Philharmonic Society of New York Concert: 2nd

Event Information

Academy of Music

Carl Bergmann

Event Type:

Record Information


Last Updated:
10 April 2021

Performance Date(s) and Time(s)

09 Jan 1869, Evening

Program Details

U. S. premiere of Liszt’s Ce qu’on entend sur la montaigne.

Performers and/or Works Performed

aka Elegie
Composer(s): Ernst
Participants:  Camilla Urso
aka Semiramide
Composer(s): Catel
aka Bergsymphonie
Composer(s): Liszt


Announcement: Dwight's Journal of Music, 05 December 1868, 358.
Announcement: New-York Times, 04 January 1869, 5.
Announcement: New York Post, 07 January 1869.
Advertisement: New-York Times, 07 January 1869, 7.
Announcement: New York Herald, 09 January 1869, 7.
Advertisement: New York Herald, 09 January 1869, 12.
Announcement: New-York Daily Tribune, 09 January 1869, 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., 09 January 1869.

“Philharmonic Concert tonight. . . Academy densely crowded.  Sat in Amphitheatre, heard the exquisite symphony and then adjourned.”

Review: New York Herald, 10 January 1869, 7.

“The Academy of Music was crowded to the doors last evening by an appreciative and fashionable assemblage, on the occasion of the Philharmonic Society’s second concert, which altogether was an unmistakable success. The first part opened with Haydn’s symphony in B flat, and was given in masterly style, the instrumentation of the one hundred performers being all that could possibly be desired. Madame Camilla Urso, a violinist of considerable note, was next introduced, and the reception accorded to her was cordial in the extreme. Beethoven’s concerto for the violin (opus 61, first movement) was the selection, and beyond question its rendition last evening could not be surpassed. Madame Urso acquitted herself admirably. Her execution, precision, chaste power, unfailing memory and finished stroke elicited the unanimous approbation of the audience. She was loudly recalled, and in response to repeated demands played an elegy by Ernst with a sweetness and feeling that deservedly provoked warm manifestations of approval. Part second opened with Catell’s [sic] overture to ‘Semiramide,’ which was followed by Beethoven’s concerto in E flat, op. 73. Mr. S. B. Mills presided at the piano, and his wonderful display was hearily applauded. This concerto was one of the best features of the concert. A poetic symphony by Liszt, from Victor Hugo’s poem ‘Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne,’ was then given for the first time in this country. The subject was magnificently treated and created a most favorable impression. Though the first time of its performance in America, it is sincerely to be hoped that the superb composition will be often repeated. The concert last evening, under the direction of Mr. Carl Bergmann, may be faithfully chronicled as one of the most successful in every respect that the society has given for a long period.”

Review: New York Sun, 11 January 1869, 2.

