a1 George Washington University
Like many midwestern cities in the nineteenth century, Cincinnati, Ohio, was home to large numbers of German immigrant musicians, among them the founders of the Cincinnati Grand Orchestra in 1872. Their model of musician-based organization eventually ran counter to the prestige-building potential of Western art music, which made it attractive to local civic leaders determined to earn respect for their city at a national level. The successful Cincinnati May festivals beginning in 1873 under the artistic leadership of conductor Theodore Thomas brought the city the desired renown. But the musical monumentality needed for large festival performances could not be obtained locally, leaving Cincinnati's players with opportunities to perform at a high level but without a way to define their performance as a significant achievement in the world of high art. Although their orchestra was ultimately unsuccessful, however, these musicians demonstrated an agency that transcends their historical obscurity and helps incorporate aesthetic and practical aspects of institution-building into the social arguments common to discussions of Western art music in the United States.
Karen Ahlquist is an associate professor of music and department chair at George Washington University in Washington, DC, where she teaches music history. She is the author of Democracy at the Opera: Music, Theater, and Culture in New York City, 1815–60 (1997) and editor of Chorus and Community (2006), a collection of essays on choruses and choral music. Professor Ahlquist's articles and reviews have appeared in the Journal of American History, the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the Journal of the American Musicological Society, Women and Music, and other publications. Her research interests include social and cultural issues related to nineteenth-century vocal music, music institutions, music and American immigration, musicians' education, and music historiography.