Document Type

Article

Publication Date

12-17-2009

Abstract

“[A] careful observer must acknowledge the great progress New Haven has made in this art [music] during the last forty years. Particularly is this true in the appreciation of good classical concerts, and in the cultivation of the best music in the home circle in piano and organ-playing. By these means our community can justly be proud of having acquired that refined taste without which classical symphonic concerts could never be enjoyed.” Dr. Gustave Stoeckel, college organist and instructor of music at Yale University, speaking in 1885. The above quote from Professor Stoeckel indicates that by the end of the nineteenth century, at least some of New Haven’s residents began to feel that a symphony orchestra could survive in the city. However, at the publication of Atwater’s History of the City of New Haven, the founding of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra (NHSO) we know today remained seven years in the future, and Dr. Stoeckel’s sentiments represented a hope for the future rather than a description of the current state of music in New Haven. Prior to the founding of the Symphony, New Haven gave rise to several short-lived musical organizations that formed on an ad hoc basis to present one classical masterpiece and lasted for a few seasons prior to disbanding. These attempts included a Musical Association, formed in 1847 to produce classical concerts, which lasted four seasons, and the Mendelssohn Society, founded in 1858 by Dr. Stoeckel himself to perform oratorio concerts of works such as Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Haydn’s The Seasons, which presented seven seasons of concerts. In the last decade of the nineteenth century New Haven did succeed in supporting two choral organizations, the Gounod Society and the New Haven Oratorio Society, although neither of these lasted past the first two decades of the twentieth century. New Haven was not unique among nineteenth century American cities in its inability to maintain a symphony orchestra or choral society providing a regular concert series, as America’s musical undertakings were dominated by the type of one-shot ventures seen in New Haven until the 1890s. At the time the NHSO played its first concert in 1895, only the New York Philharmonic (founded in 1842), the Boston Symphony Orchestra (founded in 1881), and the Chicago Symphony (founded in 1891) gave regular season concerts, making the NHSO the fourth oldest symphony in America. Now in its 116th Season, the NHSO has the distinction of being one of only a handful of American Symphony Orchestras to perform continuously for over a century, and one of the few orchestras outside of the nation’s twenty-five largest cities to consistently feature a roster of leading soloists. This essay deals with the history of the NHSO from 1939 to the present time focusing on the economic and legal issues encountered by the Symphony during this time period and parallels between the development of the Symphony and the development policies of the City of New Haven. The remainder of this paper proceeds topically, analyzing the sources of financial support for the Symphony, exploring the role of the musicians’ union in the NHSO’s history, discussing tax law problems faced by the NHSO during the rise of the modern income and sales tax systems, looking at the NHSO’s attempt to become an orchestra for the region rather than just the City of New Haven, and finally analyzing the composition of the symphony board.

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