Prague Concert Life, 1850-1881

Event title:

Society of Musical Artists [Jednota hudebních umělců / Tonkünstler-Gesellschaft] benefit concert in aid of the Prague Institute for the Widows and Orphans of Musical Artists

Venue: Žofín Island (Žofín Hall)

Event type: Art music culture

Date: 15/04/1851 4.30pm

Season: Lent

Beneficiary: Society of Musical Artists

Programme comprising:

HILLER, Ferdinand : oratorio Die Zerstörung Jerusalems (The Destruction of Jerusalem), solo vv, chorus, orch, op.24
     • Society of Musical Artists:
     • Prague Conservatory:
     • Estates Theatre orchestra:
     • Teaching candidates of the 'National-school' in Budeč: vv
     • Žofín Academy: vv


Advance news of this event appeared in a report published by Bohemia 8/4/1851. This noted that the Society of Musical Artists [Tonkünstlergesellschaft] was arranging in the Žofín Hall on 15th April at 4.30pm a performance of Hiller’s great oratorio Die Zerstörung Jerusalems. Participating were to be members of the Žofín Academy, teaching candidates from Budeč, pupils of the Conservatory and members of the orchestra of the Estates Theatre. Giving the solo parts were to be ‘several esteemed Ladies and Gentlemen of the local artists’ world’. The ‘interesting production of this great work will particularly interest the musical public.’

The ‘Z Prahy’ section of Lumír 10/4/1851 reported that on 15th April at Žofín the Society of Musical Artists [Společnost hudebních umělců] would perform Hiller’s oratorio ‘Zboření Jeruselema’. Participating were noted to be pupils of the Conservatory, musicians from the Estates Theatre, Budeč teaching candidates and members of the Žofín Academy. No further details of the occasion were given.

The Tagesanzeiger texts of Bohemia 13/4/1851 and 15/4/1851 reported the date, time and venue of this performance, specified the work to be performed and noted the occasion was organized by the Society of Musical Artists for the benefit of its Institute for Widows and Orphans.

An article, signed ‘V.’, detailing this ‘Concert sprituel’ was published by Bohemia 18/4/1851. The correspondent remarked how the performance was more successful than that of the Society of Musical Artists’s December production of Mendelssohn’s oratorio Paulus. Although the number of performers was observed to have been less than was usual for these concerts, ‘the precision and certainty in the well-rehearsed instrumental and vocal parts as well the casting of solo parts with trained and experienced singers provided a far greater total effect than had [the performance of] Mendelssohn’s work. ... It is such a brilliant work that it can not only compete wth the greatest of its genre, but perhaps surpasses them in details. Hiller is at least a match for other composers in Germany and the fact that he is not celebrated in the same manner, although known as a composer for over ten years now, gives grounds to critically question the current state of art in Germany.’ Part of the problem contributing to his neglect, and in particular of this work, was ascribed to the reaction of critics. In Leipzig ‘and other musical German cities’ correspondents acknowledged positive aspects of his music, ‘but neglected to present them through their journalistic methods in a form that can be understood by musical laymen.’ Guidance of the public was considered important, and ‘many composers gain immediate and brilliant success with the help of critical public voices.’ Even in Prague the first local performance of the oratorio in 1841 had been met by ‘mostly passive and even negative’ critical acclaim, even though the musical environment itself was ‘less disjointed than today’.

The review then proceded to describe the work, dedicated to Felix Mendelsssohn, which comprised 47 numbers in two sections. What were considered by the correspondent to be the most impressive choruses and arias were identified. The text then remarked upon the conducting of Franz Skraup [František Škroup]. At this time Škroup was the Kapellmeister of the Estates Theatre opera, and the Bohemia critic, remarked that ‘There are plenty in Prague who claim that the Kapellmeister must shoulder considerable blame for the [current] bad state of the opera. The excellent conducting of today’s oratorio by ... [him] disproved this in a brilliant and decisive manner. A Kapellmeister who is capable of performing such an oratorio with such success is also adequate to his other tasks and the faults with opera performance have to be ascribed to others.’ These comments followed on from criticism levelled at the Estates Theatre directorship in recent issues of the newspaper about the appointment and dismissal of certain leading and favourite singers.

Finally, the Bohemia correspondent noted that all of the numerous soloists could not be mentioned by name, and then acknowledged the ‘good and in parts brilliant’ performance of the choirs. Interestingly, the writer pointed out that he was only aware of there having been three women in the choir, which he saw as proof of the irritating contemporary phenomenon that women today only wanted to contribute to such events if they could sing a solo part rather than a part in the chorus. The orchestra was praised, although the strings were not thought to have been sufficiently clear in some numbers. A repetition of the work was hoped for.

Summary of sources:

Bohemia, ein Unterhaltungsblatt (08/04/1851)
Lumír (10/04/1851)
Bohemia, ein Unterhaltungsblatt (13/04/1851)
Bohemia, ein Unterhaltungsblatt (15/04/1851)
Bohemia (18/04/1851)