Frederick Stock studied violin and composition at the Cologne Conservatory, where his teachers included the composer Engelbert Humperdinck and the conductor Franz Wüllner, and where Willem Mengelberg was a fellow student. Following graduation he joined the Cologne Municipal Orchestra, known as the Gürzenich Orchestra, as a violinist, and remained with it for four years. During this time he played under Brahms, Richard Strauss and Tchaikovsky, and met the conductor, Theodore Thomas. Thomas invited him in 1895 to join his orchestra in Chicago, in which Stock played for four years as principal viola. Thomas appointed him as assistant conductor in 1899, and from 1903 he was given responsibility for all the orchestra’s concerts presented outside of Chicago. When Thomas died in 1905, Stock succeeded him as the chief conductor of the orchestra, which in 1912 changed its name from the Theodore Thomas Orchestra to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. For the rest of his life he remained at the head of this orchestra, apart from one year, 1918, when he was briefly replaced until he gained American citizenship.
Under Stock’s guidance the orchestra became one of the most distinguished in America. He commissioned a considerable number of significant works, including Kodály’s Concerto for Orchestra, Stravinsky’s Symphony in C, and Walton’s overture Scapino. Stock was often quick to introduce new works to Chicago: for instance he conducted the first performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in its final form and of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, with the composer as soloist, as well as then-recent works by Debussy, Ravel, Schoenberg and Scriabin. In addition to his purely musical accomplishments, Stock did much to develop the musical infrastructure of his adopted city, instituting a culture of technical excellence within the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and working hard to improve the conditions offered to the orchestra’s members. He created the Chicago Civic Orchestra under the aegis of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to serve as a training orchestra, using players from the senior body as mentors, and inaugurated concerts for children which he conducted himself.
A highly musical and expressive conductor, Stock was praised especially by contemporary critics for his interpretation of the music of Brahms, which may well have owed something to his direct experience of playing for this composer in Germany. Not cast in the flamboyant mould of contemporaries such as Koussevitzky, Mengelberg, Stokowski and Toscanini, Stock also did not record as extensively as they did and so has been to some extent overshadowed by them. Nonetheless it was Stock and the Chicago Symphony who recorded what was reputed to be the first recording of a symphony orchestra in the USA: his own arrangements of America and The Star-Spangled Banner, for Victor in 1916. He went on to record a quite extensive repertoire for this company.
Among the numerous shorter works which were a staple of the 78rpm record catalogue, Stock led for the RCA label performances of Benjamin’s Overture to an Italian Comedy, Dohnányi’s Suite in F sharp minor, Goldmark’s overture Im Frühling, excerpts from Suk’s A Fairy Tale suite, and Volkmann’s Serenade. Larger-scale works for RCA included Chausson’s Symphony, Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, Schumann’s Symphony No. 1, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 and Beethoven’s Piano Concertos Nos 4 and 5, with Artur Schnabel as soloist. In 1938 orchestra and conductor moved to Columbia-USA, where they recorded a similar combination of the familiar and less well-known., including overtures by Glazunov (Carnival), Toch (Pinocchio) and Walton (Scapino), plus excerpts form Glière’s Symphony No. 3 ‘Ilya Muromets’ and Ippolitov-Ivanov’s Caucasian Sketches, as well as more familiar works by Brahms, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann and Richard Strauss. Only a few of these recordings have ever been reissued on either LP or CD.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).