet skies, hot suns, tropic exuberance—qualities that are no more inherent to the bleak steppes than the thrilling tenderness of Italian melodies. These evidence the Asiatic strain that purples the lighter Russian blood—the dominating, compelling force of the ancient Tartars.”
Hamilton conducted the concert (which also included Goldmark’s “Sakuntala” or “Rustic Wedding” and Arthur Foote’s Serenade in E Major) at the Mason Opera House.
Because of a relapse of “nervous rheumatism,” he “was ordered to the strictest confinement by his physician. Throwing caution to the winds, however, he worked through a long rehearsal yesterday morning and yesterday afternoon, partly standing, partly sitting in his chair, directed the lengthy concert after which he returned home physically exhausted but [illegible] triumphant,” The Times says.
For a short time, the Los Angeles Symphony was in competition with the more recent Los Angeles Philharmonic, but it eventually disbanded. Hamilton died at his home, 1120 Arapahoe, in 1933 at the age of 72, having given birth to the Los Angeles Symphony and the Los Angeles Women’s Orchestra (later the California Women’s Symphony Orchestra).
E-mail: lmharnisch (AT) gmail.com