Venue: Žofín Island (Žofín Hall)
Event type: Art music culture
Date: 25/05/1850 4pm
Keywords: Aesthetics, debates and currents in, Audience attendance, Competitions, Czech partisanship in, Music theatre, Orchestras - their foundation and development, Festival and celebratory events, Genres - Secular choral music, Genres - Solo and concertante instrumental music, Genres - music theatre and entr'acte music, Impresario and individual arranged events, Public performance events, Czech / German partisanship
Bohemia 21/5/1850 published news that on Saturday 25th May a ‘great Musical Festival’ [Musikfest] would be given on Žofín Island by the Patriotic Music Society [vaterländische Musikverein] under the leadership of its music director F.W. Swoboda [Svoboda]. Performance of military bands in the Island’s garden would alternate between the singing of male-voice choruses. Before this part of the event a concert was to take place in the Žofín Hall, the programme of which would be published later by the newspaper. The Tagesanzeiger text of Bohemia 23/5/1850 reported only the following: ‘Saturday, 25th May. Afternoon on the Žofín Island: Great Music Festival of the Patriotic Music Society.’ On 24/5/1850 Bohemia contained more detailed news of this ‘Musikfest’ being given ‘tomorrow by the Patriotic Music Society under the leadership of its music director Swoboda [Svoboda], with - and which is of great interest - our celebrated [singer] Podhorsky [Kateřina Podhorská] who particularly obligingly has agreed to participate in the concert.’ The festival was then noted to be in two halves, a concert in the Žofín Hall and outdoor performance by four military music ensembles. Programme details for both parts were then outlined, with the participating soloists in the concert stated.
A review, signed ‘V.’, of both events making up the ‘Musikfest’ was published by Bohemia 28/5/1850. Of the opening concert, the correspondent began by reporting that the ‘unusually early hour - 4pm - of the actual concert was most to blame for the inferior size of the audience in the Hall. The programme of this first part of the so-called “great Music Festival [großen Musikfestes]” contained six numbers.’ Škraup’s [Škroup] Overture to his opera Libušin sňatek was ‘very doughtily performed by the orchestra of Mr Swoboda [Svoboda], we noted particularly fabourably the rendition by Svoboda as soloist of the popular Cantilenta in the Andante.’ The two choruses by Jelen and Winter brought as much ‘delight’ as an appearance of ‘two old, good and popular friends.’ Cölestin Müller, said to be familiar through praiseworthy appearances as an oboist in many public events, was vociferously [curtain-]called following his performance of the ‘very difficult’ variations by Th. Bauer. This work, reported the critic, was given with an accompaniment ‘unfortunately only of the piano’. Miss Mathilde Ringelsberg, ‘the universally popular dance composer, appeared to our knowledge for the first time before the public as a pianist.’ Her choice of work in Schulhoff’s Caprice on Czech folksongs was regarded to have constituted for her an ‘over-difficult task’, although she was evidently not helped by a piano considered not to possess all the amenities of a ‘first rank concert instrument.’ Despite ‘her clearly explicable embarrasement’, the correspondent charitably noted that ‘she develops some very rateable qualities as a pianist.’ The final item of the programme, the appearance of Podhorsky [Kateřina Podhorská] was regarded as ‘the highlight of the concert’. For her performance of ‘Kde domov můj?’ the ‘so excellent singer was accorded an extremely brilliant reception’, demonstrating that the public had not forgotten ‘its darling [of the Estates Theatre opera]’ since her retirement from the stage [in February 1849]. After describing the outdoor performances following the concert, the Bohemia review concluded by expressing disappointment that the ‘worthy tendencies of the “Patriotic Music Society”’ demonstrated in its earlier winter production had not been maintained in the arrangement [i.e. the content] of this latest event.
4pm was certainly an unusual time for a large-scale public musical event to take place during the week, even during the summer season. The judgement by the Bohemia correspondent that this affected the attendance was most likely correct, and perhaps this was reflected too in the much greater public participation in the following outdoor performance. However an outdoor popular musical entertainment, especially if it contained favourite musical works such as the lastest fashionable potpourris and was given by massed military music ensembles, was very likely to attract a substantial public. The reaction and outlook of the Bohemia critic to the whole ‘festival’ was perhaps reflected in the description ‘so-called “great Music Festival [sogenannten großen Musikfestes]”’.
The orchestra in the concert was described in Bohemia as that of the event arranger Svoboda. During the previous Patriotic Music Society production on 12/1/1850 the orchestral body was implied as being part of the Society itself. Since the Society was the personal venture of Svoboda this means the later description is not in itself contradictory. The composition of the ensemble was probably a conglomeration of amateurs, professionals associated with Svoboda, and possibly members of the Artillery Regiment military music ensemble of which Svoboda was Kapellmeister. His appearances as soloist in the opening overture would have been on the cornet, for which a cornet solo is written in the score in the statement of the Andante ‘cantilena’ theme.
A review, unsigned, of this event was also published on 28/5/1850 by Prager Zeitung . This text opened by noting that during the past week the [Estates] Theatre had offered little that was striking by way of entertainment, and therefore this production by a new society focussed upon stimulating native music in Bohemia was particularly welcome. The founding aims of the ‘vaterländische Musikverein’ [Patriotic Music Society] were then outlined; the society sought to encourage native music through performance, especially of new works, and offer ‘unknown talents’ a means through which to have their compositions produced. Through subscriptions paid to the society by its members the body was also to offer ‘a distinguished prize’ for the best work, citing as possibilities ‘symphony, mass, oratorio and opera etc.’. The publication of the work would be undertaken, and a piano arrangement would be distributed among the society’s members. The Prager Zeitung correspondent then specifically commented upon the event on ‘26th May in the Žofín Hall [the date thus conflicts with the Bohemia sources, and was most probably an error in print]’, remarking initially that the occasion did not adopt the aforementioned policy of bringing to performance new works but instead comprised ‘mainly familiar works by native composers’. This was thought attributable to ‘financial considerations’, and that in this ‘we can glimpse a perverse approach’; lofty artistic ideals were therefore at risk of being compromised. Of the performances themselves the critic was positive in praise. Swoboda [Svoboda], as an experienced director, conducted the orchestra ‘with laudable circumspection and an excellent view of the tempi.’ Mrs Podhorsky [Podhorská] sang ‘Kde domov můj?’ ‘with such consummate expression that inevitably it had to be repeated. A Caprice on Bohemian folksongs by Schulhoff was very nicely played by Miss Ringelsberg [a different critical opinion from that given by the Bohemia reviewer], a Divertimento for the oboe by Theodor Bauer [that was] performed by Cölestin Müller, then two male-voice choruses by Jelen and Winter were received with great approval. The effective Overture from Fr. Skraup’s [Škroup] opera Libušin sňatek opened the concert; afterwards the production ended with the musical bands of the Artillery, Jäger, Ceccopieri and Wimpffen [regiments] out of doors, beneath the great crush and acclaim of the public’. Finally, the Volkshymne was performed by the combined ensembles.
The concert programme is reproduced in the order in which works were described by the Bohemia review. This may not represent the exact order of performance, although from the description of the event the orchestral work was certainly performed first and ‘Kde domov müj?’ with the major attraction of Podhorská last. The previous description of the programme by Bohemia 24/5/1850 was unlikely to have represented the finite concert order. The programme order is not ascertainable from the Prager Zeitung review, although this does confirm the works that were performed.