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America's BeethovenBeethoven Societies

To Americans at the beginning of the 19th century, music was either entertainment or intended for a specific function in church or civic celebrations. That it could be “art” was an alien concept. How that changed over the course of the century is a complex story, but in the United States one important component for change was the singing or choral societies. Responding to a desire by clergy to clean up the chaotic state of 18th-century church music, singing schools were formed, and from them larger choral groups emerged. Through these groups, many Americans first became acquainted with European composers such as Handel and Haydn, and as a consequence many societies were named after them.  The most important was the Boston Handel and Haydn society, founded in 1815, and still in existence today. 

Beethoven Musical Society Portlant

In 1819 the first Beethoven Society was formed in Portland, Maine. It was a direct outgrowth of the popularity of Beethoven’s oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives, one of the first pieces to introduce many Americans to Beethoven’s music. The name was a direct slap at the Boston organization: “while a similar society in Boston has inscribed on their escutcheon the celebrated names of Handel and Haydn, the Beethoven society of Portland assumes the name of one, whose genius seems to anticipate a future age, and labors for the benefit of posterity.” A daring statement for 1819.

Ira Berry, Sketch of the History of the Beethoven Musical Society in Portland, Maine. Portland, Maine: S. Berry, 1888

The Beethoven Musical Society, established in Portland “for the purpose of studying sacred music of a high order,”existed from 1819-25.

As the idea of art music began to take hold in the 1830s and 40s, as touring virtuosi and groups began to crisscross the country thanks to the establishment of railroads, as symphony orchestras were formed, and as a greater range of Beethoven’s music became known, Beethoven societies flourished and became more varied in their purposes and repertory. Some focused on chamber music, some on orchestral music, some on solo recitals, and some maintained the tradition of the choral societies. Most presented varied programs that included the music of other composers. Some teamed up with other organizations, as the Beethoven Society of Hartford, Connecticut did with the Germania Orchestra of Boston.

Broadside poster, Germania Musical Society, Mercantile Library Hall, Boston, May 31, 1952

The concert included a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony

With rising German immigration in the 1840s, several Männerchor, or men’s choral societies, assumed the Beethoven name.  Although the organizations per se were male, women were usually invited to participate in the choral concerts.  Männerchor were an important component of German society, functioning as both a musical and a social organization. —Michael Broyles

Beethoven Maennerchor, New York

Bronze plaque, Beethoven Maennerchor,
New York, New York

Fritz Merseburger created this plaque in honor of outgoing president Philip Lenges, November 24, 1923.

Committee ribbon, Beethoven Maennerchor, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, founded in 1891

Members of the committee wore this ribbon for the 25th anniversary celebrations on October 21-23, 1916.

Beethoven Maennerchor, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Beethoven Maennerchor, San Antonio, Texas

Envelope with logo of the Beethoven Maennerchor, San Antonio, Texas

Members of the Maennerchor were invited for an evening of light entertainment followed by dancing at Beethoven Hall, Sunday, March 9, 1919. The society and the Beethoven Hall are still in existence.

Sepia photograph, Beethoven Maennerchor, Ilion, New York, July 19, 1914

According to a historical website, this organization began in 1899 as the Frohsieu Singing Society and then changed its name to the Beethoven Maennerchor in 1902. The society’s main objectives were to “promote German song, foster the use of German language, literature, German customs, and genuine good sociability.” In 1905 the society joined the Central New York Singing Band and on four different occasions received prizes in singing competitions in Troy, Syracuse, and Albany.

Beethoven Maennerchor, Ilion, New Yorki
Beethoven Quintette Club

Sepia photograph, The Beethoven Quintette Club,
Boston, ca. 1873

This club, established in 1873, was one of four prominent musical organizations in Boston that included the Harvard Orchestra, the Mendelssohn Quintette Club, and the Boston Orchestral Club. A writer for an issue of Metronome: A Monthly Review of Music for that year described the club as “fast gaining popularity by its fine performances of classical as well as the lighter order of orchestral music.” The members of the quintet included C.N. Allen (an “elegant violinist”), Wolf Fries, Henry Heindl, John Mullaley, and W. Rietzel.

Wall plaque,
The Beethoven D.Q. Club, 1895

This plaque commemorated the tenth anniversary of the club, which was founded in Manhattan in 1885. According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Almanac published in 1912, the club had 14 members that year.

Beethoven D.Q. Club

Postcard photograph, the Beethoven Symphony Orchestra, New York, Georges Zaslawsky, conductor; Arthur Honegger, guest conductor

On the back of this postcard is a concert schedule for the 1928-29 season, including a Beethoven cycle that took place on five Saturday afternoons from November through March.

Beethoven Symphony Orchestra

Beethoven Society, Yale College

Concert ticket, The Beethoven Society of Yale College, Academy of Music, Brooklyn, November 20, 1869

A musical society established at Yale in 1812 developed into the Beethoven Society, which was later joined by the Glee Club. There was also a competing group called “The Beethoven Bummers” whose function was to poke fund at the more serious Beethoven Society.

Concert program, The Beethoven Society, Hartford, Connecticut,
Allyn Hall, December 25, 1865

For this concert, the Beethoven Society joined with the Germania Orchestra of Boston to perform Handel’s Messiah. The soloist was Euphrosyn Parepa, a British soprano.

Beethoven Society Hartford Connecticut
Beethoven School of Music, Meadville, Pennsylvania

Recital program card, Beethoven School of Music, Meadville, Pennsylvania, May 18, 1894

The student featured on this program was Maude Raydure (1874-1955).

Concert program, The Beethoven Association, Town Hall, New York, New York, Town, December 12, 1938

In celebration of its 20th anniversary season, the association organized a concert in commemoration of Maurice Ravel, who died in 1937.

Beethoven Association New York

Program booklets, Beethoven Club, Hanover, Pennsylvania

The Beethoven Club in Hanover was founded in 1892. These booklets document the club’s activities in 1920-21 and 1946-47

Beethoven Club, Bradenton Florida Beethoven Club, Bradenton Florida
Beethoven Society, New York, Brooch

Beethoven Society, New York
Brooch, gold plate, enamel, diamonds

This brooch was given to the president of the society, Mrs. James Daniel Mortimer, of 390 West End Ave., New York City, on April 28, 1917. The society sponsored teas, breakfasts, dancing, and concerts beginning in 1913.