It is a quirk of history that two of the world’s greatest orchestras, the Vienna Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic, were both founded 175 years ago this spring. Both ensembles are performing in New York this weekend, and to mark their anniversaries, they are displaying treasures from their archives in a rare joint exhibition at the Austrian Cultural Forum in Manhattan. Here are some of the highlights — think of it as an archival battle of the bands.
“Damn and blast it! Confound it! Wake up!” the conductor and composer Otto Nicolai wrote in his impassioned draft of the Vienna Philharmonic’s foundation charter, left, in the spring of 1842. He calls for the orchestra to become “something special, something great, something excellent!” The “Constitution of the Philharmonic Society of New-York,” adopted that same April, right, was a good deal more sober, calling the orchestra’s object “the advancement of Instrumental Music” and stating that members “be professors of music and be limited to seventy.”
When the Maestro’s Scores Are Overdue
Apparently conductors do not have to pay their music librarians five cents a day. Referring to Gustav Mahler, who served music director stints with both orchestras, a card in the New York Philharmonic’s collection says that orchestral parts of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4, above, “taken to Europe by Mr. Mahler were not returned (he died).” And Leonard Bernstein’s score of Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde,” below, which is in the New York collection, bears the stamp of the Vienna Philharmonic. (He conducted it for his 1966 debut with the Viennaorchestra.)
First Concerts: Guess Who?
Both went with Beethoven. Vienna’s first, on March 28, 1842, left, included his Symphony No. 7. New York, which did not play its first concert until Dec. 7, went with the Symphony No. 5, right, which the program listed as the “Grand Symphony in C minor.”
When Orchestras Toured by Ship
Here are the musicians of the Vienna Philharmonic and Richard Strauss aboard the ocean liner Köln on their 1923 tour to South America, left, and a souvenir of the New York Philharmonic’s 1930 tour of Europe with Arturo Toscanini aboard the liner DeGrasse (right).
The Nazi Era
The Vienna Philharmonic, which has worked in recent years to come to terms with its Nazi past, is displaying a 1941 letter, right, from its chairman, Wilhelm Jerger, asking Nazi officials to intervene on behalf of five Jewish musicians who had played in the orchestra. His entreaty was in vain, the orchestra says: All five were killed in concentration camps. In New York, meanwhile, an uproar greeted the news that Wilhelm Furtwängler had been tapped to succeed Toscanini as music director. He soon withdrew after public questions about his Nazi associations.
Letters from Mahler
Vienna’s archive contains a fan letter of sorts that Gustav Mahler wrote in 1897 to the great conductor Hans Richter, left, in which he told him that “you have been the model whom I have striven to emulate throughout all of the vicissitudes and distractions of my life in the theater.” New York’s holdings include a 1909 letter, right, that Mahler wrote complaining that he had not gotten a suite on his steamship and discussing appointments to the orchestra.