Philharmonic Society of New York Concert: 1st

Event Information

Academy of Music

Carl Bergmann

Event Type:

Record Information


Last Updated:
6 March 2021

Performance Date(s) and Time(s)

27 Nov 1869, Evening

Program Details

Orchestra consisted of 100 players.

Performers and/or Works Performed

Composer(s): Liszt
Participants:  Alide Topp
aka Midsummer night's dream
Composer(s): Mendelssohn-Bartholdy


Announcement: New York Post, 27 October 1869, 2.

Forthcoming season.

Announcement: New York Sun, 28 October 1869, 1.

Forthcoming season.

Article: New-York Times, 09 November 1869, 5.

“We are constrained, by information received through trustworthy sources, to believe that the arrangements for selling boxes, on Saturday, for the Philharmonic Concerts, were characterized by blundering on the part of those in authority and by what looks like gross fraud upon the public on the part of their subordinates. A gentleman tells us that he presented himself at the office at 8 o’clock—the sale being advertised to commence at 9—and that there were then some fifteen persons ahead of him on the line; that among these were several well-known ticket speculators, some of whom took ten, some twenty boxes; that, while there still remained more than a dozen persons in advance of him on the line, it was suddenly announced that every box was sold and that consequently, to their great and freely expressed indignation, all these intending purchasers were disappointed. Our informant adds that the men who secured these ten and twenty boxes are well known to himself and others of the public present as ticket speculators getting an unfair advantage, such an occurrence is disgraceful to every individual who has acted in the matter for the Philharmonic Society.

“It would give great pleasure to be put in possession of any facts that would tend to remove the odium which proceedings like these must entail; but it is not easy to believe that such facts can exist, especially as what is now charged is but a repetition of abuses that were allowed to be perpetrated last season.”

Advertisement: New York Herald, 26 November 1869, 12.
Announcement: New York Post, 27 November 1869, 4.
Review: New York Herald, 28 November 1869, 7.

“The character and size of a Philharmonic audience is so well known now that it is merely necessary to say that the season of the society opened last night at the Academy in the usual brilliant manner, every seat being occupied. The programme was one of excellence and variety, comprising Mozart’s lovely symphony in E flat, Liszt’s Titanic concerto for the piano in E flat, and Mendelssohn’s entire music to ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ The symphony is one of the tenderest and most poetic of the amiable composer’s works and was faultlessly performed. The hundred instruments, under the experienced direction of Carl Bergman [sic], were like obedient spirits beneath the spell of an enchanter, and spoke in thunder tone or gentle whisper, anon dialogued and breathed forth an ensemble which rose and fell like the heaving billows of the ocean. The concerto is one of the most colossal of piano works, and needs wrists of steel to execute its marvelious [sic] passages. Miss Alide Topp played it for her début at Steinway Hall when she first came to this country. She has improved much since in her rendering of the work, but still we do not think it possible for any lady to succeed in mastering it. The physical exertion alone required in it incapacitates the slender fingers and delicate wrist of Miss Topp from ever reaching the goal of perfection in the execution of the wonderful measures of Liszt’s work. She played the opening march well, with clearness and properly balanced power; and in the delicious little scherzo her remarkable delicacy of execution and poetic conception were shown to advantage. But in the quasi adagio, which, by the way, strangely reminds one of the larghetto in Chopin’s Concerto in F minor, the bold, passionate declamatory phrases in octaves did not receive that force of expression which was due to them. Again in the wild dashing finale in which the opening motive rushes through nearly every scale on the piano, Miss Topp took the tempo too slow and exhibited evidences of weariness in the rendering of the lightning passages which flash through the stormy background of the orchestra. In the terrible trill which occurs in the concerto and which extends over several pages of score, the weakness of the player was felt. Still Miss Topp played admirably and deserved the applause which greeted her, but she should not overtask her powers again by selecting such a Titanic work. What can we say of the matchless music which Mendelssohn has flung like a rich veil over the matchless fairy tale of Shakespeare? We have criticised it often at length before, and new beauties reveal themselves at each hearing. The flutter of fairy wings in the scherzo, the inspiring tones of the ‘Wedding March,’ the echo of the woods and the troubles of lovers in the andante, and the jolly measures of Bottom and his companions are musical photographs such as only the sun of such a genius as Mendelssohn could limn. Mrs. Scott-Siddons read, or rather declaimed, the play with much success. In narrating the adventures of Bottom and the other wise men she was particularly happy, and threw all her soul into the work, instead of monotonous, dreary style of the majority of dramatic readers. Her success was of the most marked character, and many of the charms of the ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ were brought into stronger relief by her admirable elocution and acting.”

