Prague Concert Life, 1850-1881

Event title:

First concert given by the newly founded Patriotic Music Society [vaterländische Musikverein]

Venue: Žofín Island (Žofín Hall)

Event type: Art music culture

Date: 12/01/1850 5pm

Season: Carnival

Programme comprising:

General participants:
  • Patriotic Music Society: participating institution, chorus, orch
  • SVOBODA, František Václav: director of institute, conductor
KALIVODA, Jan Křtitel Václav : Overture, orch, nr.1, D minor, op.38
KREJČÍ, Josef : chorus Už svítá Already dawning no.1 of 2 chorus [Dva sbory] for male voices, 4 male vv, op.9
ERNST, Heinrich Wilhelm : Fantasie Othello-Fantasie, vl, orch [pf acc.], op.11
     • Köckert, Adolph : vl
SVOBODA, František Václav : song with chorus [Lied mit Chor] Hoch lebe der Kaiser!, solo v, male vv chorus, orch
     • Malý, Karel : v
VINTR, František Adolf : chorus Mazurchor (Mazurka-chorus), male vv
UNSPECIFIED, ? : unspecified Czech song, v, [pf]
     • Botschon-Soukupová, Cecilie : v
HELLER, Josef August : chorus Matrosen-Chor, male vv
VEIT, Wenzel Heinrich : Concert Overture Nocí k světlu (Night to dawn), orch, D minor, op.17


Bohemia 11/1/1850 contained advance news that the Patriotic Music Society [vaterländische Musikverein] was giving this ‘first great concert’ to celebrate its founding. This text reported the date, venue and time of the event and listed the complete programme and soloists, probably, from the sequential numbering of the pieces, in order of performance. Of the solo participants Mr Köckert was noted to be performing the Fantasie ‘Auf Verlangen [upon request]’. A Tagesanzeige also appeared in Bohemia 11/1/1850 recording local events taking place over the next two days; the entry for 12/1/1860 noting ‘Saturday, 12 Jan. 5pm in the Žofín Island Hall: Concert of the Patriotic Music Society’. Information about this event was published on the day of the concert by Prager Zeitung, reporting that ‘Today, 12th January at 5pm the newly founded Society for Patriotic Music [Verein der vaterländische Musik] under the direction of Kapellmeister Franz Swoboda [Svoboda] gives its inaugural concert. The programme exclusively contains only pieces by native composers ...’ These were identified as 2 Overtures by Veit and Kalliwoda, 3 choruses by Krejčí, Heller and Winter, and a Lied with chorus and orchestral accompaniment by Swoboda [Svoboda]. To be participating were Mrs Botchon née Soukup [Botschon-Soukupová] and Mr Malý. Interestingly, no mention was given to the projected appearance of the violinist Köckert in the concert; the work the violinist was to have performed was by a non-Czech composer, which also agrees with the description of the programme issued by this Prager Zeitung. This may suggest that Köckert’s participation was not definite. That he did appear was confirmed by the subsequent reviews. 

Prager Zeitung published a brief review of the event, signed ‘-x-’, on 17/1/1850. This began by noting that news had already been given of the recent foundation in the city of a ‘Patriotic Music Society [vaterländische Musikverein]’, and that the ‘favourite dance composer and Kapellmeister of the Artillery Regiment, Mr Swoboda’ had been approached to become its director. The description of the event itself was diplomatic; the newspaper’s critic considered that although not much could be said of the Society’s first concert, given time and with the ‘active participation of music-friends and capable leadership ...’ the institute might come to rival others in Prague. No mention was made of the actual performances. Instead, the correspondent noted that the best numbers of the programme were the ‘familiar’ Overture by Veit, the vocal items given by ‘the agreeable Mrs Botschon and the Mazurchor [Mazurka chorus] by Winter. The critic has already had the opportunity to get to know many felicitous compositions by the last-named Mr Winter, and is of the view that the said chorus is the most commendable. Fresh, piquant part-writing, plenty of melody, without any obbligato passages in thirds, and practically feasible in content [for performance], these are attributes to the strength of this young compositional talent.’ The success of the two choruses by Krejčí and Heller by comparison was thought to be ‘substantially less.’ Finally, the reviewer noted that the concert was ‘numerously attended.’ 

