The Concertgebouw or the “Concert Building ” is one of the finest philharmonic buildings in the world. It is located in Amsterdam and the acoustics of the structure remain unmatched, making it a world-renowned Concert hall. The three best concert halls in the world, according to acousticians, critics, and music lovers, are Vienna’s Grosser Musikvereinssaal, Boston Symphony Hall, and Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw (Beranek, 2004, p. 425; Newhouse, 2012, p. 10; Winckel, 1974, p. 180).
The Concertgebouw is also the birthplace of the Dutch Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra which is one of the finest orchestras in the world. It also regularly hosts other renowned orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic and the Wiener Philharmoniker. When you step into the Concertgebouw, you feel endowed with its rich heritage.
Opened for the public in 1888 and designed by famous Dutch Architect Adolf Leonard (Dolf) van Gendt, the Concertgebouw was established to create a world-class concert building in the capital city. When Dolf Van Gendt was commissioned to design this optimistic proposal, Acoustics was still an obscure science. Thus, he modeled the design of the Recital Hall in the Concertgebouw after the world-famous oval hall in the Felix Meritis building.
The bigger Main Hall was influenced by the large concert hall of the Neue Gewandhaus in Leipzig, Germany. With its sweeping lines and rounded corners, the Main Hall could hold up to 2,000 spectators. The concert hall’s dimensions of 44 meters long, 27.5 meters tall, and 17.5 meters high made it ideal for late-romantic classical music but less so for chamber music.
The prestigious Concertgebouw organ, made by Utrecht-based organ builder Michael Maarschalkerweerd was installed in 1890. Later restorations retained as many of the original architecture and finishing features of the halls as possible to maintain the delicate acoustics since even the most modern technology could not disclose the enigma of the Main Hall’s unmatched acoustics.
Another reason why the Concertgebouw is acoustically interesting is that it was designed and constructed before the development of any accurate formula to derive how a structure might sound. A pioneer of building technology of its time, the Concertgebouw is an auditory experience like no other.
Amid 19th century Amsterdam, a public sphere around music was growing through discourse and debates regarding orchestral music. These discussions created an air of “Musical Romanticism” which influenced ideas of establishing a cultural center in the city, to intensify this awakening. Thus, the Concertgebouw stood at the very crux of a musical movement in Amsterdam by being an unparalleled and elite acoustic structure.
The cultural significance of this memorable building thus is undeniable—at a time when most capital cities in the world had prominent concert buildings, the Concertgebouw put Amsterdam (previously considered as a deficient musical city) on the map, making it culturally relevant in 1900s Europe. In 1988, the title “Royal” was added to the Concertgebouw building, signifying its importance in the history of Dutch culture.
This Neoclassical masterpiece remains relevant to the cultural setting of Amsterdam even today, as many prominent artists with illustrious careers in classical, jazz, and world music such as Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Bernard Haitink, Vladimir Horowitz, Cecilia Bartoli, Louis Armstrong, Aretha Franklin, The Who, and Sting, have over the years performed at the Concertgebouw.
A prominent tourist attraction today, the Concertgebouw pays homage to an era when concert halls were at par with other technologies in music such as recordings and even instruments.
The Urban Fabric of Amsterdam
Today, as with most technologically advanced cities, Amsterdam is majorly urban with modern buildings of concrete and glass. The Concertgebouw fits in seamlessly still, in this undeniably urban landscape due to its cultural significance and its historical importance in making Amsterdam a culture-rich capital. It is in the vicinity of prominent structures of its time, the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum, on Museumplein Square that further integrate the Concertgebouw in the noteworthy spectacles of Amsterdam.
One can argue that the importance of such a music house may be marred by advancements in musical technologies such as recordings, CDs, or music studios. To the inexperienced, these monuments of music are perceived as a restraint against current instinct, even short-term confinement where one has to express a sense of self-discipline. However, the charm of attending an orchestral performance is a taste developed in the elite today and is a sign of cultural nobility.
This being said, the Concertgebouw does not disfavor the uninitiated, in fact, the concert hall and its relevant music scene is a prime attraction to the new generation as well. Today, the building offers a variety of events to the society such as musical performances, film concerts, but also debates about architecture, music, history, lives of artists, and other such programs that make the structure relevant to the present.
The premise of Concertgebouw remains to bridge the gap between music, concertgoers, and the public in general, and it continues to do so even today.
- Beranek, 2004, p. 425; Newhouse, (2012), p. 10; Winckel, 1974, p. 180
- Cressman, Darryl, (2015). Acoustic Architecture Before Science. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321243628_Acoustic_Architecture_before_Science_The_Case_of_Amsterdam%27s_Concertgebouw [Accessed 03 April 2021].
- Cressman, Darryl, (2016). Building Musical Culture in Nineteenth-Century Amsterdam. Available from: https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1b9x1wt [Accessed 03 April 2021].
- Het Concertgebouw. Het Concertgebouw. [online]. Available at: https://www.concertgebouw.nl/en/history [Accessed date: 04/04/2021]
- Netherlands. The Concertgebouw. [online]. Available at: https://www.holland.com/global/tourism/destinations/amsterdam/concertgebouw-en.htm [Accessed date: 04/04/2021].
- Concertgebouw Brugge. Programme at the Concertgebouw. [online]. Available at: https://www.concertgebouw.be/en [Accessed date: 04/04/2021].
- Wanderer, Concertgebouwplein 10, 1071 LN Amsterdam, Pays-Bas [photograph]. Available at: https://wanderersite.com/places/concertgebouw-amsterdam/
- The Royal Concertgebouw, Main Hall. [photograph] Available at: https://blog.crystalcruises.com/private-concert-at-amsterdams-royal-concertgebouw/
- Zwemmer, Lars. Flying over Museumplein [photograph] Available at: https://www.trekearth.com/members/Tue/
- Mahler Foundation Photograph Archive. Amsterdam Royal Concertgebouw, Mahler Foundation. Available at: https://mahlerfoundation.org/mahler/locations/netherlands/amsterdam/concertgebouw/