It is truly said that music of virtually every Western genre has flourished in Texas, from before the advent of Europeans through the times of colonization, settlement, and revolution, until the present—the outgrowth of a fusion of races and nations. Classical music found such a congenial culture in Texas that it flourished and grew, from small beginnings among European colonists of numerous nations to an important pursuit of countless citizens. During the twentieth century, the proliferation of musical activities in Texas mirrored that of the entire country. The town bands and scattered opera houses of 1900 yielded to a handful of sophisticated orchestral ensembles and opera projects by 1950, and by the year 2000 virtually every standard metropolitan statistical area in the state had one or more professional or semiprofessional musical organizations.
Along with this growth, however, came a significant blurring of the boundaries between "classical" music and other forms. The crossing-over that "crossover" musicians chose to participate in became ever more athletic, ever more of a stretch. At the beginning of the new millennium, for instance, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra performed with the Light Crust Doughboys (or vice versa), and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, which produced an "Amazing Jazz" television show in 1999, accompanied the "folk" trio Peter, Paul and Mary. The softening attitude of the haute couture crowd toward lower-brow music had long before been adumbrated by such composers as Gershwin, Charles Ives, and Claude Bolling. "Classical," always hard to define, had become even more elusive. But even with these caveats in place, it is possible to trace the beginnings of classical music in Texas, and its development in various important musical activities and persons.
Beginnings. Prescinding from later concepts of "classical," one may say that Texas music began with Texas Indians. When the Spaniards arrived on Texas soil, they found Native American peoples whose ceremonies employed the music of singing, rattles and percussion devices, and simple wind instruments. The first European music was that of the Catholic Church, which came by way of Mexico City, where a European music school was established in 1525. The work of University of Texas at Austin musicologist Robert Joseph Snow toward the end of the twentieth century helped to illuminate this music. In the missions around El Paso, in East Texas, and near San Antonio, music attracted Indians to the Church and formed an integral part of the liturgy. Spanish folk music and guitars came with soldiers and settlers to the missions.
The French music that came to Texas first around the beginning of the nineteenth century—with the opening of the West after the Louisiana Purchase—came mainly from New Orleans, where a sophisticated culture had developed, but also from a Black Creole culture that has had an incalculable effect on Texas music. Later in the century came colonies of French and Swiss that included musicians; for example, Allyre Bureau, a Parisian composer and director, settled in the Dallas area.
After 1820 Anglo-Americans introduced music from the United States, especially songs of the English, Scots, and Irish. Following the first fiddles and flutes, the first heavy instruments, especially pianos, came during the 1830s. In 1834 the elder Robert Justus Kleberg imported a piano and music books to Harrisburg (now part of Houston). On the more portable side, at the battle of San Jacinto, musicians played "Yankee Doodle" and "Will You Come to the Bower?" Dick the Drummer was one of two free Blacks who participated in that decisive battle. He and three fifers constituted the Texas army's band. Dick also played the drums during the Mexican War at the battles of Monterrey and Buena Vista.
A scant two years later, classical music was becoming more formalized, especially in urban centers and in the Church. In the theater opened at Houston in 1838 an orchestra and singers from Europe and the United States performed excerpts from popular operas and other music. Sacred music societies were organized in several towns. Bishop Jean Marie Odin, the first bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Galveston—which at the time encompassed all of Texas—had an organ for his cathedral in 1848.
But the Germans brought more musical activities than the other national groups, beginning about 1845. Though such individual German immigrants as Kleberg had brought their music with them, the big impetus to German music in Texas began with the Adelsverein, the colonization project of the Society of Nobles, after 1844. The Germans formed singing societies, beginning in New Braunfels in 1850, and held biennial singing festivals beginning in 1853. As early as 1840 they had introduced operatic performances to Houston. Their support of opera continued in such centers of German settlement as San Antonio. Numerous German music teachers worked in the state's population centers as well as in the smaller German settlements. Their influence was long-lasting. About 1879, for instance, a native of Saxony, Julius Weiss, moved to Texarkana, where he taught a young student named Scott Joplin, destined to become "King of Ragtime."