An extended review of this event, signed ‘V.’, appeared in Bohemia 15/1/1850. The first part of this substantial text described the concert and the works given, initially reporting that on ‘Saturday, 12 January the “vaterländische Musikverein” celebrated its founding with a great concert whose programme, with the exception of one single so-called virtuoso number, contained only the music of Czech composers.’ The Žofín Hall was ‘over-full’ with a ‘for the most part appreciative public. Among the orchestral pieces brought to us by the orchestra of Mr Kapellmeister F.W. Swoboda [Svoboda], was the Overture (Op.38) by Kalliwoda and Veit’s magnificent, already familiar Concert Overture.’ Of the solo numbers, the violinist Köckert performed Ernst’s Othello-Fantasie, which the critic noted he had given previously in the concert of Miss Sulzer [on 1/1/850]. His success was ‘complete’; the composition with its many instrumental effects and accompaniment of full orchestra [the earlier performance had been with a piano accompaniment] was brilliantly effective. Following Köckert, the solo vocalist, the ‘erstwhile primadonna of the Czech opera Cäcilie Soukup, who was titled Madame on the ticket [Zettel] of the benefit concert for needy polytechnic students [which had taken place on 30/12/1849], was today however once more called Mrs von Botschon ....’ Identifying the works that she had chosen to perform, the critic observed that the last of her pieces was ‘in the character of an anonymous folksong, unless I am very much mistaken by Pařízek, and which she had to encore.’ Of the other vocal works making up the remainder of the programme, the text reported that these comprised simply Swoboda’s Lied with chorus „Hoch lebe der Kaiser!“ sung by Mr Karl Malley [Malý], and three pieces for male voices. Of these Heller’s „Matrosenchor“ was thought to be ‘agreeable’ but required a precise performance; Krejčí’s ‘singular [eigentümlicher]’ chorus „Už swítá [Už svítá]“, lacked any real Slavic character. Both pieces were received with approval, but the latter would have been more successful had the performance satisfied the demands of its composer with regard to ‘dynamic nuance, rhythmc expression and uniform, intelligible vocalisation. Easier in performance was at any rate Winter’s Mazurchor, fresher and more accessible to the greater part of the public.’ After commenting upon the problem of the performances of the vocal works the Bohemia critic largely devoted the remainder of the review text to discussing much broader issues. Firstly, he focussed at length on what he perceived to be the necessity for choral groups to engage in assiduous, systematic and effective training, specifically according to the Mainzer method [of rehearsing the individual voices]. This would be of benefit not only in Prague but for ‘most singing societies in Germany’, which suffered from what the critic considered the ‘peculiar habit’ of rehearsal study in which the many-voiced vocal compositions were simply sung through by the whole ensemble and then only improved through constant repetition. With respect to the first concert of the newly formed Patriotic Music Society, the correspondent conceded that this was still a body that was in the process of being created and therefore his remarks were not intended to be critical. On the contrary, the ‘praiseworthy zeal of the Director Mr Swoboda and all the participants merited full recognition, and was shown in terms of the extent of their accomplishment.’ The text then turned to the Society itself and its apparently unfortunate and contentious position within the contemporary Prague musical environment. Surprising was the circumstance that of the ‘quite numerous’ members of the orchestra ‘only a few were proficient artists and dilettantes from so-called civilian-society [Civilstande] who participate in the concerts of other Prague Societies.’ This was felt to reflect the ‘petty spirit that is everywhere in such an unfortunate manner in our artistic life ... the petty jealousies that not only set artistic bodies against one another but also indviduals ...’ Private rancour and personal interest was deemed to be compromising the success of the new institute, and was manifest in the false assumption that the ‘vaterländische Musikverein’ was somehow in terms of its ideals a ‘revolutionary separatist’ society or even a ‘Barrikadenverein [lit. Barricade-society, undoubtedly a reference to the patriotically motivated street demonstrations and turmoil of 1848]’. Other bodies, specifically the Žofín Academy, the Cecilia Society or the ‘Czech and German Liedertafel’ should not seek to prevent its success. The fundamental purpose of the new Society was to stimulate and encourage music in the ‘homeland’, an ambition that the critic perceived was the same whether speaking of ‘German or Czech art’ and which was sufficient reason in itself for participation in the Society’s events. Criticism was then levelled at the ‘narrowness’ of other groups who simply recited ‘the grandiose standard of the catchword „Kosmopolitismus“’. The text concluded by observing that the Society had gained enough contributing members [those who donated funds] to become self-sufficient. The critic hoped that with all-round sympathy the body would not fail, would not conflict with any other institute, and would prosper and ‘with native and the Artist going hand-in-hand.’ The reference to the orchestra containing relatively few musicians from ‘Civilstande’ [Civil-society, or perhaps civilian life], may be a reflection upon the orchestra probably comprising military musicians from the local Artillery Regiment, of which Svoboda was then the music director. Later in 1850 Svoboda would found a Military Music School in Prague as part of a Society for the Advancement of Military Music. Krejčí’s chorus and the unspecified ‘folksong’, the description of which was given by the Bohemia 12/1/1860 programme listing as ‘Böhmisches Lied’, were certainly performed in Czech. The other vocal works were titled in German by that same source and by the subsequent detailed review, and were almost certainly sung in that language. 

Summary of sources:

Bohemia (11/01/1850)
Bohemia (11/01/1850)
Prager Zeitung (12/01/1850)
Bohemia (15/01/1850)
Prager Zeitung (17/01/1850)