Philharmonic Society of New York Concert

Event Information

Academy of Music

Carl Bergmann

Event Type:

Record Information


Last Updated:
10 March 2023

Performance Date(s) and Time(s)

26 Nov 1870, 8:00 PM

Performers and/or Works Performed

Composer(s): Beethoven
aka Sextus’s aria; Send me, but, my beloved
Composer(s): Mozart
Composer(s): Liszt
Participants:  Sebastian Bach Mills
aka Unfinished symphony; Symphony, no. 8, B minor
Composer(s): Schubert
aka Ah, mio figlio; Beggar's song; Prophete. Ah! mons fils
Composer(s): Meyerbeer
Participants:  Rosa Czillag
aka Tannhauser overture
Composer(s): Wagner


Announcement: New York Clipper, 12 November 1870, 254.

Arrival of Mme. Czillag in New York.

Article: New York Herald, 13 November 1870, 6.

“Of all the musical entertainments of the season the concerts and rehearsals of the Philharmonic Society are regarded by those who love true music and are anxious for its interests in this city as the pioneers in the progress of the divine art. For twenty-eight years this admirable musical organization, of which Messrs. Harvey B. Dodworth and U. C. Hill were among the first founders, has steadily adhered to the high standard of art which its name designates, and at length, after many vicissitudes, it has gained the support and encouragement of the metropolitan public. This support and encouragement were withheld for a long time, not on account of a lack of taste on the part of the public, but because of the woeful mismanagement of the affairs of the society. The Board of Directors has been, as a general thing, the most narrow-minded, clannish and obstinate set of people that ever was known in the management of a great public body, and year after year the society drifted on, patronized by a very small proportion of our musical public and hopelessly floundering in the mire of financial despond. The election of Professor R. Ogden Doremus as President produced quite a revolution in the society. His keen business intelligence saw that the orchestra should be increased to one hundred performers, and that the representative opera house of the metropolis should be the place for these grand concerts. His suggestions were carried out and the society never enjoyed such prosperity as under his direction. Both concerts and rehearsals were attended by the élite of the city, and the treasurer looked radiant over the largely increased receipts. Still, he only commenced the revolution, and much remained to be done. For instance, an organization like the Philharmonic Society should not limit itself to only six concerts during the year. Nearly three months have elapsed since the regular fall season of amusements opened, and until Friday last the public were left in blissful ignorance of the very existence of the Philharmonic Society. Again, there were numerous complaints about the sale and distribution of seats, and a disgraceful scramble at the opening of the doors of the Academy at each concert and rehearsal. This, we believe, has been remedied this season. But the most serious mistake is in the arrangement of the programmes and the selection of solo artists. In the former case the unaccountable penchant of a few members for the insane ravings of the apostles of the ‘music of the future,’ Liszt and Wagner, inflicted a species of martyrdom on the patrons of the society by compelling them to listen to stuff which would be more appropriate in Bedlam than in the concert room. When Theodore Thomas gave his symphony soirées here his programmes always presented variety and novelty, although even he occasionally fell into the mistake of producing such nonsense. But there was rare enterprise displayed by him in giving the soirées an air of interest by constant novelties. The Philharmonic Society announce [sic] three orchestral works as the programme for their first concert. Two of these works have been played dozens of times at the Sunday concerts at Steinway Hall and by nearly every band in the city. We do not for a moment wish to speak against the intrinsic merit of these selections, for they are unsurpassed in their line. But we assert that they form too meagre a bill for the first concert of the Philharmonic Society. Many of their most enthusiastic patrons have expressed the same to us. In the selection of solo artists, although some of the best singers and instrumentalists in the city have appeared at their concerts, still the pernicious principle of favoritism has often excluded great talent and admitted mediocre ability, and in one or two instances the result was painful to a musical ear. The society has a great mission to fulfil and every means at its command to accomplish its work, and we trust that its affairs will be conducted in the broad, liberal spirit that is expected of it. If, like the Bourbons, they refuse to learn from experience, all the exertions of Professor Doremus in behalf of the society will have been in vain.”

