IN: News & Features

Dance Music of the Germania Musical Society

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A free concert resulting from the research of this writer along with the efforts of the Harvard Musical Association Library Committee takes place on March 3rd at 3:00, at St. John’s Church, 27 Devens Street, in Charlestown. Just show up (entry is free). Leave a comment below if you have questions.

Winsome duo-pianists Chi-Wei Lo and Xiaopei Xu, collectively known as Psychopomp Ensemble (guide of souls), who have been reinventing the recital, once brilliantly interpolated the Beatles’ “Imagine” into the Gottschalk’s “The Union” HERE at 52:40; they will preside in an acoustically warm sanctuary on a restored 1870 Chickering concert grand. A light reception will follow.

The Germania Musical Society deserves to emerge from the cocoon of writings by musicological specialists and reclaim the interest of a larger public.

Twenty-four virtuosi, most from  Josef Gungl’s orchestra, left Germany after the revolutions of 1848-1849, with utopian and transcendental expectations for a musical life in the New World. The self-governing, self-promoting group frequently opened with the overture to Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and often mixed popular music with classical. Altogether they gave something like 900 concerts and reached more than one million listeners. The orchestra’s penchant for elegant balls will be the focus of the concert.

Piano transcriptions of popular waltzes, quicksteps, polkas, marches, and galops as originally performed by the Germanians sold well in the sheet music market in those days before recordings. Selections from these will provision the concert on March 3rd, in sparkling arrangements done by the artists.

Germania flutist Carl Zerrahn, whose lively transcriptions will give us much pleasure, later served as conductor of both the Harvard Musical Association Orchestra (until its dissolution in 1892) and the Handel and Haydn Society. And for the record, the Germania Musical Society joined the Handel and Haydn Society in 1848 for Boston’s first performance of Beethoven’s Ninth.

 

Nancy Newman’s recent book Good Music for a Free People: The Germania Musical Society in Nineteenth-Century America treats the subject with great thoroughness:

The musicians desired to bring their music to the audiences of a democratic republic at this turbulent time. Eager to avoid the egotism and self-promotion of the European patronage system, they pledged to work for their mutual interests both musically and socially. “One for all, and all for one” became their motto.

We append a much shorter but equally vivid 7,500-word remembrance from Scribner’s Magazine (1876). We love to make primary sources easily available when relevant. BMInt imposes no word limits!

THE OLD GERMANIA ORCHESTRA

From Scribner’s Monthly in 1876

By J. Bunting

On the morning of 2d of August, 1848, the good packet ship “Diadem” sailed out of its London dock, bearing to the New World, in the midst of much other more or less precious freight, a group of German musicians. They were members of an orchestra which was destined to fulfill as eventful a history for itself as it did a faithful mission of good toward the progress of music in America, ―an orchestra since known perhaps through the entire country, and certainly in every American city, as the Germania Musical Society.

The Germania Orchestra was composed of twenty-four members.* They were young and adventurous, but they carried with them something better than a love for adventure – a love for their chosen art, so strong and faithful that it was in fact the primary cause of their journeyings; so sacred that it claimed precedence over every social tie; and so enduring that in the long period of varied and frequently evil fortune which was now to follow, they were never once untrue to that art. Amid hardships which would perhaps have broken a mere spirit of adventure, they did not turn back, but, pushing through and conquering every difficulty, they won at length, even in that unartistic field, a genuine artistic triumph; compromising none of their classical instincts, and winning the field by storm rather than by strategy, at the very point of the musical bayonet.

 *The main facts contained in this sketch of the “Germania” have been obtained from the journal of Mr. William Shultze, who was the leading violinist from the first to the last day of its existence.

The following is a list of the original members of the Orchestra:

Bearing in mind the condition of musical taste in this country a quarter of a century ago, and measuring its immense strides since that day; noticing too, how, during the earlier part of that period, the progress of musical feeling and the success of the “Germania” were accurate barometers of each other, it cannot, surely be an ill-spent hour in which we here recall the history of its career.

The nucleus of the Germania Orchestra was formed from Joseph Gungl’s orchestra of Berlin. To these members were added others of equal culture, if not equal experience, and, being nearly all young men and personal friends, they had thus, at the outset, an important combining link which secured their unity of purpose and effort during so many years.

The idea of forming an orchestra for an American tour originated in the autumn of 1847. The political events which were then hasting the downfall of Louis Philippe and which soon enveloped all central Europe in the gravest difficulties, had caused a general neglect of musical matters, which extended even to the German public and the revolution of March 18, 1848, which seemed for a time to paralyze the entire public mind, had the effect to confirm and hasten the purpose of the young musicians.

The original plan of the organization was to start directly for the United States. At a preliminary entertainment, given before the United States Minister to Berlin, Mr. Wright, the English Ambassador, the Early of Westmoreland, was present. The Earl was somewhat distinguished as an amateur in music, and an overture of his composition was performed on this occasion. This first concert of the young society took place May 4, 1848, in the Milentzschen Saale, at Berlin. It was so decidedly successful that both the Earl and the American Minister furnished the orchestra with strong recommendatory letters, and thus fortified they resolved first to visit London. The qualifications of a consular incumbent from this country scarcely included then, any more than at present, a critical knowledge of musical technics, and we are without information as to our Mr. Wright’s accomplishments in this respect. It is probable, however, that the worthy representative though he could not go far wrong in adding his official signature to that of a man who had actually written a piece of music himself.

