Since 1946

The Philharmonic Chorus of Madison has a long and rich history of making music in the Madison community.


History of the chorus

The Philharmonic Chorus, 1946 to date

When the Philharmonic Chorus was organized in July 1946, with the temporary name of The New Madison Choral Society, it had no regular director, no money, no reputation, and no concert schedule; it did have eight determined singers who saw a need for an independent community chorus, one that was self governing and self supporting.

The organizing director was Dr. Kunrad Kvam, who soon thereafter left the Madison area. When The Philharmonic Chorus of Madison became a permanent organization (with its new name) of some eighty members in the fall of 1946, Professor Bjornar Bergethon, director of the University Men's Chorus, became its first regular director. Rehearsals were Monday evenings at the YMCA. Professor Bergethon conducted the Chorus in its debut concert on Sunday, February 16, 1947, in the auditorium of the First Congregational Church.

Being self governing was a fundamental issue for the Philharmonic founders; they wanted a chorus that was not "an extension of a vocational school class." They also believed there was a place in Madison for a group that specialized in a variety of a cappella music and short compositions requiring only light accompaniment, a group that utilized local soloists and fostered music among community youth.

Being self supporting, not tax supported, was another major issue for the organizers, depending upon the voluntary support of members, concert goers, advertisers and patrons. In 1951 the Chorus became the beneficiary of a gift from the bequest of Professor Frederick Austin Ogg, distinguished professor of the University of Wisconsin's Department of Political Science. A few years later an anonymous benefactor provided another generous gift. For many years the spring concert has been free to the public, so patron support has become increasingly important. Another source of income since 1972 has been the opportunity to provide music for the annual Tudor Holiday Dinner Concerts at Wisconsin Memorial Union's Great Hall.

In 1948, only two years after the Philharmonic Chorus was organized, Oskar Hagen, professor of art history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote this choral collection which was dedicated to Dr. Bjornar Bergethon and the Philharmonic Chorus of Madison. Professor Hagen was a gifted man. Llewellyn Pfankuchen, professor emeritus of the political science department and former "Philly," says that Oskar Hagen was the art history department at the time.

Oskar Hagen was born on October 14, 1888, at Wiesbaden, Germany. He received his doctorate from the University of Halle and subsequently became professor of art history at the University of Goettingen. As Carl Schurz visiting professor, he came to Wisconsin, where his unique talents and impressive accomplishments gained him an invitation to stay. In 1925 Professor Hagen established the Department of Art History and served as its chairman for 22 years.

Being more than an art historian in the strictest sense, Oskar Hagen loved music. It was love of this art form that led him, while still in Germany, to the revival of the operas of George Frederick Handel and their adaptation for the modern musical stage. For this outstanding contribution to the world of music he was honored many times, most notably by election as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Art, London, in 1937. In later years he turned to musical composition and from this creative effort came the "Concerto Grosso," "Choral Rhapsody," "Wisconsin Summer," and other works honored in their performance by both American and European musical organizations.

Professor Hagen was the author of a great number of art history books, among them Art Epochs and Their LeadersThe Birth of the American Tradition, and Patterns and Principles of Spanish Art. At the time of his death, October 5, 1957, he was working on a manuscript for Art History of the Theater. (Speaking of theatre, his daughter is actress Uta Hagen.)

Three Carducciana is a collection of three poems by Giosue Carducci (1835-1907), who was professor of literary history at the University of Bologna. In 1906 Carducci won the Nobel Prize "not only in recognition of his wide learning and critical research, but also as a tribute to the vitality and lyrical grace that distinguish his poetic masterpieces." The three Carducci poems that Oskar Hagen chose were "Maggiolata" ("May Song"), "Serenata" ("Evening Greeting"), and "Mattinata" ("Morning Greeting").

The Philharmonic Chorus performed Three Carducciana as part of its spring concert in May of 1949. A reception was held in the Waubesa Room at the Park Hotel honoring Mr. and Mrs. Hagen and Mr. and Mrs. Bjornar Bergethon. This was the last concert "Bergie" would direct, for Dr. and Mrs. Bergethon moved to Ridgewood, N.J., the following summer. On June 7th, 40 members selected by Dr. Bergethon (to obtain the best possible blending of voices and balance of parts) worked with him for two hours on the difficult spots of the Three Carducciana and then broadcast it over station WHA-FM. As part of the program Professor Hagen read the English translation of the text of each of the three numbers before it was sung. A recording was made of the program as it was broadcast; the Philharmonic Chorus library has the recording as does Mills Music Library of the University of Wisconsin.

NB: This text is based on the article by Marie LaFontaine from the March 29, 1988, edition of Demi Semi Quavers, the newsletter of the Philharmonic Chorus.


Directors of the Philharmonic Chorus of Madison


Patrick Gorman
Diocese of Madison

Margaret Hadley
Music department, West High School

Samuel M. Jones
UW-Madison School of Music

Vance Y. George
UW-Madison School of Music

Michael B. Petrovich
UW-Madison Dept. of History

Bernhardt H. Westlund
UW-Madison School of Music

Robert G. Petzold
UW-Madison School of Music

Bjornar Bergethon
UW-Madison School of Music

A. Kunrad Kvam
Organizing Director, Madison Civic Chorus

Fall 1995-present

Interim director, spring 1995

1960-1961, 1963-1966, 1967-1994