Prague Concert Life, 1850-1881

Event title:

Second 'Concert spirituel' given by the orchestra of the Estates Theatre

Venue: Platýz

Event type: Art music culture

Date: 28/02/1850 5pm

Season: Lent

Programme comprising:

General participants:
  • Estates Theatre orchestra: participating institution, orch
  • ŠKROUP, František Jan: director of ensemble, conductor
SPOHR, Louis : Overture to opera Der Berggeist, orch, op.73
MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY, Felix : aria Es ist genug! from part 2 of oratorio Elias (Elijah), v, orch, op.70
     • Versing, Wilhelm : v
MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY, Felix : Octet for strings, 4vl, 2va, 2vc, E-flat major, op.20
BEETHOVEN, Ludwig van : Symphony, orch, nr.8, F major, op.93


Bohemia 26/2/1850 published the programme of the second ‘concert spirituel’ that was to take place on 28/2/1850. The venue and time of the event were not specified by this report. The date, time and venue of this event were listed in the Tagesanzeiger texts of Bohemia 26/2/1850 and 28/2/1850.

A detailed review, signed ‘V.’, of this event was published by Bohemia 3/3/1850. This began by noting that even though the first of the concerts organized by the personnel of the Theatre had enjoyed an ‘extremely brilliant’ success, that of the second concert was still greater. ‘The choice of the programme as well as the performance was so excellent that the accomplishment of the performers ... can be termed an artistic achievment in the highest sense of the word.’ Each of the works in the programme was then covered. The first, ‘Spohr’s “Berggeist-Ouverture” is to be sure particularly conceived for the theatre-public, but the composition also has an absolute value’. The Overture, it was noted, had the advantage of being based on a well-known folk tale and was thus thought to be attractive even when given out of context, particularly so when its ‘peculiar nuances of rhythm, expressive modulation and poetic colouring ... [were performed] with precision, as they were yesterday.’ In the second number, an aria well-known ‘from the great performances of the oratorio, Mr Versing again showed himself to be a master of serious [edler] song. The sympathetic tone of his magnificent full voice, the deep feeling, the enchanting ardour of his performance was also of the most lingering effect’, even though the aria was being given out of context. Mendelssohn’s Octet, ‘which many years ago caused an unusual sensation when this great composition [was performed] in Hoffmann’s Subscription Concerts for Chamber music, was repeated today with success, justifying the general remarks that I made in the previous issue of this newspaper about the second Quartet Soirée.’ Here the critic refered to his review [actually in the issue of Bohemia 28/2/1850] of the second Quartet Soirée, in which Mendelssohn’s D minor Piano Trio was performed, in which he dismissed blanket criticisms of Mendelssohn’s musical language that
had been propounded by Fétis. In response a defense of the composer’s creative style was argued, drawing particular attention to the expressive and poetic content of his art, aspects of the character of his musical language and his handling of form. Of the Octet itself, the composition was described as being stamped with the ‘generosity of Mendelssohn’s spirited dialect, his inexhaustible tunefulness, magnificence of conception, complete mastery of form and of technique.’ The work was noted to be conceived on a scale greater than a chamber work and yet smaller than a symphony, in aesthetic representing ‘an interesting transition from the lyrical ... to the epic-dramatic poem, from the smaller miniature to the great-art portrait of broader dimensions.’ This inherent expansiveness was manifest in the effect through which figurations and tone colour were sometimes perceived to be less characteristic of the string quartet as suggestive of ‘the groups of a brilliant orchestral body’, leading the listener to instinctively expect the sound of ‘clarinets, bassoons or other winds.’ Of the performance itself the critic reported that ‘this was as concerns the Andante very good, as concerns the Scherzo and the Finale was altogether perfect.’ The Scherzo was repeated by popular demand.

The remainder of the Bohemia 3/3/1850 review concerned itself with Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony, first noting that a work such as Mendelssohn’s Octet could only be followed by a composition from ‘the autocrat in the kingdom of sound’. This Symphony was perceived ‘to represent a new juncture in the creativity of Beethoven, as a successor to the Fifth which conveyed in sound in various phases the process of transfiguration; to the Sixth with its charm and objective expression of portraits of nature; to the Seventh with its dithyrambic flight of the sun. The Mozartean purity of form, the clarity of thought in the first three movements, the deliberate suppression of the slow movement, the stamp of his personality in the most pregnant expression ... seems to indicate that the composer had stepped onto and proceeded along quite another [new] path.’ However, the critic then noted how the ‘magnificent’ first movements were followed by an ‘odd finale with a demonic higgledy-piggledy of sound ... [an] artificially intertwined round-dance in the most fantastic arrangement without example in musical literature’. Interestingly, this ‘fermenting sea of sound’ was not definitively censored by the reviewer; in parallel attention was still drawn to the composer’s ingenuity. The Allegretto scherzando was repeated by demand. ‘Under the typically artistic leadership of Kapellmeister Mr Fr. Škraup, our artists aquitted themselves so excellently, particularly in this difficult number [Beethoven’s Symphony], that even this most fussy critic is unable to make any significant [critical] remark. His Majesty Ferdinand the Good remained in the Hall to the close of this interesting production.’

None of the specified sources remarked upon the forces participating in the performance of Mendelssohn’s Octet, whether to identify specific players or note whether the work was actually given by the entire string section of the Estates Theatre’s orchestra.

Summary of sources:

Bohemia (26/02/1850)
Bohemia (26/02/1850)
Bohemia (28/02/1850)
Bohemia (03/03/1850)