Arriving in London, the members found their progress materially checked by their total ignorance of the business part of their enterprise. A Kunstreise of such magnitude as the one now projected must be conducted on business laws as strict as the laws of music itself. An orchestra is a larger and, when in incompetent hands, an unwieldy affair to manage. A number of concerts were given in London, but while the applause was liberal, the financial results were far from satisfactory. The performances given were three matinees at the Princess’ Theater, two concerts in Hanover square, two in Crosby Hall, and eight promenade concerts, together with numerous private entertainments which were often very enjoyable. The most memorable among these latter was a soiree given at the magnificent villa of the Messrs. Baring Brothers, where numerous celebrated operatic stars took part, including Grisi, Garcia, Alboni, Mario, and Tamburini. The invited guests were from the highest circle, and the new orchestra obtained a larger share of the applause. The Duke of Cambridge, himself an amateur on the violin, was particularly interested in this department of the orchestra, turning the leaves for the first violins, and calling the attention of the entire company to the performance of the orchestral pieces. Other prominent occasions wherein the Germanians took part seemed to be gradually directing the public attention more and more to their merits, and it is quite possible that they might have remained and done well in London during the succeeding season. But the charms of distance and of novelty; the never-ebbing tide of golden rumor that was now beating constantly against the shores of the old world, lured our young musicians more and more strongly to the new. To the United States they were bound, and to the United States they sailed as aforesaid.

The passage must be called, we suppose, a ‘speedy and prosperous voyage,” as it occupied only fifty-eight days. They reached New York on the 28th of September, and on the 5th of October they gave their first performance in America at Niblo’s “Opera-House”

It would be difficult to attempt a description of the condition of musical affairs in America at that period, which would be intelligible to one who knows only the standard of the present. Very few celebrated virtuosi, either singers or instrumentalists, had yet visited the “States.” Even the opera was almost a novelty, although at this very period, Madame Laborde, with a meager troupe, was performing in New York. Jenny Lind, who occasioned the earliest general furore in regard to music, did not arrive until nearly three years later. There was not even a decent opera-house in America. Dingy theaters and barren public halls were the sole provision made for accommodating public gatherings.

The condition of orchestral music was even still lower than vocal. Twenty-three years earlier, when that greatest of all music teachers, Manual Garcia, with his young daughter, afterward Malibran, the greatest of all dramatic singers, essayed the first Italian opera ever given in America, it is related that he was so maddened by the shocking style in which the second finale to “Don Giovanni” was rendered by the orchestra, that he rushed to the foot-lights, sword in hand, and indignantly compelled them to play it over. In the long interval there had been little or no opportunity for orchestral music to improve. The only intervening opera company, that of the Woods, in 1840, could have done very little to advance its condition, and the Steyermark band, which came over under the conductorship of Riha, in 1846, scarcely gave a whole season’s performances before it was disbanded.

The advent of the Germania, therefore, an orchestra which, although small in numbers, was almost complete in its various parts, and composed of really fine performers, was indeed something of a musical wonder. But there was another feature of this enterprise which was altogether without a parallel in the history of American musical enterprises. The public taste at that day, in such matters as music, the drama, and fine arts generally, was almost entirely founded on foreign choice and reputation. The few great artists who had ventured so far, came here with the thickly woven laurels of the Old World on their brows. Then, in addition to this, a soloist is always more of an attraction to the average mass of pleasure seekers than any combination. When, therefore, we consider that the “Germania” was organized especially for the American “market,” that it came here with no foreign reputation clinging to it, either as a whole, or in any of its members, such an enterprise argues not only great faith in the sound, good taste of the American people, but an equally firm consciousness of the strength and thoroughness of its own organization.

The first concert in New York, above mentioned, was, in an artistic point of view, highly successful. The few who could appreciate the refined and sterling selections given, were delighted at hearing them rendered in a manner greatly superior to anything hitherto known. From the 9th of October to the 15th of November sixteen concerts were given at the “Tabernacle,” in New York, and four in Brooklyn. The form and quality of the programmes selected were even thus early fixed upon, and, we believe, rarely afterward abandoned. They contained always a couple of good overtures; parts or the whole of a symphony; two solos; while the rest of the selections were of a more popular character.

This series of concerts created much interest among the real music-lovers of New York, but pecuniarily they brought nothing, the receipt often falling considerably below the expenses. This was partly owing to the fact that the exciting political events which followed the Mexican war, and preceded the election of General Taylor, were then at their height. At the close of the series a complimentary benefit was tendered to the orchestra for a number of resident musicians and amateurs, and the event called together the first and only crowded house of the season. This concert took place at the Tabernacle on the 11th of November, and a number of vocal and instrumental soloists, then popular, assisted, including Madam Otto, Mrs. Horn, Messrs. Timm and Scharfenberg, and Signor De Begnis. The performance throughout pleased amazingly, and its success served to revive the drooping spirits of the members. The gleam of light, however, was of brief duration. Before the close of the month, two other orchestras arrived from Europe, each with a reputation already established. One, the “Saxonia,” was of fair ability, which the other was no less than the famous orchestra of Joseph Gungl, from Berlin, out of which their own forces had been largely recruited. The Germania Society was now almost bare of finances. The first excitement over its arrival was already subsiding, and the members felt themselves in no condition to compete with these formidable rivals.

