In the heart of Vienna, next to the Baroque Karlskirche, stands Vienna’s most famous centre for classical music, the Vienna Musikverein. In 1812, Austrian librettist, Joseph von Sonnleithner, founded the Society of Friends of Music. After over 30 years of concerts in too small of a venue, Emperor Franz Joseph donated the land across the Karlskirche to the Society of Friends in 1863.
Danish architect Theophil Hansen has a strong connection to Neoclassicism and Historicism and was commissioned with the project of the Vienna Musikverein. Consisting of two halls, this historical centre opened its doors on January 6, 1870.
More obvious than Vienna Musikverein’s rich history is its architectural delicacies and impressions. Designed by architect Theophil Hansen in the late 1860s, this architectural feat resembles historical style architecture with columns, pediments, and reliefs. Hansen’s experience in Athens led to a design that showcases the High Renaissance style, which is more specifically portrayed as Greek Renaissance.
From the caryatids to the columns and temple roof, the influence of Greek architecture is evident. As mentioned earlier, the Golden Hall is famous for its luxurious decor. Ceiling frescoes depict Apollo and the nine muses while the columns stand as female figures that closely resemble the ones found at the Acropolis in Athens. The shoebox style of the room makes it ideal for musical performances and works hand-in-hand with the acoustics developed by Hansen’s intuition.
In 2004, the Society of Friends proposed the addition of Four New Halls: the Glass Hall, the Metal Hall, the Stone Hall, and the Wood Hall. These smaller multipurpose spaces focus on presentations or concerts by upcoming artists. Within each hall, a variety of artists, such as actors, authors, and musicians, give lectures and tell stories or read from their works.
Vienna Musikverein’s History
Upon its opening, the first concert is played with conductor John Herbeck leading the orchestra. The performance immediately revealed the acoustic abilities of the hall which led to praise from around the world. Since then, numerous historical concerts have taken place in Vienna Musikverein bringing people from around Europe to watch.
The larger of the two halls, most commonly called the Golden Hall, is said to be the crown jewel among all concert halls. Most harmoniously and seamlessly, music and architecture become one. Viewers of Vienna Musikverein’s first concert were most definitely overwhelmed by the impressions and quality of the Golden Hall.
In 1911, Hansen’s student, Ludwig Richter, led the renovations of the Musikverein. By shifting areas back for better visibility of the podium and redesigning the entrances, safety standards were established and responded to. However, things took a turn at the end of World War I, when the Society of Friends lost its royal seat of approval and its last royal defendant, Archduke Eugen.
In 1938, a year before the start of the Second World War, Hitler’s troops came to Austria and caused consequences for the Society of Friends of Music that resulted in the organization ceasing to exist.
The Vienna Musikverein continues to go through much political pressure and turmoil and even has its musical instrument collection transferred to the Museum of Art History. It’s not until after the war that the collection is restored to its rightful owner and the Society of Friends is given back their property. However, the Musikverein is still very much politically controlled and no longer an independent institution.
Throughout World War II, concerts continue to take place. After the war’s end, the Society of Friends is not only given back its property but also recover its status as a democratic institution. Multiple concerts take place, such as a Bach Festival on the 200th anniversary of Bach’s death and a Mozart Festival celebrating the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth.
In 1963, more expansions were made to the Musikverein to make space for an archive, library and collection, and exhibition space. A hundred years after its opening, in 1970, the Vienna Musikverein’s former concert director returned to celebrate a century’s worth of music and politics.
Today’s Version of Vienna’s Musikverein
Today, the Vienna Musikverein still stands as a world-famous concert hall. Just last year, in 2020, the Society of Friends celebrated its 150th anniversary with subscription series, exhibitions, and other activities. The rich history and lavish architectural expression keep the Musikverein relevant and alive. The Vienna Philharmonic calls the Musikverein home and continues to live up to their predecessors as the most prominent orchestra of the capital city of music.
Whether or not classic music is your cup of tea, the Musikverein is welcoming and intriguing. An initiative established in 2016 called Club20 allows young lovers of music to enjoy the performances held at the concert hall. For each concert held, a certain quota of tickets is put aside for visitors under 30. You could have an appreciation for architecture or a music appreciation but the Vienna Musikverein has a unique and charming way of harmonizing architecture and music for visitors and fans worldwide.
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- www.mir.de, M.M.-D.A. – (n.d.). The Vienna Philharmonic. [online] www.wienerphilharmoniker.at. Available at: https://www.wienerphilharmoniker.at/en/orchestra/tradition.
- VIENNA – Now. Forever. (n.d.). Musikverein. [online] Available at: https://www.wien.info/en/music-stage-shows/classic/musikverein-353398 [Accessed 6 Apr. 2021].