Toronto Philharmonic Society

Toronto Philharmonic Society. Name of a succession of concert societies (1845-7, 1848-50, 1853-5, 1872-94), connected by a certain continuity of leadership: John McCaul, the University of Toronto president, and James P.

Toronto Philharmonic Society

Toronto Philharmonic Society. Name of a succession of concert societies (1845-7, 1848-50, 1853-5, 1872-94), connected by a certain continuity of leadership: John McCaul, the University of Toronto president, and James P. Clarke worked together in most of the early societies as president and conductor, and F.H. Torrington led the group during its final 22 years.

The first Toronto Philharmonic Society was organized after two concerts in October 1845, initiated by McCaul and conducted by Clarke and J.D. Humphreys respectively, had demonstrated the existence in Toronto of musical talent and of audiences for classical music. The new society made its debut 26 Dec 1845 at the New City Hall, and during that season it gave five more concerts under Clarke, with a French violinist, Bley, as concertmaster, and strong support from the 81st Regimental Band under Thomas Charles Crozier. The programs mixed choral, orchestral, solo instrumental, and solo vocal selections. Movements of Mozart and Beethoven symphonies were programmed in 1847, but financial problems led to the organization's collapse that year.

A new Toronto Philharmonic Society appeared in 1848, with F.W. Barron, principal of Upper Canada College, as president, and Humphreys, Henry Schallehn, and George W. Strathy as its leading musicians. Concerts were given at City Hall, the Royal Lyceum Theatre, St Lawrence Hall, and Temperance Hall (Toronto). Short vocal and instrumental pieces were popular, as were operatic overtures. Among the overtures were those to La Cenerentola, Der Freischütz, Anacreon, and Semiramide. The society faltered after two seasons and was followed by another McCaul-Clarke collaboration, the Toronto Vocal Music Society (1851-3), which placed more emphasis on choral music. Its repertoire included excerpts from Handel's Acis and Galatea, Dettingen Te Deum, and Messiah, Haydn's The Creation, and Beethoven's The Mount of Olives. When a Mr Paige was appointed conductor in April 1853, Clarke's supporters left the society, and its eclipse resulted.

The Toronto Philharmonic Society was revived by the same leaders and gave its first concert 25 Apr 1854. The programs, performed at University College and St Lawrence Hall, continued along the old lines - oratorio choruses, operatic excerpts, and vocal and instrumental solos - but the concertmaster, Ferdinand Griebel, played a Violin Concerto by de Bériot, and the orchestra took up the challenge of the Funeral March in the Eroica symphony. Financial problems brought about the end of the organization in the spring of 1855.

On 1 Oct 1872 the Toronto Philharmonic Society was revived yet again. This time it outlasted the combined ages of all its predecessors. McCaul and Clarke resumed their prior functions, and Robert Marshall was concertmaster. Rehearsals of Messiah began in October and culminated in a performance 28 Feb 1873 before an overflow audience at Shaftesbury Hall. The orchestra comprised 30 musicians, the chorus about 160. The event marked the ageing Clarke's farewell performance. Marshall assumed the conductor's duties for a short time, but a vigorous younger musician, F.H. Torrington, after a debut concert with the society 17 Nov 1873, led it to its greatest heights, making it the leading and most stable ensemble in late 19th-century Toronto. The stability, however, belonged to the chorus only; a permanent orchestra proved elusive despite attempts to establish one. The society presented the Canadian premieres of Mendelssohn's Elijah (1874) and St Paul (1876) and Gounod's Redemption (1882, the year of its composition). By 1890 Messiah had been given six times, Elijah five, and The Creation three. There also were performances of Mendelssohn's Walpurgisnacht, Handel's Judas Maccabaeus and Samson, Sullivan's The Golden Legend, and other large choral-orchestral works typical of the European repertoire of the period. Symphonies still were represented in most instances by single movements, but Haydn's Surprise Symphony and Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 2, 'Hymn of Praise' were performed in their entirety. A Miss Boyd and the German Franz Rummel were heard in Beethoven piano concertos (one of them the Emperor, which was also played by Waugh Lauder) and in 1893 François Boucher, a member of the orchestra, played a Bruch violin concerto (probably the G-Minor). Unlike its sister organization in Montreal the society did not venture into the realm of complete opera performance.

In the Festival of 1886 the Toronto Philharmonic Society was joined by other forces to form an adult choir of 1000, a children's choir of 1200, and an orchestra of 100. Lilli Lehmann and Max Heinrich were the guest singers, and the main works offered were Handel's Israel in Egypt and Gounod's Mors et vita. The success of Torrington's endeavours was a factor in Hart Massey's decision to build a music hall in Toronto (see Massey Hall). Concerts were given until 1879 at Shaftesbury Hall, and later at the Grand Opera House and the Pavilion in the Horticultural Gardens. The concertmasters over the years included R.L. Cowan, John Bayley, and Bertha Drechsler Adamson. Torrington resigned as conductor in 1894, and the society dispersed. Its members joined other choristers, however, to sing in the Festival Chorus under Torrington's direction until 1912.

A separate organization by the same name was led 1896-8 by J. Humfrey Anger. Its performances included Messiah in 1897.


Further Reading

  • 'The Philharmonic Society: first public concert: The Messiah,' Toronto Mail, 1 Mar 1873

    Lehmann, Lilli. My Path Through Life (New York, London 1914)

    Morey, Carl. 'Orchestras and orchestral repertoire in Toronto before 1914,' Musical Canada

    'Toronto's Pre-Confederation Music Societies'

    Metropolitan Toronto Library. Torrington scrapbooks