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A 19th century portrayal by August Gerasch of the old Burgtheater, venue of a number of the Tonkunstler-Societat's concerts August Gerasch Vor dem alten Burgtheater.jpg
A 19th century portrayal by August Gerasch of the old Burgtheater, venue of a number of the Tonkünstler-Societät's concerts

The Tonkünstler-Societät ("Society of Musicians") was a benevolent society for musicians in Vienna, which lasted from the mid 18th century to the mid 20th. Its purpose was "to support retired musicians and their families". [1] Beginning in 1772, [2] the Society mounted a series of benefit concerts, often with large forces of performers, at which were performed works by leading Classical-period composers, including Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven.



Florian Gassmann, engraving from 1775 by Johann Balzer Florian Leopold Gassmann by Balzer.jpg
Florian Gassmann, engraving from 1775 by Johann Balzer

The Society was founded by Florian Gassmann in 1771. It was also known as the "Gesellschaft der Wiener Tonkünstler zum Unterhalte ihrer Witwen und Waisen"; i.e. "Society of Viennese Musicians for the Support of their Widows and Orphans." [3] Until 1811 (the year that the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde was founded), it was the only private organization offering concerts in Vienna. [3]

The Society was strongly supported by the aristocracy (who were, along with the Church, the primary employers of musicians at the time). In her decree (23 February 1771) authorizing the founding of the Society, the empress Maria Theresa also made an initial contribution to the Society's fund in the amount of 500 ducats (about 2000 florins). [3] Later, the diarist Karl von Zinzendorf observed that attendance at the Society's charitable concerts was considered something of a duty for members of the nobility. The Society served as a model for comparable organizations, not just in the Austrian Empire but also in Berlin (1801) and St. Petersburg (1802). [3]

The performances of the Society were given on a schedule that remained fairly consistent across the years: two performances at Easter time, and two just before Christmas. In its earlier years, the organization was fairly adventurous, mounting performances of new or recent works. Around 1800, traditionalism set in, and the programs now emphasized music that had come to be revered, including many performances (initially led by the composer) of Haydn's two great oratorios, The Creation and The Seasons . Indeed, in 1862 the organization renamed itself after Haydn: ("Haydn", Witwen- und Waisen-Versorgungs-Verein der Tonkünstler in Wien = "Haydn: Musician's society for the care of widows and orphans in Vienna").

The Society endured until 1939 when on 9 March the National Socialist government of Germany abolished it; [4] Germany had annexed Austria in the previous year (the Anschluss).

From the viewpoint of the history of music, the greatest significance of the Society falls in its early period, up to the early 1800s, when it played an important role in premiering or disseminating works of music still acclaimed to this day. For the later period, after public concerts elsewhere had come to flourish and the Society's own programming had become conservative, the historical significance of the Society became less, and mentions of the organization in the work of music scholars are few.

The performing forces of the Society

The Society was unusual in the sheer size of the orchestras and choruses that performed in their concerts. For the concerts of 1 and 3 April 1781, where Mozart made his first appearance with the Society (see below), there were 40 violins, 8 violas, 9 cellos, 11 contrabasses, 2 flutes, 7 oboes, 6 bassoons, 2 English horns, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, and 1 timpanist, a total of 92. The chorus had a combined total of 28 sopranos and altos (all boys), 13 tenors, and 13 basses; thus overall a total of 146 performers. Comparable numbers were employed in other years. [5] In a letter written home to his father Leopold, Mozart expressed wonderment at the size of the orchestra and delight in how well his symphony had come off at the concert.

These numbers were made possible by the fact that participation in the Society's concerts was obligatory for all members (else they had to pay a small fee in compensation). In addition, some prospective Society members also performed. [6]

Edge suggests that one should not assume that such forces were used for all numbers on the program; concertos in particular may have just used a subset of the musicians for better balance. [7]

Relations to the great Classical-era composers

Although the Society is frequently mentioned in biographies of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, only Haydn ever actually belonged to it, and that in exceptional circumstances. Haydn first composed a work for the Society to perform in 1773 ( Il ritorno di Tobia ; see below). In 1778, he signed up for membership and duly paid his enrollment fee, but was asked on top of this to write further compositions for free at the Society's command. Haydn refused, and he then was rejected for membership. [8] Relations between Haydn and the Society remained cold for some time. In 1781, they were unable to come to an agreement for a repeat performance of Il ritorno di Tobia, though for the Spring 1784 concerts they were able to arrive at an accommodation. [9] Haydn's works continued thereafter to appear on Society programs. Haydn did not finally become a member until 1797; at this point his many contributions to the Society's charitable concerts over the years led the Society to make him an honorary member. [3]

