Binding and dhe Tension between Architecture and Music (II)

Type of theatres

The subject of places and spaces shows a close relationship between architecture and music by reference to historical developments, contemporary trend, philosophical similarities, political and social changes through history of time. So regarding to the context and the political and social changes,  let’s divide theatres into the following nine topics that blend together and overlap each other in time, and with regard to the different conditions of theatre life in the particular countries.

The first theatres were built at different times in each state. The first theatre buildings that were preserved were castle playhouses, places for private entertainment of the aristocracy.

The space of the castle theatre is connected with private productions designated primarily for aristocrats and their guests at aristocratic residences. The theatres were part of the structure -either as a room with the function of a theatre or as a separate theatre building. This form of private performance was a common part of theatre life from the 16th to the 19th centuries. The beginnings of private theatres designated for a select audience, which was allowed access to a certain space -or for those who would be specifically invited to a performance, date back to the Middle Ages. This includes ecclesiastical theatres which performed in monasteries and convent schools, or on the grounds of universities. In later periods however, they were also carried out in the private areas of noble or burgher residences.

National theatres are spread across three centuries, from the 19th to the 21st, and have been transformed on the way from a means of national selfdetermination, to the regimes’ buildings that lack the architectural value of their predecessors.

City theatres arose at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries and were reacting to the new conditions which came with massive industrialization. This group of playhouses brings with it a new urban dimension of the city and its social services.

Fellner & Helmer are a pair of architects who brought a series of fire protection measures to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and to the whole Central European region. They were the most productive architectural office in Europe at the time.

Minority theatres serve as a counterpart to the contemporary state activities, change the conception of the region, and offer a different view of the political map. These theatres are a direct contrast to the ideology of „one nation one state “which found its home here in the second half of the 20th century.

Avant-garde approached the theatre as a new, complex artistic concept. But with regard to the rich heritage in the field of theatre architecture, very few new theatres were built. However, the avant-garde changed the entire understanding of theatrical space, and subsequent eras would profit from this.

Socialist realism and post-war architecture, return to more traditional theatrical spaces brought a strong ideologization of space. Ideology overruled both private and public space. The unfulfilled longing of modernism for a single truth led to the realization that there is no ideal, and thus opened a base for experimenting in subsequent generations.

New tendencies and socialist architecture in which the multifunctionality of the space was greatly enhanced, creating a paradox – rebuilding a theatre space became so demanding and difficult that it often lacked any sense and was gradually abandoned. The urbanist experiment had been expanded in the form of oversized buildings placed in or near to historical city centers. New attitudes towards space have been emerging in the last two decades. In the private activities of enthusiasts and politicians, there is a change of scale and a return to the smaller ritual space. At the same time new oversized playhouses are also being built, which shows that even this contemporary consumer society desires immortality.


La Scala Opera House

One of the most famous Opera houses is La Scala. A fire destroyed the previous theatre, the Teatro Regio Ducale, on 25 February 1776, after a carnival gala. A group of ninety wealthy Milanese, who owned private boxes in the theatre, wrote to Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Este asking for a new theatre and a provisional one to be used while completing the new one. The new theatre was built on the former location of the church of Santa Maria alla Scala, from which the theatre gets its name. The church was deconsecrated and demolished and, over a period of two years, the theatre was completed by Pietro Marliani, Pietro Nosetti and Antonio and Giuseppe Fe. The theatre had a total of “3,000 or so” seats organized into 678 pit-stalls, arranged in six tiers of boxes above which is the ‘loggione’ or two galleries. Its stage is one of the largest in Italy (16.15m d x 20.4m w x 26m h).

Building expenses were covered by the sale of boxes, which were lavishly decorated by their owners, impressing observers such as Stendhal. La Scala (as it came to be known) soon became the preeminent meeting place for noble and wealthy Milanese people. In the tradition of the times, the main floor had no chairs and spectators watched the shows standing up. The orchestra was in full sight, as the orchestra pit had not yet been built.

Above the boxes, La Scala has a gallery—called the loggione—where the less wealthy can watch the performances. The gallery is typically crowded with the most critical opera aficionados, known as the loggionisti, who can be ecstatic or merciless towards singers’ perceived successes or failures. For their failures, artists receive a “baptism of fire” from these aficionados, and fiascos are long remembered. People in the audience in these opera houses, when they were built, they used to yell out to one another. They used to eat, drink and yell out to people on the stage, just like they do at village clubs and bars and place like that. If they liked an aria, they would holler and suggest that it be done again as an encore, not at the end of the show, but immediately. And well, that was an opera experience. As with most of the theatres at that time, La Scala was also a casino, with gamblers sitting in the foyer.


Paris Opera House

Yes, Palais Garnier was designed for people-watching.

All opera houses were designed for people-watching because opera used to be as much about the music as it was a popularity contest among the aristocratic people who could afford to attend.  The winding staircases and balconies allowed people to see and be seen — the most important factor of the night.

Its several stories of balconies and open staircases beg you to gaze down at those below you — or across from you.  And the stairs themselves are really shallow, designed to prevent women from showing their ankles when walking up them.

