Second Musical Festival: 1st, Messiah

Event Information

Steinway Hall

Manager / Director:
Theodore Thomas [see also Thomas Orchestra]
Lafayette F. Harrison

Frédéric Louis Ritter

Price: $5 for entire festival (7 concerts); $1; $1.50 reserved

Record Information


Last Updated:
29 November 2017

Performance Date(s) and Time(s)

18 May 1868, Evening

Performers and/or Works Performed


Announcement: New-York Times, 27 April 1868, 5.
Advertisement: New-York Times, 27 April 1868, 7.
Advertisement: New York Herald, 29 April 1868.
Announcement: New-York Daily Tribune, 30 April 1868, 5.
Advertisement: New-York Times, 01 May 1868, 7.

Includes program.

Announcement: New-York Times, 02 May 1868, 4.
Article: New-York Times, 06 May 1868, 4.

Description of forthcoming festival; its moderate admission price.

Announcement: New York Post, 06 May 1868.
Advertisement: New York Herald, 07 May 1868.

Includes artists and program.

Article: New-York Times, 11 May 1868, 5.

Preparations underway, success last year, description of the program planned.

Article: New York Herald, 12 May 1868, 8.
Announcement: New-York Times, 13 May 1868, 4.
Article: New-York Daily Tribune, 14 May 1868, 2.

“The Coming Festival in New-York.”

Announcement: New York Herald, 18 May 1868.
Announcement: New-York Times, 18 May 1868, 5.
: Strong, George Templeton. New-York Historical Society. The Diaries of George Templeton Strong, 1863-1869: Musical Excerpts from the MSs, transcribed by Mary Simonson. ed. by Christopher Bruhn., 18 May 1868.

“The Messiah tonight with E. – Steinway Hall. That ineffable music was fairly rendered. Parepa did her part full justice, if justice can be done it by a human thorax—which may be doubtful.”

Review: New York Herald, 19 May 1868, 6.

“A festival is pretty much the same in music as a revival in religion. It comes in appropriately at the present time, when everything in the way of music is reduced to the lowest ebb, and our best music entrepreneurs are peculiarly prostrate. Of all the gentlemen of this last mentioned class we have had in this city there is none who deserves more of the support of the New York public than Lafayette Harrison. He has been for years past the soul of oratorio and concert, and his short and pecuniarily disastrous season of opera at Pike’s was the best season of Italian opera we have been favored with for many years, in an artistic point of view. Last night, close following on the heels of the ‘Hubites,’ he essayed a musical festival.  Handel’s sublime work, ‘Messiah,’ was the initial performance. Long before the conductor, Mr. Ritter, mounted his orchestral and choral throne, the hall (Steinway’s) was filled to overflowing. After all, the fact that the oratorio of the ‘Messiah’ draws the largest house in New York above everything else, theatrical or musical—and this fact is indisputable—is a cheering indication of public taste in music in the great metropolis. The audience last night was not only large in the most boundless sense of the word, but it was elegant and fashionable. The crème de la crème (for toilets and bright, sparkling faces spoke them as such) were present in large numbers, each with the score of the oratorio under the arm. Now a word regarding the performance. First, there was the best oratorio quartet for solos which we know of on this side of the Atlantic, although it must be confessed that some of them were laboring under the disadvantages of sickness. Madame Parepa-Rosa, soprano; Mrs. Jenny Kempton, contralto; George Simpson, tenor, and J. R. Thomas, baritone, are the recognized leaders in oratorio in this city. The Harmonic Society supplied the chorus and the orchestra was composed of the best musicians in this city. The ‘Messiah’ is a worn out subject as far as writing goes, but we must say a few words about it. We think that in order to give this great work to the public in proper style there must be at least five times the number of voices and instruments that any public hall or theatre in this country can convenient hold. The work belongs to an old school, utterly at variance with what composers nowadays think of, nevertheless the school is cosmopolitan, and appeals to all ages and all climes. Still it is colossal and must be treated as such. We have heard it in Exeter Hall with a chorus quadruple that which we heard last night. It is the hymn of the New Testament, the jubilee of a regenerated world. It appeals to every Christian heart, now as an individual testimony to the awful mystery of the redemption, but as the expression of all nature in the belief of a Redeemer. So far for the theory of the conception of the oratorio; now for its practical exposition, as shown last night. The chorus was excellent as far as its comparatively limited numbers went, except in one respect that the altos were too weak and were overpowered by the other three parts. Mr. Simpson sang the opening recitative and aria, ‘Comfort ye my people’ and ‘Every valley’ correctly and with all the expression that his peculiarly schooled tenor voice would admit. J. R. Thomas was not in as good voice as we have heard him before, owing to a manifest cold, but he deserves all praise for his rendering of the quaint solo, ‘The people that walked in darkness.’ We have never heard the beautiful ‘Come unto Him’ and ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’ sung better than last night by Madame Parepa-Rosa. There is a limpid sweetness, ease and thorough appreciation of the subject in everything that this lady sings which place her deservedly at the head of all oratorio singers. Mrs. Jenny Kempton sang ‘He shall feed His flock’ in superb style. The choruses were well sustained with the exception of ‘And He shall purify’ which was evidently not rehearsed and therefore a failure. The unrivalled ‘Hallelujah’ was given with spirit, energy and elan such as we deemed should animate the breasts of a time honored oratorio society like the Harmonic. Mr. Ritter deserves a word for his improvement in tempi matters. He has, on previous occasions, injured the rendering of the ‘Messiah’ by dragging the time, but last night he left nothing to be desired in that respect. We would only suggest to him more decision and command over his orchestra and chorus. He nearly placed some of the soloists, in one or two places, hors de combat by the want of these necessary qualifications.”