“The Philharmonic Society gave on Saturday evening the second of its six annual concerts. There was the usual immense attendance, aisles and passages and doorways even being full. There was performed a flowing melodious, clearly-written symphony by Haydn, one of the most pleasing of the many written by this composer. After this came a movement from a concerto by violin and orchestra, by Beethoven. Camilla Urso was the violinist. We have never heard this true artist play with greater certainty, precision, and finish. It seemed as though the perfection of purity of tone was reached. There was no scrappiness, no careless bowing that accidentally touches another string from the one producing the intended tone; no slurring of the chords or indefiniteness of the touch; but the style was broad, simple, noble, calm. It was also feminine and full of delicacy. More sonorous tones we have often heard, and more massive playing, but never any that seemed to have the exquisite finish of Camilla Urso’s. Its prime characteristic is repose. There is no swaying about of the body, rolling of the head, or excessive action of the arms, such as is so common with great violinists, but in its stead a composure of maner and quiet confidence that in turn inspires the confidences of the audience. A nervous player makes his audience nervous. One who is clam and evidently master of the situation and of the work in hand composed them. So it was on Saturday evening. There never was a house hushed to more profound stillness, and the faintest and most delicately drawn tones, diminishing into silence, could be heard to the furthest recess of the auditorium. The applause that followed was spontaneous, and more earnest than Philharmonic audiences are wont to indulge in, and brought as its reward a nobly performed elegy, the composition of the great violinist Ernst. The second part of the programme consisted of an overture to ‘Semiramide,’ by Cattel [sic], an old composer of the time and manner of Gluck, another concerto by Beethoven, and a symphonic poem by Liszt. As to Cattel’s work, it fell flat and dead after the violin concert we have referred to. Succeeding it so instantly, the comparison was too severe; few works could have stood it—certainly none that Cattel ever wrote. The toher concert of Beethoven’s that came next was for piano and orchestra. Mr. Mills was the pianist. No commendation of this worthy artist in necessary. He brings to the expression of such a work as this the result of the most assiduous labor and study and a deep and scholarly appreciation. His brilliant technique appeared to especial advantage in the first movement with its octave passages and (with all respect to the great composer) pianoforte exercises. Finally, we had another composition by that ecclesiastical Bedlamite, Franz Liszt. It was very long, and nearly emptied the house. There are probably people who admire this style of composition, else wiry should the Society play it? But for ourselves, with a large and varied knowledge of musicians, professional and amateur, we never met the man or woman who was hardy enough to look a person straight in the face and say so. Of course, it is useless to deny that Liszt has great gifts, and is, indeed a man of genius. One would be little less than a fool who should ignore the great knowledge and labor and wealth of technical skill that he had brought to the writing of this score. It is no child’s play, no school-boy composition, no little four-part melody, harmonized and varied and skillfully distributed among the instruments of the orchestra, with here a bit of pianissimo and there a double-forte passage; but it is a bold attempt to render into music one of Victor Hugo’s most highly wrought poems. It is a tone-picture painted on a broad canvas, with the boldest lines and in the highest colors, by a man who imagination is on fire with his subject, who is determined to express what is in him exactly as he feels it with every element of power at his command, with every pigment in his palette— contrasting his light and his shadows as violently as he pleases, defiant of rules, a rule to himself. After it is all done and the picture is thrown open to the public we as one of the public and speaking only for ourselves, absolutely decline to admire it.  Is it not big enough? Asks the admirer of Liszt. Yes. Is it not brilliant enough? Yes. Well drawn? Tolerably. Imaginitive? Undoubtedly.What then is the trouble? Simply that the effect of the whole composition is unpleasant, and even irritating. We could give the reasons of dislike in detail, and particularize the jerky, flying fragments of themes, the constantly recurring musical figures that finally weary the ear, the eternally growling bass; but such detailed criticism finds its fitting piece in a strictly musical journal, and should be illustrated by musical notation to be made intelligible. We profoundly regret that the directors of the Philharmonic think it necessary to bring forward such works as this to meet the wishes of the very few who care to hear them, in place of the more pleasing composition other composers with which their library is replete.”

Announcement: New-York Times, 11 January 1869, 5.

Review to be deferred “in consequence of the pressure on our columns.”

Review: New-York Daily Tribune, 11 January 1869, 4.

“The second concert of the twenty-seventh season of the Philharmonic Society took place on Saturday evening. In point of attendance it was one of the most successful in the history of the Society. At an early hour in the evening all the seats in the Academy of Music were filled, and a good half hour before the performance opened people began to encamp on the floor and gaily bedecked ladies to occupy the steps of the aisles.  The programme was as follows: . . .

“This was not so good a selection as that of the previous concert. All the pieces were interesting, and all but two were of a high order of merit; but none were of the highest, for the sublime in music was not represented at all. The Haydn symphony is an irresistibly charming composition, redolent with a pleasant odor of antiquity, perfectly neat and polished in structure, and full of good humor and cheerful fancy. It kindles in the mind no sense of rapture, but fills it with an easy intellectual contentment, in which the lips curl with an involuntary smile, and the head wags merrily to the measure of the music. The performance by Mr. Bergmann’s one hundred well-trained players was admirable.

