New York Harmonic Society: Elijah

Event Information

Steinway Hall

Frédéric Louis Ritter

Event Type:

Record Information


Last Updated:
21 March 2022

Performance Date(s) and Time(s)

25 Apr 1870, Evening

Performers and/or Works Performed


Advertisement: New-York Times, 13 April 1870, 7.
Advertisement: New York Herald, 14 April 1870, 8.
Announcement: New-York Daily Tribune, 16 April 1870, 5.


Advertisement: New York Herald, 17 April 1870, 9.
Announcement: New York Herald, 18 April 1870, 7.

“The New York Harmonic Society will give the oratorio of ‘Elijah’ at Steinway Hall, on this day week [sic].”

Advertisement: New-York Times, 18 April 1870, 7.
Announcement: New York Post, 21 April 1870, 2.

“As the spring season passes on and there are event hints of the summer—that period when the voice of the concert singer is mute—there is manifested a sudden activity on the part of concert givers. Several interesting entertainments are announced…

“The Harmonic Society will next Monday evening give at Steinway’s a performance of Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah.’ [Lists performers.]”

Announcement: New-York Times, 22 April 1870, 4.

Brief. “Arrangements are progressing for an excellent rendering of ‘Elijah’ by the New-York Harmonic Society, at Steinway Hall, Monday evening.”

Announcement: New-York Daily Tribune, 22 April 1870, 4.

“We have had no performances of oraorio [sic] this Winter except the usual Christmas offering of ‘The Messiah,’ but the Harmonic Society seems unwilling to let the season pass without doing something for the branch of art to which it has devoted itself, though its past efforts to interest the public in oratorio music have heavily taxed the private purses of the members. The ‘Elijah’ is to be sung on Monday, and we hope will draw a full house.”

Announcement: New York Sun, 22 April 1870, 3.


Advertisement: New York Herald, 24 April 1870, 16.

Notes Mrs. Hess and Mrs. Barry are from Boston.

Announcement: New-York Times, 24 April 1870, 4.

Brief; lists soloists.

Announcement: New York Herald, 25 April 1870, 6.


Announcement: New York Post, 25 April 1870, 2.

Lists performers. “This performance is given with the artistic design of keeping up the reputation of the society, previous experience in this city proving too well that as a pecuniary speculation oratorio in this city is the most disastrous thing that can be attempted.”

Review: New York Herald, 26 April 1870, 9.

“A medium-sized audience attended the performance of Mendelssohn’s immortal oratorio at Steinway Hall last night. Without for a moment depreciating the genius of the other Titans of this the highest form of musical composition we must say that ‘Elijah’ is always the most enjoyable and dramatic of oratorios. It is, perhaps, more intelligible and operatic in its illustrations of the romantic life of the prophet than any of the works of the elder masters. It was given by the Harmonic Society and [lists soloists]. Mr. Connolly was the organist and Mr. Ritter the conductor. The performance was undeserving of praise. It seemed to us as if not one-fourth of the singers on the stage really assisted in the choruses. The orchestra was small, but it actually drowned the voices. A vocal society that pretends to execute great works in this manner cannot be entitled to the patronage of the public. We look for in oratorio an ensemble of chorus that can give each part with precision, distinctness and expression. With the Harmonic Society the chorus is unintelligible and more approaching the chaos of a mob than anything else. ‘Thanks Be to God,’ for instance, is a great work, a chef d’œuvre of tone painting. Last night it was sung in a slovenly, ineffective manner such as would drive any musician who heard it into insanity. The conductor is quite at sea in his tempi. Probably out of consideration for the undisciplined array of singers before him he slackened the time nearly one-half, and made church anthems out of Mendelssohn’s grand, spirited measures. The forty singers of the Glee and Madrigal Club produce a greater and more equally balanced body of tone than the entire Harmonic Society. Poor Elijah never suffered so much at the hands of the priests of Baal or his renegade countrymen than he did last night from this vocal society.”

Review: New-York Times, 26 April 1870, 4.

“The rendering of Mendelssohn’s oratorio of ‘Elijah’ by the New-York Harmonic Society was hardly calculated to add to the esteem in which the work is held, or to the reputation of the association. Inferior in melodic beauty, and in massiveness of instrumentation to the Handelian compositions of the same order; inferior in dignity to its sister oratorio, ‘St. Paul,’ its descriptive music, only the concerted portions of which are notable, calls with unusual imperativeness for a variety of expression the singers last evening did not seem to possess. The recitations, in a word, dragged almost from the very outset. The arias were generally done with correctness and sufficient shading, but the concerted pieces were given without the prayerful fervor, or the passion, or the awe, or the enthusiasm of praise they respectively exact, and were not remarkable even for power of sound or for precision of execution, though in respect of the latter quality, and to a certain extent in respect of sentiment, the chorale of the angels was not at all deficient, and was consequently not suffered to end in silence. The principal soloists were: [lists soloists]. Mr. Beckett’s voice is of good range and quality, and, as it was especially proven after the first half hour’s use, in fair subjection. No attempt was made, however, to use it in giving the music a dramatic coloring, and with the exception, perhaps, of Mr. Simpson, Mr. Beckett set an example in this regard for all his associates. Mr. Simpson sang with breadth and accuracy. The voice of Mrs. Hess is shrill and tremulous; that of Mrs. Barry is extremely even, rich and sympathetic, and enabled her to bear off the vocal honors of the night. Mr. F. L. Ritter conducted.”

