The Symphonic History of Texas: A Classical Music Tour

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Tony Maples Photography


Texans love music, and it permeates every part of the state. From music brought by immigrants to tunes developed here, this integral part of living in the Lone Star State has a niche for everyone. While Texas country is the most commonly considered genre, how about music performed by symphony orchestras? The history here begins in the early 20th century, when a widespread movement pushed to bring classical music to the Southwest.

The Symphonic History of Texas: A Classical Music Tour

Photo by Honky Tonk Foodie

San Antonio traces its symphonic roots to four concerts in 1887 by a 49-piece orchestra at the state Sängerfest. The first complete symphony in the Lone Star State was a performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4. A second symphony orchestra played in 1896 when the Sängerfest returned to San Antonio. Carl Hahn and Anna Goodman Hertzberg created the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra. Its first concert took place in May 1905. Performances were held on a sporadic basis for a number of years following that first concert, and it was revived in 1914. It preformed into the 1920s before it ultimately foundered. San Antonio’s Symphony emerged again in 1939, and by 1943, based on budget, the city boasted one of only 19 major orchestras in the U.S. during that time period, and it was the only one to be found in Texas. The music played on through World War II, due to local military presence, and through today!

The Symphonic History of Texas: A Classical Music Tour

Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Collier

Houston philanthropist Ima Hogg sponsored the first concert of the (eventual) Houston Symphony on June 21, 1913. Although popular, the orchestra disbanded in 1918. It reformed in 1930 and officially became the Houston Symphony Society in 1936. It was then professional musicians were hired. The Houston Symphony performed the American premiere of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11 and even did the first commercial recording of the symphony.

The Austin Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1911 and is one of the oldest major orchestral ensembles in Texas. Another boost to its popularity came after World War II. Dr. Hendrik J. Buytendorp was the first conductor of the Austin Symphony Orchestra during this era, and he began his career with the orchestra in 1938 and retired eleven years later in January 1949. Today, the Austin Symphony consists of approximately eighty musicians.

These are not the only orchestras in Texas! Check out the Austin Civic Orchestra, the Brazos Valley Symphony Orchestra, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Dallas Chamber Symphony, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra, the Lubbock Symphony Orchestra, the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra in Houston, the Symphony of Southeast Texas in Beaumont, the University of North Texas Symphony Orchestra, the Valley Symphony Orchestra in McAllen, and the Youth Orchestras of San Antonio, as well as those in El Paso, Corpus Christi, Galveston, and Wichita Falls!