Advertisement: New-York Times, 26 November 1870, 7.

Includes program; Czillag’s American debut.

Review: New York Herald, 27 November 1870, 7.

“There is not, probably, a society in America that occupies such a prominent art position, requires so much lecturing and is so stiff-necked and obstinate as the Philharmonic. The members of the orchestra, who also make up the society, comprise our finest orchestral performers, and are as innocent of the importance of their mission and position as the Khan of Tartary is about the McGarrahan claim. This is principally shown in the arrangement of their programmes, the selection of their solo artists and the business management of each season. First, the programme is either a repetition of a score of others or a novelty is introduced in the form of ear-torturing phantasmagoria from some insane apostle of the music of the future. Then the best artists at hand in the city are often passed over, and either superannuated performers or bashful types are brought out and sandwiched between symphonies to make their defects the more glaring. Lastly, the dissatisfaction on the part of the public in regard to seats grew to such proportions that it was found necessary this season to make a sale of the boxes. Still, owing to mismanagement in this respect, many enthusiastic patrons of music, steady upholders of the Philharmonic Society, were obliged last night to constitute themselves human wall flowers against the walls or stand on tiptoe in the lobbies, trying in vain to catch a glimpse of the stage. This is insufferable, and should be remedied at once. The programme last night was as follows [see above]. We have spoken so often of both symphonies that it is only necessary here to refer to the manner in which they were performed. The magnificent work of Beethoven received full justice, but Schubert was far better treated by Theodore Thomas at previous concerts in this city than by Mr. Bergmann and his hundred assistants. The conductor mistook the constant injunction of the composer in marking pianissimo for tameness, and thereby gave an entirely subdued idea of the work. As may be observed from the programme, a ludicrous effect is produced by giving the symphony the title ‘Unfinished.’ We doubt very much if Schubert could have gone further with it. The usual allegro finale does not exhibit itself as a necessary sequence to the mosaic foundation of melodies completed in the work. At all events the title, ‘Unfinished,’ is rather an unfortunate one. Madame Czillag, in her selections, exhibited enough talent to satisfy her hearers that she was once a great artist. Her dramatic delivery of the morceaux from Mozart and Meyerbeer showed that, but as a concert singer she cannot please. Her voice has that vibratory tone which may please in opera, but is intolerable in concert, and in very many measures it did not sound in accord with the orchestra. By the way, it has rarely been our misfortune to listen to a more unsatisfactory orchestral accompaniment. Mr. Bergmann must look to this, or his reputation will vanish like the leaves of autumn.

“The Liszt concerto was undoubtedly the feature of the evening, and, if we except Mr. Mills’ inimitable playing, it deserves the same criticism as we passed on that climax of absurdity, the legend, oratorio, or, properly speaking, delirium tremens of ‘Die Heilige Elisabeth.’ One great objection to the work is that it is a series of constant modulations or resolutions, never coming to the point, abounding in difficulties, which are unnecessary for the piano and not effective. Nothing to our mind is more disagreeable than this constant suspension of an idea, or even the semblance of one. Liszt makes the piano not a solo instrument, but a part of the orchestra. His work, therefore, taking into account his bizarre instrumentation, is probably as difficult a composition as ever was written for the piano. Mills fairly surpassed himself, and never before in this city were the glorious tones of the Steinway grand heard with such effect as a part of the orchestra. There were cadenzas in which the fingers underwent an operation in comparison to which the thumb screw of the inquisition were a mercy. In the last movement, stretto, molto, accelerando, the four triplets in each bar and semi-quaver octaves in alla breve time rang out with a distinctness and finish which to one who has studied the score seemed perfectly marvelous. On page 40, letter N, there is a passage which smacks suspiciously of Henselt. We have heard, either in his great concerto or his études, we forget which, the same idea carried out in the same manner. A little further on is a Wagnerian passage in the treble, interwoven with the flute, clarionet and oboe. The work is a curiosity, but we emphatically deny its claim to be called ‘music.’ It is high time that this intruder or usurper in the kingdom of art should be suppressed. This ultra Germanic school is an intolerable nuisance and has already done a world of harm. It sets at naught the most vital principles of art, and can only lead to chaos.

