January 5, 1918
Page 28
Boston Organization Was Pioneer ln the Field of Chamber Music

Gift of Extensive Program Collection to the New England Conservatory Recalls Early Musical History in This Country—Mendelssohn Quintet Made First Tours in the Late Forties

BOSTON, Jan. 1. —A large collection of programs of the Mendelssohn Quintette Club of Boston, the pioneer organization to give chamber music concerts throughout the United States, · through the courtesy of the Widener Library of Harvard University, has been given to the library of the New England Conservatory of Music. At the latter repository of musical books and scores it will be added to an already extensive department of programs of historic interest which the librarian, Mary Alden Thayer, has been forming in the past ten or twelve years. The well-equipped working library of the music school on Huntington Avenue is now well equipped with programs of major concerts by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Cecilia, Apollo and other musical organizations.
A complete file is included of the student concerts and recitals of recent years, and Miss Thayer, by appealing to the older alumni of the Conservatory, is rapidly filling in the gaps of the series undertaken in the earlier days of the institution, whose first public concert took place in the spring of 1867. The Mendelssohn programs contain especially valuable data to illustrate the history of music in the middle nineteenth century, the time when this quintet of earnest musicians first carried Beethoven and Mozart over the Alleghenies into communities which had previously heard nothing more classical than “Fishers’ Hornpipe” and “Old Hundred.”
The Club’s Tours
The Mendelssohn programs which the Conservatory has acquired run from 1859, the second year of the organization’s existence, down to 1873, after which its character was somewhat changed. They give a practically complete record of the concerts in Boston, Cambridge, Charlestown and other home audftoria of the first concerts in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, which gave the Quintet national prominence, and a few of those which were presented in the Middle West after the Civil War. As “assisting” the organization, or being assisted by it, they bring in the names of many of the best known nineteenth-century musicians: Mlle. Carlotti Patti, Adelaide Phillips, B. J. Lang, J. C. D. Parker, Ernest Perabo and many others. They show a high standard of musica1 numbers which were well enough appreciated to make the Quintet Club one of the most successful of its ‘kind.
The story of the Mendelssohn Quintet Club, as many musically inclined people know, has been entertainingly told in “The Recollections of an· Old Musician,” by the late Thomas Ryan, who was the managing member of the Quintet during its forty-nine·years of existence. It was through Mr. Ryan’s boyish enthusiasm for Mendelssohn that the name was adopted and retained. Other members came and went, most of them Teutons or Slavs, but this Irish-born clarinetist remained, always efficient, companionable and popular, and in his later years he wrote out a narrative of his career.
At a time when America was filling up with foreign musicians who had run away from their own countries after the revolutionary troubles of 1848 the Mendelssohn Quintet Club was formed to give concerts in and around Boston.·
The original members were August Fries, first violin; Francis Riha, second violin; Edward Lehman, viola and flute; Thomas Ryan, viola and clarinet; Wulf Fries, ‘cello. The program of the first concert; given in the Chickering piano rooms in December, 1849, was as follows: Quintet in A, op. 18, Mendelssohn; La Melancholie, solo for violin, Francis Riha, Prume; Trio for Flute, Violin and Violincello, on themes from the opera “Zampa,” by Herold, Kalliwoda; Fifth Air Varie for Clarinet, F. Berr; Quintet in E Flat, op. 4, Beethoven.
Of this program Mr. Ryan wrote in his book: “That program was certainly a notable one fit for to-day’s use. We had set our standard high; and we have never lowered it during our almost fifty years of service.”
The new organization promptly “caught on.” There was nothing just like it in New England or, indeed, anywhere else in North America. Requests for concerts began to come in. “Then for us young men,” says Mr. Ryan, “began a kind of belle’s life. We were in demand everywhere—not only for single concerts, but for sets of four or more in places like Salem, Lowell, Lawrence, Haverhill, Taunton, New Bedford, Providence·and Worcester .” In Cambridge during fifteen consecutive seasons a set of eight parlor concerts was given at houses of professors or other friends of music. The record of these Cantabrigian entertainments is told in the program of the New England Conservatory library.
Toward 1860 the Quintet had begun to give concerts outside of New England.
Founded “National College”
The war interrupted Southern and Western tours, of course, but after the conflict the Quintet had for some years a heyday in the Western concert field. The organization was the first of its kind to be heard in many communities. Times were good and audiences were large. After a time there began to be followers. The first was the “Redpath Parlor Opera Company,” a quartet formed in Boston. They were very successful and in a little while they in turn had imitators.
In 1872 the members of the Mendelssohn Quintet had grown tired of long journeys across the continent and of facing the increasing competition. So they thought of settling down again in Boston, to teach and to give occasional concerts in the neighborhood. Having themselves had many imitators they themselves became imitators through their establishment of a National College of Music, plainly designed to share the popular favor of the New England Conservatory of Music, which had been established by Dr. Tourjee five years before and which already had a very large attendance for that day.
The National College made a brave start, with Vincenzo Corillo, of the Royal Music School, Naples, as principal vocal teacher; B. J. Lang, head of the pianoforte department, and the club members teaching the various instruments. About two hundred pupils were enrolled. Then, however, came the Boston fire and killed the new school, whose faculty perforce took once again to the road. Their travels were now more extensive than ever before, in one year extending to Australia and New Zea1and.
The collection of programs at the New England Conservatory library, however, covers only through the National College episode. In the last years of the century Mr. Ryan wrote out his reminiscences of a lifetime of concert giving and dedicated the book to his friend, the late Allen A. Brown, donor of the remarkable “Allen A. Brown collection of musical literature” at the Boston Public Library.


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