Montreal Philharmonic Society

The Montreal Philharmonic Society. Choral and orchestral association founded in August 1875 by Arthur M. Perkins. It first performed in public in May 1877, presenting Handel's Messiah and other works during a three-day Montreal Music Festival. Its first concert on its own, 17 Dec 1877 at the Academy of Music, included Mendelssohn's 42nd Psalm. Conducted 1877-9 by Dr P.R. MacLagan (organist at Christ Church Cathedral, then at Zion Church, and later active in Winnipeg), for one concert, 28 May 1879, by Joseph Gould, 1879-80 by Fred E. Lucy-Barnes, and 1880-99 by Guillaume Couture, the society gave 87 concerts before its dissolution in 1899. It performed at the Academy of Music, Mechanics Hall, the Victoria Skating Rink, 1880-9 at Queen's Hall, and 1890-9 at Windsor Hall.

In its early years the society brought together for each concert instrumentalists from Montreal and Quebec City, but it was not always able to assemble a full complement and on one occasion it had to import a timpanist from Boston. To ensure that performances would be well rehearsed, Couture created the Société des Symphonistes which, however, did not survive. Subsequently orchestras from the eastern USA or made up of US and Canadian musicians were employed. Among these, the Boston Festival Orchestra came most frequently. The choir grew from 130 voices in 1878 to 275 in 1894.

The Montreal Philharmonic Society achieved particular renown under Couture, who introduced many oratorios and operas (in concert form) and a surprisingly varied symphonic repertoire. Canadian premieres included Schumann's Paradise and the Peri (8 Jan 1885), Cherubini's Requiem in C Minor (17 Dec 1885), Berlioz' La Damnation de Faust (17 Apr 1890), Beethoven's Ruins of Athens (19 Mar 1891), Mackenzie's The Story of Sayid (25 Mar 1892), Saint-Saëns' The Deluge (23 Mar 1892) and Samson et Dalila (14 Apr 1895), and G.W. Chadwick's The Lily Nymph, dedicated to the society (28 Apr 1896). Receiving their first Montreal performances were Mendelssohn's Elijah (15 May 1884), Handel's Judas Maccabaeus (17 Mar 1881) and Samson (21 Mar 1889), the overture to Weber's Der Freischütz (17 Mar 1888), Max Bruch's Arminius (18 Mar 1891), and Beethoven's Mount of Olives (14 Mar 1893). The society performed Wagner's The Flying Dutchman (3 Apr 1895) and Tannhäuser (29 Apr 1896), Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 (8 Apr 1897), and works by Bennet, Dubois, Dvořák, Gounod, Massenet, and Sullivan. C.A.E. Harriss' cantata Daniel before the King, the first published major work by a Canadian resident, was performed 18 Apr 1890.

By 1890 the Montreal Philharmonic Society had presented some 120 large choral-orchestral works, unaccompanied works, or pieces for choir and soloists and had attained a high reputation. Soloists included the singers Emma Albani, David Ffrangcon-Davies, Emma Juch, and Robert Watkin-Mills; the violinist Frantz Jehin-Prume; and the pianist Calixa Lavallée. Guest conductors included G.W. Chadwick, Emil Mollenhauer, and Henry Schmidt. In 1896 a small journal, The Philharmonic Bulletin, was published to promote the interests of the society.

However, growing deficits and a marked change in the size and taste of its audiences led to the society's demise. In its final concert (25 May 1899), assisted by the Paur SO from New York, it performed Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, Mendelssohn's Hymn of Praise, Liszt's Grand Solo de concert (solo-piano-and-orchestra version of the two-piano piece Concerto pathétique, with Richard Burmeister as soloist), and Goldmark's concert overture Sakuntala. In 1982, the name of the society was revived as the Société philharmonique de Montréal, by Miklós Takács.