The Music of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition

October 1, 1991

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, or St. Louis World's Fair, as it has come to be known, took place in St. Louis, Missouri, from April 30 to December 1, 1904. The musical program of the fair was carefully planned and implemented, and was designed to educate as well as to entertain the nearly twenty million people who visited. The budget for music at the fair was $450,000, and musical organizations from around the country, as well as from numerous foreign countries, performed a wide variety of music in a large number of diverse settings within the context of the Exposition.

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition lasted for seven months, but the preparation of the grounds and construction of the buildings began in September, 1901. The Exposition was intended to commemorate the centennial, in 1903, of the Louisiana Purchase, but as plans for the event developed, it became evident that more preparation time was required. Thus, the Exposition opened on April 30, 1904. The fairground encompassed 1,275 acres. The theme of the fair was man and his achievements, and it included numerous displays of the processes as well as the products that exemplified human ingenuity and creativity. Exhibitions and displays from the various regions of the United States as well as numerous foreign countries filled the Exposition grounds. Eight huge palaces, the largest covering twenty acres, housed displays and demonstrations of human progress in a wide variety of areas.


Planning the Music

The planning for the music at the fair began in May, 1902 when the directors of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company appointed George Markham, a St. Louisan, as its music advisor. Markham then selected two individuals to work with him, and the three men were designated the Bureau of Music. The two St. Louisans joining Markham were George Stewart, who was appointed the Manager of the Bureau, and Ernest Kroeger, who was given the responsibility for the musical programming at the Exposition.

The original idea of the fair planners was to emphasize brass band music, virtually to the exclusion of other musical media and styles. However, when Kroeger was appointed to oversee the programming, he insisted that a wide range of musical styles, periods, composers, and media be included in the Exposition's program. As a result, the official History of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, published by the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company, commented in its report on the music that, "In its censorship of concert programs, the Bureau took care to infuse specimens of high-grade music into all of them without making them too severe for the average taste."1

David R. Francis, president of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company, wrote afterwards that "the influence of the concerts upon the musical taste of the people who visited the Exposition, could not be but the best."2 Clearly, the planners of the fair's music sought to edify and educate, as well as to entertain those who attended. This was accomplished through numerous daily concerts and recitals presented by a wide variety of soloists and ensembles, the commissioning of musical works, and the sponsorship of contests for musical groups from around the country.

Mr. Stewart, representing the Bureau, traveled throughout the United States and Europe, arranging engagements at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition for some of the most notable musicians and musical organizations of the period. The Festival Hall, perhaps the most imposing edifice at the fair, was constructed for concerts and recitals, and could accommodate 3,000 people. Six outdoor bandstands were built, and space was designated inside the various palaces for musical events to take place in the event of inclement weather. An official Exposition Band, Orchestra, and Chorus were created to perform throughout the season. Three musical compositions were commissioned by the fair planners, and numerous other musical works were inspired by various aspects of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. The three commissioned works were Frank VanderStucken's "Louisiana March," "Along the Plaza," by Henry K. Hadley, and "Hymn of the West," by John Knowles Paine.


Band Music at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition

Although the original idea of limiting the music at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition to brass bands was discarded early in the planning process, bands from around the country and the world remained the most visible and audible part of the fair's musical program. During the seven months of the Exposition season, from eight to twelve different bands performed each day. Weil's band, the official exposition band, composed of forty members, played multiple daily concerts throughout the season at locations throughout the fairgrounds, and participated in programs related to various state days (a day dedicated to one of the states exhibiting at the Fair) and at other special functions.