Texas culture became a potpourri of national cultures. Among Hispanics, singing and dancing to stringed orchestras was common in the homes and on the plazas. German music centers were the beer gardens as well as the Casino Club in San Antonio, the Turnverein Hall in Austin, and later the Scholz Garten in Austin, where Carl William Besserer directed operettas and choral productions. The Anglo-Americans brought visiting concert groups in the early 1840s; a few small opera companies came from New Orleans and Mexico before 1860. Local bands, sometimes military, played in the larger communities before 1850; by 1900 most of the towns had bands.
The subsequent history of music in Texas is largely a reflection of the cultural boom that swept the United States in the twentieth century, slowly gathering force in the early part of the century and accelerating greatly after World War II. Musical activities of every type increased. Resident opera and ballet companies were founded; symphonies were formed, reorganized, and expanded; choral groups were established. All played to larger audiences in more sophisticated halls, and received more financial support than ever before. At the same time each of these groups has suffered from rising costs and, in many cases, general public apathy. Foundation grants, the Texas Commission on the Arts, and generous support from civic-minded individuals and businesses have made possible much of the progress achieved by musical organizations in the state.
Education. Private pedagogy is the classic mode of imparting the arts of classical music. Among early Texans, the Germans excelled in music education; many civic leaders among them were also music teachers. Somewhat later than the large wave of German immigration, the first institutions of higher learning that featured training in music included Kidd–Key College and Belle Plain College. Since their time, virtually every college or university has developed a music department. The leading Texas universities—Texas Tech, Texas A&M, the University of Texas at Austin, Rice University, Texas Christian University, Baylor, Southern Methodist University—all have successful classical music programs. Among smaller institutions, Prairie View A&M University has maintained a significant music program. The University of North Texas has long been especially noted for its school of music.
In the cultural flowering that followed World War II—and partly as a result of the Federal Music Project—numerous smaller Texas towns initiated music programs that introduced children to classical music and brought world-renowned performers to their civic auditoriums. In Brownwood, for instance, during the 1950s an enterprising violinist and conductor, Chester Parks, taught children beginning in the fifth grade the art of playing violin, viola, cello, and string bass. The result in a few years was a high school string orchestra, with piano accompaniment, that consistently won top ratings in University Interscholastic League contests. Meanwhile, the Brownwood Community Concert series brought such leading musicians as clarinetist Reginald Kell and conductor Walter Susskind to town. Brownwood also had a Schubert Music Club and a Piano Teachers' Association. Brownwood was typical of many such mid-sized communities. The Texas Music Educators Association is the leading professional association of music teachers in the state. Among numerous other activities, the association sponsors the All State Orchestra, the All State Band, and several All State choruses, all of which are composed of talented Texas high school students.
Ensembles. After the establishment of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and the Houston Symphony Orchestra in the early twentieth century, numerous city ensembles developed, while the pioneer orchestras became truly professional and attained international distinction. The Houston Symphony, for example, grew phenomenally. At the middle of the century, the Houston orchestra was more and more associated with world-renowned conductors—Sir Thomas Beecham, Leopold Stokowski, Sir John Barbirolli, André Previn, Christoph Eschenbach. During the 1963–64 season, Barbirolli took the group on a three-week tour of the East, whereupon the Houston Symphony became the first orchestra from the Southwest to play in New York and Washington, D.C. The great patroness of the arts Miss Ima Hogg was long a principal supporter of the Houston Symphony, which began performing in the splendid Jesse H. Jones Hall in 1966.
