The Große Musikvereinssaal in Vienna is regarded as the crown jewel among world’s concert halls. It is a space that transmutes architecture into music and music into architecture. One reaction among music lovers attending the hall’s opening at the time noted: “If it were possible to imagine Mozart’s great Jupiter Symphony constructed as concrete, visible architectural forms, the Musikverein’s new concert hall would provide a vision to match this.”
When the concert hall opened its doors for the first time on 6 January 1870, its impact upon visitors was overwhelming. “No matter how high expectations might be“, wrote the press, “they will be exceeded by first impressions of the hall, which is unique in its quality of architectonic beauty and elegant grandeur.”
The concert hall designed by the Musikverein’s architect Theophil Hansen is 48.80 metres long, 19.10 metres wide and 17.75 metres high and combines the harmonious basic form of a rectangular box with dynamic details. The walls and ceiling are rhythmically aligned while forms and colours are used to create a fascinating interplay. The ceiling frescoes, painted by August Eisenmenger and depicting Apollo and the nine muses, surrounded in adjoining paintings by allegorical figures, create a dynamic counterpoint through the use of blue tones to the predominant gold of the concert hall interior. The sculptural details created by Franz Melnitzky and retaining their elegant white design, include the details above the eaves of the balcony doors and the Organ, and the caryatids at the ground floor level. The model for these figures, which have come to symbolise the Musikverein itself, can be found at the Acropolis in Athens. Beneath the arched windows of the hall we find marble busts of famous composers throughout history. This illustrious company includes only those composers who had already died by 1870.
The Große Musikvereinssaal provides seating for 2,000 music lovers, with 1,700 seats, and approximately 300 standing places. The acoustic experience is equally good throughout the hall. Indeed, the Große Musikvereinssaal continues to set the standard for acoustic excellence today. The outstanding acoustic qualities of the concert hall are not the result of strictly empirical science – after all, systematic research studies of acoustics only took place decades thereafter – but were rather a consequence of the architectonic concept underpinning the design. The rectangular box form of the hall is known to provide the optimal environment for spatial acoustics. Within this framework, additional elements – the coffered ceiling, balconies and caryatids – ensure the optimal dispersion of sound waves. Other details also have a positive function in acoustic terms: a void beneath the wooden flooring provides – just as with a violin – a resonating base, and the wooden ceiling, which is not simply laid upon but is hanging from the roof trusses, provides an advantage in allowing the sound to resonate throughout the hall.