Thomas Symphony Soiree: 2nd

Event Information

Steinway Hall

Theodore Thomas [see also Thomas Orchestra]
William Berge

Price: $1.50

Event Type:
Choral, Orchestral

Performance Forces:

Record Information


Last Updated:
8 January 2018

Performance Date(s) and Time(s)

24 Nov 1866, 8:00 PM

Program Details

William Berge, choral director and conductor.

The Mendelssohn Union Choral Society was comprised of 200 singers, and the Thomas Orchestra of 90 instrumentalists.

Performers and/or Works Performed

Composer(s): Mozart
Participants:  Sebastian Bach Mills
Composer(s): Schumann
Participants:  Sebastian Bach Mills


Announcement: New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung und Herold, 22 October 1866, 8.
Announcement: New-York Times, 26 October 1866, 5.

At conclusion of review for first soiree in the series.

"The second symphony-soiree will take place at Steinway's new Music Hall on Saturday evening, No. 24. The programme is the finest ever presented in New-York. The leading instrumental work is Beethoven's ninth symphony complete. We emphasize the last word because heretofore it has been the custom to play the choral symphony without a chorus. Mr. Thomas will be assisted in it [sic] interpretation by two hundred members of the Mendelssohn Union. In addition to the last great symphony work of the world--for so the ninth symphony may be called--Mr. Thomas also gives the first great symphonic work of its day--the 'Jupiter' symphony of Mozart. [The Jupiter Symphony was not on the program.]"

Advertisement: New York Herald, 05 November 1866, 7.
Advertisement: New-York Times, 06 November 1866, 7.

Includes program.

Advertisement: New York Herald, 17 November 1866.

Includes program.

Announcement: New York Herald, 19 November 1866, 5.

Part of announcement for mulitple musical performances this week.

"This splendid feast of music will wind up on Saturday with the most important event that has taken place for years in musical circles here--the performance of Beethoven's sublime Choral Symphony at Theodore Thomas' second symphony soiree. One hundred instruments and two hundred voices will be heard in Steinway Hall on the occasion. The Jupiter Symphony, one of Mozart's greatest works [sic] will also be given. [The Jupiter Symphony was not on the program.] There is no city in the world that can produce a more brilliant programme for one week, and it is gratifying to see that in the American metropolist the devine art is cultivated to such an extent."

Announcement: New-York Daily Tribune, 21 November 1866, 5.


The second of this most interesting series of concerts will take place next Saturday evening, at Steinway Hall. These concerts always offer poitns of attraction for the lovers of good music, and also for those who are interested in the works of musical progressionists. But on this occasion there will be an attraction of a superior kind--one in which every one of musical taste must feel interested, and should make a point to hear. Mr. Thomas will produce on Saturday evening next the famous Ninth Symphony of Beethoven, which is a work of extraordinary difficulty, but which, when produced with adequate instrumental and choral force, is grand and wonderful in its effects. Mr. Thomas will have an orchestra of over eighty performers, and a chorus of over two hundred singers, all picked voices and well trained. With such a force in Steinway Hall, Mr. Thomas will control sufficient material to do full justice to the striking and daring thoughts of Beethoven and present us at last with a grand interpretation of this great work.

The occasion is one in which the community at large should take a deep and generous interest. The performance of such a work alone should insure this, but when we consider that its production by Mr. Thomas is at his own personal risk, and that the cost to produce it will fall but little should of three thousand dollars, made up by items of rehearasls, Hall, advertising, printing, copying music, artists, &c., &c., there is an additional reason why the public should be interested, and should come forward liberally to support one who is willing to sacrifice so much for the art and for the gratification of the people. We earnestly hope that there will be a brilliant attendance at Steinway Hall, next Saturday evening."

Advertisement: New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung und Herold, 21 November 1866, 6.
Announcement: New York Herald, 22 November 1866, 7.

At conclusion of announcement for Bateman concert series.

"On Saturday night the second symphony soiree will be given at Steinway Hall. Two hundred singers and nearly one hundred instrumentalists will give the sublime choral symphony of Beethoven."

Announcement: New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung und Herold, 23 November 1866, 8.
Announcement: Dwight's Journal of Music, 24 November 1866, 349.
Announcement: New-York Times, 24 November 1866, 4.