The Dallas Symphony Orchestra also had considerable success under such conductors as Antal Dorati, Walter Hendl, Paul Kletzki, Georg Solti, and Anshel Brusilow. Between 1950 and 1960 the symphony grew from seventy to ninety-two musicians and increased its number of concerts. After ten seasons in McFarlin Auditorium, the orchestra, under Anshel Brusilow's baton, returned to the State Fair Music Hall, although the facilities there were judged inadequate. Eduardo Mata became music director in 1977, and in September 1989 the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center opened to wide acclaim. Since that time the Meyerson has been home base for the orchestra. Thirty-four-year-old Andrew Litton was named conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in 1994, thus becoming the first native-born musician appointed head of a major American orchestra in a decade. He served until 2006. In 2007 Jaap van Zweden of Amsterdam became the symphony's new music director.
When the founder and initial director of the San Antonio Symphony, Max Reiter, died in December 1950, Victor N. Alessandro, a native of Waco, became that orchestra's head; at the time, Alessandro was the only native-born Texan to serve as musical director of a major symphony orchestra. Under his leadership the San Antonio Symphony's budget more than doubled, and its artistic accomplishments revealed a similar growth. The annual San Antonio Grand Opera festival, which imported stars from such houses as the Metropolitan Opera to perform with the San Antonio orchestra, flourished under Alessandro. In 1961 Alessandro initiated an annual Rio Grande Valley International Music Festival, which attracted music lovers from South Texas and northern Mexico for a week of concerts, operas, and student performances. After Alessandro's retirement in 1976, François Huybrechts, Lawrence Leighton Smith, Zdenek Macal, Christopher Wilkins, and Larry Rachleff served successively as music directors of the orchestra, and innovative programming remained a pattern. Sebastian Lang-Lessing debuted as the symphony's eighth music director in October 2010.
City and suburban orchestras abound, in Fort Worth, Austin, Corpus Christi, El Paso, Beaumont, Lubbock, and numerous other places. A few random examples are suggestive of the whole. The El Paso Symphony Orchestra, one of the oldest in the state, traces its roots back to 1893. In 2012 the Richardson Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Anshel Brusilow, celebrated its fiftieth season. The Plano Symphony Orchestra was first established in 1983 as the Plano Chamber Orchestra. The Abilene Philharmonic Orchestra gave its first performance in 1950, and in 2015 was under the direction of Maestro David Itkin, who was in his eleventh season with the ensemble. The Amarillo Symphony in 1967 consisted of eighty-five members, all local talent. This orchestra was formed in 1924 by conductor–pianist Grace Hamilton and in 2015 was under the direction of Jacomo Rafael Bairos, who assumed the post in 2013. Midland and Odessa strengthened their musical resources in 1964 by combining their two symphonies into an interurban orchestra. The Mid-Texas Symphony, founded in 1978, serves Seguin and New Braunfels, which hold the distinction of being the smallest communities in the United States to sponsor a symphony orchestra.
Each of the state's symphonic groups has played a significant role in bringing live concerts to its area—often with high artistic results and despite sharp financial limitations. In a highly competitive entertainment market, virtually all of the ongoing ensembles have broadened their offerings to include pops concerts, children's concerts, and such crossover concerts as were mentioned in the beginning of this article. In 2003 the Fort Worth Symphony, for instance, under the direction of Miguel Harth–Bedoya, in addition to its traditional classical offerings, took part in a Star–Telegram Pops Series (which included such features as Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers) and a grab-bag Subscriber Special series (which offered, for instance, both a Tchaikovsky Gala and an appearance by Kenny Rogers). The Fort Worth Symphony also is the host orchestra for the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. In addition to its regular season, the Austin Symphony offers pops concerts and supports an innovative youth program aimed at primary school students.
In addition to the larger ensembles, chamber music groups and societies multiplied in the latter decades of the twentieth century and into the early twenty-first century. In 2015 the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth, for instance, featured a concert series of performances by ensembles of two to five musicians who played a wide variety of programs. The state's major university music departments—at the University of Texas at Austin, the University of North Texas, and Texas A&M University, for example—sponsored numerous chamber music performances, both by faculty members and by touring artists.
