Prague Concert Life, 1850-1881

Event title:

Benefit concert in aid of the Academic Readers Society

Venue: Žofín Island (Žofín Hall)

Event type: Art music culture

Date: 07/03/1863 4.30pm

Season: Lent

Beneficiary: Reading Room for German Students / Academic Readers Society

Programme comprising:

General participants:
  • Provisional Theatre orchestra: participating orchestra
  • SMETANA, Bedřich: director of ensemble
ZVONAŘ, Josef Leopold : unspecified Overture [Ouverture], orch
SMETANA, Bedřich : Scherzo from Symphony Triumph-Symphonie, orch, E major, op.6
CHOPIN, Fryderyck Franciszek : Finale from Concerto for piano and orchestra, pf, orch, nr.1, E minor, op.11
     • Pišová, Johanna : pf
SMETANA, Bedřich : unspecified Fantasie on Czech folksongs, pf
     • Pišová, Johanna : pf
JOACHIM, Joseph : Concerto for violin and orchestra In the Hungarian Style, vl, orch, nr.2, D minor, op.11
     • Řebíček, Josef : vl
arr. unspecified, ?: Czech folksong: Kovářská [Blacksmith's song] , arr. vl
     • Řebíček, Josef : vl
MONIUSZKO , Stanislaw : song Anioł dziecina Angel child from song collection Śpievnik domowy (Songs of the Homeland), v, pf
     • Zawiszanka, Helena : v
ŻELEŃSKI, Władysław, Count : song unspecified, from song collection Pátero zpěvů z královédvorského rukopisu (Five songs from the Queen's Court Manuscript), v, pf, op.10
     • Zawiszanka, Helena : v
UNIDENTIFIED, ? : unspecified Polish folksong, v
     • Zawiszanka, Helena : v
PECH, Jindřich : song Zmizelá radost Lost joy no.3 from volume 1 of 7 songs, v, pf
     • Polák, Jindřich : v
NÁPRAVNÍK, Eduard : song Jarní Spring no.4 of 6 songs, v, pf, nr.4, op.8
     • Polák, Jindřich : v
SLAVÍK, Karel : song Poslední prosba (Last request), v, pf
     • Švarc, Jakub : v
BENDL, Karel : song Půda vlastenecká (Patriotic ground), v
     • Švarc, Jakub : v


Advance news of a forthcoming benefit concert for the Academic Readers Society first appeared in the Czech press in the arts, literature and music periodical Lumír 15/1/1863. The source related: ‘Concert in aid of the Academic Readers Society, in which our renowned [countryman and violinist] Laub has promised to participate, will take place on 1st March in the Žofín Hall.’

The Czech-language newspaper Národní listy reported as early as 17/1/1863 that the: ‘Concert of the Academic Readers Society will with the participation of our celebrated F. Laub take place on 1st March on Žofín.’ No further news of this concert was relayed by Národní listy until the edition of 27/2/1863. Therein a date, time and venue was announced for the concert, and the programme listed in projected performance order: ‘Concert of the Academic Readers Society takes place on Sunday 1st March at 12 o’clock in Žofín Hall. Programme: First part: 1. Ouvertura, composed J.L. Zvonař (for the first time). 2.
Poslední prosba [Last request], song for baritone, on words of J.B. Pícek, composed Kar. Slavík, sung Mr J. Švarc, member of the Provisional Czech Theatre. 3. Concerto E minor for piano, composed Chopin, (last movement) perforned Miss Joh. Pišová. 4.a) Děvče a poupě [Girl and the flower bud], composed J. Smolík. b) Zastaveníčko [Ständchen], on words G. Šálek, composed V.H. Veit, song for tenor, sung Mr L. Lukes (for the first time). Part 2: 1. Scherzo from Synfonie [Symphony] E major composed B. Smetana. 2. Concerto for violin with accompaniment of orchestra, composed Josef Slavík, performed J. Řebíček, leader of orchestra of the Czech Provisional Theatre, manuscript owned by Professor Mildner (for the first time). 3. Fantasie on [Czech] folksongs [Fantasie na národní písně], composed B. Smetana, performed Miss J. Pišová (for the first time). 4. Folksongs [Národní písně], sung Mr L. Lukes. It is possible to obtain tickets on the day of the concert at the box office.’