“Once more, in the name of an outraged public, we call upon the Philharmonic Society to drop Liszt from their programmes. As an eminent musician said last night about his concerts, ‘There was too much good playing wasted upon too little music.’ What purpose can such compositions serve? Not the cause of music, certainly, for they are hideous excrescences on the body of art. But the Philharmonic Society are too blind and stiff-necked to listen to common sense. They can only be approached by the public. Let their dividends at the end of the season once dwindle down, and there will be such a shaking up of dry bones among the fossils as never was heard of before.”

Review: New-York Times, 27 November 1870, 4.

“Their first concert of the season was given by the Philharmonic Society on Saturday evening. That the audience was large and fashionable needs hardly to be said. It was, however, neither so numerous nor so enthusiastic as on such occasions we have been accustomed to expect. This could certainly not be attributed to a lack of attraction. The programme was well selected, not too long, and in the sequel almost matchlessly performed. The numbers were as follows [see above].

“The lovely eighth symphony was most worthily played—the second and fourth parts superlatively so. Such a revelation of melodic beauty, of boundless imagination and far-reaching power, is rarely endowed with so faultless an interpretation. Mr. Bergmann and his orchestra fairly cover themselves with honor in this noble work, and not even their subsequent performance of Schubert’s unfinished Symphony could efface the recollection of their delivery of that of Beethoven. Mme. Rosa Czillag was cordially greeted, and showed herself at once a true artist. Her voice has considerable range, and, at points of the register, no little sweetness and power. It is, however, uneven, and betrays the marks of use. The compass demanded by Mozart’s aria was fully responded to by the vocalist, but the rapid transitions, as well as the execution, otherwise evinced a ruggedness, indicating that the voice has passed its prime. Mme. Czillag is, nevertheless, a singer of high grade, and may improve upon the effect of her first appearance here on future occasions. Her ‘Ah, Mon Fils’ was an improvement upon her opening effort, which is a good augury of success to come. Mr. Mills played the second concerto of Liszt gloriously, even for him, and was the recipient of hearty applause. We have already spoken with admiration of Schubert’s beautiful fragment. It was treated last night with the respect it deserves. Nothing could surpass the pains taken with it by all concerned. Such labors as this, which are manifestly labors of love to the Society, are, of all things, what will carry a musical organization to the top of the artistic tree, and keep it there. Wagner’s overture concluded the programme with proper spirit, and the audience dispersed well pleased with a performance that at once satisfied the most rigid aesthetic requirements and presented judicious elements of popularity. We trust the remaining programmes of the series will be as happily arranged and as capitally performed. The determination of the management to decline to respond to encores is one we are glad to see and to approve. It is high time such a step were taken in New-York, and the Philharmonic Society is the proper body to take it.”

Review: New York Post, 28 November 1870, 2.

“Beethoven, Mozart, Liszt, Schubert, Meyerbeer and Wagner were the composers represented at the first concert of the Philharmonic season at the Academy on Saturday night. The audience was large and unusually attentive. There was the customary dissatisfaction about the seating arrangements, but this seems to be an inherent attribute of Philharmonic concerts.

“Beethoven’s eighth symphony opened the programme, and received careful treatment and judicious applause. It is one of the most melodious of all the Beethoven symphonies, and therefore the better calculated to please the general taste. Schubert’s unfinished symphony—already made familiar to the musical public here by Theodore Thomas, was the other principal orchestral feature of the evening. It is a most delicate bit of musical fancy. The theme is a delicious melody which receives varied treatment, and calls into requisition the best resources of the string instruments especially. Wagner’s ‘Tannhauser’ overture concluded the programme, and was played with the superb ease which only entire familiarity with the music can impart to even a Philharmonic orchestra.

“Madame Rosa Czillag was the vocalist of the evening, singing an aria from Mozart’s ‘Clemenza di Tito’ and the Ah mon fils from ‘Le Prophete.’ The lady is a good dramatic singer, coming to us with a reputation earned in all the leading opera houses of Europe; but her qualifications fit her rather for the stage than the concert room. She showed last night artistic skill and sentiment, and as a stranger should have received a more cordial welcome on her first appearance before a New York audience.”