Fifteen bands were hired by the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company to perform for periods of two to thirty-one weeks. These included the following renowned ensembles: the bands of Sousa, Innes, Conterno, Weber, Fanciulli, Phinney, Weil, and Ellery; as well as the Boston Band, the Kilties' Band, the Banda Rossa, the Garde Republicaine Band, the Grenadier Guards Band, the Berlin Band, and the Haskell Indian Band. In addition, numerous governmental and military bands from the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Phillipines played for various lengths of time. As stated in the History of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition:

There were generally bands enough in service besides the two fine ones in the Phillipine Reservation, and others in the various military camps, to fill all of five great bandstands, and also to give occasional concerts in the several exhibit palaces.3

The concerts contained a mixture of serious ("specimens of high-grade music") and popular musical styles. The programs were comprised of transcriptions of orchestral works, operatic overtures or excerpts which often featured vocal soloists, and marches and other popular selections, many by American composers.

Most of the band concerts were free, although reserved seats were available for many of them for a small price. According to Everett:

Sousa was here—the same Sousa who ordinarily received $2.00 of your money when you heard his music in a music hall. Here it cost you nothing unless you felt that you wanted to listen from the comfortable vantage point of a reserved seat.4

Members of the bands were compensated for their services in a manner that the fair planners felt was generous. As Francis commented:

The prices paid for the services of the bands, for the orchestra, and for all other musical items was notably high, although they were the best that could possibly be made. The minimum salary demanded by the "Musicians' Mutual Benefit Association" was $45.00 per week, to be paid each musician in bands and orchestras for services of four hours each day, six days per week.5

The musical plan for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition included a band contest featuring $30,000 in prizes. Interestingly, this competition was canceled. Circulars were sent to 8,000 bands, but ". . . as the rules called for the international concert pitch, so few responded that the contest was called off."6A contest between the Newsboy Bands of Indianapolis and Minneapolis, resulted in the Hoosiers receiving the relatively modest $50.00 prize.


Orchestral Music

An Exposition Orchestra was created, which played throughout the season. Twice daily, except on Fridays, light concerts were presented in the large restaurant located at the Tyrolean Alps, a popular concession on the Pike, as the fair's midway was known. These popular concerts included marches, waltzes, and excerpts from operettas, as well as some more "serious" music too (e.g. selections by Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and a wide variety of European Classical and Romantic composers). Regarding the Exposition Orchestra, Francis stated that

This orchestra, as perfected, was one of the most representative musical bodies ever assembled. It consisted of eighty-two members, carefully selected from principal musical organizations in the leading cities of the United States . . . . The nucleus was formed from the St. Louis Choral Symphony Society, fifty-two members of which were engaged.7

In addition to the light concerts, a symphony concert was presented each Friday in the Festival Hall. Alfred Ernst, conductor of the St. Louis Choral Symphony Society, conducted the symphony concerts, while two Austrian composers, Richard Heuberger of Vienna, and Karl Komzak, of Baden-Baden, conducted the lighter presentations. Every Symphony concert included at least one work by an American composer; these included compositions of Edward MacDowell, Horatio Parker, George Chadwick, and Ernest Kroeger, among many others. Kroeger, the St. Louisan whose work in the Bureau of Music was important in enhancing the status of music at the Exposition, heard the premiere of his exotic-sounding work, Lallah Rookh, an orchestral suite in four movements.

Annotations concerning the pieces and composers were included in the programs for the symphony concerts and organ recitals. According to Francis:

A point to which reference may be made was the educational value of the programs. All organ recitals and symphony concert programs were annotated. With each composition was printed an explanation concerning its character or the rank of the composer. As many favorable comments concerning this practice reached the ears of the officers of the Bureau of Music during the Exposition, it is believed that much good was done by these annotations.8


Choral Music

Numerous choral ensembles performed at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. The official Exposition Chorus was composed of members of the St. Louis Choral Symphony Society, the Morning Choral Club, and the Apollo Club. It was conducted by St. Louisan Alfred Ernst. At the Exposition's dedication ceremonies, a huge chorus consisting of no less than 2,800 singers, participated. The highlights of the season included a July 9 presentation of Handel's Messiah, featuring the Exposition Chorus, accompanied by the Exposition Orchestra. A concert on August 9 included a variety of shorter works, and featured the official hymn of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, John Knowles Paine's "Hymn of the West," based upon a poem by Edmund C. Stedman.