About the end of the month they went to Philadelphia on the invitation of a gentleman from that city, who had heard them play in New York, and who defrayed either the whole or a part of the expense of the trip. But in Philadelphia they were no less unfortunate, and their arrival was in the highest degree ill-timed. Madame Laborde, with the Italian opera company we have already mentioned, much more popular from its novelty than for intrinsic excellence, was just then in the city, and in the full tide of success. The wild excitement which was created by the discovery of the California gold minds, the intensity of which many comparatively young readers may still recall, was just now beginning to agitate the public mind. Altogether, the prospect seemed far from propitious.

The first concern of the members was to provide themselves with such quarter as their waning resources would permit. They engaged board at the “White Swan Hotel,” then in Race Street, above Third, at the certainly moderate rate of three dollars per week for each member. In order to introduce themselves more readily to the notice of the public, the society engaged the Musical Fund Hall and sent invitations to member of the press, and a large number of the most prominent musicians, music-teachers and amateurs, residing in the city.

Their first performance in Philadelphia took place on the afternoon of December 4th. Its result, as well as that of succeeding concerts, was pretty much the same story over again. Artistic success, immense; pecuniary success, infinitesimal. Four concerts were Given at Musical Fund Hall, and the losses at each were so serious, that to lessen the expenses the much smaller hall of the Chinese Museum, at Ninth and Chestnut streets, was engaged. Two more concerts followed in that locality, and still, when the poor fellows understood to figure up the results, the only figures that started them in the face were ciphers. In a moment of desperation, they abandoned the Museum, as they had already abandoned the Musical Fund, hired a melancholy room, then known as “Arch Street Hall,” and advertised a series of “Promenade Concerts,” to begin on January 1st, 1849. The rest of this spacious and imposing structure was to be ten dollars per night, and on this eventful New-Year’s Evening, after waiting patiently for the most persistent late-comer to arrive, the receipts amounted to nine dollars and a-half. In the middle of the concert, the worthy propriety of the hall, taking advantage perhaps of the title given to the entertainments, himself appeared on the “promenade” and announced to the unhappy musicians that unless the ten dollars rent was forthcoming, then and there, he would turn off the gas. The despairing members one and all, with the utmost possible promptness and unanimity, desired him to “turn it off,” and so ended the first and last of the “Promenade Concerts.”

The same evening the orchestra held a meeting in a gloomy back room at the “White Swan,” and unanimously voted that affairs were desperate. To extricate themselves seemed a very forlorn hope. A number of propositions were made and rejected, one of the most amusing proceeding from the commander of the drums, Herr North. The worthy drummer was the possessor of a very charming wife who was, withal, an “expert” at dancing, and Herr North thought if she would appear between the parts of the programme in a dance or two it might produce an effect. Some of the members, the more youthful ones, seemed to favor the proposition. But it was indignantly voted down by the older ones, who regarded such an innovation with a holy horror. The meeting ended in nothing, save a general desire to be home again, and they separated still undecided as to their future.

In Philadelphia, as in New York, the few who were good judges of a musical performance were mortified and indignant at the wretched success of these concerts. They justly regarded it a calamity quite as great in its effects on our own public as on the visiting musicians. The only reparation in their power took shape, as in New York, in a complementary concert, at which the orchestra was associated with the famous violoncellist, George Knoop. This concert, which was one of the finest ever given in Philadelphia, took place on the 6th of January. We will add here that the programme entire, since it reveals a degree of richness totally beyond the experience of music-lovers at that day:

  1. Overture to “Jessonda” Spohr
  2. Violin and violoncello, on Styrian Airs.

 Performed by messrs. Wm. Schultz and Geo. Knoop.

  1. Septette, opus 20 Beethoven.
  2. Overture, C minor Lenschow.
  3. Concerto for Violoncello Knoop.
  4. Concertino for two flutes, from “Robert le Diable.”

 Performed by Messrs. Carl Zerrahn and P. Pfeiffer.

  1. Double Quartette Spohr.
  2. Duo Violin and Violoncello, from “William Tell.”
  3. “Midsummer Night’s Dream. Mendelssohn.

A bill so replete with sterling compositions as the above would be creditable even in these days. Twenty-three years ago it was nothing less than a musical marvel; and when given, as it was, before a crowded and attentive audience, and by such conscientious musicians, the effect produced may be imagined. For years afterward the “Germania and Knoop concert” was a subject of pleasant memories and frequent reference by many who had heard it. One such success as this, however, could not bolster up the waning fortunes of the orchestra. The men were out of money and out of spirits. After some further deliberation they resolved to disband and each shift for himself. One joined the United States service as a band-master; a few returned to New York, but the greater number remained in Philadelphia. If they had possessed the means it is quite probable they would have hastened back to their native land with the utmost expedition.

A few weeks after the orchestra had separated, a profitable engagement offered at Washington, to give four concerts and to perform at an “Assembly Ball,” and the grand Inauguration Ball. The offer was, of course, accepted, and the dispersed members hastily recalled. After the inauguration festivities the Society concluded to try concerts again. This time they fixed upon Baltimore, and on the 8th of March gave their first performance in that city, at Brown’s building; the more fashionable resort, Carroll Hall, being engaged by Gungl’s band, which performed the same evening.