Review: New York Sun, 28 November 1870, 2.

“The first Philharmonic Concert of the present season was given at the Academy of Music on Saturday evening. There was a smaller attendance than has been usual at these concerts. The programme presented no new features. Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony, the unfinished Schubert Symphony, the old and now rather threadbare Tannhäuser overture, and a concerto by Liszt, formed the staple of the programme. There certainly were no new sensations to be derived from it, only some former pleasant ones revived. In this age of progression and change it is gratifying to find occasionally a Society like the Philharmonic that is content to stay where it is and to abide by the traditions. One pleasant feature of the evening was an absence of all encores or repetitions. These have grown to be the most intolerable bore of the concert room.

“Mme. Rosa Czillag, made her first appearance in America, singing an aria by Mozart and Meyerbeer’s ‘Ah! mon Fils’ and singing them, with surprising ingenuity, just a shade flat throughout. The effect was more curious than pleasant. Her style was large and broad, and the lady doubtless possesses a musical nature, but either a very faulty ear or else she has lost through some weakness of the vocal chords the control of her voice. This is often the case with those whose sense of tune is perfectly accurate. It is a pity that the Philharmonic Society so often makes fiascos like this.

“Mr. Mills was the pianist, and played the Liszt concerto superbly. No man understands better than Liszt the true relations that exist between the piano and orchestra, and also the limitations of those relations. The music of the concerto we cordially dislike. His chaotic work is enough to excite an audience to rebellion. He is the George Francis Train of music. The Schubert fragment came after this concerto like calm and sunshine after storm.” [Reprinted Dwight's Journal of Music 12/03/70, p. 360]

Review: New-York Daily Tribune, 28 November 1870, 2.

“The New-York Philharmonic Society opened its 29th season on Saturday evening. The seats of course were filled, and there was a thick fringe of unfortunate amateurs standing about the walls. A good many of the holders of secure places were rude enough to come late and disturb the first movement of the symphony—those who used to besiege the doors at 7 o’clock in former years now finding it apparently all they can do to arrive at a quarter past 8. If this vulgar practice continue, we hope the directors will either lock the doors while the orchestra is playing, or give notice that all seats unoccupied at 8 o’clock will be considered free.

“The programme of Saturday’s concert was the following [see above].

“This was an excellent programme for the amateur of classical music, though some might object that the orchestra chose nothing but familiar works. It should be remembered, however, that the greatest works are nearly all familiar. The apostles of the new musical faith have nothing to offer us like the grand inspirations of Beethoven or the beauty which shines from Schubert’s exquisite fragment. The Eighth Symphony, though all critics concur in placing it among the best of the immortal nine, perhaps is less generally relished by the half-instructed musical multitude than some others of the series, such as the Sixth, the Fifth, the Third, and perhaps the Seventh; not because its beauties are more recondite, but because they are suited to a less variety of moods. The Pastoral and Heroic symphonies speak right to our hearts in whatever disposition they may find us. They have their message for the pensive, the sorrowful, and the joyous. Whatever mood possess us, we shall find something in those wonderful works which exactly corresponds with it. Of the Ninth we do not speak; that is one of the highest products of human genius, above comparison with any other musical creation—a work which does not fit into preëxisting moods, but transforms all moods into its own, and irresistibly lifts up the listener in transports of joy. But the Eighth has not this transforming power. It is all sunlight and laughter, and only those who are in a happy frame of mind can truly relish it. The two movements of Schubert’s unfinished work, in B flat, were well chosen to follow it. They are widely different from the Eighth Symphony in meaning, but approach so closely to it, not only in merit but in general style, that they can be played after Beethoven without suffering from the contrast—a contrast which few composers except Schubert  and Mendelssohn can bear. It is only about three years since this exquisite fragment was discovered by Mr. George Grove in Vienna. It was first played in America, by Theodore Thomas, who produced it at one of his Symphony Soirees in 1867 or ’68, and it was given by our Philharmonic Society in 1869. Since then it has become extraordinarily popular, Mr. Thomas especially placing it very often in his programmes. Melodious in the highest degree, instrumented with consummate art and with a rare command of the varied resources of the orchestra, and breathing true and deep feeling, it has every quality to commend it to the connoisseur. It is music that wears well; familiar as it has become, we never tire of it. The last orchestral selection was the ‘Tannhauser’ overture, for the sake of which, whenever we hear it, we feel ready to forgive Wagner all his sins against art, and to thank God for making him. Of the execution of all these three pieces we have only one thing to say: there was hardly a fault to be found. The second and fourth movements of the Beethoven symphony, and the second movement (andante con moto) of the Schubert were particularly fine, while the overture was superb. It is the fashion, we believe, with critics to say that, as the classical composers wrote for only two or three score instruments, it is a mistake to have so many as Mr. Bergmann conducts in New-York. It is a sufficient answer to this to compare the performance of a hundred men at our Academy of Music with the performance of sixty of the same men, under the same conductor, and in substantially the same music, at the Philharmonic concerts in Brooklyn. The concerts of the sixty are pleasant; those of the hundred inspiring.