Review: New-York Daily Tribune, 26 April 1870, 4.

Right margin difficult to read; many words illegible. “The first, and we suppose the last, oratorio performance of the season, apart from the custom Christmas ‘Messiah,’ took place last night at Steinway Hall. The audience furnished substantial proof [illeg.] taste for this somewhat severe style of music [illeg.] the trials to which it is exposed in New-York. although [sic] the cast of the solo parts [illeg.] no special attraction, the seats were nearly filled. Mrs. Gertrude Frankau-Hess, the soprano, [illeg.] very fair conception of oratorio music, and sings [illeg.] gently and correctly; but her voice is thin, sharp [illeg.] tremulous. Mrs. Barry, the contralto, is a Boston [illeg.] of repute, with a pleasanter voice than Mrs. Hess, [illeg.] better style. Her tones are neither mellow, nor [illeg.] she is in fact a mezzo-soprano rather than a cont[ralto]. Mr. Simpson sang the tenor solos with the excellent and repose which he displays [illeg.] occasions. Mr. W. H. Beckett, the bass, [illeg.] indisposed, and his appearance was preceded [illeg.] an apolgy [sic], but he sang with so [illeg.[ refinement and accuracy that every one was [illeg.] with him; strength and spirit were the only qualities which sickness seemed to have robbed him; and th[illeg.] of these brought him about down to the level of the Harmonic Society. Of the chorus singing we have lit[tle] to say. The Harmonic Society has given ‘Elijah’ [illeg.] enough to know it by this time, and it is not a very [diffi]cult work either. But a tamer and more slip-sho[illeg.] [per]formance we have rarely heard. Not a single n[ote?] was rendered with either delicacy or vigor. [Illeg.] ladies and gentlemen of the Society never seemed quite sure whether they ought to sing or be silent [illeg.] sometimes indeed, for example, when they were accompany [sic] the soprano recitative, ‘Have ye not he[ard,]’ it was doubtful which course they had adopted. [Illeg.] dropped into their parts one by one. They felt [illeg.] for the pitch. They slurred over the [illeg.] of expression; and in that splendid chorus, ‘[Be]hold, God the Lord passed by,’ which [illeg.] [any]body with a soul ought to sing well, they produced [illeg.] less effect than a good double quartett. We do them justice to say that there was but little stumbling; t[he] whole affair was weak and uncertain, the palm of [pro]ficiency belonging probably to the tenors. The[ir, illeg.] voices enough in the chorus, but their owners ha[ve not] learned yet to open their mouths. The beautiful [illeg.] quartett, ‘For He shall give His angels charge [of] thee,’ was omitted; and after hearing the [illeg.] ‘Lift thine eyes,’ by Mrs. Hess, Mrs. Roberts, and [Mrs.] Barry, we were glad of it.”

Review: New York Post, 26 April 1870, 2.

“It is not very encouraging for an amateur society to give oratorio performances in New York. The audience consists to a great extent of friends of the singers who are admitted by complimentary tickets; but the indifference of the general public is atoned for by the care with which the newspaper critics pounce down upon the whole affair and condemn without stint every imperfection, finding no time to allude to the merits of the representation.

“The performance of ‘Elijah’ by the Harmonic Society, at Steinway Hall last night, has received vigorous condemnation from the morning papers. In many points these criticisms are correct. The chorus singing was feeble and slow, the altos were hardly audible, and the sopranos seemed indifferent to the music. The basses sung [sic] well, however, and formed a splendid foundation for a rather shaky vocal structure. In the invocation to Baal, and the noble chorus, ‘Thanks be to God,’ there was an utter lack of the vocal energy that the music requires. On the other hand, the diminuendos and pianos were carefully observed and extremely effective.

“Of the soloists, Mrs. Barry, a Boston mezzo-soprano of good style and cultivation, was the best. She sings with the calm case of an experience vocalist, and as one thoroughly familiar with the music. The same may be said of Mr. Simpson, whose voice is as sweet as ever, and whose portamento as excessive. Mr. Beckett, the baritone, sang the music of Elijah well, making an especially favorable impression in the air, ‘It is enough.’ Mrs. Hess did not seem at home with the music, and in the sixth bar of the unaccompanied quartet, ‘Cast thy burden upon the Lord,’ introduced a choice selection of wrong notes; but otherwise she revealed good qualities as a vocalist, and gave the allegro music of the air, ‘Here ye,’ with more vigor and effect than was imparted to any solo of the evening. The trio, ‘Lift thine eyes,’ was sung by Mrs. Hess, Mrs. Roberts and Mrs. Barry, and received the usual encore.

