Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/713

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

harmonic in its moments of temporary trial. Amid all kinds of well-intended, however bigoted, opposition, the Society has submitted to reform after reform, and preserved its moral equilibrium—a sign that its constitution is of the strongest and the healthiest. The late Sir H. B. Bishop, our national English composer, the illustrious German, Felix Mendelssohn, and Herr Ignatz Moscheles, the renowned pianist, were alternately appointed conductors of series of concerts; and at one time the idea was entertained that Mendelssohn himself would consent to undertake the sole direction. Mendelssohn, however, was too deeply absorbed in other pursuits, and the hope of his becoming 'perpetual conductor' was inevitably abandoned. Ultimately, in 1846, the post was offered to and accepted by Mr. Costa. That gentleman continued In office, with manifest advantage to the performances, until 1854, when, after a brilliant reign of nine years, he abdicated. The year 1855, during which Herr Richard Wagner wielded the baton, was one of the most disastrous on record … It was then remembered there was such an English musician as Mr. Sterndale Bennett—an old member of the 'Philharmonic,' who had frequently served as director, and in bygone years as often conducted the performances. To Mr. Bennett was tendered the conductor's baton, which he has wielded ever since with honour to himself and profit to his employers. From the first season during which this eminent musician officiated as conductor, the star of the 'Philharmonic' has shone with undiminished lustre, and its fortunes have steadily risen; this too in spite of the involuntary secession of no fewer than forty-seven of the most distinguished members of his orchestra, whose duties at the Italian Opera were in 1861 found incompatible with those which called them to the Hanover Square Booms. There was no alternative for the 'Philharmonic' but to change its nights or give up its concerts. To give up the concerts was out of the question. To change the nights of performance was difficult for more reasons than one; in addition to which there was a sort of superstitious dislike to any such innovation on the custom of nearly half a century. The involuntary seceders were promptly replaced, and the forty-ninth series of the Philharmonic Concerts commenced as usual, with a noble orchestra of nearly eighty performers; and the directors, who had reduced the number of concerts to six, resolved in the interim to revive the old system (dating from 1813), and wisely and boldly returned to the time-honoured 'eight.' The incidents of the two seasons, 1861 and 1862, are tolerably familiar to our musical readers. The new (or almost new) band has been brought more and more under the control of the conductor and the first eight symphonies of Beethoven (to speak of nothing else) have been twice performed in such a manner as to sustain the well-earned reputation of the 'Philharmonic.' In short, the Society was never in a more flourishing condition; and, instead of dissolving at the end of this, their fiftieth season, as was anticipated, they celebrated it the other night in St. James's Hall (the Hanover Square Rooms not being big enough for the occasion) with a 'Jubilee' concert of varied and splendid attraction. Thus, in the year of expected dissolution, the patrons of the 'Philharmonic' have had nine performances instead of eight, the profits of the extra concert amounting to little short of 500l.

At the close of the season of 1866 Professor Bennett resigned the conductorship, and his place at the Philharmonic was filled by Mr. W. G. Cusins, then a prominent member of Her Majesty's band, and now 'Master of the Music to the Queen,' who has held the baton, season by season, up to that which has just concluded. In 1868 it became evident that the Hanover Square Rooms were too small for the concerts, and they were therefore in the next season removed to the more spacious accommodation of St. James's Hall, Piccadilly, thus deserting a building which had, through 36 years' occupation, become identified with the Society, and breaking, though inevitably, an important link with the past. At the same time the programmes were furnished with analyses and comments by Professor G. A. Macfarren, illustrated by quotations in music type, a practice that has been maintained to the present time.

Music has now become more democratic than it was, and the Philharmonic Society, instead of being the sole and acknowledged queen of the musical world of England, is only one out of several concert-giving institutions, each striving its hardest to attract the favour of the public. How far the Society may be able to maintain itself in these new conditions against so severe and increasing a competition, it is not for the Dictionary of Music to predict. We hope for the best from the zeal and caution which in the past have carried the directors of the Philharmonic over so many shoals safe to land. The happy sagacity which in 1844 saved the Society by the engagement of Mendelssohn, may again prove sufficient for the present need. But whatever may be the result in the future, there can be but one feeling as regards the past of the Philharmonic Society. The consideration of the list above given can only excite a warm sense of gratitude towards an institution which for more than half a century stood at the head of English concerts, and enabled the lovers and students of music in this country to become acquainted with the works, and the persons of the greatest composers and executants of modern days.

For further details of the Society's transactions, including copies of seven letters from Mendelssohn to Sterndale Bennett, the reader is referred to 'The Philharmonic Society of London from its foundation 1813 to its fiftieth year 1862. By George Hogarth' (8vo. London, 1862). The society itself has published the 'Documents, Letters etc., relating to the bust of Beethoven presented to the society by Frau Fanny Linzbauer, translated and arranged by Doyne C. Bell' (4to. London, 1871); and, in the Programme book of Feb. 5, 1880, five hitherto unprinted letters from Mendelssohn to the Society.

A résumé of the contents of the Society's Library has been already given. See vol. ii. p. 421a.

[ S. L. ]

PHILHARMONIC SOCIETY OF NEW YORK, THE, founded April 5, 1842, incorporated Feb. 17, 1853. Its object is the cultivation and performance of instrumental music. Its first concert was given at the Apollo Rooms, December 7, 1842. Concerts have since been regularly given in each season, that of April 12, 1879, being the 181st. The Chinese Rooms, Niblo's Garden, Irving Hall, and the Academy of Music have been successively used for the concerts and public rehearsals. The use of the latter, begun November 19, 1859, was suspended April 20, 186i,by the destruction by fire of the theatre, and resumed November 7, 1863, Irving Hall in the meanwhile furnishing an auditorium. The concerts have always been of a high order, the orchestra large and efficient, and the programmes presenting selections frojn a broad range of composers, and the usual variety of vocal and instrumental solos, with an occasional choral work. The management of the affairs of the society remains entirely in the hands of the 'Actual Members,' each of whom must 'be an efficient performer on some instrument,' and a