Prague Concert Life, 1850-1881

Event title:

Benefit Academy in aid of the Reading Room for German students in Prague

Venue: Žofín Island (Žofín Hall)

Event type: Art music culture

Date: 28/11/1858

Season: Advent

Beneficiary: Reading Room for German Students / Academic Readers Society

Programme including the following musical items, part i:

WAGNER, Richard : Overture Eine Faust-Overtüre (A Faust Overture), orch
     • Estates Theatre orchestra:
MOZART, Wolfgang Amadeus : aria unspecified, from opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Elopement from the Harem), v, orch, K394
     • Tipková, Louisa : v
SCHUBERT, Franz Peter : unspecified song Der Wanderer, v, pf
     • Eilers, Albert : T
SCHUBERT, Franz Peter : song Am Meer no.12 of song collection Schwanengesang (Swan Song), v, pf, D957
     • Eilers, Albert : T
WILLMERS, Rudolf : Fantasie Un jour d'été au Norvège , pf, op.27
     • Lauda, Joseph : pf

Part ii:

FÜCHS, Ferdinand Carl : song Widmung
     • Miková-Bennewitzová, Emilie : v
KÜCKEN, Friedrich Wilhelm : song Herein!, v, pf
     • Miková-Bennewitzová, Emilie : v
FISCHER, ? : Romanze from opera Das Waldschloß, v, orch
     • Bachmann, Eduard : T
MOLIQUE, Bernhard : unspecified Fantasie, vl, orch
     • Bauš, František : vl
REINECKE, Carl : partsong Komm, was da kommen mag no.4 from 5 partsongs [Fünf Lieder], mix vv, op.58
     • Tipková, Louisa : v Miková-Bennewitzová, Emilie : v Bachmann, Eduard : T Eilers, Albert : B
TAUWITZ, Eduard : quartet Jagdhornsgruß, S, A, T, B
     • Tipková, Louisa : v Miková-Bennewitzová, Emilie : v Bachmann, Eduard : T Eilers, Albert : B
AMBROS, August Wilhelm : Incidental music 'Introduction zum Festgedicht Radetzkyfeier ' [Slavnost Radeckého (Celebration of Count Radetzky)], orch, [vv?]
     • Estates Theatre orchestra:


News of this ‘Akademie’ organized for its own charitable benefit by the Reading Room of German Students [Lesehalle der Deutschen Studenten] in Prague on 28 November at 12 noon was first published in Prager Morgenpost 5/11/1858 and Bohemia 5/11/1858. The first of these texts noted that the concert had previously been announced as occurring on 25/11/1858 but that this date had been changed. It also reported the time and venue of the production and that participating as pianist was to be the Reading Room Law Student Joseph Lauda. Prager Zeitung 6/11/1858 published news of the benefit ‘Akademie’ arranged by the Reading Room of German Students, also specifying the venue, date (28/11/1858), time and participants. Prager Zeitung again published news of the date, time and venue of the event in the issue of 23/11/1858 but gave no details of the programme.

The Bohemia 5/11/1858 report specified the solo singers who had agreed to participate in the production, together with the pianist Lauda, described as a law student and member of the Reading Room who had already gained much recognition as a pianist. No further details were given of the event by this source, but a complete listing of the programme was published by both Morgenpost 28/11/1858 and Bohemia 26/11/1858. These text reported that the production was given in aid of the Reading Room for German Students and that also appearing in the event was Miss Aug. Rudloff [Augustína Rudloffová] who, following the Overture by Wagner (erroneously listed by Morgenpost as ‘Fest-Ouverture’), would recite a poem by M.G. Saphir, Der Brotverächter. The date, venue and time of the event was noted in the Tageskalender of Bohemia 28/11/1858.

