White House Musicales: The Rest of the Story

By Thomas Schwartz

Having previously noted some of the White House musicales presented during the Hoover Administration, one may ask who was in charge of determining the programs and securing the artists. These tasks were the responsibility, not of a White House staff member, but of Henry Junge at Steinway & Sons piano company.

Actually, Mrs. Hoover was not very enthusiastic about continuing the established tradition. She confided to friends that she thought it embarrassing that the artists were not paid, and that a private company was responsible for the arrangements and expenses. The White House entertainment budget, however, was very limited, so Mrs. Hoover was prepared to pay for the musicales out of her own pocket. (Actually, the Hoovers spent over $600, 000 of their own money on various expenses that were not covered by appropriations, and donated Mr. Hoover’s entire salary to charity – but that’s another story.) But the White House personnel begged her not to end the arrangement with Steinway because previous Presidents, and possibly future Presidents as well, could not afford to pay for the musicales out of pocket.

As time passed, however, Mrs. Hoover became dissatisfied with the programs and artists provided by Mr. Junge. Mrs. Hoover preferred American musicians, but Junge often scheduled foreign artists who were visiting the United States. Mrs. Hoover also complained that Junge sometimes had to switch programs at short notice when the originally scheduled artists backed out. Mrs. Hoover attempted, through some friends in New York, to quietly and diplomatically end the relationship with the Steinway & Sons, but the company, and Mr. Junge personally, were so proud of their role and so emotionally invested, that severing the arrangement would have been profoundly embarrassing. So Mrs. Hoover acquiesced, and Mr. Junge continued to arrange the musicales throughout the Hoover Administration.

White House Musicales: Part II

As noted previously, the Hoovers continued the tradition, which began during the Theodore Roosevelt administration, of sponsoring concerts or “musicales” at the White House, usually following important dinners or receptions. The Hoovers’ tastes, and therefore the programming, tended toward classical music. Programs, guest lists, and other documentation for many of these musicales are preserved in the Lou Henry Hoover Papers at the Hoover Library. Unfortunately, as far as we know, none of the programs were recorded or photographed.

The majority of musicales held at the Hoover White House consisted of a vocalist paired with an instrumentalist. On January 23, 1930, a musicale following a judicial reception featured violinist Jascha Heifetz and contralto Margaret Matzenauer. Matzenauer was a Metropolitan Opera star at the twilight of her career; she would retire later that year. Heifetz was a young, internationally acclaimed violin virtuoso entering his prime.

Margaret Matzenauer

Jascha Heifetz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following a diplomatic dinner on January 8, 1931, a musicale featured pianist Vladimir Horowitz and soprano Claire Dux. Dux was an opera star who sang frequently in Chicago and Europe; at the time of her White House performance she was married to Charles H. Swift of the Swift meatpacking family. Horowitz was a renowned Ukrainian pianist, who like Heifetz, was an ascending young star. Unlike Heifetz, however, who had left Russia before the Communist Revolution, Horowitz had escaped from the Soviet Union in 1925 on the pretense of studying abroad. Both became American citizens, Heifetz in 1925 and Horowitz in 1944.

Vladimir Horowitz

Claire Dux

This entry was posted in Lou Henry Hoover, Uncategorized, White House and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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