A choral contest held during the week of July 11 featured $16,000 in prizes. According to the History of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition:

In planning these choral contests, the Bureau of Music felt that the Exposition Company would greatly stimulate efforts in the direction of high-class choral work in the United States in awarding prizes of such magnitude. The artistic work done by the choruses convinces the Bureau that the results achieved were worthy of the trouble and expense.9

Visiting choral ensembles presented cantatas, oratorios, or concerts of shorter works mixing art music and popular songs. Visiting choral societies included the Treble Clef Club of Leavenworth, Kansas, the Kansas City Philharmonic Society, the Dubuque Choral Society, and others. Winners of the first-place awards in the contest were the Scranton, Pennsylvania Choral Society (Grade 1, consisting of choruses of 90-200) and the Denver Select Choir (Grade 2, choruses of 40-70).

Apparently, the fair-going public was not as receptive to pianists as to some of the other musical media presented at the Exposition. Perhaps a solo pianist suffered by the comparison with a chorus of 2800, or the largest concert organ in the world (see below). Although piano recitals were presented in the Festival Hall, " . . . the small attendance at these recitals proved that the Bureau of Music acted wisely in not arranging too many of them."10


The Great Organ

An aspect of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition that was widely promoted and which was received with enthusiasm by fairgoers, was the construction and installation of a huge concert organ in the Festival Hall. Charles Galloway, a St. Louisan, was hired as the official Exposition organist, although numerous artists from around the world played the mammoth instrument in the course of the season.

The organ was designed by George Audsley. His innovative ideas were implemented by the Murray M. Harris Organ company of Los Angeles, California. While the instrument was being built, the Harris Company was reorganized and renamed the Los Angeles Art Organ Company.11 The instrument was comprised of five manuals, 140 stops, and 10,059 pipes ranging in length from 1/2 inch to 37 1/2 feet. Two ten-horsepower engines were used to operate the five bellows which provided the wind pressure.

The most noted foreign organist to come to St. Louis in 1904 was Alexander Guilmant, of Paris. He was engaged to play a series of thirty-six recitals over a six-week period. According to Francis:

The attendance at the organ recitals proved their popularity, sometimes taxing the capacity of the Festival Hall. An admission fee of ten cents for each person was charged at these recitals until the Guilmant engagement, when the price was raised to twenty-five cents.12

The fair planners paid $15,000 for the use of the instrument during the Exposition. At the conclusion of the season it was disassembled and ultimately shipped to a permanent home in Wanamaker's department store in Philadelphia, where it may still be heard in recitals presented twice daily. It thus escaped the fate of the imposing edifice in which it was housed, for at the conclusion of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, the Festival Hall, along with the palaces, and most of the other structures built for the Exposition, were destroyed.


Music on the Pike and the Musical Spectacles

Clearly, the directors of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition were careful planners who conceived of a varied and stimulating musical program for the fair-goer. An aspect of the fair upon which their influence was less obvious was the musical scene on the Pike, as the midway of the Exposition was known. The Pike extended for approximately a mile along the northern edge of the fairgrounds. It offered a variety of attractions including the Tyrolean Alps, with a Swiss village at the foot; the Creation of the World; the Galveston Flood, and numerous other equally unusual concessions. Other somewhat more prosaic attractions included restaurants, theaters, and an animal show. In addition, a number of the concessions were from exotic parts of the world, and often included music indigenous to that region. For example, Russian folk dancers were accompanied by an instrumental ensemble consisting entirely of native instruments, none of which were familiar to Western listeners.

Ragtime music was popular at the Exposition and Scott Joplin was among the composers and performers who were present. Several ragtime compositions created at the fair were published, the most famous of which was Joplin's "The Cascades." The title of the Joplin selection alludes to the waterfalls that were constructed in front of the Festival Hall, part of an extensive system of lagoons and fountains, illuminated at night by electric lights of changing colors.

