The Philharmonic Library

All photos used in this article are the property of Saint Petersburg Philharmonic

Text: Y.N. Kruzhnov

In 1897 the Ministry of the Court decided to grant the civil status to the previously military Court Music Choir. Its new name was Court Orchestra, and it remained under the supervision of the Ministry of the Court. The new statute was approved for the orchestra, a new payroll was authorized. The orchestra players got a right to go on holidays and their pensions were increased. The orchestra members got an opportunity to work part-time at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory or chamber music ensembles. Some of the leading orchestra players conducted summer concerts in Peterhof. At the same time, the musicians were prohibited from joining any parties or unions. Those who disobeyed were immediately fired. The Court Orchestra still played concerts for charity only. A new title of “orchestra soloist” was also introduced.

The Court Orchestra was finally allowed to give concerts for the general public in May 1901, when the Ministry passed Rules for Holding Public Commercial Concerts and Participation of the Orchestra Members in Private Concerts. The Orchestra was also allowed to invite foreign musicians, members of imperial theaters and lecturers. Two trial open-for-public concerts were held in the spring of 1901 housed by the Court Chapel (conducted by H. Wahrlich). The first concert was dedicated to J.S. Bach’s anniversary and Giuseppe Verdi. The orchestra played rarely performed works of these composers. A.A. Arkhangelsky’s choir also joined the concert. Contemporary reviewers highlighted stellar musicianship (see, for instance, V.V. Stasov who wrote “A marvelous new orchestra, the like of which has never been heard before”) and discipline indispensable for any large-scale team of professionals. As for the repertoire of the Court Orchestra, the reviewers wrote that the program of the concert “puts to shame” all other orchestras. Starting from 1902, the Orchestra got the right to give public concerts in winter, and since that time the Court Orchestra became a staple for the Saint Petersburg concert-going public. In its inaugural season of 1902-1903, singer F. Litvin, pianist J. Hofmann and violinist J. Kubelik were invited to the orchestra’s concerts. Initially the concerts were held at the rehearsal hall on the Catherine Channel and moved to the Noble Assembly house, Grand Hall of the Conservatory and the hall of the Court Chapel since 1908.

During the same season of 1902-1903, Baron K. Stackelberg, an ardent supporter of musical education, initiated a long-term Court Orchestra concert series titled Orchestral Gatherings of Music Novelties. Russian Music Gazette wrote in September 1902: “The Head of the Court Orchestra proposes an experiment during this season: to hold a series of orchestral concerts where the newest music will be performed unrehearsed”. There were two main trends for the Gatherings. The first of them included lesser-known or never-performed works of the 18th and 19th centuries.  The works of long-forgotten composers were revived along with lesser-known works by G. Paisiello, W.A. Mozart, F. Liszt. The second trend was new works by contemporary Russian and foreign composers. For the first time in Russia, some of the works by G. Mahler, A. Bruckner, C. Sinding, E. Grieg, R. Strauss, V. d’Indy were performed, along with the newest compositions by I. Stravinsky, S. Prokofiev, R. Gliere, A. Skriabin, N. Myaskovsky. One to six of such Gatherings were held during one season. All in all there were 51 Gatherings, with the works of 105 composers presented to the public. The last Orchestral Gathering was held on February 2, 1916. When Baron Stackelberg prepared programs, he invited renowned composers and musicians such as N. Rimsky-Korsakov, S. Taneev, A. Siloti, N. Findeisen, A. Glazunov to hear trial runs of the new works. The trial runs were held in the rehearsal hall of the Court Orchestra. It was there that the Gatherings took place. Other venues for the Gatherings included halls of the Noble Assembly, Conservatory and Court Chapel.

Starting from 1906, the Orchestra played monograph concerts dedicated to J. Haydn, Mozart, Liszt, A.P. Borodin, and memorial concerts for A. Arensky, A. Lyadov, E. Napravnik, N. Rimsky-Korsakov, where usually lesser-known works of these composers were presented. Detailed programs containing brief descriptions and performers list were published for each concert.

The 25th anniversary of the Court Orchestra was a magnificent celebration of historical and cultural significance in Peterhof on October 21, 1907. It is noteworthy that the musicians played period instruments from the Court Orchestra museum. The museum was started in mid-1880s by Alexander III who gave the Court Music Choir his personal brass instruments and a collection of instruments from the Hermitage. The museum of the 19th century was a private collection. It was only in 1903 that it opened for public. By 1917 the museum was the largest collection of musical instruments in Europe. Its total collection of over 5000 exhibits included 855 rare instruments. After the museum in the rehearsal hall on Catherine Channel was opened for public, Baron Stackelberg used to invite concert-goers to join him for a walk around the museum during the intermissions where he told them many things about the instruments, which included Pleyel double grand piano, ancient Greek aulos flutes, Amati and Stradivari violins.

Инструмент из из музея Придворного оркестра. В настоящий момент хранится в ГМТиМИ
Штамп барона Штакельберга
Титульный лист клавира оперы А. Бойто "Мефистофель" из библиотеки Штакельберга

All these improvements, excellent musicianship and material support for the orchestra were largely due to the efforts of Baron K.K. Stackelberg (1848–1925). Although he was not a professional musician, he succeeded in transforming a small choir into a large-scale professional concert orchestra that both delighted concert-goers and educated them. Baron Stackelberg had to defend even the existence of the Orchestra itself, because as early as in late 1890s the Ministry of Court considered that the Orchestra ‘”was a great burden to the treasury of the Ministry”. There were rumors of dismissing the Orchestra. Stackelberg also initiated many original programs and concert series and invited renowned foreign musicians to perform with the Orchestra. Stackelberg as Head of the Orchestra also deserves praise for assembling its library and promoting other culturally significant events based at the Orchestra headquarters. The library of today includes Baron Stackelberg’s personal books collection.

