A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Singakademie

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SINGAKADEMIE, The Berlin, one of the most important art-institutions in Germany. Its founder was Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch, born 1736 and appointed in 1756 cembalist to Frederic the Great of Prussia, after whose death he led a quiet and retired life in Berlin as music teacher and composer. The Singakademie originated with some attempts made by Fasch and a few of his pupils and musical friends to perform his own sacred compositions for mixed voices. The actual Akademie was founded on Thursday, May 24, 1791, and up to the present time the weekly practices are still held on a Thursday. The original members were 27, thus distributed:—7 soprani, 5 alti, 7 tenors, and 8 basses. The society was at first entirely private, the meetings taking place at the house of Frau Voitus (Unter den Linden, no. 59, afterwards Charlottenstrasse no. 61). This character it retained even after the practices were held in a room at the Royal Academy of Arts, the use of which was granted to the Singakademie Nov. 5, 1793. The first of the regular public performances took place at Easter 1801. The proceeds were at first devoted to charitable objects, but after the Akademie had, in 1827, erected its own buildings, where the meetings are still held, and which contains the best concert-room in Berlin, it became necessary to have performances for the benefit of the Institution, and these are still carried on. The object of the founder was to promote the practice of sacred music both accompanied and unaccompanied, but especially the latter. The society at first confined itself to Fasch's compositions, singing amongst others his 16-part Mass a cappella, but in a short time pieces by Durante, Graun, Leo, Lotti, etc., were added. The first oratorio of Handel's put in rehearsal was Judas Maccabeus (1795). The original purpose of the institution has been faithfully adhered to. Its exertions for the spread of Handel's oratorios throughout Germany have been most successful, and indeed the promotion of this special branch of art is the most essential feature of the Singakademie. Less favourable results have been attained with regard to Bach, whose church compositions have been treated as concert pieces, which in many cases puts them in an entirely wrong aspect. The first performance of Bach's Matthew-Passion in 1829 is well known, and indeed marks an epoch, but the chief credit is due, not to the Singakademie, but to the conductor of the performance, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy.

The Berlin Singakademie has served as a model for most of the vocal unions of Germany. Its structure is exceedingly simple, the governing body consisting of a director, who has charge of all musical matters, and a committee of members (ladies as well as gentlemen) who manage the business. All of these are elected at general meetings. Since 1815 the director has had a fixed salary out of the funds of the society. New members are admitted by the director and the committee. There is a special practice on Wednesdays for less advanced members, who must attain a certain amount of proficiency at this, before being allowed to join the main body. The numbers rose in 1788 to 114, in 1813 to 301, in 1827 to 436, and in 1841 to 618. At the present moment there are 600 members.

Fasch died in 1800, and was succeeded in the directorship by his pupil Carl Friedrich Zelter. An attempt to bring in Mendelssohn having failed, Zelter was succeeded by Carl Friedrich Rungenhagen (1832 to 1851) and he by Eduard August Grell, who relinquished the directorship in 1876 on account of his advanced age, but retains a seat and vote in the committee, with the title of honorary director. Martin Blumner, the present conductor, was born in 1827, and appointed in 1876.

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