Review: New York Post, 28 November 1869, 3.

“The program of the opening concert of the Philharmonic season at the Academy of Music on Saturday night included but three numbers—Mozart’s symphony in E flat, Liszt’s concerto for piano-forte and orchestra, and Mendelssohn’s music to ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ In the latter Mrs. Scott-Siddons read the text with good taste and effect, and was charmingly dressed, never having appeared to better advantage than when wearing the traditional golden fillet of the great Siddons. It, however, may be questioned whether the reading of copious extracts from a play is always the best way to interest a purely musical audience.

“Miss Alide Topp played Liszt’s difficult concerto entirely from memory. In many of the passages she revealed her best qualities as a pianist, but the arduous character of the selection told upon her strength before she had finished; yet the performance was notable and interesting.”

Review: New York Sun, 29 November 1869, 2.

“The first Philharmonic concert of the present season was given on Saturday evening at the Academy of Music. The best music has happily wed itself to popularity in the case of the Society, and art basks in the sunshine of the happy alliance. In simpler terms, the audiences are always large. They are also plain, democratic audiences, and come in their second-best clothes, and do not make at all a brilliant appearance in the boxes, but possibly are none the less appreciative on that account. Such was the character of the audience assembled on Saturday evening. The programme was brief in the number of the pieces, presenting but three—a symphony by Mozart, a concerto by Liszt, and the music that Mendelssohn wrote to accompany the ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ Of the Mozart symphony it need only be said that it presented no difficulties to the Philharmonic orchestra. Compared with the ‘Jupiter’ symphony by the same master, it is not a great work, and yet it is an exceedingly pleasing one, and has this excellent popularity, that it increases in interest as it proceeds, and that its last movement is its best. It was well and smoothly rendered.

“Miss Topp played the concerto by Listz [sic] with even more than her usual fire and brilliance. This young lady is certainly a hard worker, and gives fresh evidences of progress every time that she appears before the public, and she seems to have gone in the direction of strength as far as it is possible for a woman to reach.

“We have always considered the work itself one of its author’s most brilliant compositions. Liszt was restrained, doubtless, in writing it by the presence of his beloved instrument, the piano, for which he knows how to write, and spares the orchestra those extraordinary tortures that he is wont to inflict on that unhappy body when he has only it to deal with, and sets himself to wring from it all the tones, fiendish and otherwise, to which it is capable of giving utterance.

“Mrs. Siddons read Shakespeare’s comedy, or rather so much of it as had relation to the music that Mendelssohn wrote. Her elisions were skillfully made, and so as not to disturb the course of the slender plot on which this beautiful imagining of his turns. It was very pleasant to hear the music of the genial master in its fitting and proper place. It gained immensely in significance by being brought into such close contact with the substance that inspired it.

“Whether Mrs. Siddons read the play as well as it should have been read is a question, perhaps, on which minds might differ. It certainly is vastly easier to criticise the reading of another than to read the comedy itself in the Academy of Music to the satisfaction of three thousand persons; and if Mrs. Siddons fell short of that consummation, it is hardly to be wondered at.  All certainly were united in the admiration of her loveliness, her calmness, her modesty, and her fine appreciation of all the humorous parts of the play. The reading on the whole was effective, and was well received and appreciated. The orchestral part was superbly done, and Mr. Mosenthal had worked hard with his chorus, and brought them up to an unexpected and refreshing standard of excellence, as compared with their lameness at the second rehearsal.”

Review: New-York Times, 29 November 1869, 5.

“On Saturday evening the first concert of the Philharmonic Society was given at the Academy of Music. The opera house was well filled—every seat being occupied, at least, that could be seen from the first tier—and it was plain that only the unfavorable weather prevented the attendance from being overflowing. Much satisfaction was expressed by the audience with the performance, which will no doubt be generally chronicled and accepted as a great success. The programme, as rendered at the previous rehearsals, was smoothly repeated, and there were none of those long delays between the pieces that so often on such occasions irritate the temper and diminish the pleasure as well as the appreciative powers of the auditor. Such credit, then, as belongs to an unhesitating fulfillment of their advertised promises, the management of the Society fairly earned.  

