Prague Concert Life, 1850-1881

Event title:

Second annual Cecilia Society concert

Venue: Žofín Island (Žofín Hall)

Event type: Art music culture

Date: 06/02/1862 4.30pm

Season: Carnival

Programme comprising:

General participants:
  • Cecilia Society: participating institution, vv, orch

Part 1:

TITL, Antonín Emil : Overture Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor, orch, op.16
HILLER, Ferdinand : cantata Die lustigen Musikanten, solo vv, chorus, orch, op.48
     • Schmidt-Procházková, Josefa : v Ehrenbergů, Eleonora z : v Bernard, Joseph Karl : v

Part 2:

BENEDICT, Julius : cantata Undine, solo vv, chorus, orch, op.70
     • Ehrenbergů, Eleonora z : v Schmidt-Procházková, Josefa : v Bernard, Joseph Karl : v Eilers, Albert : v


Prager Morgenpost 2/2/1862 reported that ‘The Cecilia Society, which in the course of this week gives its second concert will give a performance of the fairytale Undine, composed for soli, chorus and large orchestra by Julius Benedikt. This source gave no further details of the concert. Detailed news of the event, specifying its date, time, venue, programme in performance order and the participating soloists was published by the newspaper of 5/2/1862. The source reported that Hiller’s Brentano setting Die lustigen Musikanten was being performed from manuscript. A similar detailed pre-concert report relating the same information was published by Prager Zeitung 5/2/1862

The Národní listy 5/2/1862 announcement of this concert stated that it was was to take place on 6/2/1862 at 4.30pm. Julius Benedict’s Undine was probably given from manuscript parts since, composed in 1860, the work was published only in 1864 (at Leipzig).

A detailed critical review of this concert was published by Prager Morgenpost 8/2/1862. This reported that ‘We have once again to report only upon novelties that the society has brought to performance, and we have to admit that each one of them, which we got to know for the first time the day before yesterday, claims a certain musical interest. The Overture to Shakespeare’s comedy Die lustigen Weiber by Titl originates from the early period of this so-talented composer’s artistic career prior to his taking up his current appointment as Kapellmeister of the Imperial Royal Hofburgtheater. The work is, as with all of his compositions, fresh, melodious, seemingly of trifling lightness, but crafted with skill. Only its form might seem a little out of fashion given contemporary currents of musical taste. The piece that followed made a particular impression: Die lustigen Musikanten, a poem by Klemens Brentano, composed for soli, chorus and orchestra by Ferdinand Hiller. Though the choir and through the solo voices the words in this nightmarish romantic version after the style of Heine paint an original picture. The essence of this poem has been expressed in the music by Hiller as faithfully as possible, and in any case very ingeniously. The piece is a nightmarish nocturne in sound of the eerie key of B minor with bizarre combination in the interplay of the vocal parts. Mrs Prochaska [Procházka], Miss von Ehrenberg  [z Ehrenbergů] and Mr Bernard took the solo parts and were performed laudably by them. The main part of the concert comprised one of those composite forms of concertante vocal music belonging to modern times that is usually called a ‘secular cantata’. Undine is a fairy tale after de la Motte Fouqué translated from English by von Klingemann, and composed for soli, choir and great orchestra by J. Benedikt [Benedict]. The composer is already known to the Prague public through his great heroic opera Die Kreuzfahrer, performed here about sixteen years ago. His musical adaptation of this episode from the fairy realm is reminiscent of Mendelssohn yet without equalling that master in strength and character of expression or in originality of rhythm and development, as found, for example, in the case of the parallel works [Mendelssohn’s Die erste] Walpurgisnacht or in the opera fragment Loreley. The instrumentation, however, is effective, rich in colour and especially in effects that are designed to portay the haunting of ghosts. In melody the predominant lyricism shows proves to be very attractive in manner, although similarly there again occur many a trite passages. In the case of the former the following [examples] may be highlighted: the first ensemble of female voices, the choir „auf kühlem Stromesgrunde“ with the interesting interaction of the orchestra, the ballad of Undine, and then the finale. The cavatina of Bertalda is a little languid. Outwardly very rewarding but difficult is the task of the tenor. The solo voices (who were joined by Mr Eilers after an embarrassing pause that was caused by his late appearance) were performed quite successfully by the above mentioned soloists and were received with approval. The director of the society Mr Abt, who is so tirelessly assiduous, received a well-earned curtain call at the end of the concert. The task for the instrumentalists, particularly for the string instruments, was great for an orchestra compounded of so many different parts. It could have only been mastered after more frequent rehearsals, but these, as it is well known, are unfortunately not available to the society. Despite the execrable weather a numerous and very sympathetic audience filled the Žofín Hall.’

The Dalibor 10/2/1862 review, signed ‘-s-’, noted of the composition by Titl that although it was on this occasion favourably received, ‘notwithstanding that [the work] is now obsolete’. The correspondent did however´prais the works by Benedict and Hiller, noting of Die lustigen Musikanten that the music was ‘successful, even at times masterful. We particularly admired in this composition the characteristic orchestration and rhythm.’ Undine was said to contain a ‘rich flow of melodies’, surprising modulations and a complete control of the orchestral resources. In these two ‘novelties’ the solo vocalists comprised Mrs Josefa Schmidt-Procházková, Miss Eleonora z Ehrenbergů, Mr K. Bernard and Mr Albert Eilers. The performances of the various works were ‘good.’

Lumír 13/2/1862 published an unusually scathing review, signed ‘a–a.’ of this concert. The critic did though draw attention to what seemed to be during the last year of the Cecilia Society’s activity, the fascinating focus of its Director Abt in producing what was in many respects a season of compositions of British origin or inspiration. ‘In spite of the bad weather, the second concert of the Cecilia Society, which was arranged on 6th February, was again numerously attended. Director of the Society Mr J. Abt tried again in this concert to acquaint our public with the music of England, about which testified the performance of the fable Udine“ [Undine] for solo, chorus and orchestra by Julius Benedict. We had already heard in the previous concert of the Cecilia Society two English compositions Mai Königin“ by W. St. Bennett and „Symfonie“ in C major by S. Jadassohn, and we might confess, that at the time they did not hold the attention of the audience. In terms of merit the Udine fable is quite similar, with a text by La Motte Fouqué already translated from English by Karel Klingemann. This composition cannot boast prowess in harmony, sophistication of orchestration and characteristic ideas, which are for the most part trivial. The audience received the work very coldly [velmi chladně] and merely in some of the more tolerable parts graced the singers, Miss z Ehrenbergů, Mrs Procházková and Messrs Bernard and Eilers, with vociferous applause- The opening of the concert comprised A.E. Tittl’s lightly conceived Overture to Veselým ženám Windsorským“ [The Merry Wives of Windsor], which the orchestra performed accurately. Finally, it remains for us to mention Brentano’s poem Veselí muzikanti“ for solo, chorus and orchestra with music by F. Hiller (op.48). The composer tried with gaudy orchestration to add character to his composition and in spite of that did not shy away from the use of drab ideas. – All three compositions were performed for the first time [in Prague] and obtained from the audience very meagre applause.’

Summary of sources:

Prager Morgenpost (02/02/1862)
Prager Morgenpost (05/02/1862)
Národní listy (05/02/1862)
Prager Zeitung (05/02/1862)
Prager Morgenpost (08/02/1862)
Lumír (13/02/1862)
Dalibor, časopis pro hudbu, divadlo a umění vůbec (20/02/1862)