I realise things have been rather quiet on the blog for the past few weeks, but that’s because I’ve been busy preparing for two book fairs (Edinburgh later this week, New York in April), plus finalising my latest translation, for Pushkin Press (due out in September). However, I thought I’d share the following today as it’s rather timely: an original programme card, which I shall be exhibiting in New York next month, for the London premiere of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, which took place on this day, 21 March, in 1825:
The venue was London’s Argyll Rooms, and the concert was organised by the (now Royal) Philharmonic Society, founded in 1813—and still active today—with an aim ‘to promote the performance, in the most perfect manner possible of the best and most approved instrumental music’ and ‘encourage an appreciation by the public in the art of music’. ‘At that time there was no permanent orchestra capable of playing symphonic music, except that of the Concert of Ancient Music, whose constitution forbade the performance of any music composed within the preceding twenty years; nor was there any organization for the public performance of chamber music in London. Hence we find that the early programmes of the Philharmonic Society contain symphonic works, chamber music, and vocal ensembles: solos, duets and concertos were not at first allowed but were added after the first few years’ (Elkin, The Old Concert Rooms of London, pp. 119–120).
Perhaps the most famous of the Society’s commissions is Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the ‘Choral’ Symphony, with its famous ‘Ode to Joy’ in the final movement. Originally commissioned in 1817, it was first performed in Vienna in May 1824 before receiving its London premiere on 21 March 1825 as noted here.