It is a truism that rehearsals have a substantial influence on musical performances. Nevertheless, despite the widely shared interest in the performance practices of nineteenth century chamber and orchestral music, the role that rehearsals played in the preparation of these performances has been left largely unexplored, and as a consequence our understanding of nineteenth-century music making lacks an important component.
This talk will discuss new ways to explore the nature of these rehearsals, with a particular focus on the rehearsal practices associated with the Philharmonic Society in London in the early to mid-nineteenth century. It will focus on the number and length of the rehearsals and the rehearsal techniques used, as well as the social aspects of these practices, including the public accessibility of these rehearsals. Furthermore, it will show how these practices changed over time.
The archive of the Philharmonic Society is relatively well-preserved, and contains most of the incoming and outgoing correspondence, as well as the minutes of the organisational meetings. These sources can be used to establish the social and organisational context within which the rehearsals took place, showing for instance that at times, particularly in the 1830s, the rehearsals took place in the presence of a fairly large audience, while at other times audiences were debarred. Furthermore, the same sources also provide evidence for the number of rehearsals per concert but, as Cyril Ehrlich’s work has shown, offer only limited information on the rehearsal practices themselves. The chapter will therefore also draw on a large number of published and unpublished memoires, diaries, letters, and autobiographies of musicians that worked with the Philharmonic Society to supplement that evidence. Not only do these sources show what rehearsal techniques were common, but they also reflect the attitudes towards rehearsals that existed at this time, and that musicians will have taken to the Philharmonic Society.