Eugene Ormandy photographs
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Eugene Ormandy, born in Budapest in 1899, grew up Jenö Blau, first son of Benjamin Blau, who began training his son on the violin at an early age. A musical prodigy with perfect pitch, he studied as a child at the Royal Academy of Music under the tutelage of his namesake, Jenö Hubay. By the age of 17 Ormandy had not only graduated (three years prior) but was teaching at this same academy, and soon thereafter he began touring Europe as a soloist. In 1920, after a concert in Vienna, two American entrepreneurs, who claimed to be concert agents, persuaded Ormandy to come and concertize in America, where they promised to procure for him 300 performing venues and to pay him a total of $30,000 in fees. Ormandy accepted the offer, anxious to go to the United States, where opportunities for musicians seemed to abound.
Upon his arrival in New York in December, 1921, however, the promised contract evaporated. In need of money, Ormandy found a job with the orchestra of the Capitol Theater, a movie house that featured musical concerts as well as silent movies with live musical accompaniment. Ormandy rose in the ranks quickly, becoming concertmaster within a week of taking the job. By 1926, having occasionally substituted for the conductor Erno Rapee, Ormandy had become the Capitol Orchestra's associate music director. In that capacity he was eventually discovered by the manager, Arthur Judson, who, taking the young conductor into his stable of performers, began to employ him in the Dutch Master Hour and other radio programs. Judson also began booking important live performances for him. In 1929 Ormandy appeared at the Lewisohn Stadium in New York, conducting the New York Philharmonic-Symphony, and in 1930 he made his conductorial debut in Philadelphia, where he conducted the city's orchestra at the Robin Hood Dell. Over the next year several subsequent Philadelphia appearances included a successful two week guest engagement substituting for Arturo Toscanini, who had been suddenly taken ill at the start of the fall season. As a result, the Philadelphia Orchestra's administrators, who had begun thinking about a successor to Leopold Stokowski, invited Ormandy back as guest conductor many more times over the next few years.
Ormandy had, in the meantime, become engaged by the Minneapolis Symphony as its conductor. From 1931 to 1936 Ormandy did what he could to improve the orchestra and to bring it into more national prominence. Ormandy, with the help of Judson, obtained a recording contract with RCA Victor, and soon this Midwestern orchestra was the most recorded orchestra in the country. Though neither Ormandy nor the players received extra compensation for their recordings, the orchestra and perhaps particularly Ormandy profited from the increased publicity produced by their popular recordings. Ormandy and the Minneapolis Symphony were the first in the United States to record Mahler's Symphony No. 4, Rachmaninoff's No. 2, and Sibelius' No. 1.
When Ormandy's five-year contract with Minneapolis ended, the Philadelphia Orchestra invited him to become its co-conductor, an invitation Ormandy readily accepted. For the next four years Ormandy shared the podium with Leopold Stokowski, an arrangement that apparently went smoothly enough, even after Ormandy was made music director in 1938. When Stokowski finally left, at the end of the 1940-1941 season, Ormandy made no big adjustments in programming or in the management of the Orchestra.
But these years, however successful professionally, were decades of personal challenge and even upheaval for the maestro. He had married professional harpist Stephanie Goldner in 1922, who gave up a position with the New York Philharmonic in 1931 to join her husband in the Midwest. The couple twice had babies that subsequently died of RH complications. Furthermore, with the advent of World War II and then, later, the Soviet occupation, Ormandy expended no small effort and money assisting family, friends, and friends of friends out of Europe, many of whom he put up at his own home (at one time the Ormandy's lived in a house in Wynnewood that they called "Journey's End," where they accommodated some of the emigrés). Among those he helped were members of his wife's own family, emigrating from Austria. Yet despite all the couple had been through together in these decades, or perhaps because of it, Ormandy and his wife Stephanie divorced in 1947. In 1950 he married Margaret (Gretel) Frances Hitsch.