The condition of musical taste in Baltimore at the present day is now very flourishing. The receipts of the symphony concerts, which were directed by Mr. L. H. Southard, of the Peabody Institute, for several years, fell short of the expenses. The field, generally, has been so far from promising, that Mr. Southard, after a number of years spend in trying to cultivate it, some time ago abandoned the undertaking and went back to Boston. The honor, however, was reserved for Baltimore at that early day, to accord the first genuine success to the Germania Society. At the first concert, although the hall was by no means crowded, the demonstrations of pleasure and approval were more decided than the players had before hears anywhere. A second performance, on the following evening, was still better, and a general excitement was created. A mass at the Cathedral followed on Sunday, and the same evening a sacred concert was given at Zion Church with the greatest possible success. Gungl and his orchestra returned abruptly to New York, leaving the Germanians in possession of the field, and of Carroll Hall. But Carroll Hall proved soon to be too small for the increasing crowds, and the performance were continued at the Holliday Street Theater.

Now followed success as great as it was unexpected. Eight concerts were given to crowded houses, and the members of the orchestra were wonderfully elated. Many excellent compositions were now performed for the first time in America, among them Beethoven’s Third, Fifty, Sixth, and Seventh* Symphonies, Spohr’s Consecration of Tones, overtures by Mozart, Weber, Mendelssohn and Spohr, a large amount of chamber music, and, in connection with the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia, Rosini’s “Stabat Mater,” and Romberg’s “Lay of the Bell.” The business agent of the orchestra, Mr. Helmsmüller, was at his wits’ end to plan suitable announcements for many of these concerts. At the very beginning of the series, so unexpectedly successful, he had advertised the “Farewell Concert.” Now he was obliged to follow it up with such titles as “Grand Symphonic Entertainment;” “By request, One More Concert;” “Another Farewell Concert;” “They won’t let us go,” &c. But at last it had to come to an end, and the posters read: — “Most Positively the last Farewell Concert.”  *It is said, by another authority, that the Seventh Symphony of Beethoven was first given in Boston about 1842.

Having pushed their success in Baltimore as far as prudence would seem to dictate, they now resolved upon a visit to Boston. On the route to that city concerts were given at New Haven, Hartford, Springfield, Worcester, and Providence, with moderate success. They arrived in Boston on the 14th of April, and played the same evening. Here, again, a slight misunderstanding of American customs seemed likely to mislead them and disconcert their plans. The musical “season” ends in America while still at its height in London; and in the continental cities who which our artists had been accustomed the changes of season were very little regarded. But in America, even now, by the 14th of April, the concert season may be considered very far spent; and so the result of this first Boston concert was far from encouraging. They made a very small beginning indeed, the entire receipts being only twenty-three dollars.

The artistic success of this concert, however, was compete, and succeeding performances were more and more encouraging. The Boston public has enjoyed, for two generations or more, the reputation of possessing the most refined and enlightened taste to be found on this continent. With no disposition to dispute her high artistic repute, we are included to trace it to a somewhat different source than superior judgment and unerring taste. The chief cause of it rests in the simple fact that what her people really like they will have, and are always ready to pay for. While other cities may be haggling over terms, and other audiences are hanging back until prices fall, Boston, having found a good thing, steps in, and, outbidding every vacillating competitor, bears the prize triumphantly within her own charmed circle. It was very much in this way that Boston treated the Germania Society. The season was virtually over. According to all precedent, the violins should have been boxed up, the flutes unscrewed, the kettle-drums hustled into their musty garrets to keep company with spider-webs, and the general average of concert-goers prepared gratefully to button up their pocket-books and thank God that one expense was over.

But the first concert of the Germania Musical Society opened the Bostonian eyes, and unfastening of the Bostonian purse followed as a matter of course. They did not stay to ask whether it was May or November. Twenty-two concerts were now given in rapid succession, and the unabated enthusiasm was highly encouraging to the members. The last five concerts were played in connection with the then famous vocalist, Fortuneda Tadesca, and the hall was invariably filled to overflowing. It is a fact worth recording that at these twenty-two concerts the overture to “Midsummer Night’s Dream” was played entire fourty-four times, the audience in every instance insisting upon a repetition.

The high-road to success was now at length reached, and despite the near approach of summer, engagements from other cities flowed in rapidly. Good, paying concerts were given in Lowell, Taunton, and New Bedford, directly following the Boston series; and even New York, which had so decidedly given the cold shoulder to this enterprise, now offered an engagement to play at “summer festivals” in Castle Garden. This offer was accepted, and by the end of the series summer had come in good earnest.

About this time some of the more influential pioneer visitors at Newport had set about the project of making that resort a fashionable watering-place. Their artistic taste and judgment were well shown in their engagement of the Germania Orchestra for the entire summer. Indeed, for six successive seasons, the musicians found themselves regularly coming back to Newport again from their various wandering; and it would not be too much to say that the popularity of Newport was quite as much due to their presence as to any other influence.