“We are not aware that we fully understand the scope and intents of the Philharmonic Society. If we do not err in assuming that among the latter is included the purpose to give the best works in the highest style of art, we shall be at no loss in the application of standards and in perceiving the extent to which the present concert came up to or fell short of them. The first selection given was a purely orchestral one, consisting of MOZART’S familiar E flat Symphony, the whole of which was played. An orchestra of a hundred, on the whole well balanced, including many unquestionably fine instrumentalists working together, after repeated rehearsal, could scarcely fail, one might suppose, to afford a good account of a work so comparatively simple. In the sense of being satisfactory to the audience, it was good. In the sense of being a strictly first-rate performance, it was open to objections. There was mechanical playing in some of the most delicate and spiritual passages. The time was now and then hurried to the detriment of the composer’s meaning. A general lack of firmness and breadth were perceptible. Unity, self-subjugation and the collective suggestion of reserve are desirable in an orchestra. Yet there must be an object in numbers. It may be a fine thing if, on occasion, a hundred instruments can be played so as to give the effect of but one. It seems to us less fine if a hundred instruments are so handled as habitually to give the effect of but thirty. Such a result may be classical, but in some cases, and this is of the number, we confess to a heterodox leaning toward the romantic. The Philharmonic orchestra is an excellent one, no doubt; but the classicality which slurs the essential nuances to which we have referred while seeking praise for anti-sensational reticence, is surely open to censure. Of the four parts of the Symphony, the vivace was the best played; chiefly for the reason that the orchestra was manifestly in a hurry to get through and this disposition was not unfavorable to the character of the finale.

“The succeeding number of the programme, LISZT’S Concerto for pianoforte in E flat major, introduced Miss ALIDE TOPP. We have much respect for the abilities of this lady. With a very slight occasional tendency to the meretricious, she is a painstaking, conscientious and improving artist. She is not, however, equal, under such circumstances, to playing the whole of LISZT’S Concerto. We have heard but one lady—ARABELLA GODDARD—who is; and even that remarkable performer, in the well-known most exacting parts, showed signs of lacking the needful sustained power which only masculine thews [sic] and sinews can supply. The question is not one solely of intelligence—in this Miss TOPP is not deficient—but of brute strength, wherein she certainly is. The finish, precision and elegance of her playing deserve full recognition. If we are not misled by a limited acquaintance with her powers, Miss TOPP is an artist who will not be contented to stand still. We may consequently hope great things of her hereafter. The orchestra did itself and its subject better justice in the beautiful and complicated accompaniment to the Concerto than in the opening Symphony.

“The second and concluding part of the entertainment consisted in MENDELSSOHN’S  ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ which was illustrated by Mrs. SCOTT-SIDDONS’ reading SHAKESPEARE’S play, with the addition, at intervals, of a chorus. In MENDELSSOHN’S music, the orchestra seemed to us more at home than in that of MOZART or LISZT. They played delightfully in parts producing an effect which not even the perpetual and not always agreeable breaks in the harmonious continuity could destroy. Mrs. SIDDONS looked excessively handsome and was attired in a dress whose picturesqueness in form and richness in color threw out the wearer’s figure against a vast background of black coats in striking contrast. Mrs. SIDDONS has apparently studied the ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ with a sedulous purpose to make her reading of it all that in her lies. As in her acting there were flashes of inspiration here and there in her Saturday’s performance which were quite delightful. But Mrs. SIDDONS lacks experience, aplomb and intellectual maturity satisfactorily to perform so arduous a task as she attempted on this occasion. There was a sameness in her representations of the different characters despite her most vigorous efforts to give them variety. Bottom and Titania, Theseus and Puck, were all more or less alike, running up and down the vocal gamut indeed, but with the same intonation, the same faulty elocution, the same bravura swing and pose and the same neck-or-nothing dash. We feel bound to add that the lady’s realistic simulations—the whinnying of the filly and the like—were hardly good enough to justify the confidence with which they were presented. Mrs. SIDDONS lacks, above all things, repose—repose of mind, of manner, of action. People for the most part think a little before they speak except in the heat of passion, and even then close analysis shows that there is prefatory reflection swift as lightning, perhaps, but with an existence as positive. The clever lady we speak of, however, drives at the speeches of the grave or gay, the sanguine or despondent, at nearly all, indeed, however, incongruous such treatment, or opposite in character the interlocutors, as if she were engaged in a sort of verbal steeple chase the prime object of which were to get first over the obstacles and so victoriously in to the goal. This is not the method of working that makes great artists, as we trust Mrs. SCOTT SIDDONS will seasonably discover. Conventional praise will not help her to do so or we should have been more charry of what is distinctly its opposite.

