Monday, January 7, 2013

Frances Glessner's Miniature Orchestra

On Wednesday January 16, 2013, the museum will place on display the marvelous miniature orchestra created by Frances Glessner Lee exactly 100 years ago.  A special lecture focusing on the Glessners and their lifelong involvement with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will be held at 7:00pm that evening in the coach house.  For reservations or further information call 312-326-1480.  (The model, now owned by the Rosenthal Archives of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, will continue on exhibit at the museum through Sunday February 24th and can be viewed as part of the regular public tours).

In 1912, Frances Glessner Lee began work on a scale model of the Orchestra which was presented to her mother on January 1, 1913, the occasion of her 65th birthday.  Ninety Viennese bisque dolls and wooden doll-house chairs were gathered for the project.  Lee was permitted to attend rehearsals, where she wandered among the musicians, marking on each doll’s bare bisque head the hairlines and facial hair of each performer.  She hand-stitched tuxedos and white dress shirts for each doll, and placed a tiny fabric carnation in each lapel.  (Her mother often sent carnations for the orchestra members to wear).  Many of the instruments were made by Lee, using wooden candy boxes and other household items; others were made by craftsmen she hired for the project.  The entire ensemble was mounted on a tiered wooden stage that was nearly eight feet long.  Conductor Frederick Stock, an intimate friend of the family, handwrote one page of The Drum Major of Schneider’s Band for each music stand.  (The piece, written by Arthur J. Mundy and published in 1880, was a favorite of Frances Glessner, who enjoyed playing it on the piano).

John Glessner recorded the presentation of the model in his wife’s journal:
“New Years was Frances’ birthday and that afternoon Frances Lee gave her the wonderful ‘little orchestra’ – the full orchestra stage and full 90 men and their instruments, doll size, all worked out in exquisite detail, and most of it done by Frances’ own fingers . . . Nothing could be more complete or perfectly done, or more interesting.”

On Friday January 17, 1913, the full Orchestra was invited to view the model:
“Every member of the organization except three was present, making with the 15 or 16 other guests, 105 or  106 who sat down to dinner that was prepared in this house . . . There was a punch at the close and toasts and songs and the musical program before that was fine and humorous.  The men were much interested in the ‘little orchestra’ and in seeing themselves as others see them, and went back again and again to the room over the parlor where it was, and Frances Lee was fully satisfied with their appreciation.”

The Glessners displayed the model of the orchestra in the upstairs hall of their home, placing it in a covered display case made specifically for the model.  It was subsequently donated to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where it was displayed in the second floor ballroom of Orchestra Hall for many years before being removed from permanent display and stored.

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