Irvine: Joseph Cadek brings music to Chattanooga

Harold Cadek
Harold Cadek

When Joseph Ottokar Cadek, a brilliant young violinist, boarded a ship for America in 1892, he began an adventure that would bring a musical culture to enrich the lives of Chattanoogans for decades to come.

Joseph was born in 1868 in Prague, Bohemia, an important music capital of Europe, where the best performing artists, composers and teachers of the day gathered at its conservatory. Excited by the rich musical life of Prague, young Joseph was admitted to the conservatory at age 11. He excelled, and by the time he graduated at age 17, the young violinist was performing with Prague orchestras under the baton of major conductors including Gustav Mahler.

Following service in the Austrian army, he began his musical career as concertmaster of the Lucerne, Switzerland, Symphony. His first stop after crossing the Atlantic Ocean at age 24 was Boston, then the musical capital of the United States, where he performed as the solo violinist in Bosmer's Orchestra.

photo Harold Cadek, director of Cadek Conservatory from 1933 to 1967.

His talent and reputation in Boston created an opportunity to come south to lead an orchestra performing at the swank Lookout Inn, a popular destination for tourists and travelers on Lookout Mountain. Young Joseph fell in love with the beauty of the Chattanooga countryside, seeing its resemblance to his birthplace in Prague, a river city in a valley surrounded by green hills.

Returning to Switzerland, Joseph married his French sweetheart, Marguerite Girard, and brought her to Chattanooga. Once settled, his virtuoso performances delighted audiences throughout the country, taking him to Washington, where he played for President and Mrs. William McKinley at the White House.

After teaching at the Southern School in Chattanooga, Joseph, the entrepreneur, recognized the opportunity to develop a conservatory of musical arts providing the highest quality of study and performance. With encouragement from community leaders, he purchased the building owned by the Mizpah Congregation at 421 Walnut St. and founded the Cadek Conservatory in 1904.

Joseph had experienced the best musical artists of the day in Europe and understood the significance of bringing the best to perform for audiences. Knowing that Chattanooga's extensive rail system could bring his artists here, Joseph established the Cadek Subscription Concert Series and invited acclaimed musical figures with national and international reputations to perform in his adopted river city.

Audiences flocked to hear the greats including Paderewski, Melba, Caruso, Ysaye, Kreisler, Rachmaninoff and the New York Symphony. These initiatives led to the creation of several performing arts organizations, including the Chattanooga Symphony and the Chattanooga Opera.

Joseph's first student at the conservatory was S. Bartow Strang, a respected attorney who practiced law in Chattanooga and was active in civic affairs. Strang became the first president of the Cadek Conservatory of Music.

During the early years of the conservatory, Marguerite and Joseph raised four musical children, Ottokar, Lillian, Harold and Theodora. Every night the children would share practice time on the two pianos in the family living room. After music lessons, Marguerite read German-language books of mystery and adventure to them. Both parents and children spoke English and German.

All of Joseph's children became musically distinguished. The eldest son, Ottokar, excelled on the violin and left home to study in New York, where he formed the New York Quartet. Ottokar toured and performed extensively before becoming distinguished professor of violin and artist performer at the University of Alabama. Joseph's daughter Lillian, violinist and pianist, remained in Chattanooga to teach at the conservatory and play in the Chattanooga Symphony.

Joseph sent Harold to New York and Europe to study piano and cello under master teachers of the day. On returning to Chattanooga, Harold became a performer and teacher of both instruments. From 1933 to 1967 (after Joseph's death in 1927), Harold became director of Cadek Conservatory. From 1933 to 1967, he performed as first cellist with the Chattanooga Symphony. In 1945, he became dean of the Cadek Department of Music at the University of Chattanooga.

Affiliated with the university since 1935, the conservatory merged with the University of Chattanooga in 1948, resulting in a union dedicated to the growth of musical arts in Chattanooga by keeping the Cadek legacy alive. Cadek's musical culture and artistic excellence has enriched thousands of students over the decades.

Deanne Werner Irvine studied at Cadek Conservatory. A professional musician, she has taught at the conservatory and UTC for many years. For more, visit or call LaVonne Jolley 423-886-2090.

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