“In the last chorus about half of the audience grossly insulted the singers by leaving the room. This was perhaps owing to the lateness of the hour, for despite several omissions—including the chorus ‘But the Lord from the North’—the performance was some three hours in length.”

Review: New York Post, 27 April 1870, 1.

“Mrs. Barry, at the oratorio performance on Monday night, was elegantly dressed and attracted much admiration. Her singing was excellent.”

Review: New York Sun, 27 April 1870, 3.

“It is sometimes curious to observe what exact amount of bad singing it requires to kill a musical work. Some compositions are more easily despatched than others. Some have so little vitality that they perish if they are not boistered up by the very best execution and the ablest artists. Handel’s ‘Alexander’s Feast,’ given by the Liederkranz on Saturday evening, is an example of works of this class. Others die out in spite of every exertion that talent and money can give to keep them alive. Of this kind are Wagner’s operas in general, his later ones especially, on which the King of Bavaria is pouring out the resources of his treasury, only to hear them hissed. On Monday evening the Harmonic Society experimented on how much it would take to kill Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah.’ They deserve every credit for the fairness and skill with which they carried out the test. The tenors and basses joined in friendly rivalry, nor were the sopranos and altos deprived of their share in the work. There were times when it seemed as though Mendelssohn could not possibly hold out under the pressure. Elijah and the prophet was never in half so much danger form the priests of Baal as Elijah the oratorio was from these priests of Apollo. Had it not been that Mr. Beckett and Mr. Simpson and Mrs[.] Barry came to the rescue in the solo parts, the chorus would undoubtedly have succeeded in killing off the oratorio in the estimation of most of the audience. Even in this direction there were drawbacks, for Mr. Beckett was so ill that an apology had to be made for him before the performance began, though in fact it would have been more fitting had the President apologized for the Society, for it needed it much more than Mr. Beckett did, who sang his part, if not as forcibly as is his wont, still with finish. As to Mr. Simpson, his singing is always monotonous, and lacks color and sentiment. There is no tenderness in his voice, and he gives every phrase uniformly forte.

“Mrs. Barry, a Boston lady, came on to sing the alto part. She gave it sweetly and gracefully, but without breadth or power. As to Mrs. Hess, who sang the soprano part, the recollections of Mme. Parepa’s singing of it are too fresh in memory perhaps to allow of fair justice being done to any other vocalist.

“The Society has added nothing to its reputation by this exceedingly imperfect and inadequate performance. It probably is not Mr. Ritter’s fault, for he is a wise and zealous conductor, but there is fault somewhere. At all events, whether there is or not, it certainly is matter for the most serious regret that we have not a society in this city capable of giving a truly good performance of an oratorio.”

Review: Dwight's Journal of Music, 07 May 1870, 237-38 .

“New York. Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah’ was given last Monday evening, by the Harmonic Society. We have had, within five months, from this Society alone, ‘Judas Maccabeus,’ the ‘Messiah,’ and ‘Elijah.’ We doubt whether the season is not too advanced for the society to produce Schumann’s ‘Paradise and the Peri,’ as promised in their autumn circular. If we consider the great difficulties incurred in producing Oratorio here, and the great personal sacrifices of time and money which a small number of the members have to make, in order to keep the society alive, we must certainly concede that the Harmonic Society have done well, even if they do not perform Schumann’s work. Nevetheless, the loss of that wonderful composition—so seldom heard here—is to be regretted. But to expect that a few men will tax their purses and brains in order to entertain unappreciative and ungrateful audiences with one of the highest of musical art forms, is out of the question. Judging from experience, we conclude that Oratorio is not congenial to the taste of New York audiences. Although nothing is more contrary to the true principle of Oratorio than the star singing system, the society that undertakes Oratorio performances on its own resources will always lose, except, perhaps, with the ‘Messiah,’ These views were again justified when we saw the comparatively small paying audience that gathered in Steinway Hall last Monday. It must have been disheartening to the performers. The performance of ‘Elijah’ was creditable, though some of the choruses lacked the requisite precision, spirit, and ensemble. In spite of the best efforts of the excellent musician and conductor, Mr. Ritter, the defect of insufficiently drilled chorus singers could not always be covered. We understand that in consequence of a succession of stormy Mondays—the day of the regular rehearsals—a majority of the members absented themselves. Hence the bad effect of many of the chorus parts. One cannot help admiring the devotion, the iron perseverance, the enthusiasm with which Mr. Ritter pursues his task; but it might be wished, for his sake, that a more genial and appreciative material was placed at his disposal. The members of the Harmonic Society have themselves alone to blame, if their rendering of some of the choruses of ‘Elijah’ was not up to the mark. Mrs. Hess, with her fine, fresh voice, and good method, is a decided acquisition to our local singers. Mrs. Barry, from Boston, who made her first appearance here, possesses a pleasing contralto voice, used with intelligence and expression. Mr. Simpson’s singing, in this oratorio, is well known. Mr. Beckett’s performance is not a proper subject for criticism, as he was unwell. Mr. Connolly presided at the organ.” [Reprinted from the Weekly Review]