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Commissioning Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, receiving letters from Elgar and Dvořák, putting on concerts, and honouring some of the world's best classical musicians, the RPS has shaped the UK's musical landscape for the past 200 years. In celebration of this milestone, we take a look back through the archives at these stunning snapshots of music history.
The Royal Philharmonic Society had a close association with Beethoven, most famously commissioning his Symphony No. 9. This letter is part of a range of correspondence in the RPS Archive at the British Library - top marks if you can decipher his wild handwriting!
Concert Poster from 1879. This poster advertises the appearance of Pablo de Sarasate at Royal Philharmonic Society concerts. The Spanish violinist enjoyed a world-wide reputation, with his performances constantly earning standing ovations and encores.
This is the founding document from 1813, signed by the founding members of the Royal Philharmonic Society. The first members included the violinist Johann Salomon, the publisher Vincent Novello and the pianist Muzio Clementi.
Introduced in 1870, this is the RPS' highest honour. The medal bears the effigy of Beethoven, and is presented to the finest musicians of any nationality. Fewer than 100 medals have been presented. Recent recipients include Mitsuko Uchida, Simon Rattle, Daniel Barenboim and Placido Domingo.
Photograph of HM Queen Elizabeth II, the Society’s Patron, examining pieces from the RPS Archive on display at the Royal Institution, London. The occasion marked the 175th Anniversary year of the founding of the Philharmonic Society. Date: 8 March 1988.
The bust was given to the Society in recognition of the support it gave Beethoven through his lifetime. It has been placed on the stage at every Society concert since.
Leonard Bernstein with his RPS Gold Medal, presented to him in 1987.
Mendelssohn had a strong association with the Royal Philharmonic Society. He conducted and performed at the piano many of his works. He dedicated this symphony to the Society and conducted the premiere in 1829.
This poster marks the hundred year anniversary of Beethoven's birth, marked by the Society with a concert entirely programmed with his music.
October 1897. In this letter, Elgar humorously asks whether the Society have come across him as a composer and whether a work of his could be performed in the Society's concerts. Following, the Society formed a good relationship with the composer and commissioned his Cockaigne Overture.
Photograph of Dame Janet Baker, receiving the Gold Medal from Lady Evelyn Barbirolli, in 1990.
The same year that saw Clara Schumann perform at Society concerts, also saw the legendary Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim play Beethoven's Violin Concerto. A good friend of Brahms, Joachim performed a number of times for the Society and received the RPS Gold Medal in 1871.
These original concert tickets, in a variety of wonderful colours, come from the period when the Society held its concerts at St. James's Hall - one of the main concert halls in London in the mid-1800s.
Created by the Viennese sculptor Franz Klein (1779 - 1840), the original was made in 1812 and required Beethoven’s face to be covered with oil and then fluid plaster. During the process, Beethoven could only breathe through two straws inserted into his nostrils.
Sir George Thomas Smart was one of the leading musicians in London at the turn of the 19th Century. He taught at the Royal Academy of Music, was organist of the Chapel Royal and was a founding member of the Royal Philharmonic Society. He conducted the first performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in the UK, given by the Society in 1825.
Photograph of Alfred Brendel, receiving the Gold Medal from Yehudi Menuhin, in 1992.
Dvořák was strongly associated with the Society - he conducted several of his works in London, including the world premiere of his famous Cello Concerto. In this letter he is being invited to come to London and conduct at the Society's concerts.
The Harmonic Institution was a partnership formed in 1818 to print music by musicians who were unable to find fair terms with the main London publishers. The organisation was based at the Argyll Rooms on Regent Street, London where the Philharmonic Society gave its concerts, including the first UK performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Unfortunately the rooms burnt down in 1830. The site is presently occupied by NatWest Bank.
This poster advertises the appearance of Clara Schumann at a Royal Philharmonic Society concert. One of the greatest pianists of the Romantic era and wife of composer Robert Schumann, Clara performed at a number of Society Concerts. Here, she plays Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto in G minor, originally given its UK premiere by the composer himself.
During 2013, the RPS will celebrate its Bicentenary with a range of concerts, talks and other events. Throughout its 200 year history, the RPS has been governed by a mixed group of professional musicians, music enthusiasts and administrators.