Mozart attempted to become a member in 1785, around the time his Davidde Penitente was performed by the Society (see below). His application procedure stalled because of the requirement that Mozart produce his birth certificate (he had been born in faraway Salzburg, making it harder to do so). Mozart promised twice to provide it but never did. [10] His dilatoriness was unwise, since when he died in 1791 he left both many debts and a wife (Constanze Mozart) with two young children. Fortunately, Constanze proved an astute businesswoman and eventually managed to achieve prosperity from the publication of her husband's works.

Although his works were performed by the Society, Beethoven was never enrolled as a member. [11] He was, however, honored by the Society for his services (as was Haydn) with a free pass to all of its concerts. [12]

Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn in the Society's concerts

Most often, a concert of the Society would program a large work (typically an oratorio), supplementing it with smaller works, often for solo or small ensembles. The smaller works usually were chosen to be different on the two nights a concert was given. Haydn was represented multiple times as composer of the large work and sometimes of the smaller works; in their lifetimes Mozart and Beethoven were the composers of the large work just once each, and several times of the smaller works.


Haydn as portrayed by Ludwig Guttenbrunn. The portrait dates from c. 1791-2, but depicts Haydn c. 1770, based on an earlier version. Haydnportrait.jpg
Haydn as portrayed by Ludwig Guttenbrunn. The portrait dates from c.  1791–2, but depicts Haydn c. 1770, based on an earlier version.

Haydn died in 1809. The Creation and The Seasons continued over the decades as frequent choices for performance by the Society.

Mozart and his colleagues

Posthumous portrait of Mozart by Barbara Kraft (1819), after originals painted in his lifetime Wolfgang-amadeus-mozart 1.jpg
Posthumous portrait of Mozart by Barbara Kraft (1819), after originals painted in his lifetime

Mozart died in 1791.


Beethoven in 1801, as portrayed by Carl Traugott Riedel Beethoven Riedel 1801.jpg
Beethoven in 1801, as portrayed by Carl Traugott Riedel



  1. Oxford Music Online , article "Tonkünstler-Societät".
  2. Oxford Music Online, article "Vienna".
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 German) Archived 2014-09-16 at the Wayback Machine
  4. Fritz-Hilscher and Kretschmer (2011:299), Steblin p. 140
  5. Source for numbers: Edge (1992:80)
  6. Edge (1992:79)
  7. Edge (1992:80)
  8. Jones (2009:114–115). His fee was returned.
  9. Jones (2009:115)
  10. Deutsch (1965:236)
  11. Pohl (1871:60)
  12. Steblin (143)
  13. Jones (2009:73)
  14. Jones (2009:40, 73)
  15. Smither 1977: 161; New Grove , "Joseph Haydn", § 3.
  16. Pohl (1871:58)
  17. Pohl (1871:59)
  18. Jones (2009)
  19. See, e.g. Eisen and Keefe (2006:212-213)
  20. Pohl (1871:61)
  21. Jones (2009:115)
  22. Pohl (1871:63)
  23. Pohl (1871:64)
  24. Pohl (1871:64)
  25. Jones (2009:192)
  26. Pohl (1871:66)
  27. Pohl (1871:66)
  28. Jones (2009:206)
  29. Jones (2009:207)
  30. Pohl (1871:66)
  31. Pohl (1871:67)
  32. Smither 1977:161)
  33. Rice (2003:160); Pohl (1871:60)
  34. Pohl (1871:60)
  35. Abert 2007
  36. Deutsch 1965:220
  37. Pohl (1871:61)
  38. Deutsch 1965:240–241
  39. Deutsch (1965:259)
  40. Deutsch (1965:358–359); Lawson (1996:27)
  41. Lawson (1996:27)
  42. Rushton (2006:210)
  43. Pohl (1871:69)
  44. Pohl (1871:73)
  45. Pohl (1871:49)
  46. Steblin (143)
  47. Pohl (1871:70)
  48. Pohl (1871:74)
  49. Pohl (1871:76)

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