By the early 2000s a growing number of Texas cities also supported youth orchestras designed to encourage and enhance educational opportunites for aspiring young musicians at various grade levels. Youth Orchestras of San Antonio (founded in 1979) is a direct descendant of various youth orchestras that go back to 1949. The Houston area has boasted several groups, including Houston Youth Symphony (founded in 1947), the Greater Houston Youth Orchestra (founded in 1993), and Virtuosi of Houston (founded in 1996). The Fort Worth Youth Orchestra was established in 1965, and Dallas citizens formed the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra in 1972. Other groups include the Amarillo Youth Orchestras (founded in 1987) and the Austin Youth Orchestra (founded in 1993).
Opera. From its small beginnings—the performance of selected operatic chestnuts in the entertainment halls of frontier towns—opera has grown to be a major cultural feature of Texas urban centers. Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and other cities across the state support resident opera companies. Historic Texas operatic singers have included Isabella Maas, Dreda Aves, Chase Baromeo, Lenore Cohron, Josephine Lucchese, May Peterson Thompson, Mary Carson, Roberta Dodd Crawford, Rafaelo Díaz,Mack Harrell, Daisy Elgin, Vernon Dalhart (a true crossover musician), and Zelma George. Texas opera composers have included Scott Joplin, William John Marsh, Julia Frances Smith, and Merrill Ellis.
The San Antonio Symphony was the first professional resident opera producer in Texas. In 1945 conductor Max Reiter conceived a plan for extending the symphony season by adding a spring opera festival and launched the venture with La Bohème, starring Grace Moore. From 1945 until 1983 the San Antonio Symphony presented an annual season of opera—four different works given each year, one performance each, divided between two successive weekends. While stars from the Metropolitan and New York City operas were imported for leading roles, the chorus was drawn largely from three local colleges. Most of the sets were designed by Peter Wolf of Dallas. With few exceptions the opera festival closed its seasons financially in the black, in part because the San Antonio Municipal Auditorium would seat nearly 6,000; symphony officials looked upon an audience of 4,500 as a poor showing. Inflation plus a move into less spacious housing forced a termination of the annual opera festival, but by the late 1990s the San Antonio Pocket Opera (known simply as San Antonio Opera in 2011) brought regular high-quality operatic performances back to the Alamo City. In 2014 OPERA San Antonio was a founding resident of the new Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, a state-of-the-arts performance center that was constructed from the converted and renovated Municipal Auditorium.
Fort Worth followed San Antonio's resident opera productions in 1946 with the formation of the Fort Worth Opera Association. One of the company's prime ambitions was to provide opportunity for gifted local singers, with professionals used only in stellar roles. La Traviata launched the organization in November 1946. From 1955 to 1969 conductor Rudolf Kruger, who formerly worked with the Columbia (South Carolina) Symphony and the Chicago Light Opera, served as the Fort Worth musical director and general manager. Under his supervision four operas were performed each season, spaced over fall, winter, and spring; two performances were given of each work, and most productions were in English. Beginning in the late 1960s more of the company's operas were sung in the original language. Economic constraints in subsequent decades forced the company to reduce its number of yearly productions to three. The Fort Worth Opera—in 2015 the oldest opera company in Texas—performed in Bass Hall, billed as the last great performance hall built in the second millennium. Since 2007 the opera has condensed its season schedule into the annual Fort Worth Opera Festival, which presents multiple opera performances during a four-week period in May and June. Performance highlights have included the world premiere of Daniel Crozier and Peter M. Krask’s With Blood, With Ink in 2014.
