The Annual

 Glebe Music Festival

In conjunction with The Glebe Society Inc

14th Glebe Music Festival
8 to 23 November 2003

Sunday 9 November 2003 at 1430hrs
The Great Hall
University of Sydney

Sydney Conservatorium Ensemble Studies Unit


Good Afternoon. My name is Clare Thornley and I am a postgraduate research student in the musicology unit at the Sydney Conservatorium. Currently, my research is focusing on the amateur music societies in Sydney during the 19th and early 20th centuries, specifically the Royal Philharmonic Society of Sydney, which was actively performing in Sydney from 1885 to 1973. This afternoon, however, I wish to speak to you briefly about the Philharmonic Societies in Sydney during the 1830s, which is the approximate setting for this concert you are listening to today.

Approximately 100 years before the founding of the ABC, as early as 1833, the title "Philharmonic Society" was used by some of Sydney's finest amateur musicians to distinguish themselves from other music clubs of the era. It is the concerts of these early Philharmonic Societies that we are attempting to reproduce this afternoon.

These early Sydney musicians most likely chose to name their organisation "Philharmonic Society" because of the reputation of the London Philharmonic Society, which was established in 1813 to promote amateur instrumental music. It is plausible that the musicians living in Sydney during this time associated the title "Philharmonic Society" with the successful characteristic of the London Philharmonic, namely a high standard of musicianship and performances.

However, there were two main differences between the London Philharmonic Society and the organisations established in Sydney under the title "Philharmonic." The London Philharmonic promoted instrumental music performances, and membership was open only to male amateur musicians. Conversely, the majority of the founding members of the Sydney Philharmonic Societies in the 1830s were vocalists, and membership was open to both male and female musicians of either professional or amateur status.

The founders of the early Sydney Philharmonic Societies, specifically in 1833, would not have been ignorant of the characteristics of the London Philharmonic. Rather, the reasons for these differences mostly likely stem from the demographics of the colony: there were simply not enough male instrumentalists in the colony to form a Philharmonic Society to follow precisely the model set by the London Philharmonic. Therefore, in an effort to reproduce familiar cultural institutions with the resources available, all professional and amateur musicians were invited to join the Philharmonic Societies established in early 19th century Sydney. As a result, those societies included women and, with the exception of members of the Regimental Band who often performed with the society on these concerts, the majority of the members were vocalists, due to the great expense involved with acquiring an instrument in the colony. Despite these differences, both of the Philharmonic Societies of London and Sydney promoted performances by amateur musicians.

Interestingly, the effects of this decision made in 1833 to use the title "Philharmonic Society" to represent an organisation where the majority of the members were vocalists can still be seen in Sydney, as well as in the other cities across Australia. For example, Sydney's Philharmonia Choir and the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic are just two of the vocal organisations in Australia that use "Philharmonic" in their name. Additionally, the orchestras of the Australian capital cities do not include the word "Philharmonic" in their names, unlike some orchestras in other major cities around the world, including the Vienna Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, and Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestras.

In Sydney, the earliest known written record of this type of music club was printed in the Sydney Gazette on April 27, 1833. In a letter to the editor, entitled "Philharmonic Society in Sydney," the formation of the organisation was announced: Sir, As Sciences and Arts are so closely connected, I feel much pleasure in acquainting the public through your respected journal, that a society of the above description has been formed in our town. A locale has been hired, and the preparations have advanced so far that in a month or six weeks' friends may be admitted to witness the proceedings of the society. . . . We congratulate the lovers of musical science upon this opportunity to improve the minds of our fellow citizens.

Despite the fact that the letter mentioned that the first concert would take place in four or six weeks' time, the debut of the Philharmonic Society of Sydney did not occur for fourteen months. Additionally, nothing else was heard of the Society for one year, when the Sydney Gazette published a notice in April 1834 stating that the Philharmonic Society was still very active and should not be confused with the Harmonic Society that had apparently cease to exist.

The first concert of the Sydney Philharmonic Society, advertised as a "Musical Soirée," was scheduled to begin promptly at 8pm on July 25, 1834. Tickets were at the relatively high price of 7shillings 6 pence, available only in advance from Mr. Ellard's Music Saloon - tickets could not be purchased at the door. The location for the concert, the Pulteney Hotel, had only been used as a concert venue since April of that year but contained a "Concert Room" that was considered to be suitable for this event. The hotel was located on Bent Street in Sydney and later became the Australian Club. Although the first concert was much later than originally predicted, the debut of the Sydney Philharmonic Society still appears to have been a highly anticipated event, both musically and socially. It was public knowledge that the concert was on the Governor's agenda; furthermore, the Governor was named as the patron of the organisation.

