The Musikverein building, which was built over a three-year period before being opened in 1870, met with immediate acclaim: Eduard Hanslick, Vienna’s most renowned music critic at that time, praised the “wonderful harmony of the architecture“. Today too, the building is widely regarded by music lovers as the most beautiful concert building in the world.
Construction of the building was made possible through an historic decree by Emperor Franz Joseph. In 1857, he had ordered the removal of the city walls in Vienna so that a sophisticated and modern boulevard, the Ringstrasse, could be created in its place. The Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, which had outgrown its previous home in the central district of Vienna, was gifted a building plot opposite Karlskirche by the Emperor in 1863. An ambitious plan was drawn up to erect a magnificent building that would form an architectural highlight of Vienna’s Ringstrasse. Prominent architects, including Theophil Hansen, August Siccard von Siccardsburg and Eduard van der Nüll, were invited to submit their designs. Siccardsburg and van der Nüll, the designers of the State Opera, declined the invitation. Theophil Hansen remained in the competition – and proved himself to be a worthy first choice.
The notion of competing with the designers of the State Opera fired his imagination and encouraged him to explore a new stylistic approach, developing as Strict Historicism. In contrast to the architects of earlier romantic historicism – among them Siccardsburg and van der Nüll – his design drew upon the building style of the High Renaissance period. Pursuing the same path even further back led him to classical antiquity. The Danish Hansen was very much at home with this style, having worked and studied in Athens for eight years before moving to Vienna in 1846. This period had been a formative one: Inspired by classical Greece, Hansen became an exponent of the “Greek Renaissance”.
This style permeates the Musikverein building. The caryatids in the Große Musikvereinssaal, the ionic columns and the temple roof in the Brahms Saal, Apollo and the muses as the central feature on the ceiling of the Große Musikvereinssaal, and Orpheus on the portal tympanum of the front facade are all Greek reflections as is the colour scheme of the building, a perfect example of the polychromy of classical antiquity. Hansen had succeeded in creating a truly classical ambience for the performance of “classical works”.
The Musikverein building underwent a more comprehensive restructuring in 1911 under the direction of Hansen’s pupil Ludwig Richter. In 2001, a decision granted permission for the largest building project by the Gesellschaft since the erection of the original Musikverein building. In a space excavated beneath the Musikverein, the Four New Halls (Vier Neuen Säle) were created and were opened in 2004. The Austrian architect Wilhelm Holzbauer and his partner Dieter Irresberger developed an aesthetic concept for the project that offered a new interpretation of the stylistic elements of the historical building and combined these with clearly defined material themes: glass, metal, stone and wood.