The busiest Texas resident opera organization, the Houston Grand Opera Association, began in January 1956 with Salomé, starring Brenda Lewis. In 1969 the company's musical director was Walter Herbert, who had held similar posts earlier with the New Orleans and Fort Worth operas. Under Herbert's leadership the Houston company presented four or five works annually, usually in the original language. Noted singers were used only for leading roles, and local talent was employed whenever artistically feasible. The Houston company proved dynamic in repertory by presenting such seldom-heard works as Rossini's La Cenerentola and La Donna del Lago, the Texas premiere of Richard Strauss's Elektra, a rare Texas staging of Wagner's Die Walküre, Handel's Rinaldo, Ralph Vaughan Williams's Hugh the Drover, and world premieres of John Adams's Nixon in China, Carlisle Floyd's Willie Stark, and Thomas Pasatieri's The Seagull. In 1987, under general director David Gockley, the Houston Grand Opera moved its productions to the Wortham Center. In 2002, with Gockley still on board, the Houston Grand Opera had mounted twenty-five world premieres in forty-five years and six American premieres, and was the fifth largest opera company in the nation. It was the only opera company in the United States to have earned two Grammys, a Tony, and two Emmys. Anthony Freud assumed the general directorship full-time in 2006 but in 2011 announced that he was leaving to head Lyric Opera of Chicago. At that time, Houston Grand Opera announced a new three-man leadership team that included Patrick Summers as artistic and music director.
The Dallas Opera, founded in 1957 by Lawrence V. Kelly and Nicola Rescigno, formerly of the Chicago Lyric Opera, received immediate national and international acclaim. A concert by legendary soprano Maria Callas got the project off to a brilliant start on November 21, 1957, followed shortly by a production of Rossini's novelty L'Italiana in Algeri, with Giulietta Simionato in the title role. "For a couple of nights running," Newsweek reported, "Dallas was the operatic capital of the United States." Afterward, Dallas presented a number of remarkable productions and artists. In 1958 Callas returned for La Traviata, in a production designed by the renowned Italian stage director Franco Zeffirelli, and highly praised performances of Cherubini's Medea, staged by Alexis Minotis of the Greek National Theater—a production later loaned to Covent Garden (London) and La Scala (Milan). The 1960 Dallas season saw the United States debut of Joan Sutherland in Zeffirelli's production of Handel's Alcina, an American premiere. Other American premieres for the company have included Monteverdi's seventeenth-century classic Coronation of Poppea and Vivaldi's Orlando Furioso.
The Dallas Opera also staged the state's first complete cycle of Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen and in 1988 gave the world premiere of Dominick Argento's The Aspern Papers. Since the city sampled the Metropolitan Opera's tour in the spring from 1939 until 1984, the Dallas Opera tried not to duplicate the New York company's repertoire and artists. Instead, the resident company's aim was to give Texas a look at European productions; each year manager Kelly borrowed at least one production from abroad—in 1960 Alcina from La Fenice (Venice) and Figlia del Regimento from Palermo, and in 1961 La Bohème from Spoleto. In addition to Sutherland's United States debut, the Dallas company benefited from those of Teresa Berganza, Luigi Alva, Denise Duval, Placido Domingo, Montserrat Caballe, Gwyneth Jones, Jon Vickers, Magda Olivero, Linda Esther Gray, and Ghena Dimitrova. Under general director Plato Karayanis, the Dallas Opera expanded its offering to six productions a year, with most performances attracting capacity audiences. Conductor and artistic director Nicola Rescigno left the Dallas Opera in early 1990. Conductor Graeme Jenkins became music director in 1994 and held this position until 2013. Emmanuel Villaume succeeded him. Keith Cerny served as general director. In 2015 the Dallas Opera launched a new residential program, the Institute of Women Conductors, to provide to promising female conductors opportunities to direct the Dallas Opera Orchestra. At the beginning of the 2015–16 season the opera presented a world premiere, Great Scott, by Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally.
Austin Opera, which began as the Austin Lyric Opera, had its first season in 1987 with Walter Ducloux as artistic director, and within a decade the company had built its season to three productions. In 1995 the annual budget was $2.25 million, and the repertoire included Wagner's Tannhäuser, sung in German. The 2011-12 season marked the company's twenty-fifth season. Austin Opera employs major international artists as well as American talent, and stages its productions in the Long Center for the Performing Arts.
