The Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1870, giving its first concert on November 29 of that year. The ensemble originally performed under the name of Gewerbehausorchester (Commercial House Orchestra). The first principal conductor was Hermann Mannsfeldt, who held the post from 1870-1885.
Brahms, Dvorák, Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss, and other leading composers would guest-conduct the orchestra in its early years, and a string of distinguished musicians would serve as principal conductor, including August Trenkler (1890-1903) and Edwin Lindner (1915-1923). It was in 1915, under Lindner, that the Gewerbehausorchester changed its name to Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra. Under Paul van Kampen (1934-1942) it began making regular recordings. Among its notable efforts were recordings of the Beethoven Third and Mozart 20th piano concertos with Wilhelm Kempff, on DG, from 1941-1942.
In the difficult wartime and postwar eras, the orchestra was served well by principal conductors Carl Schuricht (1942-1944), Gerhart Wiesenhütter (1945-1946), and Heinz Bongartz (1946-1964). Following the brief tenure of Horst Förster (1964-1967), Kurt Masur (1967-1972) led the orchestra, which now began performing at the Kulturpalast Dresden, built in 1969. Masur made over 50, mostly critically acclaimed, recordings with the ensemble. Günther Herbig (1972-1976) succeeded him, maintaining the orchestra's high standards, and then Herbert Kegel (1972-1976) took the podium. He made over 40 recordings during his distinguished tenure.