SOUL OF THE CITY: “SPIRIT OF MUSIC” MEMORIALIZES CHICAGO’S MUSICAL HISTORY
29 January 2018
Lying in the center of Chicago’s Historic Michigan Boulevard District, 1000M borders Grant Park, offering residents easy walking access to all of the amenities afforded by the Cultural Mile. While often used as a path between the various museums and concert halls that run along the park, Grant Park is itself an artistic destination, replete with cultural and artistic curiosities that are sure to intrigue the curious and aesthetically-minded.
Famous for its sculptures, Grant Park is home to 31 distinct sculptural installations[i] that range from the grandiose and elaborate Buckingham Fountain to the more subdued, contemporary figures of Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Agora. Each of these sculptures tells a story — not only of its own history but of the history of our city — a city known for its love of music and culture.
A MONUMENT TO CHICAGO’S CULTURAL LEGACY
Of the many stories set in stone to be found in 1000M’s neighborhood, few are as reflective of Chicago itself as Albín Polášek’s monument to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and its illustrious founder, Theodore Thomas. Perched atop a pedestal at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Balbo Drive, the Spirit of Music stands an impressive 14-feet tall and depicts a partially feminine form clad in robes and an elaborate crown that holds in its left hand a delicately detailed lyre. Behind the statue runs a low granite wall known as the exedra that spans nearly 40 feet, on which the members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra are depicted in sculptural relief.
Sculpted by the highly acclaimed Albín Polášek during his tenure as Head of the Sculpture Department of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Spirit of Music was meant to “represent the force and poetry of the spirit of music,” and was specifically inspired by the genius of Ludwig van Beethoven[ii]. While depicting the ethereal beauty of music, this sculpture was specifically commissioned to celebrate Theodore Thomas and his successful stewardship of the world-famous Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
THE CITY CELEBRATES
Indeed, at the time of the sculpture’s commissioning, much revelry was called for. Following 13 years of playing in various venues throughout the city, Thomas and his symphony triumphantly celebrated the opening of Orchestra Hall in 1904.[iii][iv] After struggling for more than a decade to fill the immense Auditorium Theatre, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra finally had a comfortable performance space to call its own. This substantial cultural milestone is now immortalized through the graceful figure perched atop the pedestal, forever prepared to serenade the city of Chicago just as Thomas did over 100 years ago.
Today, Orchestra Hall continues to serve as the home for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which is regarded as one of the best symphonies in the world. Spirit of Music and its adjacent garden are now regularly used to host Chicago’s annual Summer Dance series, and in this way, continues to celebrate the city’s cultural heritage in the same way the statue does.
Orchestra Hall is just a short 15-minute walk from 1000M’s front door, ensuring 1000M’s residents need look no farther than their neighborhood for an evening full of music and history.
[ii] Public Art in Chicago: Photography and Commentary on Sculptures, Statues, Murals and More, reproduction of Chicago Tribune article dated Thursday, June 28th, 1923 by Inez Cunningham