"Symphony Soiree.--Mr. Theodore Thomas' second Symphony Soiree takes place to-night at Steinway Hall. The programme is the finest, without exception, that has ever been offered to the public. The great pieces are teh overture to the 'Marriage of Figaro,' by Mozart; the Concerto in A minor by Schumann, played by Mr. S. B. Mills; and the ninth Symphony [sic] by Beethoven. With an orchestra of eighty performers and a chorus of two hundred voices, (members of the Mendelssohn Union,) we may safely predict taht the rendering of this grand work will be perfect. It occurs only once or twice in a generation that the ninth symphony can be given respectably. The labor of production is only equaled by the expense of the attempt. For this concert alone Mr. Thomas has ventured $3,000. Better than this he has given his time, his talent and his enthusiasm to the taski of giving Beethoven's colossal work adequately. The solos will be sustained by Mrs. Cruger, Miss Ella Meyer, Mr. W. F. Hill and Mr. Duschitz. The chorus of the Mendelssohn Union will be under the direction of Mr. William Berge."

Announcement: New-York Daily Tribune, 24 November 1866, 5.

"This evening the second symphony soiree will take place at Steinway's Hall. We have before spoken of this performance, but we again call the attention of our readers to its importance, and the liberality displayed by Mr. Thomas in his desire to produce the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven in a manner every way commensurate with the grandeur of its character. Every one possessing musical taste should not only make a point to hear this remarkable composition, but should feel a generous desire to aid Mr. Thomas in his laudable efforts in the muse of art. We hope to see evidence of this love and this desire in a crowded audience at Steinway's Hall this evening. In addition to this great work and other instrumental pieces, Mr. S. B. Mills will perform Schumann's Concert in A Minor with orchestra. This concert will present musical attractions which a musical public ought not to be able to resist."

Announcement: New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung und Herold, 24 November 1866, 8.
Review: New York Herald, 26 November 1866, 8.

“The grand event and principal feature of the present musical season—nay, of any previous season in the metropolis—took place in Steinway Hall on Saturday night. The gigantic Ninth Symphony, with chorus, by Beethoven, a work before which all other orchestral compositions pale, was given, after months of long and tasking rehearsals, by an orchestra of about ninety performers and a chorus of two hundred voices, under the direction of Theodore Thomas and William Berge. The array of instruments and singers, covering every foot of space on the immense platform, presented a coup d’æil that reminded us of the Sydenham Palace and Exeter Hall monster concerts. The audience was, in every sense of the word, large and fashionable, and we observed the bulky volume of the score of the great work peeping out beneath many cloaks and overcoats. The Ninth Symphony has been given before in this city, at the old Academy of Music and the City Assembly Rooms, but never before in the complete, admirable style that the young director of the symphony soirees produced it. The success which attended it is both gratifying and unanticipated, and entitles Messrs. Thomas and Berge to the gratitude of all who take an interest in the progress of music in this country. The symphony has been aptly called the ‘effort of the soul to grasp at infinity;’ for in no other work are such collossal [sic] ideas embodied. The first movement is an Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso in D minor. The composer starts with the idea that man’s destiny is to have desires which cannot be satisfied. Throughout the first movement we feel the struggle of the soul in the Utopian pursuit of pure, unalloyed happiness on earth. Force, resistance, battling, longing, hoping, almost reaching, again losing, again seeking, again battling—such are the elements of restless movement in this marvelous piece of music. The soul droops, however, now and then, into a state of utter joylessness, which in the finale grows to gigantic magnitude. The opening theme, the succeeding dialogues and modulations, so characteristic of the composer, the spontaneous episodes with which he arrests the interest he has created, by substituting another, as lively as unexpected, his resolute adherence to the main subject, in which he masters and controls his thronging inspirations with a heroic will, the sudden outbursts of the entire orchestra dropping off into longing themes, expressive of the insatiable wants of the soul, all wreathed in sublime yet human language that comes from the heart alone, have never been so fully expressed as in the first movement of the Ninth Symphony. In the second, scherzo molto vivace, a wild delight seems to possess him in the opening rhythms. Now there is a reckless craving after excitement; again, self-satisfied, laughing, merry, mischievous humor. The state of mind seizes him in fitful sprells [sic], for he breaks off at every few measures abruptly only to present some other brilliant idea. Now he touches the violins lightly in pizzicato manner; again comes a tap of the drum, and a mocking dialogue between the reeds and brasses, all conceived and worked out as some ethereal, impalpable structure of harmony, such as an Oriental opium eater might conjure up in his dreams of Paradise. Next follows the third movement, adagio molto e cantabile, in B flat. How differently those tones speak to our hearts! How pure! How heavenly soothing! They melt the defiance, the wild impulse of the soul tormented by despair into a tender and melancholy feeling. It is as if a memory awoke within us—the memory of an early enjoyed and pure happiness. Then comes that sweet longing that is so beautifully expressed in the second theme, andante moderato. We seem to hear the archangels touch their heaven-strung lyres and send classical harmony through the vast halls of the temple of the living God, up to the throne of the dread, Eternal One. The last movement begins as it were with a shrill shriek. Beethoven’s music now assumes a more decidedly speaking character. It quits the pure instrumental form preserved in the preceding movements, which is marked by an indeterminate expression. The progress of the tone poem presses to a decision in words. The way in which the maestro prepares for the introduction of the human voice is full of interest. A few crashing chords indicative of extreme impatience precede the lofty, impressive recitation of the double basses. The other instruments allude, one by one, to the themes of the foregoing movements, but the instrumental basses actually speak in recitative. ‘It is enough.’ The maestro finally passes into a song theme, sweeping all the other instruments along into a simple, solemn, joyous current, swelling like some mighty river as it nears the ocean of human voices that suddenly breaks on the ear. It is the last effort to express his feelings by instrumental music alone. But the pent up thoughts must have vent, and from the tumult of instruments which foams and tosses as if the river of harmony was nearing a mighty cataract , out steps a human voice, in the commanding tone of a master, addressing the instruments:—‘Friends, no more of those tones; rather let us sing together a hymn to joy.’ Here follows Schiller’s ‘Hymn to Joy.’ The jubilee of joy ends this sublime creation.