Advance news of this concert was first published by the German-language Prager Morgenpost in the issue dated 27/2/1863. A report announced: ‘Programme to the Concert of the Academic Readers Society on 1st March 1863 at 12 noon in the Hall of the Žofín Island. 1st part. 1. Ouverture by J.L. Zvonař. 2. Poslední prosba [Last request], Lied by K. Slavík, sung by Mr Schwarz [Jakub Švarc]. 3. Concerto C minor [E minor] by Chopin, performed by Miss Piš [Pišová] (last movement). 4.a) Děvče a poupě [Girl and the flower bud], Lied by Smolik [Smolík], b) Ständchen, Lied by Veit, sung by Mr J.L. Lukes. 2nd part. 1. Scherzo from the Symphony E major by B. Smetana. 2. Violin Concerto with accompaniment of orchestra by Josef Slavik [Slavík], performed by Mr Josef Řebíček. orchestra director of the Czech Provisional Theatre. Manuscript the property of [Eigenthum] Prof. Mildner (for the first time). 3. Fantasie on Czech folksongs by B. Smetana, performed by Miss J. Pisch [Pišová]. 4. Folksongs, sung by Mr J.L. Lukes.’

Although the Czech- and German-language were thus largely identical in terms of the information they sought to announce, there were minor differences between the two. The reference to ‘C minor’ for the work by Chopin was obviously an error. Národní listy offered slightly more information in noting the authors of the song texts. The most significant contrast between these sources lay in their identification of the song by Veit, the Czech newspaper giving the Czech version of the title, the German newspaper the German. Which of these was to have been performed cannot be ascertained from the source texts. The overall emphasis and biased of the concert programme to Czech orientated works may have indicated the Czech version was to have been sung by Lukes. Lukes himself during the early 1860s performed almost exclusively in Czech in his concert appearances. Veit’s song itself, although originally composed in German existed in both German and Czech versions.

This concert, as specified by the above early reports, did not take place on the day originally advertised. Národní listy 1/3/1863 reported that the ‘Concert of the Acad. Readers Society is postponed owing to sudden, unforeseen circumstances, to next Saturday 7th March 1863 at 4.30pm.’ Bohemia 1/3/1863 published news that ‘(The Concert of the Academic Readers Society) will due to unforseen circumstances take place on Saturday 7th March at 4.30pm’. Prager Morgenpost 2/3/1863 reported that:
‘The Concert of the Academic Readers Society, which was scheduled for yesterday, is owing to difficulties deferred to Saturday 7th March at 4.30pm.’ On 7/3/1863 Prager Morgenpost published the news: ‘The Concert of the Academic Readers Society takes place today the 7th March at 4.30 on the Žofín Island.’ None of these aforementioned reports specified any changes of content on the event. However, the programme did alter from that which was first reported for the originally scheduled concert. Thus, the tenor Lukes did not participate. Instead of the songs by Smolík and Veit and the folksongs that he was to have sung, the Polish soprano Zawiszanka and Jindřich Polák appeared, and Švarc performed the specified song by Bendl. The violinist Josef Řebíček did not play the work by Slavík but performed a Concerto by Joachim along with an unspecified Kovářská [Blacksmith’s Song].

Lumír 5/3/1863 reported that the ‘Concert of the Acad. Readers Society, which was to have been last Sunday, is postponed to Saturday at 4.30pm. As we have been told, Messrs Lukes and Řebíček have recently withdrawn their participation. We hope that the attendance of the concert will be great.’ Řebíček did appear in the rescheduled concert.

On 8/3/1863 Národní listy published in its section ‘Denní zprávy’ [Daily news]: ‘Concert of the Acad. Readers Society, which was to have taken place on 1st March, but for unforeseen circumstances was postponed, will be today at 4.30pm in Žofín Island. Participating in it will be: Miss Zawiszanka and Píšová; Messrs Polák, Řebíček and Švarc. Kindly taking over the direction of the concert will be Mr Smetana.’ 