In the summer of 1904, two musical plays were produced in St. Louis which, though they were not sponsored by the Louisiana Exposition Purchase Company, commemorated the Louisiana Purchase and the Exposition. They were attended by thousands of fairgoers. These two musical extravaganzas were entitled "The Louisiana Purchase Spectacle," written and produced by Bolossy Kiralfy, and "Louisiana," with book and lyrics by Hiram Hayes, and music by William John Hall and Anton Heindl. Kiralfy's show opened at the Odeon on May 28, 1904, and Hayes's production premiered the following evening at the Delmar Garden, an outdoor theater.

Judging from contemporary accounts, Kiralfy's "Louisiana Purchase Spectacle" was aptly named, for it included a cast of several hundred. The anonymous author of an article appearing in the St. Louis Post Dispatch following the opening night performance, felt that although the production was indeed spectacular, more rehearsal was needed:

The stage was crowded with people. They collided head-on and otherwise. They butted into each other in laughable unfamiliarity with the contemplated formations. Explorers, spirits, aborigines, men of arms and girls of limbs, statesmen, conquistadores and doers of great deeds of the pen, fell upon one another in what may be likened to a theatrical Armageddon.13

The Hayes production involved a cast of three hundred persons and, like the Exposition itself, included some spectacular aquatic effects:

A great canal of water 100 feet long has been built in front and part way around two parts of the stage. On this canoes and gondolas will enter . . . . In the second act, which represents the gardens of Versailles, the canal will be filled with fountains, while in the last act, which will represent the cascades at the World's Fair, the canal will take the place of the lagoons into which the water will flow down from the fountains onto the stage.14

Both productions involved large casts, lavish sets and costumes, and each included a combination of historical and allegorical characters. The musical scores are apparently lost, although based upon accounts in periodicals of that period, the music was popular in style, consisting of various solo, chorus, and ensemble numbers, and included dance selections which were particularly well-received.


The Significance of the Music

The substantial human and financial resources invested in the musical program of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition are evidence of its importance to those responsible for planning and administering the Fair. The fact that nearly twenty million people visited the Exposition, and were exposed to an unprecedented variety of high quality musical events also lends significance to the study of the fair's musical program.

After discarding the initial notion of presenting brass band music exclusively, the Bureau of Music adopted the wise course of including a wide range of composers, styles, periods, and media in its musical program. It is also clear that the intention was not simply to entertain those who attended the programs, but also to educate and edify. This education was meant to refine the tastes of the average fairgoer, and was therefore essentially elitist in philosophy.

The concerts, recitals, and contests at the fair represented a unique opportunity for those in attendance to hear music from around the world on instruments indigenous to those areas. At the same time, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition company made an unprecedented effort to promote American music, featuring a large number of American composers in the musical programs. The German romantic musical tradition was well-represented, not only in music composed and performed by Europeans, but also in the works of American composers educated in Europe (e.g., MacDowell). The sponsorship of musical contests, and the commissioning of musical works represented other means by which the Bureau of Music exerted a salutary influence on the American musical scene. In addition to the carefully planned musical presentations sponsored by the Bureau of Music, fairgoers were delighted by musical activities in the city of St. Louis and on the Pike. This eclectic mixture of music mirrored the diversity of America's musical taste in the first decade of the twentieth century.

1Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company, History of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (St. Louis: 1905), 706.

2David R. Francis, The Universal Exposition of 1904 (St. Louis: Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company, 1913), 192.

3History of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, 706.

4Marshall Everett, The Book of the Fair (St. Louis: Henry Neil, 1904), 81.

5Francis, 194.

6History of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, 706.

7Francis, 193.

8Ibid., 196.

9History of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, 709.

10Ibid., 709.

11For a thorough discussion of the design and construction of the organ in the Festival Hall, see Raymond A. Biswanger III, "The Story of the Wanamaker Organs, Part 1: A Merchant Prince and His Regal Concert Series," The American Organist 22 (September 1988): 50-62.

12Francis, 195.

13St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 29 May 1904, pt. 2, p. 4.

14St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 29 May 1904, pt. 3, p. 6B.

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