Unfortunately, only a few specific programming details of the concert were recorded. Traditionally in the 1830s, detailed programmes of musical and theatrical performances were published in the local newspapers as a form of advertising; however, the programme of the Philharmonic Society's concert was not published. It can be assumed, however, that much of the music would have been either recently imported from England or personal copies of the musicians. "God Save the King" would have concluded the concert, and the audience probably would have left the Pulteney Hotel around midnight.

Despite the lack of specifics, general information about and reactions to the concert can be gleaned from the reviews published in the days following the event. These reviews of the first concert, as printed in the major newspapers of the day, the Sydney Gazette, the Australian, the Sydney Herald, and the Sydney Monitor, announced great praise of the efforts put forth by the Philharmonic Society. The critic for the Australian declared the concert as "the birth of classical music in Australia. . . . it is much regretted, that with so many talented amateurs. . . in this country that these pastimes [that is, concerts] were not earlier introduced." The Sydney Herald correspondent added his acclaim, stating, "This Concert has given greater satisfaction than any thing of the kind which has preceded it in this Colony."

The concert featured a majority of vocal performances, with additional instrumental solo and ensemble music provided by the Band of the 17th Regiment. General references were made in the newspaper reviews to the performances of a ballad, a vocal duet, a variety of airs and glees, a violoncello solo with pianoforte accompaniment, and a clarinet solo. Rather ironically, the highlight of the evening appeared to have been the performance by an unnamed timid female vocalist, who was referred to in the reviews published by the Australian and the Sydney Herald. These articles suggested that this woman had the potential to be a "star of the evening" if she overcame her apparent lack of confidence.

Aside from being a musical achievement, the concert was also considered to be a social success. The Sydney Gazette reported the attendance of the Governor and his suite, the Solicitor General, the Commissioner of the Court of Requests, and "a number of the civil officers of the colony." The Sydney Monitor critic also reported, "no shopkeepers, emigrants, or emancipates defiled the concert room."
Although still a relatively new colony, a well-defined social structure existed in Sydney in the 1830s, largely related to the history of the settlement as a convict colony. As a result, the "first families" of Sydney, that is those families of high standing who had arrived in Sydney to settle the colony and often held government appointed jobs, regularly strove to establish clubs, societies, and events that would intentionally exclude the lower classes, including those of convict origin. Perhaps the Sydney Philharmonic Society concerts were one of those events. Given that the name of the organisation reflected the high society in London, as well a relatively high priced ticket that had to be purchased in advance, and the public announcement of the Governor's attendance and patronage of the Society, were enough to exclude the social "riff raff" from the concert. Thus this concert may have helped in further constructing and defining an element of the elite culture in colonial Australia.

This Philharmonic Society only performed one additional concert in 1834 before ceasing to exist. During the next twenty years, several different attempts were made at forming amateur music clubs under the name of "Sydney Philharmonic Society" but none lasted more than a concert or two. In 1854, the Sydney Philharmonic Society was re-established following the lead of the newly formed Melbourne Philharmonic Society, now the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic. The purpose of this Sydney Philharmonic Society, according to later historic records, was to perform large choral works, mainly cantatas and oratorios. Thus, this organisation had two things in common with the previous Philharmonic Societies: the name of the ensemble and the emphasis on vocal music. Performing regularly until 1858 and then on a casual basis through 1870, it was this organisation that would become the recognised predecessor of the Sydney Philharmonic Society formed in 1885, and later renamed the Royal Philharmonic Society of Sydney.

The concert presented today is not an exact replication of any known concert by the early Sydney Philharmonic Societies. Rather, it is a collection of works that may have been performed by musicians during this time in Sydney. Some of the works and composers may be unfamiliar to you. However, these works would probably have been well known by those attending the concerts during that era. We hope that by presenting this concert for you today, you will come away with an understanding of what concert life in Sydney may have been like more than 100 years before the ABC. The 19th century amateur Philharmonic Societies form an important part of Sydney's and Australia's social and musical history. By using these Philharmonic Societies of the 19th century as representative of some of the earliest performances of the highest quality, insights into early concert life in Sydney may be revealed.

The Programme of the Great Hall Concert

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Past Events
The Musicians
The Venue
The Instruments