An unsigned Lumír 12/3/1863 review remarked upon how this year’s concert season was rich in both good and poor concerts the profits from which were intended for good causes. Not all of these were said to have attracted a large audience, the reason for this was attributed by the Lumír critic to the variable quality of the programmes. Many concerts were of thought to be of ‘little artistic value’, their programmes comprising ‘superficial’ works. However, the concerts in aid of the Academic Readers Society were regarded as successful; ‘they were always appealing, and for each [concert] the public displays its taste through numerous attendance. Although this year’s concert has had to contend with many difficulties... the carefully constructed programme still interested us.’ The appeal of the concert to this correspondent critic was undoubtedly enhanced by the inclusion of a large number of items by native Czech composers. Concert programmes that failed to contain native works were often subjected to criticism by the patriotic Czech periodicals of the 1860s and early 1870s. Unsurprisingly therefore, the majority of the works performed in the concert were described and commented upon in detail by the Lumír critic. The Overture by J.L. Zvonař ‘on the whole can be termed successful, [with] well-considered working of agreeable ideas, evidence of a thorough knowledge of harmony, exquisite orchestration and tasteful form, all tightly bound-up in each part. It seems that the composer himself turned for a model to the excellent work of Mendelssohn, not only stylistically, but in the central [section] of the Overture he suggests the vivacity of the master’s compositions. At the opening of the [work] we also noticed reminiscences of Weber’s Der Freischütz.’ Smetana’s Scherzo received a mixed review, the correspondent commenting: ‘It is not known to us, what the composer wanted to suggest in his Scherzo; from the compositional style of... this fragment we may however judge that he turned to some subject of honest [i.e. country] folk, at least his work outwardly [seems to suggest] a portrayal of this subject. The principal idea dexterously interweaves through the whole composition and deftly gives way to other less energetic ideas; only at the centre of the work we noted writing that was not so interesting.’ The orchestration was thought to be ‘characteristic.’ The style as a whole was considered ‘pleasant enough... reminiscent at first of the instrumental works of F. Liszt. Some details would be more suited to piano than for orchestra.’ Both of these orchestral works, ‘which Smetana directed with circumspection, received a good performance. The other numbers of the programme comprised: performance on the piano and violin and singing. The young, fourteen-year old Miss J. Píšová, pupil of Mr Smetana, of whose abilities the Prague papers celebrated in the concert for the blind taking place two years ago in the New Town Theatre, has since then made substantial strides and surprised us with her great assuredness, with clean touch and exemplary execution. From the perspective of tender youth providing an excuse for some lesser lapses, so much may be pointed out, that she fell short in physical strength in both compositions, Chopin’s E minor Concerto and „
Fantasie on Czech folksongs“ [Fantasie na české národní písně] by Smetana. The talented pianist was vociferously called following each number. The director of the orchestra Mr Řebíček played a difficult [obtížný] concerto for violin and tried to bring to it some credence [přívésti jej k platnosti]. The heat in the Hall constantly slackened the e string, which detracted from the purity of the tuning and markedly hindered the tone. After stormy applause he added Kovářská“ [Blacksmith’s song]. Miss Zawiszanka delightfully sang Polish songs by Moniuszko Aniol dziecina“ and Zelenský’s [Żeleński] from the Queen’s Court Manuscript and added after several recalls one more Polish song. Two new songs were decently sung by Mr Polák, Zmizelá radost“ by Pech, in simplicity and subtleness appropriate to the circle of native composers, and the successful first-prize-winning Jarní“ by E. Nápravník. Mr Švarc availed himself of two new songs: Slavík’s Poslední prosba“ and the little long and less discursive Půda vlastenecká“ by Bendl. The success of the concert was without doubt creditable [slušný], which the very numerous audience confirmed by rewarding each number with copious applause.

Interestingly, unlike its sister journal Dalibor, Lumír did not identify the composer of the violin concerto as Joachim.