During this first season their plan was to play twice a week as one band; the rest of the time they were divided among the different hotels. The guests, among whom were many of their former friends from Baltimore, listened most attentively to the music, even going so far as to almost give up dancing during the entire summer. The cozy evenings at the “Atlantic” and “Bellevue” are still recalled with great pleasure by the surviving members. The entertainments resembled promenade concerts. Regular programmes were made out by the musical portion of the guests, and the playing drew crowds of listeners, filling parlors, halls, and piazzas with an audience far more attentive than could have been expected under the circumstances.

The numerous Baltimoreans who were at Newport that summer had by no means forgotten the musicians, nor the warmth with which they had greeted the orchestra in its day of obscurity. Now that its reputation was insured, they were no less anxious to participate in its triumphs. A subscription was set on foot, and very soon raised, for a series of thirty grand concerts to be given in Baltimore during the coming season, thus insuring the stay of the orchestra during the entire winter. This unprecedented series of concerts was given between November 27, 1849, and April 6, 1850. They were all well attended, and awakened an interest, not only popular, but unmistakably genuine.

During this long stay in Baltimore, the members had formed numerous personal friendships, and the time of partying did not arrive without bringing many regrets. The hearts of the young men had not been unimpressed. It was said in those days, and widely believed, that the Germania member, who should marry, forfeited his membership. This was not literally the case; but, recognizing the difficult of maintaining domestic ties in a life necessarily so nomadic, the members, for a long time, refrained from such ties. The director and the drummer had been benedicts before the orchestra came into being; the rest remaining single.

When the day of departure at length came, numerous friends assembled to bid them farewell, and the good wishes of the entire community went with them on their way.

Now followed a tour throughout the Eastern States and Canada. Splendid success was met with everywhere. An overwhelming demonstration greeted them at Montreal, where seven concerts were given. The best portion of the citizens filled the house nightly, and the officers of the English Regiments stationed there showed their appreciation and hospitality by giving the members a standing ovation to their mess, besides letters of introduction to their brother officers at other military stations.

The tour which they were now making was extended to nearly all the cities of Western New York, and lasted until the Newport season opened. It was, at this time, the custom of the orchestra to give seldom more than three concerts per week, and thus the members had large opportunities for social recreation, as well as for visiting points of interest in the various places through which they journeyed. In this way they gained a most thorough knowledge of the whole country, and it would be difficult to select an equally numerous group of American citizens who know so much of the geography of their own country, as did these peripatetic Germans.

The second season at New York began and ended with nothing eventful to record. At the close of the summer, the season of 1850-51 was again passed in Baltimore, where a second series of thirty concerts had been subscribed for. At the close of these concerts, which were fully as successful as those of the previous winter, the orchestra went on a four weeks’ trip to the Southern States with Parodi, Amalia Patti, and Strakosch. Following this engagement was one with Jenny Lind, for whom they played in nearly thirty concerts, and when these were concluded, the repaired to Newport for the third summer.

At the close of the subscription concerts in Baltimore, Mr. Lenschow, the original director of the orchestra, had tended his resignation, and Mr. Wilhelm Schultze, the leader of the violins, was chosen conductor ad interim. This arrangement continued with excellent results until the beginning of their Newport season, when the talents of Cark Germann — then in New York — becoming known to the members, he was elected to and accepted this important position.

During the season at Newport it was resolved to spend the following winter in Boston. While this resolution was pending, there was much difficulty in making it unanimous, and six of the members resigned. An agent, however, was at once dispatched to Germany to supply their places, and the new players arrived just at the close of the Newport season. A two-months visit through the Eastern States served to convert the fresh arrivals into valuable members, and, thus equipped, the orchestra began its season in Boston. By careful management, and the exertions of friends, a sufficient number of subscribers was obtained for twenty orchestral concerts. It was by far more difficult here than in Baltimore. The Musical Fund Society and the Boston Quintette Club, two well established instrumental organizations, had each a large subscription list, for the entire winter, and the Handel and Haydn Society, which also had its regular subscribers, would of course employ the home musicians for its oratorios. Great rivalry now too place between the organizations. The Germanians being the better performers, and enjoying, as a result of their varied experiences far more practical management, gradually got the better of the Musical Fund Orchestra. Even the Handel and Haydn Society finally engaged the Germanians for its concerts, and from that date their professional status in Boston was unquestioned.

It was at this time that the so-called “public rehearsals,” destined to be o extraordinarily popular, were first undertaken, and here the great contralto, Miss Adelaide Phillips made her first public appearance, singing at neatly all of the afternoon concerts. These so-called “rehearsals” were thus names, in part, at least, from the fact that they were given in the afternoons, and to avoid using that frequently absurd anachronism, matinee. But the word was doubtless shrewdly chosen also, in deference to that well pronounced disposition of the human mind to enjoy everything that seems to be exclusive, or which the masses are presumed not to have the privilege of enjoying. It was remarked by Charles Dickens that the greatest happiness of the average human being, was to go “dead-head” to the theater. It was no doubt party owing to this tendency that these “rehearsals” were so popular.

At the close of the winter of 1851-52 in Boston, the Germania formed a connection with Ole Bull, traveling with him very extensively in the North and West, for nearly four months. Then, again, a delightful summer (the fourth) at Newport. During the leisure hours of this summer, plans were laid for a more ambitious character than heretofore, with a view of spending the winter again in Boston. The Boston Music Hall was now nearly completed, and in the anticipation of an increased general interest in the subject of music, it was determined to enlarge the orchestra to thirty members, besides securing additional attractions in the way of soloists.

