Musikverein Angels

Hovering high up, at the very edge of the roof, are the small and endearing angels of the Musikverein. Known also as putti, amoretti or cupids, these are heavenly figures made of sandstone. Characterized by sensuality, the message they bring is the passion that flows through music. These little angels have now regained their lustre, after a thorough renovation programme a few years ago.

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Muses

The ceiling of the Großer Musikvereinssaal not only holds fascination for acousticians around the world but also has art historians in raptures. Theophil Hansen planned the Musikverein as a “Gesamtkunstwerk“ or unified work of art and spared nothing in terms of the wealth of ornamental detail. Hansen was introduced by the Viennese painter Carl Rahl to August Eisenmenger, whom he commissioned to design the ceiling paintings in the Musikvereinssaal. Apollo and the nine muses of the Arts were chosen to ornament the ceiling of the auditorium. Apollo, the god of the arts and music who embodies brightness and finesse in all things, was placed by Hansen at the centre of the auditorium – as the centre of harmony, surrounded by the richly coloured aerial figures of the muses.

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Theophil Hansen

In December 1857, the Musikverein celebrated the arrival of a "wonderful, truly imperial Christmas present”. Emperor Franz Joseph I. had given permission for the historic city walls to be razed and thus opened the way for the large-scale expansion planned for the city. Thus the Vienna Ringstraße period began. Numerous buildings – including an opera house, galleries and museums – were to be constructed along the Ringstraße by imperial decree. The Friends of Music had an opportunity to construct a home that would be an integral part of the Ringstraße’s ensemble of architecture. Their plans were appropriately ambitious. Prominent architects, among them Theophil Hansen, August Siccard von Siccardsburg and Eduard van der Nüll, were invited to propose designs for the new building. Siccardsburg and van der Nüll, the designers of the court opera, declined the invitation. Hansen remained and proved to be in any case the very best choice. Theophil Hansen (1813-1891) went enthusiastically to work on the commission. Competing with the court opera’s design fired his imagination and encouraged him to seek a new style in the direction of “strict historicism”. In contrast to the architectural proponents of the earlier romantic historicism – among them Siccardsburg and van der Nüll – he explored aspects of High Renaissance architecture. Continuing this approach, he delved still further back via the “Neorenaissance” into classical antiquity. Hansen was quite literally at home here, as the Danish architect had studied and worked in Athens for eight years before arriving in Vienna in 1846. This period had been a formative one and, inspired by classical Greece, Hansen became an exponent of what he termed a “Greek Renaissance”. Hansen’s philhellenism can be seen throughout the Musikverein building: the caryatids in the Großer Musikvereinsaal, the ionic columns and the temple roof in the Brahms Saal, Apollo and the muses ornamenting the ceiling of the Großer Musikvereinssaal, and Orpheus on the pediment atop the front façade all reflect this Greek influence, as does the colour scheme for the building, a perfect example of antique polychromy. Today, numerous buildings along the Vienna Ringstraße bear Theophil Hansen’s signature, with the most famous among them probably being the Austrian Parliament. Hansen was not only one of the most important representatives of historicist architecture in Vienna but also one of the most thorough exponents of buildings as complete works of art: by marshalling all ornamental, chromatic and figurative opportunities to create a unified design, he aimed at the aesthetic harmonisation of both interior and exterior designs. In the case of the Musikverein, his efforts met with exemplary success.

Pediment frieze

The pediment frieze on the main facade depicts Orpheus, the son of the muse Calliope and the Thracian king and river god Oeagrus, at the height of his powers to represent the power of music in its supreme form. Apollo, honoured as the defender of the arts, presents him with the gift of a lyre with which he learns how to beguile humans, animals, plants and the very stones themselves. This myth teaches us that even the gods can be overcome by the power of music, and death be conquered.

Musikverein Mythos

Roof construction

Built in record time, the Musikverein was endowed by Theophil Hansen with a concert hall of phenomenal acoustic quality. Given its form, like a wooden shoebox, the Großer Saal itself functions like an outsized musical instrument. The ceiling hangs like a membrane above the auditorium, suspended from the roof on iron framing, and so creates a huge and defining resonating space. This adds to the acoustic complexity and therefore also to the beauty of the auditorium’s sound, as does the space below the auditorium.

Queen of the Instruments

Since 2011, the famous organ case, which dominates the Großer Musikvereinssaal, has contained one of the best concert organs in the world. The instrument is already the fourth to occupy the structure since the opening of the building in 1870 and forms part of an eventful history of Musikverein organs.

