Indoor and Outdoor Culture at the White House


Although the President was a noted outdoorsman, he also he enjoyed the subtleties of chamber music. And sometimes the wild and the refined met cheek to jowl in the White House of Theodore Roosevelt.

When he came into office in 1901, Roosevelt brought a new sophistication to music making in the executive mansion. In addition to the reliable Marine Band, Roosevelt enjoyed the Marine Band Symphony Orchestra, the Washington Symphony, the Philadelphia Symphony, and the renowned Kneisel Quartet.

But the best-remembered performance in the White House of Theodore Roosevelt was a solo recital on the evening of January 15″, 1904 — a concert given by the 28-year-old cellist Pablo Casals. Sharing the program with a baritone, Casals played a Boccherini sonata, “The Swan” from “Carnival of the Animals” by Saint-Saens, and “Spanish Dance” by Czech composer David Popper.

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Casals found that President Roosevelt had a joviality that was catching. After the concert, the President put his arm around Casals’ shoulder and led him around among the guests, introducing him to everybody and talking all the while. “I felt that in a sense he personified the American nation,” Casals said later, “with all his energy, strength, and confidence.” It was hard for Casals to picture the President galloping on a horse or hunting big game — widely reported activities of Theodore Roosevelt.

But the President’s cultivated tastes in music didn’t set so well with some of his rough and ready cohorts. One of them, Captain Seth Bullock of Deadwood, South Dakota, when asked what he thought of the music after one concert, replied, “It’s most too far up the gulch for me.” To which Theodore Roosevelt replied, “All I’ve been afraid of was that Bullock might draw his gun and begin shooting the fiddlers.”

As for Pablo Casals, he survived many an American engagement, and gave his last White House recital for President John F. Kennedy.

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