The Musikverein never experiences another evening like March 31, 1913 before or after. Arnold Schoenberg is leading a program of new works when conservative audience members begin to loudly disrupt the performance. A brawl eventually ensues, objects fly through the room (with reports of glasses and dentures), and Thonet chairs are repurposed as cudgels. During the trial that followed, Oscar Straus, composer of the Walzertraum, testifies that the sound of the blows were “the only sonorous thing” heard that evening.
And although one can always argue about matters of taste, this scenario can hardly be imagined; the legendary Golden Hall is not only visually unique with all of its magnificent tributes to antiquity, but is also considered one of the world’s finest concert halls in terms of acoustics. This is not just the result of its perfect proportions, but also of the hollow space under the floor and hanging wooden ceiling that create additional resonant spaces. And even the coffered ceilings, balconies, and sculptures are more than merely ornamental: they are what ensure an optimal distribution of the sound waves, putting the finishing touch on acoustic perfection.
1812 benefit concert “to support the neediest of those living at the Aspern battleground” with Handel’s Alexander’s Feast; or, the Power of Music. After the successful performance, the “Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde” (Society of Friends of Music) is founded with at first 507 members.
The Society runs a conservatory (which would later become the University of Music and Performing Arts) and organizes concerts. In 1826 Beethoven becomes an honorary member, and Schubert is named to the board of directors in 1827.
1831 the Society obtains its first building, which soon becomes too small. The Kaiser eventually grants it a building site on the Wien River. The architect is Theophil Hansen from Denmark; construction takes only three years.
1870 the Golden Hall is opened first; Clara Schumann inaugurates the Small Hall with a concert two weeks later. Just a few hours after her performance, a fire breaks out in the cloakroom that is extinguished with the aid of the architect.
Since its inception the Musikverein has consisted of two concert halls: the large Golden Hall, considered one of the world’s finest concert halls, and a smaller one that is later named for Johannes Brahms. In 2004 four additional underground halls are added.
1872 the organ is presented with improvisations by Anton Bruckner. The same year Johannes Brahms becomes artistic director of the Society; he is followed by many leading names, including Hans Richter, Wilhelm Furtwängler, and Herbert von Karajan.
1938 the Nazis take control of the Society; the order to remove works by Jewish authors from the archive is ignored. In 1945 a grenade strikes the building but does not explode; the reopening already takes place in September 1945.
The Musikverein houses an archive containing the estates of Beethoven, Brahms, and Gottfried von Einem in addition to autographs by Schubert, Bruckner, Mahler, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Johann Strauss, Lanner, Wolf, Richard Strauss, Webern, and Berg.
Did you know?
“Musikverein Wien” refers only to the building; the association (Verein) that is behind it is called the “Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde” (Society of Friends of Music).
The many classicist elements of the building reflect the years that architect Theophil Hansen studied and worked in Athens.
The Golden Hall of the Musikverein has acquired much international popularity through the television broadcast of the annual New Year’s Concerts of the Vienna Philharmonic. This concert was “invented,” however, by the Nazis.
When the young Christa Ludwig, coming from rural Germany, enters the Musikverein for the first time, she finds it “dreadful: everything gold in gold!” In contrast, Lang Lang is moved to tears the first time he sees it.
Sir Neville Marriner wishes the Musikverein could be cloned; then worldwide audiences could have the opportunity to share the joy experienced by music lovers in Vienna.
The new halls by architect Wilhelm Holzbauer are located up to twelve meters below street level and up to three-and-a-half meters below groundwater level. This requires the structure to be completely impermeable, achieved through the so-called “Weisse Wanne” (white tank) waterproof building method.