In addition to grand opera, musical comedy, musicals, and light opera have prospered in Texas. The Starlight Operettas were begun in Dallas in 1941 in an outdoor arena and bandshell on the fairgrounds and were renamed the State Fair Musicals in 1951, when the shows were moved into the Music Hall. Outstanding Broadway and Hollywood talent was imported each summer for musicals of recent vintage, as well as the older "operetta" show. In 1952 the musicals opened with William Warfield and Leontyne Price in Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, the premiere of a production that the State Department later sent to Moscow. Each year during the State Fair of Texas the national company of a recent Broadway musical was brought to the Music Hall. Mary Martin began her tour in Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun at the fair in October 1947, and succeeding years saw productions of South Pacific, Guys and Dolls, The King and I, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, A Chorus Line, Cats, and other hits. Houston, Fort Worth, and other Texas cities have hosted similar productions in increasing numbers. Casa Mañana in Fort Worth introduced "musicals-in-the-round" to the Southwest.
Resident ballet companies exist in several Texas cities, including Houston, Dallas–Fort Worth, Austin, and Corpus Christi. Other cities—Lubbock, for instance—have ballet schools and programs that support professional ballet. As an adjunct to musical ensembles, such dance companies are important in bringing the classics to students and other citizens of Texas. Ballet Austin, for instance, presents several annual Christmas performances of The Nutcracker, with accompaniment by the Austin Symphony Orchestra, before thousands of schoolchildren.
Composers, pianists, and other personnel. A list of Texas composers—native, immigrant, and transient—would be prohibitively large. Many Texas composers have written both popular and classical music. Some have written partial or complete movie scores. Some have confined themselves to traditional compositions. Others have joined the ranks of such groundbreaking experimentalists as the electronic-music pioneer Edgard Varèse and the tone-row composers Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern. The experimentalists have worked especially in such academic contexts as the University of North Texas College of Music.
Representative among those who composed more traditional music are Jules Bledsoe, Radie Britain, Allyre Bureau, Roger Edens, Don Gillis, David Guion, Mary Austin Holley, Scott Joplin, William John Marsh, Roger Miller (a wide-ranging talent), Harold Morris, Joseph Eugene Pillot, Leonora Rives–Díaz, Julia Frances Smith, John M. Steinfeldt, James Sudduth, Carl Venth, and Otto Wick. Considerably more experimental were John Barnes Chance and Paul Pisk. Out at the margin of experimentalism were Merrill Ellis and Jerry Hunt.
Olga Samaroff, born in San Antonio in 1882, was recognized as an outstanding pianist, teacher, and music critic. Julia Frances Smith, in addition to her numerous compositions, was a concert pianist. One of the best-known contemporary performers—and a distinguished and tireless promoter of music in the Lone Star State—is James Dick, of the International Festival–Institute at Round Top. Other Texas pianists include Irl Allison Sr., who founded the National Guild of Piano Teachers.
Easily the most famous of Texas piano players, however, is Van Cliburn. In 1958 this Texas pianist, who grew up in Kilgore, won the prestigious Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow. The resulting acclaim given to the Texan led to Irl Allison's establishment of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth in the early 1960s. The quadrennial competition continues to draw world-wide attention to Fort Worth.
Outstanding educators have included Henry Edwin Meyer, a respected composer and arranger of church music, who served on the music faculty of Southwestern University and contributed to the development of that institution's music programs. Noted composer and educator Kent Kennan of the University of Texas at Austin authored The Technique of Orchestration and Counterpoint--textbooks that have remained educational staples for music students across the United States for more than five decades.
Texas musicologists include Fritz Oberdoerffer and Robert J. Snow. The first music publisher in the state was Thomas Goggan and Brothers, established in 1866. Among leading Texas music patrons were Ima Hogg and Stanley Marcus.
By 2015 the Texas Music Office listed more than 160 musical groups (orchestras, choirs, opera companies, choral societies, string quartets, community bands, and others) across the state that were devoted to classical music.