Review: New-York Times, 19 May 1868, 4.

[Comparison of the festival to the recent festival in Boston]. “The opening performance was, of course, the ‘Messiah.’ Of all oratorios ever written, this is the one that most delights a New-York public. Its majestic recitations, the fresh and earnest arias, and its magnificent choruses appeal, it would seem, to every taste. The work, moreover, is the best studied repertoire of the ‘Harmonic Society,’ on whom devolved all the responsibilities of the choruses. Singing it often as they do it is not remarkable that they have reached a point of great excellence, albeit with an ill-balanced force of voices. We have so recently spoken of the work, interpreted by the same Society and the same artists, that it is unnecessary now to re-cover the ground. It will suffice that the performance in every way was a good one. The soloists were Mme. PAREPA-ROSA, Mrs. JENNY KEMPTON, Mr. GEORGE SIMPSON and J. R. THOMAS—a quartette who know, appreciate and interpret this kind of music so thoroughly that a critic has no chance of doing anything save to appeal to a thrice-told tale of praise. We prefer, therefore, to say that the performance was good. The conductor was Mr. F. L. RITTER, and the organist Mr. E. J. CONNOLLY.”

Review: New-York Daily Tribune, 19 May 1868, 4.

“The second of the annual musical festivals at Steinway Hall opened last night with ‘The Messiah.’ It is certainly encouraging to find that there is not only a manager in New-York enterprising enough to give us a yearly feast of the masterpieces in the higher kinds of musical composition, but a public sufficiently educated to appreciate and to demand them. It was, therefore, with particular gratification last night that, despite the rain, and the mud, and the general discouragement and horribleness of the weather, we found the hall entirely filled, so that no more could have been admitted without positive discomfort. The solo parts in the oratorio were taken by Madame Rosa, Mrs. Kempton, Mr. Simpson, and Mr. J. R. Thomas. The New-York Harmonic Society mustered a chorus of about 200, the orchestra numbered 35 or 40, and Mr. F. L. Ritter was the conductor. The best thing of the evening, beyond all comparison, was Madame Rosa’s ‘Come unto Him.’ It was sung with unusual feeling, and the most exquisite neatness, and we are confident could not have been surpassed by any artist in the world. Next in excellence we must place the delicious air ‘How beautiful are the Feet,’ and ‘I know that my Redeemer Liveth,’ by the same lady. Her famous recitatives, ‘There were Shepherds,’ ‘And the Angel said unto them,’ and the rest of that marvelous series of narratives, were superbly declaimed; indeed, to say all that she did well, we should have to quote everything that fell to her share, for in oratorio she never disappoints us, never fails to interpret the composer’s finest beauties. We would gladly praise Mrs. Kempton if we could; but she has very little conception of the spirit of Handel, and did much violence to the three famous alto solos, ‘O Thou that tellest,’ ‘He shall feed His Flock,’ and ‘He was despised,’ especially to the first. Mr. Simpson sang ‘Comfort ye my People’ well, and was generally acceptable. Mr. Thomas was not in voice and his part was freely cut. The choruses were not as good as usual, though several of them deserved warm commendation. ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ opened in excellent time and was throughout solid, spirited, and correct. ‘All we like sheep’ was likewise a careful and accurate performance, though colorless.  ‘Lift up your Heads’ was excellent, and the ‘Hallelujah,’ too was entirely satisfactory; but most of the other choruses were tame; several of them dragged unaccountably; and one, ‘And He shall purify’ was a perfect chaos.  Mr. Ritter, as usual, followed the orchestra and singers instead of leading them. Upon the whole the performance was decidedly inferior to the last representation of the same work on Christmas night. The Harmonic Society has our best wishes. We honor them for what they did in the cause of oratorio music during the long years when their work was not appreciated, and their annual concerts involved not only much thankless labor but considerable positive expense to the members. We feel that we owe them a debt of gratitude; yet we feel too, that now in the day of their prosperity it would be mistaken kindness to be silent upon their shortcomings, and to refrain from expressing our conviction that instead of making progress they are going backward. They can do, they often have done, much better than they did last night.  We hope and believe that they well do much better to-morrow.”

