New York "novelties" by Liszt et. al.

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Monday, May 13, 2019

On today’s date in 1862, the front page of The New York Times offered some encouraging news to the Northern side in the American Civil War: Union troops had captured Norfolk, Virginia, and there were other advances being made by General McClellan’s troops.

Under “Amusements” on the inner pages of that same edition could be found an announcement of a “Grand Vocal and Orchestral Concert” at Irving Hall to be conducted by a 27-year-old musician named Theodore Thomas.

Thomas had been a major figure on the New York music scene since 1855, performing as the principal violinist in that city’s first ensemble giving a regular series of chamber concerts. That chamber group presented hot-off-the-press works by Brahms and other ultra-modern composers of the day. This big orchestral concert, which marked Thomas’s debut as a conductor, was no different.

The Times noted, “We have never before had so much musical novelty presented to us. Such plentiful instrumental music equally new to our musical world, under the capable conductorship of the young musician, must insure a crowded audience of the more critical as well as the more fashionable portion of our public.”

Tickets were $1 each—quite a lot of money in 1862—and the program offered the American premieres of orchestral pieces by Wagner, Meyerbeer, and Liszt’s flashy orchestration of Schubert’s “Wanderer Fantasy.”