Boxed set: Boston’s Symphony Hall, Vienna’s Musikverein, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw

Posted on: January 7, 2020

“This weekend is the 150th anniversary of Vienna’s Musikverein, inaugurated on Jan. 6, 1870,” writes Matthew Guerrieri in Sunday’s (1/5) Boston Globe. “It was … followed by Leipzig’s second Gewandhaus, opened in 1884 … Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, from 1888, and, finally, Boston’s own Symphony Hall (in photo), unveiled in 1900—setting acoustic standards…. The halls’ exceptional sound has long been credited to their ‘shoebox’ shape: long, rectangular rooms with straight walls…. As Boston Symphony benefactor Henry Lee Higginson explained at the Hall’s opening, BSO directors insisted on ‘the shape of hall which had late been in vogue because successful.’ But Symphony Hall also benefited from seminal acoustic research by Harvard physicist Wallace Clement Sabine. Sabine largely based his acoustics on two factors: how long sounds reverberated in the hall, and how much the building’s materials … absorbed sound. Later research focused on the importance of … sound that reaches the listener after bouncing off a hall’s side walls…. The development of European classical music can be heard as a gradual elaboration of the sound of the places in which it has been performed…. As the tradition embraces more eclectic inspiration, old halls either adapt or make way for spaces that flatter all kinds of music.”