“It is desirable that in future concerts the Society should aim at greater variety, and endeavor, if within the limits of possibility, to have whatever they offer of an unequivocally first-rate order. We mean no disparagement to merits that perhaps deserve fuller acknowledgement than we have felt called upon at present to record, when we say that, taken altogether, the first concert of the Philharmonic Society was not up to what should be its mark. None will rejoice more heartily than ourselves if able to give a better report of the Society’s future concerts—a testimony which, bearing in mind the standards we have supposed to be aimed at, will justify comparison with the achievements of similar societies in capital cities elsewhere.”

Review: Dwight's Journal of Music, 04 December 1869, 149.

“New York, Nov. 30.—On Saturday evening we had our first Philharmonic (evening) concert. The programme included the following works: Symphony, E flat, Mozart; Pianoforte Concerto, E flat, Liszt (Miss Alide Topp.); Midsummer Night's Dream music, Mendelssohn ; with assistance of Mrs. Scott-Siddons and female chorus.

“Of the symphony—the one with the famous minuet—it is unnecessary to say anything, except that one never tires of the freshness, spontaneity, and fluency of ideas so characteristic of the author, and so abundantly manifested in all his works. It was well played.

“The Liszt concerto, played by so large and competent an orchestra, and in a building so well calculated for the transmission of sound, impressed us far more favorably than it did at the Brooklyn Philharmonic. Moreover Miss Topp, upon that former occasion, used a piano of very unsatisfactory tone and of but little power; whereas on Saturday evening she made use of a magnificent Steinway grand, whose full, powerful tones greatly aided to give the proper effect to the solo passages. The Concerto has four movements (an innovation upon the old rule which allowed only three), and each of them is merged into the other according to the plan adopted by Mendelssohn, so that there are really no pauses between any two of them, and each glides naturally and gracefully into the next. There is much quasi recitative, and the changes of key are very frequent, and often intensely confusing to the unaccustomed ear. The Allegretto Scherzando is very neat, and, although somewhat uneven in rhythm, its very oddity is an additional beauty. The Adagio, too, has a piquant effect with muted strings, and is much more melodious than one could fairly have expected from Liszt.

“The feature of the concert was, of course, the Mendelssohn music, which is the only sensible descriptive music I have ever heard in the instrumental line. The fairy Overture-breathing a very elfin atmosphere—the dreamy Nocturne, piquant Scherzo, and all the incidental bits, such as the exquisite Fairy March which preludes the advent of Oberon, Titania, and their train,—all these were performed, under the watchful guidance of Bergmann, with that excellence of execution and taste which has already given to our Society a distinguished name both here and elsewhere. Perhaps the most perfect performance was that of the Scherzo, in which the flute passages, especially, were marvels of smoothness and finish.

“The text and prologues were entrusted to Mrs. Scott-Siddons, who acquitted herself most admirably in her difficult task. It is no trifling thing for a woman—more particularly one with a comparatively weak voice—to so modulate it and its inflections a to take, with any degree of success, parts like those of Oberon, Titania, Puck, Flute, Bottom, Quince, &c. All this did Mrs. Scott, and did it well, too, albeit she scarcely filled the auditorium in every part. Her “action” and gestures were natural and appropriate, and, altogether, she achieved a decided and most gratifying artistic success.

“The audience was a very large one, and it is most gratifying to believe that under the skillful pilotage of the President and his earnest coadjutors, the Society has entered upon its twenty-eighth season with the 122d concert—with the brightest prospects. It is also pleasant to perceive that the unfailing presentation of the best music, performed in the best way, has gradually but surely elevated the standard of musical taste among us, and thus accomplished a noble work for art and for mankind.”