Composers Datebook®

Beethoven's Second on first?

Composer's Datebook - May 8, 2022


Hold on tight—we’re about to cover 150 years of musical—and presidential—history in just 2 minutes!

On today’s date in 1821, back when James Monroe was president, Beethoven’s Second Symphony was performed in Philadelphia at a concert of the Musical Fund Society. That occasion marks the first documented performance of a complete Beethoven symphony in America and occurred when Beethoven was 50 years old and residing in Vienna.

In 1853, when Franklin Pierce was in the White House, the Germania Musical Society took Beethoven’s Second on its American tour, presenting it in St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Chicago. That 1853 tour marked the first time an entire Beethoven Symphony was performed in the windy city. Additional 19th century “firsts” for the Second occurred over the next two decades in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and San Francisco, during the administrations of James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, and Andrew Jackson.

Ulysses S. Grant was president in 1870, when Beethoven’s Second debuted in Washington DC, and Grant was still President in 1872, when the Second was the first symphony EVER to be performed in Minneapolis.

A hundred years later, in the NINETEEN-Seventies, when Richard Nixon was in the White House, you could hear performances of Beethoven’s Second from Maine to Hawaii, all while sitting comfortably in your own “Executive Mansion,” courtesy of your local government-assisted public radio station.

If you wish, you may now stand and salute your radio!

Music Played in Today's Program

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827) — Symphony No. 2 (New York Philharmonic; Leonard Bernstein, cond.) Sony 61835

On This Day


  • 1745 - Baptismal date of Bohemian violinist and composer Carl Philipp Stamitz, in Mannheim; He was the son of the composer JohannWenzel Anton Stamitz (b. 1717), and the brother of composer Johann Anton Stamitz (b. 1750);

  • 1829 - American pianist and composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk, in New Orleans;

  • 1945 - American pianist and composer Keith Jarrett, in Allentown, Pa.;


  • 1829 - Italian composer and guitar virtuoso Mauro Giuliani, age 47, in Naples;

  • 1944 - British composer and women's rights advocate Dame Ethel Smyth, age 86, in Woking;

  • 1960 - Swedish composer Hugo Alfvén, age 88, in Falun;


  • 1720 - Handel: opera "Radamisto" (1st version) (Julian date: April 27);

  • 1736 - Handel: anthem "Sing unto God" (Julian date: April 27);

  • 1749 - Handel: "Music for the Royal Fireworks" (Julian date: April 27);

  • 1924 - Honegger: "Pacific 231," in Paris at a Koussevitzky Concert;

  • 1938 - Stravinsky: "Dumbarton Oaks" Concerto, at Dumbarton Oaks, conducted by Nadia Boulanger;

  • 1939 - Persichetti: Piano Sonata No. 1, at Philadelphia Conservatory, composer performing;

  • 1946 - Menotti: "The Medium," at Columbia University in New York City;

  • 1958 - Ligeti: String Quartet No. 1 ("Metamorphoses nocturnes"), in Vienna, by the Ramor Quartet;

  • 1962 - Sondheim: Broadway premiere of musical "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"; Near-disasterous trial run performances in Washington DC and other cities preceded the show's Broadway premiere; This was the first major musical for which Sondheim wrote both the lyrics and the music; It won several Tony Awards in 1962, including "Best Musical";

  • 1965 - Rochberg: "Zodiac" (orchestral version), by Cincinnati Symphony, Max Rudolf conducting;

  • 1970 - Gunther Schuller: children's opera "The Fisherman and His Wife," in Boston;

  • 1973 - Rochberg: "Imago Mundi," by Baltimore Symphony, Sergiu Commisiona conducting;

  • 1979 - Andrew Lloyd-Webber: musical "Evita," in Los Angeles; The musical opened on Broadway on September 25, 1979;

  • 1985 - Frank Zappa: "Time's Beach" for winds, at Alice Tully Hall in New York, by the Aspen Wind Quintet;

  • 1996 - Lowell Liebermann: opera "The Picture of Dorian Gray," at the Monte Carlo Opera, with tenor Jeffrey Lentz in the title role and Steuart Bedford conducting; The American premiere of this opera was staged in Milwaukee, Wis., by the Florentine Opera in Feb. of 1999;

  • 1998 - Saariaho: Cello Octet, at the Beauvais Cello Festival in Beavais, France;


  • 1747 - J.S. Bach performs an organ recital at the Heiligeistkirche in Potsdam;

  • 1821 - Earliest documented American performance Beethoven's Symphony No. 2, in Philadelphia at Washington Hall, by the Musical Fund Society, Charles Hupfeld conducting; The finale only was performed by the Philharmonic Society in New York on December 16, 1824 and repeated at Castle Garden on April 21, 1825; The first complete performance in New York was apparently given on April 22, 1843, at the Apollo Room during the first season of the New York Philharmonic with George Loder conducting;

  • 1874 - American premiere of J.S. Bach's "St. Matthew Passion," at the Music Hall in Boston, by the Handel and Haydn Society, Carl Zerrahn conducting; The performing forces included a chorus of 600, and orchestra of 90, and a 60-voice boy's choir; For this performance, the first 12 numbers of Part II were omitted; The complete Passion was not performed by the Society until 1879; About half of Bach's Passion was given its New York City premiere at St. George's Church on March 17, 1880, by the New York Oratorio Society under Leopold Damrosch; Theodore Thomas conducted the next documented performance in Cincinnati on May 17, 1882, during that city's May Festival;

  • 1945 - Aaron Copland's Pulitzer Prize for Music for his "Appalachian Spring" ballet score is announced on V-E Day (the day the Allied Forces won the war in Europe).

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®