Review: New York Post, 19 May 1868.

“The grand musical festival, which is to last during the whole of the present week, began last night at Steinway Hall, with the performance of the ‘Messiah,’ which was enjoyed by a large audience, in spite of the unpleasant weather. The chorus of the Harmonic Society on this occasion, as heretofore, lent their assistance in full force, and the orchestra was respectable in size and merit. The chief attraction of the evening was Madame Parepa-Rosa, whose superb voice is never heard to so good advantage as in oratorio music. Aside from her singing there was little to unreservedly commend.”

Review: New York Musical Gazette, June 1868, 60.

“New York—The ‘Grand Musical Festival’ idea is a good one. Ardent lovers of good music from the country can lay their plans beforehand and time their annual visit for the occasion, and even residents of the city, who have the opportunity of hearing all the good music as it passes, can often so arrange their affairs as to enjoy more by a special effort than they can when there is no extraordinary attraction or combination that is sufficient to draw them away from the pressing demands of business. The second Festival, just past, has been a success, although hardly so positive a success as that of 1867. The audiences have been good, but not so large as those of last June. The weather has doubtless had much to do with this. With the exception of one fine day it was just about as persistently wretched as weather could be. If Apollo and Jupiter Pluvius were engaged in a ‘scrimmage,’ the first mentioned gentleman had decidedly the worst of it.

On Monday night the series was opened with the ‘Messiah,” with Mad. Parepa-Rosa, Mrs. Jenny Kempton, Thomas and Simpson, a quartette of voices that is not to be equaled on this continent. It would be quite a waste of time to analyze the performance of artists who are so widely known. Moreover, we need the space to do a little fault-finding. What a shame it is that in such a city as New York, with the superabundant vocal talent to be found here, a passable chorus cannot be formed and maintained! There are two moderate societies, and many small coteries of singers scattered through the city, but how utterly incompetent are the materials now in hand to meet the most limited conception of a Grand Musical Festival. The cause of this is undoubtedly the lack of a leader; and when we say a leader, we mean a general—a musical Grant, with the executive talent to combine and use the prolific material of the city, and nerve enough to throw overboard the disaffected grumblers who can do nothing themselves, and who yet wish to hinder the progress of those who can. Where is the ‘man of the period,’ who will do this much-needed work?  If the establishment of these festivals serves the purpose of developing our choral weakness, and causes the deficiency to be even remotely supplied, it will afford occasion for boundless and unceasing gratitude.”

Review: Dwight's Journal of Music, 06 June 1868, 255.

Quoted from the Weekly Review: “The second Grand Musical Festival, under the direction of Mr. L. F. Harrison, commenced on Monday evening, the 18th inst., at Steinway Hall. A large audience attended, in defiance of the bad weather—defiance of which is very needful in these days. The opening oratorio was Handel’s ‘Messiah.’ The chorus consisted of about two hundred singers, members of the New York Harmonic Society. Mr. Edward J. Connolly presided at the organ. The solos were sung by Mme. Parepa-Rosa, Mrs. Jenny Kempton, Mr. George Simpson, and Mr. J. R. Thomas. The orchestra numbered some forty performers. The whole was under the direction of Mr. F. L. Ritter. The New York Harmonic Society is (or ought to be) thoroughly familiar with the ‘Messiah.’ They have of late performed it from two to three times each year. The judgment to be pronounced on the present performance must, therefore, be based on the well known fact that the society has had ample opportunity to conquer the difficulties of this work. We regret to say the performance was in no wise equal to the previous performances of this society. There was an unusual uncertainty in the choruses, the motives not being delivered with any precision.”

[Continued by a correspondent, “with whose opinions we are far from always agreeing”:] “Mr. Ritter, whom we all acknowledge to be one our most able and learned musicians, has not the elements which combine to form the masterful leader of an orchestra. He seems uncertain of himself and the forces under his charge, and uncertainty and want of confidence are fatal to success.”