April 11, 1888: The Concertgebouw opens. Adolf Leonard van Gendt was the architect of the Dutch concert hall and was inspired by the Gewandhaus of Leipzig, built two years earlier. Building began in 1883 on a pasture outside the city limits of Amsterdam. Because of the quality of land on which the building was placed, the first order of business was to drive 2,186 piles measuring 40-43 feet in length into the soil. The neo-classical building is highly regarded because of its acoustics and is one of the finest concert halls in the world along with Boston’s Symphony Hall and Vienna’s Musikverein. Concertgebouw translates into English as “concert building”. On the 125th anniversary of its opening, Queen Beatrix bestowed the Royal Title “Koninklijk” on the building as she had also done for the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
Concertgebouw opened on this day with the inaugural concert presenting works of Wagner, Handel, Bach, and Beethoven. Performing was an orchestra of 120 members and a chorus of 500 singers. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra gave its first concert in the hall on November 3, 1888. The Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and the Radio Filharmonisch Orkest have both regularly performed there for many decades. The Main Hall seats 1,974 people and reverberation time is 2.8 seconds in the empty room and 2.2 seconds before a full audience. This makes the hall perfect for late Romantic composers. This also makes it unsuited to amplified music although Led Zeppelin, The Who, and Pink Floyd all performed there in the 1960s.
Behind the Main Hall is a smaller oval shaped Recital Hall which seats 437. It is well suited for the presentation of chamber music. Even smaller is the Choir Hall which can seat 150. The different rooms provide different acoustics, something not completely understood at the time of construction. Architects and builders did what worked in the past without completely realizing the mechanics behind it. After the building was completed, there was much work still to be done to fine-tune the acoustical ambiance. During later restorations, care was taken not to alter materials used for interior design. In the 1980s, a huge restoration effort was undertaken as the building was found to be sinking into the ground regardless of the piles placed prior to construction.
In 1890, Michael Maarschalkerweerd of Utrecht built the Concertgebouw’s organ. It has 60 registers on three divisions and pedal. Between 1990 and 1993, the organ was renovated. Today, Concertgebouw presents about 900 concerts and other events each year with about 700,000 people in attendance. The managing director is Simon Reinink and the artistic director is Anneke Hogenstijn. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s principal conductor is Mariss Jansons. The Concertgebouw remains privately owned by Het Concertgebouw N.V.
It is a real pleasure to see music so bright and spontaneous expressed with corresponding ease and grace. – Johannes Brahms
A composer is a guy who goes around forcing his will on unsuspecting air molecules, often with the assistance of unsuspecting musicians. – Frank Zappa
When people hear good music, it makes them homesick for something they never had and never will have. – E. W. Howe
Bach gave us God’s Word; Mozart gave us God’s laughter; Beethoven gave us God’s fire. God gave us music that we might pray without words. – From a German Opera House
Also on this day: Coming to America – In 1890, Ellis Island becomes the national immigration center.
Civil Rights Act – In 1968, President Johnson signed the bill into law.
Elks – In 1876, the Elks were organized.
Joe, Not John – In 1890, the Elephant Man died.
Funny Man (Woman, Child) – In 2013, Jonathan Winters died.
* “Concertgebouw” by Hans-Peter Harmsen – http://www.world66.com/europe/netherlands/amsterdam/lib/gallery/showimage?pic=/europe/netherlands/amsterdam/sights/concertgebouw/concertgebouw. Licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Concertgebouw.jpg#/media/File:Concertgebouw.jpg