“Mr. Mills made a brilliant success with his Liszt concerto, his crisp delicious touch and irreproachable precision winning universal recognition. He played very conscientiously also, as indeed he had need; for the piano part is not a solo with orchestral accompaniment, but all the parts are closely combined and intermingled for one general effect. We do not call that effect a very happy one; for, despite the rich barbaric coloring of many passages, and the little threads of delicate tone which run at intervals through the texture, there is an indefiniteness of purpose in the composition for which no bizarre combinations and tours de force can compensate.

“The vocalist, Madame Czillag, has been pretty well heralded in advance, and the directors of the Society engaged her at a risk, unheard. The result proves that they were over-rash. She is what is called ‘a dramatic singer;’ and when a manager announces a dramatic singer we generally expect to find one who supplies the lack of high vocal culture by a broad theatrical style, abundant vocal energy, and a great deal of misplaced passion,--or to speak metaphorically, a singer who lays on her tones with a whitewash brush. Madame Rosa Czillag was probably an artist of this sort in her prime, and on the stage was doubtless effective; but a highly trained vocalist she can never have been. At present, though by no means over-mature in years, she has only the ghost of a mezzo-soprano voice, very husky in the lower register, and constantly getting out of tune. The audience listened respectfully, and bade her farewell without apparent regret.”

Review: New-York Times, 01 December 1870, 5.

“The first concert of the season took place at the Academy of Music on Saturday evening, November 26. It is needless to say that the auditorium was crowded with the elite of the amateur, professional, and critical musical world, and that the performance fully came up to the high standard of excellence previously established by this Society.

“Our morning contemporaries have treated in full of the general programme. We therefore confine ourselves to its leading feature, viz., the new Liszt concerto, for piano and orchestra, in which the parts are so interwoven that there is no subordination of the one to the other. It is a work replete with the most astounding executive difficulties which could possibly be designed to test the vast resources of the grand piano in its present high state of development, or the ability of the artist to conscientiously carry out the ideas of the composer.

“Mr. Mills surpassed all his previous grand successes; his magnificent touch and technique were never heard to greater advantage than on this occasion. The superb new-scale Steinway concert grand piano, on which he played, ceased to be a mere machine, and seemed absolutely to thrill and vibrate in its alternate massive grandeur and exquisite purity and limpidity of tone under his hands. Enthusiastic as was the appreciation of Mr. Mills’s performance, it was shared by unqualified and unanimous admiration of the instrument on which he played, and which was pronounced by the elite of musical science and art present to be the grandest specimen of the now perfect art of piano-building—as inaugurated by Steinway & Sons—ever heard on this continent or in Europe, fully justifying the unanimous official report of the International Jury of Musical Instruments at the Paris Exposition, 1867, which says verbatim: [quote from the jury’s report (from the Commercial Advertiser); reprinted New York Tribune 12/02/70, p. 5].