At the close of the season in Newport, the month of October was spent in Philadelphia. Their arrival was somewhat early in the musical year, but they were welcomed with a plentiful display of enthusiasm. They gave five concerts alone, and seven in combination with Madame Sonntag. These were the most brilliant concerts that the orchestra ever gave in Philadelphia, and to use the words of a member, “they were a most astonishing contract” to those hapless entertainments which took place there in their earlier days.

The Boston Music Hall was now quietly engaged for every alternate Saturday evening, and for every Wednesday afternoon during the whole winter. An engagement with Alfred Jaell, the pianist, and Camilla Urso, the talented lady violinist, was perfected, and thus well prepared the Germania entered upon the most successful year of their organization, and one of the most brilliant in the history of music in America. In addition to the regular Wednesday “rehearsals” and ten grand subscription concerts in Boston, series of three or four each were given in Charlestown, Taunton, New Bedford, Lowell, Newburyport, Providence, Hartford, Worcester, New Haven, and Portland, with single concerts at smaller places. Numerous performances were also given in connection with other artists, Alboni, Sonntag, etc., and with the Handel and Haydn Society.

The success of the public rehearsals on Wednesday afternoons was something prodigious. At one of them there were 3,737 tickets taken at the door, by actual count. True, the price was low – eight tickets for one dollar. At one time there were more than ten thousand tickets issued and in the hands of the public, while their use was so general that they had frequently been given and taken in “making change.” It is a curious fact that seven hundred dollars’ worth of these tickets were never redeemed, although a fund was reserved for a long time by the members for that purpose, even after the orchestra had finally separated. Occasionally afternoon and evening concerts were given on the same day, but the crowds continued undiminished.

The unprecedented popularity of the organization at this time certainly exercised a powerful influence over the test of the public. Negro minstrelsy declined. Music at the theaters became almost passable; dancing music and even street bands improved, particularly in the character of their selections, because the people demanded better food than the diet of previous years. The concerts of the Handel and Haydn Society – that unerring gauge of the musical talent of Boston – awakened a new interest. Mr. Carl Bergmann, the Germania conductor, had been chosen their director, drilling them often with the orchestra as well as without. More frequent oratorio performances we now given, and always to large houses. After Mr. Bergmann had them in charge the members of this veteran society sang with so much more force and precision than ever before, that it was apparent both to the singers and the audience. Two rival organizations, the “Musical Education Society” and the “Mendelssohn Choral Society” soon succumbed, and the “Handel and Haydn” were left masters of the field which they have ever since held, and have so widely extended.

During this great musical winter a larger number of compositions were given, which had never before been heard in America. Among these, the most noteworthy was the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven, with all the choral as well as orchestral parts entire. Others were Schumann’s First Symphony in B flat; Gade’s in C minor; the overtures to “Tannhaüser,” “Nachklänge aus Ossian,” &c, &c. On the 2d of April, 1853, this astonishing season was brought to a close, with a second performance of the Ninth Symphony.

An extended trip through the West was next undertaken, as far as St. Louis and Louisville. The Germania Members had now become so famous that their country-men at Rochester, Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis, Chicago and Milwaukee, turned out to meet them on their arrival.

This tour was a successful but exhausting one, and the musicians were glad to get back again, for the firth year, to their summer quarters at Newport. In the autumn they went, of course, again, to Boston, with numerous special attractions engaged, and after a large outlay both of labor and money. The concert season of 1853-4 was good, but not to be compared to the previous one, which indeed it was hopeless to expect, as the enthusiasm then had been stunt up to a pitch too high to be permanent. The special artists whom the Germania had engaged did not generally please. Mr. Aptommas, the harpist, played very finely, but proved no attraction, as the public grew shortly weary of the instrument, even in such hands. Indeed the harp can scarcely be heard to worse advantage than in an orchestral concert. Mr. Theodore Thomas has well illustrated this in his entertainments, where even the masterly performances of Luigi on this instrument produced but a very evanescent effect.

Three several singers were engaged at different times during the winter: Mme. Siedenburg, Miss Pintard, and Miss Hensler, none of whom, however, “took.” Then again, just at this time, M. Jullien, with his splendid orchestra, nearly all soloists, was at the beginning of his dazzling career in this country, and the people had “American Quadrille” on the brain. The Germania Society having received numerous requests to play more light music, for the first time in their history, ventured to make some concessions to the ad captandum taste; and certain they had no after reason to congratulate themselves upon such a misstep. They resolved to give four extra concerts, on alternate Saturday nights, where light in juxtaposition with classical music should be performed, the subscribers being admitted to either concert. This arrangement, by which they thought to please everybody, seemed, in reality, to please nobody. “It was one of the most curious phenomena,” observes a member, “that we encountered during our long period of catering for the public.” The real success of the campaign was the production of “Moses in Egypt,” by the Handel and Haydn Society and the Germania Orchestra combined. This was brought out eight time, on eight consecutive Sundays, to crowded houses. The public rehearsals still continued in considerable favor, and, on the whole, the season could not be entitled a failure, although certainly after the previous year it marked a very decided change in the popular current.