While the new Mrs. Ormandy devoted herself to her husband, he devoted himself to the Orchestra. This is not to say that he did not care about the people in his life. Indeed he dedicated himself to the welfare of his brother, Martin, whom he assisted financially and professionally (Ormandy was estranged from his other brother Laszlo). He kept in touch with family back in Hungary, telephoning and sending money whenever he could, and he also continued to assist his first wife and her family. In 1952 Mrs. Ormandy and he also unofficially "adopted" a young Austrian woman from Czechoslovakia named Renata Huebscher (later Harrison); the Ormandys helped put her through Bryn Mawr College and remained close to her after she married. Thus in many respects, Ormandy's familial relationships seem to have been fairly simply defined; though his work generally came first, he used his earnings and his position to help anyone for whom he cared. The only return he apparently expected was loyalty. And he had need for family loyalty and affection during two difficult occasions in the 1960s. The first one involved an automobile accident in which both Ormandy and his wife were terribly injured, and from which it took them months to recover. The second incident was the death of Stephanie Ormandy in 1962 from cancer. In these instances, family and friends, including members of his first wife's family, rallied to lend their support.
In contrast with these relationships, his relationship to the Orchestra, his other "family," was more complex. He liked to view himself as a kind of father or uncle to the Orchestra members, to whom he was often quite loyal, personally. He helped individuals through illness and personal problems, assisted players with obtaining loans, raises or bonuses from management, and threw the Orchestra lavish parties once a year. In general, however, he aligned himself with the Orchestra Association or Board when it came to general employment policy; he, for instance, asked all the Orchestra members to go back to work during the strike of 1966 and refused otherwise to get involved. Many say that in this instance and others, Ormandy could not, in any case, have had much influence with the Board and therefore had no choice but to take a neutral, middle ground. Yet one can easily believe--and there is evidence that some players did--that because for Ormandy work and the business of orchestra management were so important, he would not have sided with players even if he had had more ability to affect Board policies. Likewise there are those who, in remembering Ormandy, have described him as a kind of factory foreman, particularly with regard to the production and sales of orchestra recordings. Certainly it can be said that he put the Orchestra's financial well-being and reputation above all other considerations, a priority that sometimes brought him into conflict with the instrumentalists.
Ormandy was known for his business acumen, practicality, and efficiency, traits perhaps developed in his early days as movie-house maestro and radio performer. In the 44 years of his Philadelphia tenure, he and the Orchestra made many recordings with RCA (1936-1943, 1968-1985) and with Columbia Records (1944 and 1968), a great number of which sold quite well. Ormandy readily accommodated these companies' technical and economic needs, helping to make recordings in "record" time, and going along with whatever plans they had for producing a best-seller, however, gimmicky. The Orchestra also frequently went touring, in part to sell records, in part just for the added exposure, and many of their tours were historically quite significant. For instance, in making the 1949 tour to Great Britain, the Philadelphia Orchestra was the first American orchestra to play overseas since before the war. Other important tours included those to Finland in 1955 (when they met with Jean Sibelius), to Latin America (1966), to Japan (1967), and, perhaps most famously, to China (1973). While increasing the ranks of the Orchestra's overseas listeners, Ormandy also labored to obtain new audiences through the media of radio and television. In fact, the Philadelphia Orchestra was the first orchestra to appear in a televised broadcast, when on March 20, 1948, the CBS television network aired a live performance. In these and other areas Ormandy's efforts to keep the Orchestra in the public eye paid off, making the Philadelphia Orchestra one of the best known of the American orchestras.
Ormandy made such efforts not simply for profits, however, but also for the sake of music and the Orchestra's music-making capability. Keeping the Orchestra financially healthy enabled Ormandy to hire topnotch, even well-known players for the Orchestra and made possible the Orchestra Association's practice (which Ormandy established) of lending money to players, interest free, for the purchase of high quality instruments. And though he had a reputation for performing only conservative, crowd-pleasing (i.e., money-making) programs, the record shows something different. Indeed, Ormandy frequently played 20th-century composers and premiered works by such American composers as Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland, Walter Piston, and Richard Yardumian, to name a few. In addition to helping composers by performing their works, Ormandy frequently aided young performing artists. He ran conductors' workshops in the 1950s, worked directly with the Curtis Institute of Music student orchestra in the 1960s and 1970s while arranging to have other professional conductors do the same, and generally promoted any individual musician that he felt had promise. In fact, in 1972 Ormandy brought the then little known Riccardo Muti to Philadelphia to make his American debut; one of many young artists Ormandy assisted, Muti, of course, was to become the maestro's own successor.
