Building a City's Music
Our final topic, patronage of institutions, can only be discussed here in a preliminary way; more detail will no doubt be forthcoming as scholars learn more about the origins and economic structure of Boston's many important musical organizations. Gardner was for twelve years (1899–1911) a vice president of the Orchestral Club of Boston—an amateur orchestra—and was a guarantor of the Boston Musical Association, established in 1919 by Georges Longy to perform contemporary works. Both involved female musicians—many of them Loeffler's students—as well as male ones. As a longtime friend of B.J. Lang's, she quite possibly was also a regular sponsor of his several choral societies; she may also have taken some interest in the South End Music School, a settlement-house institution of which her friend Arthur Foote was president for ten years (his daughter Katharine, who was Gardner's goddaughter, taught there). Gardner may have helped to establish the Boston Opera Company in 1909 (she was present when the cornerstone was laid), was "devoted" (says Carter) to certain of the singers (Alice Nielsen, Maria Gay, Giovanni Zenatello, Vanni Marcoux), and served as its link to the exigent Nellie Melba.
Of course, there were limits to the number of different institutions she could support in a major way, and she knew it. When the Opera Company fell on hard times in its second season (it folded five years later), Loeffler as a member of the board, tried to persuade Gardner to help save it. She replied with regret: "If I had not already yoked my chosen heavy load [i.e., the museum] to my shoulders, it would be a joyful thing to be the one to carry this one."
But of all Boston's institutions, in whatever field, it was the Boston Symphony Orchestra that claimed her allegiance most fully. She frequently attended concerts of the Boston Symphony, including its "Pops" series. (When she broke her ankle, she had her servants carry her up to her balcony seat in a hammock.) And in 1916, in the midst of getting the Music Room rebuilt into four separate galleries in time for the announced "public days" at which visitors could tour her collection, she could not stay away from concerts: "The Russian ballet is delightful—and our orchestra a wonder—I am afraid music has a pull!" She was on friendly terms with a number of its players, including the clarinetist Léon Pourtau (who was also an amateur painter), and, to varying degrees, with at least five of its first
eight musical directors: George Henschel, Gericke, Karl Muck, Henri Rabaud, and Pierre Monteux. (But not, as far as the surviving letters reveal, with Emil Paur, Max Fiedler, or Arthur Nikisch; she actively disliked the latter's highly individual Beethoven interpretations.) She was particularly close to Muck and his wife Anita and was one of the few Bostonians to remain loyal to them during World War I, when the aged and ailing German-born conductor was interned in Georgia as an enemy alien and irresponsibly assailed in the press.
Her closest link to the orchestra, though, was through its founder, Henry Lee Higginson. Jack Gardner and Higginson had been business associates as well as friends, and Henry's wife Ida (daughter of the scientist Louis Agassiz) had been a dear friend of Isabella's since their schooldays in Italy. During the early years after Jack's death, Higginson helped manage Isabella's ample finances; letters of Higginson's in the museum show him trying to explain or defend his caution in investing her funds ("I know you like quick stocks"). He also did not hesitate to give her advice about how to spread her money around among various worthy musical causes. On one occasion, for example, he urged her not to accede to a request for money from a well-known singer; on another, he told her bluntly that he expected her to do rather more for the Opera Company than, it seems, she had planned:
You've been to the opera this week, & have been more or less edified.
You know the value to us of an opera on a solid & healthy basis. . . .
Give these folks a chance and some timely help, & we may get an excellent article.Give them cold water & we shall help to break down an experiment, which will not be repeated in a hurry—The laborers are earnest & able—Spare the criticisms for the minute s.v.p.—Pray go to that meeting tomorrow at 3 o'ck & help in your own way . There are more ways than one, & no quick-witted party (woman) needs hints from a dull-witted party (man) as to the methods.
Bear a hand, Lady.
Higginson could make such a demand of her because he knew that she shared his own goals for musical life in Boston. In particular, he knew of her devotion to the Boston Symphony. To some extent this devotion was expressed financially. Gardner paid at a fund-raising auction $1,120—nearly fifty times more than the combined box-office value of $24—for a pair of the best subscription seats in the new house (Symphony Hall), a fact reported with astonishment in the Boston Transcript .
It would probably be wrong, though, to overemphasize the Gardners' purely financial contributions to the orchestra." Carter astutely notes that "the rôle of godmother" (rather than parent) to a performing organization "particularly suited her; it did not entail the expense of maintaining the child nor the responsibility for its behavior, but entitled her to take a lively interest in its training." The institution in question is the Boston Opera Company, but the point is surely even more valid for the Boston Symphony, which was from the outset funded by Higginson himself rather than by a consortium of donors. There were countless ways in which a "godmother" or "godfather" might encourage the growth of an orches-
tra; or, as Higginson put it regarding the Boston Opera, there are "more ways than one" to "bear a hand." One might attend concerts regularly, praise the orchestra to one's wealthy and trend-setting friends, hire players for private concerts, welcome visiting conductors and soloists into one's tastefully resplendent home. All of these things, the evidence shows, Gardner did. Most important, she must have helped Higginson feel that the whole project was worthwhile, even during times of crisis and near-despair (such as Muck's internment). In a letter of 1900, Higginson specifically expressed his gratitude that Gardner and her late husband stood by him "throughout my experiments" with the orchestra: "No success is won by one alone. Thank you & the dear old fellow for many, many kind words & kinder deeds." The precise words and deeds that Higginson found so supportive will probably never be known, but the few surviving letters from Higginson leave little doubt that he considered Jack and "Mrs. Gardner" (as he seems always to have called her) his comrades-in-arms in the fight to establish a first-rate symphony orchestra in Boston.