By this time several more changes in the material of the orchestra had taken place, and but fourteen of the original members were remaining. Another Western trip was resolved upon after the close of the Boston season. This proved a somewhat disastrous undertaking. There were two Italian Opera companies in the country, besides Julien’s band, and as all were traveling, disadvantageous contact could not always be avoided. Even at this early day, however, it is worth remarking that the best music was frequently the most popular, and in Philadelphia, especially, the concerts of the Germania, which sometimes occurred on the same nights with those of M. Jullien, were nearly always more fully attended. In order to offer something novel and attractive, the society now produced the “Midsummer Night’s Dream” in a style of unusual completeness. Miss Kate Saxon read the text, Miss Lehmann gave the songs, and the orchestra performed Mendelssohn’s music. The enterprise, however, did not realize their expectations either in pecuniary results or general interest.

The more recent members began to grow discouraged. They had now known adversity. Boarding at three dollars a week in fourth-class houses, and playing in ten-dollar halls to empty benches, had now been numbered among their experiences. Uninfluenced by the calmer judgment of the more experienced members, they held a private meeting to discuss the probabilities and uncertainties of the future. The older members looked upon this proceeding with regret. It denoted the classing of two opposite interests, for the first time in the history of their cherished organization. Throughout the whole of their career, during the extremes of good and evil fortune, the orchestra had maintained an almost unbroken harmony, both of professional views and social relations. From the nature of their association together, the formation of an opposing faction could end only in one way – by a breaking up of the orchestra.

This result, however, was delayed for a season. An offer came at this time from Mr. Barnum to take part in the “musical Congress” at the Crystal Palace in New York. The idea was somewhat repugnant to many of the more musical spirits, and the engagement was accepted under pressure. The concerts of the “Congress” began June 15th. For a little while everything seemed to work happily. Jullien was in his glory. The “Fireman’s Quadrille,” as performed under his baton, drew together an immense audience, which, however, grew unfortunately smaller every day. After eleven days the affair was closed, and the expenses had largely outrun the receipts. Everything about that unfortunate Crystal Palace seemed fruitful of disaster. Part of the pay of the Germania Orchestra for their serves here was given in shares of stock in the ill-fated building, and after its summary destruction by fire, the stock went up so high that the finest Munich lenses could not have discovered it.

The Barnum business was the last stroke of ill-fortune, and the end was now at hand. Again, as so often before, when the July suns began to wither the landscape, the members found themselves back at Newport. But this sixth year was widely different from the first one. The social relations were less agreeable than formerly, and the business relations had lost their old unity. The very successes of the society had helped to a certain extent in undermining its popularity. The charm of novelty was over. It was no longer an isolated circumstance to hear a fair orchestra, and instrumental concerts were no longer the popular attraction which attaches to everything that is new. For very much of this the triumphs of the Germania were directly accountable, and while they could not but be proud of such a reward, the immediate returns were far from encouraging, and the future was full of gloom.

Taking into consideration the decided change in the social and professional relations of the Society, the fourteen original members met in secret conclave and resolved upon a final separation. The event took place at Downing’s Yacht-House, on the evening of September 13th, 1854. A bounteous supper was the last event which closed the checkered career of the old Germania Orchestra, and when the moment of parting came the members clasped hands in silence.

But who shall say that the Germania Orchestra had outlived its usefulness? Or who shall measure the value of its offerings on the shrine of true and beautiful art? Not only is the country forever indebted to this energetic and faithful organization for its combined labors, but even after it had ceased to exist, its influences for the good of music had in many cases only just begun. Wherever a member of the Germania has settled down and made his home, there he has formed a sort of nucleus and gathered about him the very choicest musical spirits of his neighborhood. Some of these artists have achieved a reputation, since the orchestra disbanded, far wider than they had ever enjoyed before. Prominent among these is Mr. Carl Zerrahn, the original “first flute” of the orchestra, who has developed, within the past ten years, the most unusual abilities as a chorus leader, and in this department is no doubt unequaled anywhere. His companion player, Herr Pfeiffer of the second flute, after seven years of honorable and conscientious labor in the Pennsylvania Institution for the Blind, sleeps in a Philadelphia churchyard. Mr. William Schultze, the first violin, has been for at least a dozen years past the leader of the far-famed Mendelssohn Quintette Club, which, although bearing the name of Boston, justly belongs to the whole country. Carl Bermann, the last and best director, has held for fourteen years the conductor’s baton of the New York Philharmonic Society, the most powerful orchestra in the country. Carl Sentz, who has been long and constantly before the public as a musical director, has done special good service in Philadelphia, where his lot has been cast since the Society separated. So, too, Mr. Carl Plagemann, the “first horn,” also a Philadelphian, is much esteemed in musical circles.

Others have settled in different localities, and nearly all have done faithful service. Some — nearly one third of the original members — have passed into the realm of rewards for all earthly labor, leaving their well-written page of effort unsullied behind them. In short, while we cannot trace, at this late day, the record of its voyages, whether few or many, we feel safe in asserting that the little packet ship “Diadem” never bore a more precious cargo than when, in those autumn months, twenty-six years ago, it carried to our shores the members of the Germania Musical Society.