Six years later Ormandy announced that he would retire at the end of the 1979-1980 season. By some accounts he had become somewhat sharper or more bitter in these years, and a shift in feelings towards his work seemed evidenced by such statements as the following, written in a letter to his friend Earl Vincent Moore: "If we could steal a day between concerts we would fly down to see all of you but concert managers nowadays are cold blooded business men who have to fill in every day and the old horse has to keep on plugging" (December 2, 1976). There is some evidence that Ormandy had been running up against an increasingly uncooperative management, but he must also have been discouraged by growing friction between himself and Orchestra members hoping for his retirement. At the same time the late 1970s saw a decrease of recording sessions with RCA, which, while it continued to make records with the Orchestra and its guest conductors, produced fewer new recordings with the aging maestro and tended instead to release previous Ormandy recordings from its archives, to his disappointment. Most of all, Ormandy was impeded by his own growing frailty. He had hip replacement surgery in 1970, which had sufficiently relieved the pain under which he had been operating to enable him to walk and to continue his work but did not eradicate that pain. There were other problems as well, such as an impairment of his vision, his hearing, and his once legendary memory. Yet Ormandy went on conducting even after his official 1980 retirement. He frequently appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra as conductor laureate and guest conducted all over the U.S. and in Europe, recreating the famed "Philadelphia Sound" wherever he went. Ormandy gave his final concert at Carnegie Hall on January 10, 1984. Despite the onset during intermission of an illness that would put an end to his public appearances, he completed the concert leading the Orchestra in a faultless performance of Béla Bártok's Concerto for Orchestra, which he conducted from memory.
Ormandy's last ten to fifteen years were filled with honors, awards, and achievements. In 1970 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom; in 1973 he made the historic trip to China with the Orchestra; he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth during a celebration of America's bicentennial; and he received the Golden Baton Award in 1979, the same year that both he and the Philadelphia Orchestra commemorated their 80th birthdays. The City of Philadelphia awarded him its Medal of Freedom in 1980, and he received Kennedy Center Honors in 1982. His life was one filled with such distinctions, and whatever the value of his accomplishment, there can be no denial that he worked hard for these honors. For 44 years he made the Philadelphia Orchestra his life, and he had little or no outside activities or pastimes. He had friendships, but many of his friends were musicians with whom he worked in some capacity. Socializing with non-musician friends often took the form of their driving Ormandy to a concert or sharing a box with his wife. Mrs. Ormandy herself, even in that most private and personal of relationships, had in a sense become a business partner to her husband. Her own early comments on this matter are telling: upon marriage she thought she might teach her new husband "how to play," but instead, she said, "he taught me how to work" ( Newsweek, March 2, 1953, p.55). It is no exaggeration to say work was truly his life. Thus there is something quite fitting ab out the fact that so few biographic details are known about Ormandy outside of the professional arena, for he clearly made no distinctions between the personal and professional aspects of his existence.
This collection of photographs (many of which are available online), documents the career and life of Eugene Ormandy from the early 1880s to the early 1990s, with the bulk of the photographs dating from the 1940s to the 1970s. Most prints are black-and-white; some are color. There are numerous photographs of Eugene Ormandy conducting, in particular at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. This collection also documents his tours with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Europe, the People's Republic of China, Japan, and Latin America. In addition, researchers will find many photographs of Eugene Ormandy with other musicians and supporters of the Philadelphia Orchestra. In order to find photographs of specific individuals, researchers are encouraged to perform key work searches (all individuals are entered first name, last name).
The collection is intellectually arranged in chronological order. Physically, volumes 1-56 are arranged chronologically; boxes 57-63 contain duplicates of images in volumes 1-56; box 64 contains a photograph album from National Music Camp, Interlocken, Michigan, dating from August 26 to 29, 1996; box 65 contains a photograph album from the dedication of the Eugene Ormandy Listening Center, University of Pennsylvania Library on November 15, 1989; box 66 contains a photograph album given November 18, 1956, from Columbia Records Public Relations Department; boxes 67-71 comprise oversize photographs arranged chronologically; box 72 contains duplicates of images in boxes 67-71; boxes 73-75 house negatives; and box 76 contains glass slides.
Gift of Mrs. Eugene Ormandy, 1987 through 1999.
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Clémence Scouten
- Finding Aid Date
- 2015 April 30
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.