The review,
signed ‘-s-’, of this concert published by Dalibor 10/3/1863 was shorter than the above-mentioned Lumír text. The correspondents adopted a similar critical stance. Thus, the Overture by Zvonař was briefly noted to be a ‘deftly contrived and diligently worked Overture in Mendelssohn’s style’. Smetana’s Scherzo movement was thought to be ‘interesting and in some places effective.’ The highlight of the concert was Miss Zawiszanka’s performance of Polish songs. The complete review related that the: ‘Concert of the Academic Reader’s Society, which took place on Saturday 7th March on Žofín, contained two new instrumental numbers, namely the deftly contrived and diligently worked Overture in Mendelssohn’s style from our untiringly industrious J.L. Zvonař, and then the interesting and in some places effective Scherzo from the E major Symphony by B. Smetana. The greatest part was song. Mr Polák sang the simple, yet well-composed song „Zmizelá radost“ [Lost joy] by Pech and the first-prize winning song „Jarní“ [Spring] by Ed. Nápravník, the second of which, despite that it was not with performed with appropriate expression and feeling, still obtained applause. More successful was the singing of Mr Švarc, who performed the delectable song „Poslední prosba“ [Last request] by Slavík and „Půda vlastenecká“ [Patriotic ground] by K. Bendl. The last song is in its many pretty pages too lengthy. A very pleasant feature was in this concert the young and very talented Miss Píšová, who performed at the piano the last movement of the E minor Concerto by Chopin and Fantasie on Folkongs by Bedř. Smetana. Her strength was inadequate for the first piece; however, Miss Píšová performed it as well as the Fantasie very dextrously. Mr Řebíček played on the violin a Concerto by Joachim, not thought of as a composer. The performance was reasonable although not without faults; for so great tone, as we heard from Mr Řebíček, was not written into his part. For his efforts he drew applause, he added a song well-known from many hurdy-gurdies, in order to help him to greater applause. The palm of the concert found Miss Zawiszanka, who was clothed in mourning garments, excellently performed Moniuszko’s song „Aniał dzcina“ [Aniał dziecina – Angel child] and Želiński’s song from the Queen’s Court Manuscript. She was called many times and also honoured with a beautiful wreath’.

A public notice thanking the participants and patrons of this concert for their support, was published by the committee of the Academic Readers Society in Národní listy 13/3/1863. This announced: ‘(Despatch). Public thanks! The Academic Readers Society offers public thanks to all its supporters whose help enabled this concert benefitting the society to take place on 7th March. The President His Exalted Emperor Ferdinand for the magnanimous gift of 40zl. Then especially Mr Smetana for his circumspect direction of the concert; Miss O. Zawyszanka [Zawizanka], Miss J. Píšová; Mr M. Mildner, Mr J. Řebíček, Mr F. Polák, Mr J. Švarc, for kindly participating in the concert; proprietors of the Žofín Hall for loaning the hall; Messrs Bellmann, Farský, Renn, Pospíšil for the provision for without charge of printed materials; Mr J. Mick for kindly lending from his repository a Streicher patented piano; as well as all the other supporters of the society at the concert. In Prague, 10th March 1863. Committee.’

Národní listy
3/4/1863 published news that the Academic Readers Society had gifted to Smetana an ebony baton inlaid with silver as thanks for arranging this concert for the benefit of the Society.

The programme of the event record is reproduced in performance order corresponding with the Lumír review. According to a brief report published by Národní listy 17/1/1863, the Czech violinist Ferdinand Laub originally was to have participated in this concert.

Summary of sources:

Lumír (15/01/1863)
Národní listy (17/01/1863)
Národní listy (01/03/1863)
Prager Morgenpost (02/03/1863)
Lumír (05/03/1863)
Národní listy (07/03/1863)
Dalibor, časopis pro hudbu, divadlo a umění vůbec (10/03/1863)
Lumír (12/03/1863)
Národní listy (13/03/1863)
Prager Morgenpost (27/03/1863)
Národní listy (03/04/1863)