The orchestra ably seconded the efforts of Mr. Thomas, and Mr. Berge seemed to have trained the immense chorus beyond the possibility of failure. The vocal quartet was sung by Mrs. E. Cruger, Miss E. Meyer, and Messrs. W. F. Hill and M. Duschnitz. The chorus consisted of the Mendelssohn Union, and they fully sustained the high reputation we have ever accredited them with. The voices of the quartet, with the exception of the basso, were rather high for such music, but the fact that they sang it correctly is even more than we expected. We are, therefore, content. We know of no vocal music so trying as the Hymn to Joy. To make two hundred voices stop at intervals, instantaneously at intervals with the sopranos as high as B flat, and the bassos to F, is a feat which few directors can accomplish. Mr. Berge, however, succeeded in it admirably. The production of such a work in such style marks an epoch in the history of music in America. We hope that Mr. Thomas will be reimbursed pecuniarily by the proceeds of the symphony soiree for the immense expense he has incurred in bringing out this great work, and we also trust that his example and enterprise will be imitated by other musical organizations. Mr. S. B. Mills played the overture to Figaro [sic] and Schumann’s concerto in A minor on the piano in the first part of the symphony soiree. He threw much fire and delicacy into both works, inspired, doubtless, by the occasion and the support of such an orchestra.”

Review: New-York Times, 26 November 1866, 4.