Addendum 2/15/24:

It’s a pleasure to update some of this history through the very recent research of Mark Stickney of Historic Music of Newport. It would seem that the Germanians, in ending their Association in a feast at “Downing’s Yacht House,” (where they also performed) can plausibly be considered sympathetic to the abolitionist cause, inasmuch as that George T. Downing was a prominent “colored” abolitionist, entrepreneur, restaurateur, and caterer. His later Sea Grit Hotel was burned by an arsonist.    F.L.E.

 

Herald of the Times August 9, 1849

Downing, of Now York, has opened a house on the Hill, known as the “Yacht House” in honour of the splendid Yachts. which annually enliven our harbour; he has made arrangements for the pleasure of visitors to this beautiful and healthy summer resort, in the shape of a number of nicely furnished dinner and supper rooms; this should he encouraged inasmuch as it, among other things has its influence in giving character to the place as a fashionable resort- We would add that he comes from where they should know how to prepare a bird, cook an Oyster, make a Charlotte, or give flavor to cream; he has the advantage of twenty-five years’ experience in the business under his father, the prince of Caterers—Mr. Thomas Downing of 3, 5 and 7 Broad Street, New York. Young Downing has desired us to say that he has in his Ice house a fine fresh lot of (Grass Plover,Woodcock, Prime New York Oyster, Soft Crabs, &c., &c., and that he is ready to receive the calls of visitors. Give him a call.

Herald of the Times August 26, 1852

Very much of the success of Newport depends upon the accommodation and conveniences
afforded strangers visiting our delightful and unsurpassed summer resort; among them, not theleast important is the Yacht House, on the hill, opposite the Atlantic House, kept by Downing, of New York; his house is clean and tidy, neatly fitted up with Brussels, Carpets, French China, silver and the like, pleasing to the eye, and inviting to those accustomed to taste and refinement;but a superior recommendation is the quality and manner in which he prepares a dinner, or serves a Game or Oyster supper. Gift him a call; we pledge satisfaction to all who may heed our advice. A party of Ladies and gentlemen from Philadelphia, Baston, Pa., Baltimore and Boston sat down,
a few evenings ago to a supper table arranged by Downing, in one of his parlors, which surpassed in elegance, even his unusual taste ; the good things arranged up arid down the centre of the table were encircled with splendid bouquets corresponding in number with the number of guests; the bouquets were tastefully elevated on each plate forming a wall of flowers; the merry peals oi joy which burst forth simultaneous with sweet Music from the Germania band, which
was stationed in an adjoining parlor, made it a merry, merry night, long to be remembered by the happy participants.

 

5 Comments »

5 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Thank you for providing the article. I found it fascinating to read something about musical life in the US before the Civil War. I can only imagine what adventures those men had traveling around the country. They had to be tough guys physically and mentally to do that and to stick around here through some very rough financial times. Some dates in the article I think are in error. Mr. Bunting writes that the orchestra landed here in 1845, but that its last dinner was in September of the same year. That must be a printer’s error. Unless time travel is real! At any rate, the article has inspired me to read more about the history of musical performance in the US before the Civil War in particular.

    Comment by Rich Carle — February 8, 2024 at 2:59 pm

  2. Very intriguing upcoming concert, and the Germania Musical Society is well worth being celebrated for the thousands of concerts that they presented in Boston and elsewhere in the mid 1800s.
    –Rich Carle is right to note some oddities in this version of the Scribner’s article. I also noticed at least two occurrences of “not” that I think should be “now”–perhaps the result of somebody creating a textfile through optical character recognition (OCR), which can often mistake one letter for another. But the main thrust of the Scribner’s article is clear–this was an amazing organization. And Nancy Newman’s book, cited by Lee in his article, gives plentiful further information and savvy analysis of what the Germanians did and why, and how influential they ended up being.

    Comment by Ralph P. Locke — February 10, 2024 at 7:47 am

  3. Ralph- My OCR’ing is to blame for some of the typos, but not for the end-date interpolation. In response to a scholar’s inquiry I asked he Newport historian Keith Stokes about the location of the farewell dinner for the group in 1854 in Newport at “Downing’s Yacht House. It seems possible that the venue was George T. Downing’s Sea Grit Hotel, which adds a wonderful coda.Downing was a celebrated “colored” hotelier who was active in the abolitionist movement. Unfortunately his establishment was burned.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — February 10, 2024 at 9:35 am

  4. In this article there is a very brief mention of Henriette Sontag. She was the soprano soloist, 200 years ago, in the very first performance of the Beethoven 9th Symphony. She married soon after, and then her husband’s financial condition forced her back onto the stage some 20 years later. She came to Boston and sang many performances with the Germanians. From Boston, she went on a tour to Mexico and contracted cholera. She was 48.

    Comment by Brian Bell — February 10, 2024 at 4:57 pm

  5. Addendum 2/15/24:

    It’s a pleasure to update some of this history through the very recent research of Mark Stickney of Historic Music of Newport. It would seem that the Germanians, in ending their Association in a feast at “Downing’s Yacht House,” (where they also performed) can plausibly be considered sympathetic to the abolitionist cause, inasmuch as that George T. Downing was a prominent “colored” abolitionist, entrepreneur, restaurateur, and caterer. His later Sea Grit Hotel was burned by an arsonist. F.L.E.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — February 15, 2024 at 10:18 pm

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