The First British Performances of Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Symphony: The Philharmonic Society and Sir George Smart
Arthur Searle (notes)
The Philharmonic Society of London commissioned a new symphony from Beethoven in 1823. After some delay, still not entirely explained, it received a manuscript score of the Ninth Symphony late in 1824. The Society immediately set about preparations for a private ‘trial’ performance of the work, and for its inclusion in the subsequent 1825 concert season. Using the surviving documents from the Philharmonic Society’s archive, this article examines the circumstances of these first performances of Beethoven’s best-known work, of the further trial performance staged in 1828 in the wake of the composer’s death, and of the performance given in 1830 by largely Philharmonic forces as part of Charles Neate’s benefit concert. All four performances were conducted by Sir George Smart, who had taken the trouble to visit Beethoven in Vienna in the summer of 1825 to consult him on problems he had encountered in performing the work. Nevertheless, following the private trial early in 1828, it was not included in that year’s concert season, and the Philharmonic Society did not perform the Ninth Symphony again until 1837.