“The second of Mr. Theodore Thomas’ symphony soirees was given at Steinway Hall on Saturday evening. We should have liked to see that spacious edifice crowded to its greatest capacity, but for classical music there is yet much pioneering to be done. The attendance was good in numbers and intelligence. With such a programme, however, the hall should have been crowded. The feature of the evening was the Ninth Symphony by Beethoven—a work which has not been played for many years, and indeed is seldom heard even in capitals more musical than New-York. Although not strictly the last of the great composer’s large orchestral works—there being yet a quasi Tenth Symphony—it is the completion of that stupendous series of tone pictures with which Beethoven’s name is indissolubly connected. The stride from the First Symphony to the Ninth is immense. Like all studious young writers Beethoven betrayed the sources of his knowledge in his earlier works. The first and second symphonies are clearly in the style of Haydn. All the rest are the result of an inspiration unembarrassed by models, and no where so unembarrassed as in the Ninth Symphony. We lack space to speak to-day of this stupendous production. For the moment we briefly state the fact that it was played superbly. The orchestra was admirable. All the awkward points of rhythm—and they are many and difficult—were conquered faultlessly. We have had opportunities of hearing the Ninth Symphony in other cities, but remember no occasion when the three movements of the first part were so clearly and vigorously rendered. So also with the second part, which we exclude from general commendation only that we may pay a special compliment to the members of the Mendelssohn Union, who take so large a part in it. The solo, quartette and hymn of joy have not been heard to such advantage in this City. On such occasions we notice the progress that New-York is steadily making in the will and purpose of its singing societies. The Mendelssohn Union sang nobly. Mr. William Berge is entitled to the greatest credit for the ability with which he has placed this tough music before its members. Only one thing remains to be done: to repeat the symphony at the earliest possible opportunity. It is the accident of a lifetime to hear such a work in such a manner. The labor and expense of its production can hardly be described. While the material is informed and ready a repetition should surely be given—if not among the Symphony soirees, then as a special entertainment. There were but two other numbers on the programme; the overture to ‘Figaro’s Marriage,’ by Mozart, and Schumann’s concerto in A minor for pianoforte, played by Mr. Mills. Both works are well known. In the concerto Mr. Mills displayed finish of execution, beauty of touch, and breadth of conception. Many times as we have heard this admirable performer, we have never enjoyed his great skill to such advantage as on this occasion. After the concert Mr. Thomas was called out and bowed his thanks.”

Review: Courrier des √Čtats-Unis, 26 November 1866.

“M. Th. Thomas’ orchestra was admirable. The Germans are decidedly the best concert performers in the world, and concerts like Saturday’s should be followed most zealously by lovers of great symphonic music.”

Review: New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung und Herold, 26 November 1866, 8.

The concert was almost sold out. The instrumental part of the symphony was almost flawless, except for some too rapidly and thus unclear parts of the scherzo. Especially the adagio was played with an elegiac, gentle sweetness. The fourth part was sung accurately and confidently by the Mendelssohn Union; however, the quartet could not satisfy with the performance of an admittedly difficult passage. The audience applauded enthusiastically after every movement. The Figaro overture and Schumann’s A minor concerto was performed nicely. Mills played the piano with his usual skill and with more warmth and sensitivity than before.

Review: New-York Daily Tribune, 27 November 1866, 2.

“The second of Theodore Thomas’s Symphony Soirees, was one of the finest concerts ever given in this city. It was conceived on a grand scale and was grandly carried out. We took occasion to frequently call public attention to the musical importance of this concert, and to the large pecuniary risk voluntarily taken by Mr. Thomas, to produce the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven in a manner commensurate with its grand proportions, and we were gratified to see our appeal responded to by the large and brilliant audience attending at Steinway’s Hall on Saturday evening, although the number was not sufficient to protect Mr. Thomas from loss. The production of this Symphony involves the necessity of gathering together a large and powerful chorus, a matter almost impracticable in this great city of a million of people. Mr. Thomas used every possible endeavor to achieve this, and if he only partially succeeded it was because it could not be done.

The programme consisted of but three selections. Part 1—Mozart’s Overture to the Marriage of Figaro, and Schumann’s Concerto for Piano, in A minor, Op. 54, performed by Mr. S. B. Mills. Part 2—The Ninth Symphony, in D minor, Op. 125, by Beethoven. The overture, which is always fresh and ever welcome, was finely executed; every point was promptly taken up, and all the subjects clearly developed, the whole work gaining importance by the superb body of instruments devoted to its performance.

