Today, 1757: City’s First Public Concert

Freemason's Lodge, 1755

Today marks the 255th anniversary of the first documented public concert to be held in Philadelphia. The January 20, 1757 edition of the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser included the following notice:

By particular desire; On Tuesday next, the 25th Instant, at the Assembly Room, in Lodge Alley, will be performed a CONCERT of MUSIC, under the Direction of Mr. John Palma … Tickets to be had at the London Coffee-house, at one Dollar each.

There had been private concerts–basically musical soirees for invited guests–prior to this in Philadelphia, and there had been dancing assemblies where the elite of the city gathered at members-only events to dance and socialize, but John Palma’s is the first known concert in Philadelphia open to the general public. Philadelphia was actually well behind other colonial American cities in this regard; there had been public concerts since the 1730s in Boston, New York, and Charleston.

Little is known about John Palma, one of many European immigrant professional musicians active in Philadelphia in the eighteenth century, and nothing is known about the music that was performed at his concert. There is no surviving program or description of the event. It was probably a mix of scores by European composers who were popular at that time and perhaps some pieces composed by Palma himself.

The location of the concert, though forgotten today, can be traced from historical accounts and maps. In 1755 the Freemasons of Pennsylvania erected a Masonic Hall in Lodge Alley near 2nd and Walnut Streets. The stately two-story Georgian style brick building, known as Freemasons Lodge or Lodge Hall, was the first Masonic hall in America. The Assembly Room in the Hall was the venue for Palma’s concert and would be the site of many musical events over the next several decades.

The building was situated on the south side of Lodge Alley, which ran for a half block, west from 2nd Street, north of and parallel to Walnut Street. There is no trace of the building or Lodge Alley today. Masonic Hall was demolished around 1801 and the alley is now a non-descript parking area behind the massive US Customs House building that fronts on Chestnut Street. Lodge Hall would have been in the parking area on the south side of the Customs House, just west of 2nd Street, perhaps 100 feet or so northwest of City Tavern.

John Palma’s January 25th concert must have been fairly successful, for a few months later the Journal and Weekly Advertiser carried a notice for another concert to be held March 25th at the same place. John Palma is not mentioned by name in this notice, but we know from another source that he was involved.

In attendance that evening was young Virginia military officer named George Washington. In his ledger book, Washington recorded an entry on March 17, 1757 for purchase of “Mr. Palmas Tickets.” This was probably Washington’s first concert in Philadelphia, but it would not be his last. Some thirty years later he would be a regular concertgoer as a resident of the city, first as President of the Constitutional Convention and later as President of the United States.

Current view of location of Lodge Alley, off 2nd Street behind US Customs House. Freemason's Hall would have been approximately where the cars are parked. Photo by Jack McCarthy

Late January 1757 was an auspicious time in Philadelphia music history. In addition to the first public concert, the first performance of a “serious” opera in America took place at this time at another location in the city. This will be the subject of a future article.

 

About the author

Jack McCarthy is a certified archivist and longtime Philadelphia area archival/historical consultant. He is currently directing a project for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania focusing on the archival collections of the region’s many small historical institutions. He recently concluded work as consulting archivist and researcher for Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio, an audio documentary on the history of Philadelphia Black radio, and served as consulting archivist for the Philadelphia Orchestra's 2012-2013 Leopold Stokowski centennial celebration. Jack has a master’s degree in music history from West Chester University and is particularly interested in the history of Philadelphia music. He is also involved in Northeast Philadelphia history. He is co-founder of the Northeast Philadelphia History Network, founding director of the Northeast Philadelphia Hall of Fame, and president of Friends of Northeast Philadelphia History.

Send a message!



No Comments


Trackbacks

  1. Something New In America: Serious Opera, 1757 | Hidden City Philadelphia

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
Unlisted Philadelphia: Smith Memorial Arch

Unlisted Philadelphia: Smith Memorial Arch

March 29, 2017  |  Unlisted Philadelphia

Architectural illustrator Ben Leech spotlights unique and significant buildings not protected on the local register with his series, Unlisted Philadelphia. In this installment, a grand gateway to an urban park paradise > more

Archeologists Dish Up Dirt On Philly History Under I-95

Archeologists Dish Up Dirt On Philly History Under I-95

March 28, 2017  |  News

Contributor Jared Brey takes us under the overpass and down in the trenches of the 95 Revive archeological excavation where field workers are piecing together centuries of lost Philadelphia history > more

The Gallery: Finally The Destination Ed Bacon Hoped For?

The Gallery: Finally The Destination Ed Bacon Hoped For?

March 23, 2017  |  Vantage

PREIT's transformation of The Gallery into an upscale shopping outlet promises to be the suburban-minded downtown destination that the first mall failed to deliver. Contributor Chris Giuliano takes a look at the redevelopment of East Market and Edmond Bacon's original plan. > more

New Life For An Old Coal Country Outpost In Society Hill

New Life For An Old Coal Country Outpost In Society Hill

March 20, 2017  |  The Shadow Knows

The Shadow takes a stroll down to Society Hill where business is stirring at an old 19th century coal company headquarters after 12 years of vacancy > more

New Exhibition Gives Movement To The Philadelphia School

New Exhibition Gives Movement To The Philadelphia School

March 17, 2017  |  Buzz

Two fans of Modernism re-evaluate architectural history with the exhibition, "What Was the Philadelphia School?" > more

Tracking The Evolution Of Industry At 34th And Grays Ferry

Tracking The Evolution Of Industry At 34th And Grays Ferry

March 16, 2017  |  Vantage

The site of Penn's new riverside research campus has a long, decorated history of industrial enterprise. Contributor Madeline Helmer dives deep into the backstory > more