I had a great seat in the Royal Festival Hall last Thursday (see Thursday’s blog) for a concert by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted thrillingly by the Ossetian conductor Tugan Sokhiev. I had booked because they were playing Brahms’ First Symphony and I didn’t realize that the event was held to mark the Royal Philharmonic Society 200th Anniversary which actually fell on that day.
The Philharmonic Society, as it was originally, made me feel quite proud to be British and that is not a common experience for anyone who is fond of Nineteenth Century classical music unless you are a devotee of Gilbert and Sullivan or some great composers who only really got going in the 20th Century. The Society was formed, on 24th January 1813, to promote orchestral music in London and, well, it certainly made its mark commissioning Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, Saint-Saëns’ ‘Organ’ Symphony and Vaughan Williams’ 9th Symphony and its orchestra was conducted in London by Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Wagner and Tchaikovsky. Impressive or not?
They also replied to a letter from Beethoven that bemoaned his financial state with the best form of sympathy – one hundred British pounds. Sadly the great man was too ill to make it to London to conduct his new symphony but the commission and the financial aid was described by George Bernhard Shaw as “the only entirely creditable incident in English history.”
The rather ghostly white image in the photograph above is the bust of Beethoven by the Austrian sculptor Johann Nepomuk Schaller (1777- 1842) presented to the Society for its centenary in 1871 by an Hungarian benefactress, Madame Linzbauer, in recognition of the Society’s support for Beethoven after it mounted a complete cycle of the symphonies on the centenary of his birth in 1870. The bust sat on stage for society concerts for over a hundred years and was reintroduced this year to mark the Society’s bicentenary. So well done to them for a distinguished past and for a great concert last week. Happy Birthday and don’t knock the bust off its pedestal – it looked very precarious the other night.