The Anacreontic Society’s most likely foundation date is 1740, and the orchestra was active in Dublin for over 100 years. The Royal Irish Academy of Music acquired the collections of the Society’s orchestral part-books (possibly through its acquisition of the Antient Concerts Society collections in 1872).
This orchestra consisted mainly of amateurs although its leaders and conductors were usually professionals – including Paul Alday, Francis James Robinson (brother of Joseph Robinson) and Sir John Stevenson (best known for his “symphonies and accompaniments” to Moore’s melodies). It also hosted many visiting soloists from the continent, such as Felix Janiewicz, Ivan Jarnowick (Giornovichi) and later Liszt and Kalkbrenner.
Symphonic repertoire forms a substantial portion of the collections, with Haydn featuring prominently. However the Anacreontic Society also introduced some of the new symphonies of Beethoven to Dublin audiences, as well as works which are now relatively obscure (e.g. Kalliwoda’s Symphony no. 5 and Spohr’s Symphony no. 4 Die Weihe der Töne, which is considered to be one of the first examples of the symphonic poem). It also performed the Paul Alday’s new symphonies in the 1820s (both works contain a dedication to the Society).
In a sketch of Joseph Robinson in 1898, Stanford refers to the later years of the Anacreontic Society in rather unflattering terms: “He [Robinson] joined the Anacreontic Society … where, as he used to say, the band was one of the most ill-balanced in the world … the row of fifteen double bass cases, which formed part of the collection is still one of my boyish memories; they were but a remnant of the great regiments to which they belonged. The flutes were so numerous that the orchestra had to pass a rule that not more than twenty players of that instrument should be allowed in the orchestra at the same time.” According to Stanford’s account, the orchestra was finally merged into the Philharmonic Society, where “symphonies by Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart studied with avidity, and for a time fairly given”.
As the Society was a private group of non-professionals, and did not advertise or gain publicity, or a steady stream of reviews, the collections of the Royal Irish Academy of Music still constitute the fullest source of its activities and repertoire.