The opera house is surrounded by banks. That’s because all those fancy rich people who attended the opera with the intention to see and be seen decked themselves out with all their jewels, which they picked up from their bank vaults on their way there.  Several banks knowingly opened nearby and stayed open until the opera was over so the jewels could be put away immediately after the curtain fell.  While numerous banks still surround the opera house today, they are no longer open so late.

The top tier is called the Chicken Coup and there’s no visibility of the stage from there. But that didn’t matter because…

The top tier was primarily reserved for middle class people who didn’t come to see the opera, but to see the rich people who were there.  In fact, back then the house lights stayed on throughout the entire performance so that people could people-watch during the whole opera.  That is, until composer Richard Wagner decided that all lights needed to be off in order to better concentrate on the activities on stage.

The middle class people couldn’t afford to dine at the lavish Palais Garnier so they brought food with them.  When they saw someone famous they didn’t like, they threw spoiled food at them from the top tier.  Eventually, vendors selling rotten tomatoes and apples gathered outside the opera house for this very purpose.

As you can imagine, the aristocratic people weren’t very pleased about this (can you imagine being hit with a rotten apple?!), so the Palais Garnier put chicken wire around the top tier to catch thrown objects, hence the tier’s nickname “the chicken coup.”  Today the chicken wire is gone but the visibility from the top tier is still minimal.

The basement of the opera house is flooded. And that inspired the famous book and musical “The Phantom of the Opera”.  The site for the Palais Garnier was picked for its proximity to the center of Paris, but when construction began in 1861 workers discovered the ground was a swampy lake that continuously flooded the site.  It took eight months to drain but the water kept returning.  After construction began and several attempts to pump out the water failed, architect Charles Garnier created a huge tank to store the water and used it to add stability the massive building. The “underground lake” and its surrounding cellars inspired Gaston Leroux to write the Phantom of the Opera in 1910 and he even mentioned in his book when the huge chandelier came crashing down from the ceiling causing the death of a worker.


While listening to David Byrne in a really inspiring Ted Talk, he asks: Does the venue make the music? From outdoor drumming to Wagnerian operas to arena rock, he explores how context has pushed musical innovation. Byrne chronologically moves through different architectural periods, noting the difference musical composition experiences as the year progress.  For instance, the airy and flowing music that filled cathedrals became more textural with frequent changes in key as the size and shape shifted to become something like Carnegie Hall.

As Byrne pointed out, certain types of music just seem to work better in specific places.  For instance, the type of music played in Gothic Cathedrals makes sense in that venue, and according to Byrne, it is as if that kind of space makes the music sound better.  The large high vaults of cathedrals would not do justice to Jazz pieces with their intricate melodies and sharp changes of pitch, just as similarly as subdued chords and elongated rhythms would not lend themselves best to a crowded bar fully of rowdy guests.  In a gothic cathedral, the polyphonic sacred music was perfect for the context. It doesn’t change key, the notes are long, there’s almost no rhythm whatsoever, and the room flatters the music, it actually improves it. Bach wrote some of his music for a smaller room and his instrument was the organ. Since his room wasn’t as big as a gothic cathedral, he could write things that were a little bit more intricate. He could, very innovatively, actually change keys without risking huge dissonances. His composition “Fantasia on Jesu, Mein Freunde” was perfect for that context. This leads to Byrne’s main point that perhaps we make music to fit into these contexts; that perhaps, paraphrasing Byrne, rather than the romantic outlook of having passion and emotion and then shaping it into something, that we now have the passion but the vessel it’ll be poured into is there first.

Byrne finds music to be an adaptive medium that fits into a pre-established physical framework.  Is music written for a specific venue?  And if so, is that architectural venue a model for creativity?  But in vice versa, was architecture inspired from musical changes? Was one kind of architecture venue invented to combine and fit the music development through years?


Painting, sculpture, digital art, theatre, music, dance, architecture, film, and literature are all disciplines of ‘the arts’, a phrase that summarises all the forms of human creativity. (Here we distinguish ‘arts’ from ‘art’, the word which normally denotes visual arts only.) Although these disciplines can vary greatly in form — for example, music is an audible but intangible experience while a sculpture is usually a defined object with volume, texture and colour — they are inter-related in the sense that they all reflect the conceptual framework of their particular time and place of creation.

“Tim Blanning’s The Triumph of Music is an absorbing study of how the composition and performance of music responded to radically changing conditions—religious, political, social, technological—until, in an era of electronic production and the iPod, it has become the most diverse, influential, and financially rewarding of all the creative arts.”His provocative thesis is that music has become our most dynamic and successful art form, its history an extraordinary journey to cultural supremacy. All this information is marshaled in support of the thesis not just that music is more important than it used to be, which is hard to argue with, but also that it has become the most important, or at least the most dominant, of all the arts, which is more debatable. Music is not in competition with other art forms. If it is true that the other arts constantly aspire to its condition, music need take no heed.




“The Triumph of Music, The Rise of Composers, Musicians and Their Art” by Tim Blanning.

TED Talk: David Byrne: how architecture helped music evolve

Forsyth, Michael, Buildings for Music. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, c. 1985).

Grout, Donald J. A History of Western Music. (New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1988) 4IhEdition.

Barron, Michael, Auditorium Acoustics and Architectural Design.


 By: Laura Lila






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