“Madame Urso’s playing in the first movement of Beethoven’s only violin concerto was an exhibition of excellence such as rarely is vouchsafed us, and such as unfortunately is rarely appreciated. The perfection of her tones, and the exquisite truth and expressiveness of her touch were merits, however, to which the least cultivated ear could not be insensible, and at the close of her performance the delight of the audience found voice not only in a hearty recall, but in a loud murmur of approval. This concerto furnishes a good test of the higher qualities of an artist, for, beside the technical difficulties which have to be surmounted, there is a subtle spirit in the music that a mere facile executant can never catch, and that is the very life of the composition. Madame Urso caught it, and the genius of the sublime composer spoke to us through her interpretation. In reply to an encore she played a beautiful Elegie of Ernst’s with remarkable feeling and delicacy. Passing at once to the other Beethoven concerto, in which Mr. S. B. Mills took the piano part, we must say that it was by no means so well done. Mr. Mills is a conscientious and artistic player, and the delicacy of his touch is, at times, exquisite. But on Saturday night his playing lacked warmth. Had almost any other [pianist] been in his place, we should probably have been better satisfied with the performance; but, remembering his highly poetical interpretation of Schumann’s A minor concerto, at the third Philharmonic concert last season, we were disappointed with his rather frigid rendering of Beethoven.

“Catel’s overture to ‘Semiramide’ was heard for the first time in America at Theodore Thomas’s first Symphony Soirée of the present season. Heard a second time, and played by a very much larger orchestra, it pleased us better than it did at first, although candor compels us to say that upon the greater part of the audience it fell entirely dead. It is rather weak in melody, but its harmonic combinations are admirable; the treatment is broad and bold; and some very happy effects are produced by a massing of instruments.

“The absolute novelty of the programme was Liszt’s Poeme Symphonique, ‘On the Mountain.’ It was written to illustrate Victor Hugo’s rhapsody in which, from the solo in mountain hights [sic], he fancies himself listening to the calm voice of Nature mingled with the troubled cries of Humanity. The programme (which we may add was well made up) contained the French text of the poem in full; but we doubt whether it threw much light upon the mysteries of the music. The task which Liszt undertook in this work was one for which God had not designed him. He hever heard the voice of Narure, and he cannot describe it. He understands but imperfectly the voice of Humanity, and he cannot echo that either. The wild voices of the unreal world speak yo him sometimes with a distinctness to which other cars are strangers, and in the music of the supernatural he is capable of rising to the hights [sic] of inspirarion; but there is no inspiration in the harsh ravings of this symphonic poem, because there is no true conception of the ideas which it is designed to illustrate. The work is long and chaotic, abounding in the worst faults of the sensational school, and lacking the effective climaxes which make Liszt popular with so many who know nothingof his real excellence or defects. At the close, however, there comes in a lovely religioso movement that is like a repose after a hard day’s work. The theme is treated successively by horns, reeds, strings, and full orchestra, and so we are sent away with this at least to be thankful for, that in the last strains of the evening there is some truth and poetry.”

Review: New-York Times, 13 January 1869, 4.

