Raise the Baton
On December 7 the familiar four opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony became the first ones ever performed by the New York Philharmonic—or the Philharmonic Society of New York, as it was then known. One of the orchestra’s founders, the young violinist Ureli Corelli Hill, conducted the sixty-three performers in New York’s Apollo Rooms; the orchestra followed with various shorter pieces. Hill was a largely self-taught musician who had held first chair for the New York Sacred Music Society and there conducted the American full-length premiere of Handel’s Messiah , in 1831.
The death of the German-born pianist Daniel Schlesinger in 1839 had brought together the New York musical powers who would form the country’s first significant orchestra. An American orchestra of European quality had been Schlesinger’s dream. After its first three concerts in 1842, the Philharmonic gave the American premiere of Beethoven’s Third Symphony the next season and in 1846 performed the American premiere of Beethoven’s Ninth.