In 1912 Stackelberg initiates a series of concerts and lectures for students. Starting from 1915, they were held at the Court Chapel hall. There were 8 to 12 concerts like these during these seasons. The students were able to buy season tickets to go to theme concert series. There were German music series, old Russian music series, contemporary Petrograd and Moscow school series (season 1914-1915); the final concert series of 1916-1917 was dedicated to P.I. Tchaikovsky.

In March 1913, French pianist A. Borchard gave five evening events dedicated to the history of piano concert where he played 12 piano concerts ranging from Bach to Rachmaninoff.

А. Никиш с Оркестром

In 1903 Baron Stackelberg invited the world-famous conductor A. Nikisch to perform with the Court Orchestra at the White Hall of the Winter Palace. A. Nikisch conducted 11 concerts with the Court Orchestra from 1903 to 1911 (including two general rehearsals open for paying public). Other concerts were held at the hall of the Noble Assembly, at the Grand Hall of the Conservatory and at the Chapel hall. A. Nikisch thought very highly of the Orchestra and returned to Saint Petersburg in 1902 especially to hear it play. The matter was that the Court Orchestra was subordinate to the Court and thus was prohibited from touring; so many famous musicians went to Saint Petersburg just to hear the Orchestra. Some of the well-known listeners in 1913 included famous European conductors E. von Schuch and W. Melgelberg.

In January 1913 Richard Strauss, whose music was just taking the Russian concert-goers by storm, performed two concerts with the Orchestra. Strauss also highly praised the Orchestra. He was an aficionado of Russian music, wanted to meet Glazunov, Lyadov, Cui, and frequently attended the Mariinsky Theater.

Р. Штраус с Оркестром
В. Ферреро на коленях у К. Штакельберга

The eight-year-old conductor Willy Ferrero performed an open concert and two private concerts with the Court Orchestra in 1914 with great success. The wunderkind who conducted without score stunned the listeners and the orchestra players with his musicianship and acute sense for music.

From 1901 to 1917 the Orchestra was joined by many famous musicians from Russia and abroad such as J. Hofmann, I. Paderewski, M. Poliakin, A. Siloti, L. Auer, A. Verzhbilovich, I. Ershov, M. and N. Figners, F. Shalyapin, N. Golovanov.

The Rehearsal Hall (the Livery Department Hall) was renovated in 1912. Its acoustic properties were improved (thanks to architect V. L. Nazimov), and the Walcker (Ludwigsburg) organ was installed. The organ has 1728 pipes, 50 registers and a movable keyboard, so it could be played at any place of the concert stage. From that moment on, more and more concerts were held at this hall.

During 1882 to 1917 the Orchestra gave over 1000 concerts with the works of 280 composers played in Saint Petersburg, Peterhof, Tsarskoe Selo, Pavlovsk, Gatchina and Duderhof.

Последний концерт Придворного

After the February Revolution of 1917 and dismissal of the Ministry of Imperial Court, the Orchestra was left without “supervision and administration”. On March 3, 1917 the general meeting of the Orchestra Members declared that the Orchestra was now the State Orchestra.  The Orchestra filed a 35-year report and a future plans memorandum to the Interim Government and the Constitutive Assembly. The Interim Government commissioner M.M. Kalugin visited the Orchestra on March 23 and informed its members that the Interim Government was willing to support the former Court Orchestra. He proposed that 12 musicians should be elected as a council to run the Orchestra. The Council administered the Orchestra until 1921. The Council developed a list of functions, responsibilities and rights of the Orchestra and the internal code of conduct. The Council (or Local Committee since 1919) was also in charge of the Orchestra’s financial affairs.  

Первый концерт Государственного оркестра
Приказ об увольнении К. Штакельберга

On May 15, 1917, Baron Stackelberg left the Orchestra citing illness and old age as reasons for leaving. According to the wishes of the Orchestra members, the Interim Government appointed S.A. Kusevitsky as Head Conductor and Artistic Director. Kusevitsky dismissed brass orchestra and merged it with the Orchestra as a whole too much chagrin of the council. However, Kusevitsky’s decision was approved by the Interim Government Commissioner, and the Orchestra got its new name, State Symphony Orchestra, on October 1, 1917. Kusevitsky rarely performed with the Orchestra, as he ran his own orchestra in Moscow. Concerts conducted by Kusevitsky were held at the hall of the former Noble Assembly, at the Chapel and Conservatory halls and on the stage of the former A.S. Suvorin Theater.  

After the October Revolution, the Republican Property Commissariat intended to dismiss the Orchestra and transfer the musicians to a number of state theaters (see the letter by Lunacharsky, signed by Lurie, May 20, 1918 – typed copy). The Orchestra, a team of professionals at the height of its creative abilities, was under threat of dismissal until 1920. On October 19, 1920 the People’s Commissariat for Education issued a decree to rename the Orchestra Petrograd State Philharmonic Orchestra. The Orchestra was assigned the status of the institution of the “utmost national cultural significance”, and the orchestra members were now public officials. Petrograd Philharmonic composed on the Petrograd Philharmonic Orchestra was established on May 13, 1921 by the decree of the RSFSR Council of People’s Commissariats. The first symphony concert of the Orchestra was held on June 12 in the hall of the former Noble Assembly (Mikhailovskaya St., 2). From that moment on, the hall became the main concert venue for the Philharmonic.


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