Queen of the instruments

Großer Musikvereinssaal

Among the concert halls of the world, one is renowned as the jewel in the crown: the Großer Musikvereinssaal in Vienna. This is a space in which architecture becomes music and music, architecture: “Were it possible to conceive of Mozart’s great Jupiter symphony in concrete, visible form, this new auditorium in the Musikverein building would provide an appropriate depiction.” This was the reaction of music lovers at the opening of the Großer Musikvereinssaal.

The Große Musikvereinssaal

Seating store

Enthusiastically praised by many, and described as unparalleled by some, the excellent acoustics of the Großer Musikvereinssaal are the result of the interplay between many diverse factors. Theophil Hansen was a renowned architect, yet was by no means an acoustics specialist in the modern sense. The design of spatial acoustics in the 19th century was entirely different to that of the present day. Hansen planned and described the desired sound with words rather than design principles, relying upon past experience and continuity with tradition. Mathematical data, formulae and models are all tools that have only been used to inform concert hall design from the early 20th century onwards.
The acoustic quality of the Golden Hall has therefore remained both a little secret and a great miracle. A space that is known to contribute greatly to this phenomenon can be found beneath the Großer Saal itself. Originally designed by Hansen to function as a seating storage space, it is transformed in its empty state into a resonating space that benefits the hall above. As with the body of a stringed instrument, this space renders the hall acoustics more complex and rounded. Thus a space that is mundane in its utility has become the secret star of performances.
Once a year, during the Vienna Philharmonic Ball, we catch an interior glimpse of this important space. As soon as the last notes of the opening performance fade away and the dance floor is cleared for the young ladies and gentlemen of the Debutante Committee, the trap door in the parquet is lifted and the orchestra’s seating is stored away. Then the words “Alles Walzer” are called and it serves its usual purpose as the space beneath the Golden Hall.

Main entrance

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Brahms-Saal

Although it was known for many years simply as the “Kleiner Musikvereinssaal”, this important auditorium was more appropriately renamed the Brahms Saal in celebration of the 125th anniversary of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna in 1937. Johannes Brahms not only performed in person in this hall but he was also responsible for the very first concert to take place here, given by Clara Schumann on 19 January 1870. The standards set on that occasion still apply today. The Brahms Saal is one of the greatest attractions internationally as a performance venue for the world’s leading chamber music ensembles and Lieder singers.

Brahms-Saal

Artists’ entrance

The artists’ entrance is situated on the left-hand side of the Musikverein. Musicians and Musikverein employees come and go from the building on a daily basis through this entrance, where there is also a porter’s lodge.

Loggia statues

The three statues situated in front of the Loggia at the front of the Musikverein building represent the following:
·         Musical composition
·         Musical performance
·         The art of poetry
In programme terms, these three personifications encompass all that happens within the Musikverein. In the conservatory of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde there had been a department for theatrical performance studies. In addition, there was and continues to be a regular programme of literary events and readings. In fact, from 1876, due to the presence of the courses in acting, the conservatory of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna was officially entitled the “Conservatory for Music and Performing Arts of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna”. Accordingly, the successor institution to the conservatory is known today as the University for Music and Performing Arts.

Exhibition hall

Exhibitions take place here each spring and autumn, comprising exclusively of items from the archive, library and collections of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. Each of these follows a particular theme relating to music or cultural history in the period from the 16th to the 20th centuries. The exhibition space contains glass wall and table display cabinets and space for wall-mounted displays, while movable partitions enable the practical and flexible use of space. Information about current exhibitions can be found here

Archive·Library·Collection

Schulgang

This corridor runs between the Großer Musikvereinssaal and the Gottfried von Einem Saal. The term “Schulgang” commemorates the music conservatory, which the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna ran and saw as among its most important roles for almost 100 years. After the conservatory was transferred to state ownership in 1909, it moved to its new home in 1913 in Lothringerstraße, where it continues today as the University of Music and Performing Arts.

Gottfried von Einem-Saal

The former chamber hall of the Musikverein building was reopened following comprehensive renovation as the Gottfried von Einem Saal in 1996. The Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde thereby honoured a composer with whom the Musikverein has a particularly close association. Gottfried von Einem (1918–1996) premiered numerous of his works at the Musikverein and bequeathed his valuable collection of manuscripts, books and letters to the archive of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde.

Gottfried-von-Einem-Saal