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MUSA 17—Charles Hommann: Surviving Orchestral Music

Edited by Joanne Swenson-Eldridge

Composer and musician Charles Hommann (1803-ca. 1872) was born in Philadelphia at a time when instrumental music—especially European classical music—was becoming increasingly prominent in the United States. Hommann was encouraged in his compositional activities by the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia (to which he was elected a professional member in 1825), an organization founded in 1820 and dedicated to "the cultivation of skill and diffusion of taste in music." The organization's work permeated and enriched the city's culture, and provided, through its orchestral and choral performing groups and an Academy of Music (1825-1831), many musical opportunities for its members and Philadelphians in general.

Programs from the Society's concerts show that the orchestra—including violinist and violist Charles Hommann—performed a wide range of overtures and symphonies by prominent late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century European composers, including Méhul, Romberg, Rossini, Beethoven, Auber, Paer, Vogel, Mozart, Haydn, Boieldieu, and Weber. Hommann's surviving orchestral compositions—two overtures and a symphony—are a fitting response to the musical milieu created by the Society and its members. Although little-remembered today, Hommann was a respected composer in his day:  one of his overtures received a gold medal prize from the Philharmonic Society of Philadelphia in 1835. Hommann's two other surviving orchestral works—a Symphony in E-flat Major, and another overture—probably predate the prize overture. None of them were published, and Hommann's work has languished in
relative obscurity.

This edition of Hommann's three extant orchestral works, accompanied by an essay discussing his cultural and historical milieu, will bring renewed attention to the enterprising Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia and make accessible for study and performance the earliest-known products of an emerging tradition of notable orchestral works by American composers.


Urrows, David Francis. Review of Surviving Orchestral Music, by Charles Hommann. Edited by Joanne Swenson-Eldridge. Journal of the Society for American Music 7, no. 3 (2013): 322-329.