The Schumann Concerto, which is noble in thought and admirable in treatment, was superbly played by Mr. S. B. Mills. It is in such compositions that the best powers of Mr. Mills are developed. In these his crisp, firm and brilliant touch, his faultless execution and equality of finger, his clear and distinct delivery, and his marked and rounded phrasing, are the needed points of excellence—points in which Mr. Mills has few equals and can scarcely have a superior. We have rarely heard a performance so equal throughout and one against which we could hardly raise an objection. His reading of it was unexceptionable and his execution was equal to the inspiration of the composer. Mr. Mills has added luster to his already high and well deserved reputation by his masterly performance on Saturday evening. The orchestral accompaniments were rendered with admirable care and precision, and with all the fine coloring necessary to sustain and develop the piano solo. This accompaniment was one of the most gratifying features of the concert.

The ninth symphony is a titanic work, magnificent in its conception and culminating in a massive effect of united voices and instruments, which is overpowering in its grandeur and majesty. There are many who deprecate Beethoven’s departure from the symphonic model by the introduction of voices; but to our mind, the result fully justified the departure, for a combination more powerful in wonderful sonority was never conceived or framed by the mind of man.

The several movements of the symphony were played with infinite care. The allegro was taken in fine tempo, which was maintained firmly to the end, and the solid grandeur of the Maestoso was wonderfully effective. The scherzo was also brilliantly executed; the color was fine, and in point of delicacy the performance could hardly be excelled. The adagio was, probably, in all points the most finished performance. There was a smoothness and roundness especially in the cantabile passages worthy of all praise. The whole movement was carried through with grace and profound expression.

The great choral portion of the symphony was, instrumentally, grandly performed, and made a profound sensation, notwithstanding that the chorus was by no means equal to their duties. It is true that Beethoven has taxed the voices far beyond the ordinary registers, and the unusual compass demanded and the exceeding difficulty of the intervals form a reasonable excuse for some of the short-comings of the singers. The ultimate point of combined power at the close of the movement lost something of its intended effect, from the fact that the instruments overshadowed the voices. Still, the effect was sufficiently massive and brilliant to arouse the enthusiasm of the audience to the highest pitch of excitement. The applause at the close was vehement and long-continued, and loud, imperative calls were made for Mr. Thomas, who, on his appearance, was greeted by waving of handkerchiefs and hats, and a perfect uproar of approbation. Such a reception, proving as it did a high appreciation of his successful efforts on this occasion, must have been truly gratifying to Mr. Thomas. It was honestly earned and well deserved. Mr. Thomas labored hard to produce a performance worthy of the art, and his success was complete, so far as he could control the material at his command. He proved himself able to sway and direct a vast musical combination, and has placed himself firmly in the position he has striven for years. We congratulate him warmly upon the results of his efforts, and we hope that some efforts will be made by subscription or otherwise to reproduce the entire programme at an early date. We must say a word for the solo singers. Mr. M. Duschnitz, though apparently nervous, rendered his solo well, and the other members of the quartet, Mrs. Eugene Cruger, Miss Ella Meyer, and Mr. W. F. Hill, acquitted themselves creditably.

One word about the supernumerary conductors. If Mr. Berge got up the choruses, all praise that is due should be awarded to him. But as supernumerary conductor, he was terribly in the way of a perfect performance of the choral movement of the Symphony. His beat constantly differed from that of Mr. Thomas, rendering a perfect unity between chorus and orchestra rarely possible. In vast orchestras of many hundreds of singers and players, a second conductor is often necessary, but on this occasion it was an addition without a gain.”

Review: New-Yorker Musik-Zeitung, 28 November 1866, 264.

…Beethoven’s symphony is a challenging work to perform due to the vast numbers of performers required and the difficulties of the solo parts. All soloists did well enough. The last movement of this symphony is quite challenging for the singers and it is hard for even accomplished singers to do it justice. Neither Unger nor Sonntag were effective in their solo quartet. Duschnitz performed the recitative confidently and strongly, we only would have wished for more calmness.

The orchestra excelled, especially with the scherzo. We never heard it performed better. All in all, the performance was extraordinary and certainly will be remembered in the history of music in this country. Thomas had planned a challenging task, and he succeeded with honor.

Review: New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung und Herold, 02 December 1866, 4.

Praise for Thomas’s skill as conductor. He was able to pull together orchestra and chorus as one organ; any slight inconsistencies were balanced out by the fiery spirit of the performance. The challenges of the first movement were approached with skill and integrity, though not always mastered with perfection (which it probably never has been in any performance [in the world] yet).