Saturday, February 24th, 2018...6:30 am

The Origins of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra

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Today, the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, America’s oldest symphony orchestra, will perform its annual Junior Family Weekend concert in the university’s Sanders Theatre. The HRO began life in 1808 as the quirkily named Pierian Sodality, founded by six Harvard students seeking to further their shared interest in serenading and socializing. The original Pierian Sodality  appears to have concentrated on the latter and members were frequently censured by the university, with four of its musicians actually expelled in 1834. At this particularly low point a single stalwart member remained in the Sodality: Henry Gassett 34, a flautist. Gassett insisted on holding rehearsals and performances of one, paying himself dues and convening solo meetings. Gradually rebuilt in the intervening years, the Sodality would in 1942 become the Harvard Radcliffe-Orchestra (although they retain the name “Pierian Sodality of 1808” for their alumni board).



These striking stencils in ink are early works of Robert Edmond Jones, class of 1910 (see Houghton Library, MS Thr 201). Created in 1911, when Jones was on the verge of an international career in scenic, lighting and costume design. That one of the prints depicts a flautist is unsurprising given the orchestra’s heritage, although this musician might not be Gassett himself as he lacks that flamboyant moustache; the other instrumentalist, an oboist, is also unidentified, and we would welcome suggestions as to who he might be.

Thanks in part to the perseverance of Henry Gassett, the HRO performs Beethoven, Bernstein and Brahms today at its Junior Family Weekend concert in Sanders Theater.


This post was contributed by Christina Linklater, Houghton Music Cataloger, and Irina Klyagin, Manuscript Cataloger.



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