A substantial review of the concert, signed ‘V.’, was published in Bohemia 29/11/1858. The cypher ‘V.’ was puzzling given that the commentary upon the last work of the programme suggests the critic was almost certainly not the principal music correspondent of the newspaper, August Wilhelm Ambos, who wrote under this mark. The event as a whole was described in the source as being one of the most numerously attended public Academies [Akademie]. However, its programme occasioned a mixed response from the critic, who asserted that in writing for Bohemia, a general, non-technical - i.e. not a music periodical - newspaper, he felt he was not able to be an objective judge. Moreover he observed too that the event was difficult to review because the music was chosen individually by the various soloists, so the character and quality of the programme overall was very varied and ‘motley’. The Academy contained ‘Instrumental solo pieces of salon quality, songs and opera arias of very different merit, vocal quartets and declamations of very particular quality.’ After listing the performances of the soloists, this review related that the success of each of the numbers might be attributed in part to the quality of the compositions themelves, in part to the artistry of the performances and also to the popularity and renown of the soloists ‘almost all of whom were rewarded with one or two curtain calls.’ The review then went on to describe the two orchestral compositions performed. These works ‘indeed gave much cause for discussion; the first [Wagner’s Eine Faust-Ouvertüre] as a composition that already provides material for the most heated and diverse opinions, the second [Ambros’s Introduction zum Festgedicht Radetzkyfeier] as an interesting novelty.’ About Wagner’s Overture the critic mused ‘Is this Overture really so anti-musical [Musicwidrig], as is claimed here and there, or an outstanding work of art which the unbending critic should strive to glorify?’ Committing himself to neither opinion and making no comment upon the music itself, the Bohemia critic simply noted that Wagner here broke the mould of convention and required neither an apology in the first case nor any further endorsement in the second. Of the composition by Ambros the critic expressed misgivings as to its being given in such a diverse concert programme. The work elicited praise for its stirring words, its dignity and bearing, and for the ‘shrewd’ combination of the Austrian hymn and a march melody, but doubt was expressed as to the frequency of juxtaposition of pithy melodies, very rhythmic writing, [Johann] Strauss-like moments and polyphonic sections, so that the work exhibited great intent but its effect was undermined through its being too varied. No comment was made as to the precise genre or form of the work, whether it simply comprised an extended song setting, was a semi-programmatic orchestral piece, or constituted incidental music.

The unsigned Prager Morgenpost 30/11/1858 review began by asserting how benefit concerts, when the aim was to raise funds for a charitable cause and the musical content was secondary, were ‘mostly of very haphazardly assembled programmes.’ This event was identified as a case in point, its programme framed by two orchestral pieces and containing eight other items ranging from concertante piano and violin works, songs, and a declamation. Of the various numbers particular comment was afforded to Wagner’s Overture. This, it was noted, had previously been studied and performed under Tauwitz [second conductor of the German Estates Theatre] and, unlike his operas, had apparently not inspired any enthusiasm. Thus the Morgenpost critic expressed doubt that this ‘strange intense’ piece should have again been given. Of the rest of the programme brief comments were made upon the performances of the individual soloists, which were generally deemed to have been satisfactory or excellent. Finally, the text remarked upon the incorporation into the programme of ‘an interesting speciality’, namely Ambros’s Festival Music. This ‘accomplished musical score... tasteful... orotund’ by this ‘highly talented’ composer had not been given in the theatre and so its performance in the concert hall was especially welcome.

The Dalibor 2/12/1858 review of the event was brief and more circumspect, remarking only that the ‘concert contained many numbers, but nothing of particular interest.’ None of the participants were listed, and of the programme only the performance of the ‘song’ Slavnost Radeckého (Celebration of [Count] Radetzky) by Ambros was noted. Although the Dalibor critic refered to this piece with a Czech title there is little doubt that the performance, in the concert for the benefit of the German Reading Room, was given in German. Seen in conjunction with the information provided by the German sources, the description ‘song’ suggests that Ambros’s composition may have consisted of an extended orchestral-vocal piece incorporating a text setting. However, the Dalibor designation is probably misleading. No mention is made by the Bohemia review of the participation of any solo vocalists; it seems more likely that the composition was cast along the lines of orchestral incidental music with possibly a parallel narrative or recitation.

The inspiration for the work by Ambros to be programmed at this event certainly stemmed from recent Prague commemorations of Count Johann Josef Wenzel Radetzky who had died earlier in the year; other events had included a Festival Ball attended by the Emperor Franz Josef held earlier in November to mark the unveiling of a statue-monument of Radetzky in Prague. Dalibor 7/10/1858 had published news that on the invitation of the theatre director Thomé, Ambros was composing orchestral music to five or six scenes from Radetzky’s life. The concert programme listed in advance of the event by Bohemia 26/11/1858 specified the work by Ambros to be ‘Introduction zum Festgedicht „Radetzkyfeier,“ Musik von Ambros.’ However, there seems to be no such completed incidental music to be identified in Ambros’s known compositional output, which suggests that the song performed in this concert may have been the sole product of Thomé’s request.

None of the sources detailing this particular event specified the participating orchestra or the conductor. However, these benefit concerts arranged by and in aid of the reading room for German students were annual events given in conjunction with the Estates Theatre and its personnel. This may reasonably be assumed to have provided the participating orchestra on this occasion.

Summary of sources:

Bohemia (05/11/1858)
Prager Morgenpost (05/11/1858)
Prager Zeitung (06/11/1858)
Prager Zeitung (23/11/1858)
Bohemia (26/11/1858)
Prager Morgenpost (28/11/1858)
Bohemia (28/11/1858)
Bohemia (29/11/1858)
Prager Morgenpost (30/11/1858)
Dalibor, hudební časopis s měsíční notovou přílohou (02/12/1858)