Prague Concert Life, 1850-1881

Event title:

Third and final 'Concert spirituel' given by orchestra of the Estates Theatre

Venue: Platýz

Event type: Art music culture

Date: 07/03/1850 5pm

Season: Lent

Programme comprising:

General participants:
  • Estates Theatre orchestra: participating orchestra, orch
  • ŠKROUP, František Jan: director of ensemble, conductor
MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY, Felix : Concert Overture Schöne Melusine, orch, op.32
NIEDERMEYER, Louis : aria da chiesa Pietà, Signore, v, orch
     • Fehringer, ? : v
BERLIOZ, Hector : Symphonie fantastique, orch, op.14


The date, time and venue of this event were listed in the Tagesanzeiger texts of Bohemia 5/3/1850 and 7/3/1850.

A review, signed V., appeared in Bohemia several days later on 12/3/1850, noting that The report about the third and final concert by our [Theatre] orchestra was not intentionally deayed. The critic asserted that the public normally did not care for poetic reminiscences on musical events and this excellent concert had created such an immense impression that an objective, business-like, prosaic reference was an almost impossible task. The source of such overwhelming effect was unsurprisingly the Symphonie fantastique. In swathes of metaphor, much of the subsequent review text concerned the creative character of its composer and the performance of his work. Berlioz, whom the correspondent recalled comparing [not wholly positively] with Beethoven when he had last visited Prague four years earlier, was thus the ‘strange programme-poet’, ‘a black swan of polynesian beauty’, the creator of a ‘heaven-high tree with sweet- and sour- tasting fruits of immense size’. However, little specific description was forthcoming about the music itself. An examination of his scores without hearing the music was said to reveal orchestrations and instrumental effects that seem to confirm challenging aesthetic and technical aspects of his musical language. Into his ‘Episode from the Artist’s Life’ he introduces sounds that can only be considered valid as audible illustrations of the purely visible and tangible. He brings ‘forms that even on their own are difficult to comprehend, instrumental combinations and harmonic extravagances that no other [composer] has allowed.’ However, in the ‘magnificent performance of this strange work, which Berlioz wrote in the twentieth [actually 27th] year, in the period of stress and storm in his artistic life’, all doubts about his writing of such effects seemed to vanish. The work was likened to the appearance of ‘cool, melancholy moonlight from the sovereign, brilliant beams of the setting sun.’

Of the performance of the symphony, the critic reported that the fourth movement was encored, and continued: ‘I should give due acclaim to the truly extraordinary playing of our orchestra: and praise every individual artist from the first violins to the “Jupiter tremens”.’ The conductor Škroup was noted to have been curtain-called four times. ‘No less exquisite was the performance of the first item, “Ouverture zum Märchen von der schönen Melusine”.’ In this ‘magical, beautiful composition’ that was observed to contain many opportunities for delicate instrumental effect and carefully nuanced playing, particularly in the wind parts, that the orchestra satisfied the demands of the composer was reflected in vociferous calls for the work to be repeated. Unusually for a general review of an orchestral performance, the correspondent named the principal woodwind players, the clarinetist Pisařowic [Pisařovic], oboist Bauer and flautist Müller, remarking too that such excellent players could not even be found in the ‘brilliantly endowed Court orchestra [Hofkapelle].’ The brass too were praised for their ‘magnificent performance’ throughout the evening, in a variety of ‘nuance from fortissimo through to the gentlest piano’ and in particular in their ‘masterly execution of Berlioz’s [instrumental] combinations of gorgeously peachy effect.’ The correspondent expressed his desire to include more detail about the performances of specific players, but felt that such description was out of place in this article and was determined that the review text should remain purely objective.

The solo item in the programme, the ‘highly interesting composition from the seventeenth century’ Pietà Signore, identified [incorrectly] as being by Stradella, had been described in detail by the correspondent in the first of his articles covering this series of ‘Concerts spirituels’. The performance of this ‘simply sublime, introvert, chaste-sounding composition from a wonderful, particularly Catholic period in art’ by the ‘splendid’ Fehringer was above criticism and ‘sublime’, sung with a simplicity of style, Catholic fervour and piety adjuged to have been intended by the composer.

Finally, the Bohemia critic expressed the wish that similar musical productions given in the concert hall or in the theatre could be of equal substance and be received with similar, almost absolute approval as were these ‘Concerts spirituels’. To praise a concert with a clear conscience was deemed to be much more pleasant than having to point out mistakes and faults, and the correspondent hoped that the involuntarily exalted tone of his review would not be considered false.

This pioneering series of public orchestral concerts given by the Estates Theatre was not continued the following year. Bohemia 25/2/1851 published a report that although the 1850 series of concerts had been greatly welcomed by all ‘friends of higher music’, further concerts would not be given during the1851 season. This was despite a venue already having been engaged, programmes decided and other preparations made. The reason was noted to be the demands of daily rehearsals for theatre performances, the double [Czech and German] productions given on Sundays, and instrumentalists having teaching commitments.

Summary of sources:

Bohemia (05/03/1850)
Bohemia (07/03/1850)
Bohemia (12/03/1850)
Bohemia, ein Unterhaltungsblatt (25/02/1851)