“The one hundred and seventeenth concert of the New-York Philharmonic Society took place at the Academy of Music on Saturday evening. The attendance reminded us of the days when even the old Academy was insufficient to accommodate the members. Under the excellent management of Prof. DOREMUS, the Society is rapidly regaining its old popularity. It is clear that the present Academy is too small. There was not a vacant seat from parquette to amphitheatre, and even the lobbies and staircases were occupied. The programme opened with HAYDN’S symphony in B flat, which was, of course, admirably played under the steady bâton of Mr. CARL BERGMANN. The mass of stringed instruments tells with remarkable effect in the works of the grand old master. The overture to Semiramide by CATELL[sic]—played originally at the symphony soirées of Mr. THEODORE THOMAS—hardly repays the trouble that has been bestowed upon it. It is well-knit and effective, but it says nothing that has not been said more brilliantly by later writers. It seems a pity to disturb the rest into which it had fallen. The orchestra gave it the fullest interpretation, but it neither astonished nor delighted the listener. The musical resurrectionists are busy this season—a “poeme symphonique” by LISZT was also dug up for the occasion. It is called “Ce qu’ on entend sur la montague,” and is the earliest of the Abbe’s larger orchestral works. There is a grand religious theme in the last movement which redeems the work from mediocrity. Otherwise it is tedious and mechanical. The soloists were Mme. CAMILLA URSO and Mr. S. B. MILLS, who, strangely enough, both played concertos by Beethoven. This odd arrangement was rendered necessary, we are informed, by the inability of the lady, from incessant professional occupation, to study another piece. We are disposed to think that no necessity of the sort should prevail in a society of the importance of the Philharmonic. If soloists are necessary at all, they should be held to a strict reckoning, and not be permitted to change their pieces and their places on the programme because they have not time to occupy them properly. At all events it is manifestly absurd that two concertos by any one composer should be played on the same evening, and very little, we think, can be said (save in the way of gallantry toward a lady artiste) for putting the shortest (a single movement) first and the longest last. Mme. CAMILLA URSO selected the first movement from the concerto opus 61; and Mr. MILLS played the entire concerto in E flat opus 73—a work fifty minutes long, and demanding months of preparation. Mme. URSO introduced a brilliant cadenza by JOACHIM, and played it with fire and strength. These qualities were not noticeable in the real portion of the concerto itself.  We say this with the highest respect for the lady’s talent. We have in these columns recorded the appreciation we hold for her remarkable attainments—her sensitive phrasing, her pure and clear tone, and her executive ability. But a concerto, wrestling with an orchestra, demands more. There must be commanding strength, even to the point of self-assertion. The earnest sweetness of Mme. URSO’S style does not in any way convey this. We would urge her to keep to fantasias. The lady’s reception was enthusiastic, and the little piece she played as an encore was an exquisite justification of what we have just said. The concerto in E flat, which fell to the lot of Mr. MILLS, is perhaps the grandest work of its kind ever written. It belongs to the ripest period of BEETHOVEN’S life, when his imagination, fired with ideal images of beauty, led him not only into fastnesses of thought, but into nooks and crannies of fancy, which no mind has since travelled. In its demands upon an artist this concerto is almost overwhelming. Comparatively simple to the eye, it is really, from rhythmetic causes, and from the endurance it requires, one of the most difficult ever written. Mr. MILLS’ interpretation of it was large and scholarly without being too severe. It pronounces authoratatively, as it should do, the meaning of the author; gently and persuasively where needed, and rapidly and commandingly where the occasion required decision and force. The gentleman’s style is entirely suited to this difficult kind of music. It is clear and refined yet prominent. In the mere technical qualities of strength, articulation, and precision, he is, of course, without a rival. We have never heard him play better than on this occasion, and only regret that the concerto cannot be repeated. It was the feature of the evening.”

Review: Orpheonist and Philharmonic Journal, 06 February 1869, 1.

“The Philharmonic Society. . . . The second concert (Jan. 9th), was attended by several thousand persons who could get inside of the Academy of Music, and (if you will pardon the ‘bull,’) by a few thousand more who couldn’t.

"The audiences seem to represent a larger proportion of un-fashionable people than ever before, and we are glad to see it, as they are the workers in Art, and a society built upon so-called ‘fashion’ generally has a rather unstable foundation.  About half of the attendants came from Brooklyn we should think, the art-loving citizens of that respected Church-garden with their usual consistency, preferring a journey to New York, with increased expenses, to hear the same music with the same players, which they refused to support at home. But we thank them for it, inasmuch as Brooklyn’s loss has thereby become our gain.

“The audiences this season talk much less during the music than was formerly the case, and, as a consequence, we suppose they think more. Who can deny that this is also a reformatory feature of the present régime?

“But now for the programme. . . . Mills was sure, Urso was true; Mills steady, Urso invariable; Mills finished, Urso without a blemish, tonally or dynamically.  Mills’s pianism was a realization of the strength and majesty of true artistic manhood; Urso’s violin-playing symbolized the ever-adored, winning fascination, and soft-eyed loveliness of pure womanhood. Mills made us wonder, and stare, and applaud; Urso compelled us to hold our breath, to feel something at times in our veins like blood icicles, and forced us to acknowledge that the sweet anguish of shedding tears is by no means only a feminine privilege.

“The critics complained of ‘so much Beethoven’ at this concert. We expect some of these knowing gentlemen will, on some occasion, undertake to stop a performance, jump upon the stage and eke suggest to the first violins a new fingering, for certain passages. This would be a charming episode in a concert, and would only be characteristic, symbolically. Haydn’s Symphony in B flat, and Liszt’s Sermon, ‘On the Mountain,’ were admirably played by the Orchestra, and Carl Bergman conducted with his usual prescient power.”