What's the difference between a Symphony and a Philharmonic Orchestra?

Some musician friends and I were guessing that perhaps the Symphony is a full and complete orchestra, and a symphony is smaller, but damn if we know.

Anyone know?


  • We guessed that a Philharmonic is smaller.

In today’s practice, there’s no real difference.

Back in the day, philharmonic societies got together for the purpose of raising money to support an orchestra. IMO, they’re symptomatic of the rise of the upper middle classes taking on functions that once were the province of the nobility. The support of classical music in orchestras and opera companies and smaller groups was a show of their equality: of taste and implicitly of money.


Oh, I should have said that while many philharmonic societies also supported large choirs I don’t believe that’s necessarily part of the definition. I’ve heard of societies where just an orchestra was created.

And while they seemed to have originated in Victorian times, new ones have continued being formed well into the 20th century.

Agreed with the others - although ‘symphony orchestra’ doesn’t necessarily postdate ‘philharmonic’ - after all, the Chicago and Boston Symphonies were both 19th-century creations.

When meeting in gladiatorial combat, the symphony members fight with the sword and shield, while the philharmonic members use the trident and net.

And I suppose that wild stampeding pianos were released into the arena to keep things lively?

And angry tubas. Angry, angry tubas.

Easily subdued with the Bar and Bottle :wink:


“Demystifying The Arts” Wendi C. Thomas