The first public concert in America, of which we have record, was held in Boston. This was in 1731, at a time when the New England ban against secular music was gradually being lowered. The affair, “a Concert of Music on sundry Instruments”, was held in “the great room” at Mr. Pelham’s, an engraver, dancing master, instructor in reading and writing, painting upon glass, and a dealer in the “best Virginia tobacco”. A few years later the selectmen of Boston allowed Fanueil Hall to be used for “Concerts of Musick”, and by 1754 there was a concert hall at the corner of Hanover and Court Streets, where concerts of “Vocal and instrumental Musick to consist of Select Pieces by the Masters” were given. After Boston, the next American city to enjoy a concert was Charleston, South Carolina. Then came New York, where in 1736 there was advertised a “Consort of Musick, Vocal and Instrumental, for the benefit of Mr. Pachelbel, the Harpsichord Part performed by Himself. The Songs, Violins and German Flutes by Private Hands.”
If contemporary records are to be trusted, Philadelphia heard its first advertised concert in 1757, when John Palma offered an affair “at the Assembly Room in Lodge Alley”, January 25th. Yet it seems altogether likely that there were concerts in the Pennsylvania city before this time, for Philadelphians were cultured, and, except for the Quakers, fond of amusement. There was a dancing master in the city in 1710, and dancing was taught in its boarding schools as early as 1728.
Except for the interval of the Revolution, when the Continental Congress passed a resolution “to discourage every species of extravagance and dissipation . . . exhibition of shows, plays and other expensive diversions and amusements” (1774), concerts were offered regularly in the principal cities during the last half of the century. Their programs contained many works that are forgotten today, yet there were a number of standard pieces which are still being played on concert programs. Handel, Haydn, and, in the closing years of the century, Mozart, were well represented, and the overtures of the London Bach – Johann Christian (son of Johann Sebastian) – were played often.