Composers Datebook®

Beethoven in New York

Composers Datebook - May 20, 2024


On today’s date in 1846, a Grand Festival Concert took place at New York’s Castle Garden, a popular spot for 19th century Manhattanites to enjoy fireworks, balloon rides, ice cream, and band concerts.

The band on this occasion consisted of some 400 instrumentalists and singers, including members of the four-year-old New York Philharmonic. They gave, for the first time in America, a complete performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, the Choral Symphony.

In attendance was a 26-year-old lawyer named George Templeton Strong, whose diary recorded his impressions:

“A splendid failure, I’m sorry to say,” he wrote. “The first movement was utterly barren … the minuet was well enough, quite brilliant in parts [and] the only point I found worth remembering in the whole piece … then came an andante (very tedious) ... then the fourth movement with its chorus, which was a bore …”

“[But] after all,” Strong concluded, “‘tisn’t fair to judge, hearing it under so many disadvantages.”

Fourteen years later, after a more advantageous Philharmonic performance in 1860, Strong changed his mind about Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, and wrote, “Strange I should have missed its real character and overlooked so many great points when I heard it last. It is an immense, wonderful work.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): Symphony No. 9 (Choral); Berlin Philharmonic; Claudio Abbado, conductor; DG 471 491

On This Day


  • 1804 - Russian composer Mikail Glinka (Gregorian date: June 1)

  • 1943 - American composer Tison Street, in Boston


  • 1896 - German pianist and composer, Clara Wieck Schumann, 76, in Frankfurt

  • 1995 - American composer Ulysses Kay, 78, in Englewood, New Jersey


  • 1914 - Miaskovsky: Symphony No. 1, in Pavlovsk (Julian date: June 2)

  • 1937 - John J. Becker: Symphony No. 3 (Symphonia Brevis), at the Saint Paul Auditorium by the Twin Cities Civic (Federal Music Project, Minnesota) Orchestra, with the composer conducting

  • 1948 - Milhaud: Symphony No. 4, in Paris, composer conducting

  • 1950 - Dallapiccola: opera Il Prigionero (The Prisoner) (first staged production), in Florence at the Teatro Comunale. The opera has been premiered in a concert performance in Turin on December 1, 1949.

  • 1973 - Menotti: Suite for Two Cellos and Piano, in New York, with cellists Gregor Piatigorsky and Leslie Parnas, and pianist Charles Wadsworth

  • 1974 - Panufnik: Sinfonia Concertante, in London

  • 1974 - Sondheim: incidental music for The Frogs (after Aristophanes), at the Yale swimming pool

  • 1977 - Hovhaness: Rubaiyat for narrator, accordion, and orchestra, in New York City

  • 1979 - Tobias Picker: "Romance" for violin and piano, at York College, by Linda Quan (violin) and Aleck Karis (piano)

  • 1989 - Katherine Hoover: Quintet Da Pacem, for piano quintet, at Alice Tully Hall in New York, by members of the New Jersey Chamber Music Society


  • 1846 - American premiere of Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (Choral) by New York Philharmonic Society at New York's Castle Garden, George Loder, Jr. conducting. It appears that the Society tried unsuccessfully to invite Mendelssohn to attend this festival performance, which they organized to raise funds for “the erection of a suitable edifice for musical purposes” in Manhattan. The next documented performance of Beethoven's Ninth outside of New York was given in Boston on February 5, 1853 by the combined forces of the Handel and Haydn Society plus the Germania Society. Other 19th century regional premieres occurred in New Haven (Dec. 10, 1870), Columbus (Dec. 13, 1870), Chicago (Dec. 17, 1870), Philadelphia (April 27, 1874), Milwaukee (Oct. 22, 1878), Baltimore (May 3, 1884) and Pittsburgh (May 25, 1889).

  • 1943 - The U.S. Marine Band performs a special wartime concert on the White House South Lawn for President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Despite a steady rain, Roosevelt and Churchill stayed throughout and sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” with the band at the conclusion.

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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.

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