Binding and Tension between Architecture and Music

In our Editorial there is an interesting study by Laura Lila, who speaks about the relationship between architecture and music. On this occasion we want to encourage the author for the very interesting topic he presents, but since the writing is long enough we thought we would publish it in two parts.

A review of “The triumph of music” book.


Laura Lila


How architecture helped music evolve throughout history and how did music shaped architecture? This will be a research paper on the close relationship between architecture and music by reference to historical developments, contemporary trends, mathematical and philosophical similarities, visional and emotional influences of the arts. 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?

“The triumph of music” is a book written by Tim Blanning, a professor of modern European history at Cambridge University. Blanning’s central point is simple: less than three centuries ago, musicians and composers occupied an insignificant place in the Western world; today, things are very different. While “Europeans” — and by extension all Westerners — “have always cherished music,” until relatively recently “individual performers were quite a different matter.” He probably didn’t need 400 pages to make this case, but he makes it with grace, humor and a mountain of fascinating details.


Blanning explains in his introduction that “The Triumph of Music” is meant to be “an exercise in social, cultural and political history, not musicology.” This is a provocative and amusing book. Rather than telling his story chronologically, he divides it into five the­matic chapters. “Status” traces the changing nature of musicians’ place in society, from servants to superstars. “Purpose” looks at the function of music in people’s lives. “Places and Spaces” and “Technology” examine how music has been made increasingly accessible through the emergence of the opera house and the concert hall and advances in instruments and in delivery systems, from the Edison cylinder to the iPod. “Liberation” views music in a sociopolitical context, beginning with national anthems and ending with the civil rights, feminist and gay rights movements. Blanning describes not the triumph of good music but the development of Western music generally, from an aristocratic court frill to a powerful social force. The position of musicians in society and the mechanisms by which they reach their audiences are explored in fascinating depth. The book is not about music itself, but about its creators and consumers. He evokes the life of the eighteenth-century musician with marvelous clarity; Haydn is particularly well treated, and the shifting status of musicians in the revolutionary period is held under the historian’s sharp gaze. As a social history of music in the period from Bach to Wagner, the book is penetrating and richly documented. There are fascinating nuggets of information throughout, illuminating but not detracting from the chronicle of musicians and the responses of audiences, politicians, and critics.

One of the aspects, that seems really important to me, and is also widely explained in the book, is how architecture and music were connected through history. The author also traces the material developments that helped spread the influence of music and its practitioners. He observes the changes in musical architecture, from the first dedicated concert houses to the opulence of the Paris Opéra (designed mainly around the huge staircase where the rich could show off their jewels and furs), which is contrasted with the austerity of Wagner’s Bayreuth.

Attending the theatre is one of mankind’s last remaining rituals in our time. Although during some eras the theatre has meant more to us and during others less – and even though one cannot read and summarize its entire history – its architecture can undoubtedly be a certain measure of its significance for us. By theatre architecture we mean a playhouse: a building destined for permanent theatrical use. A theatre’s architecture signifies power, independence, oppression, a regime, and of course democracy all at the same time. Every regime that has ruled in Central and Western Europe has left its mark on the playhouses.

So, in this way Central and Western European theatres have become silent storytellers of history. They have been changed during the last two centuries, rebuilt and renamed. They occupy the most important areas of the cities, and represent not only an overview of European architecture but also an overview of European reality and European music. Hardly anywhere else in the world have so many languages been used at one time in theatres, in a space as small as Central and Western Europe. This anomaly, which we take for granted now, that only one language is used in the theatres of one state, is reflected in the cultural decline of Europe in the second half of the 20th century. This exhibition draws attention to the cultural diversity of Central and Western Europe and tries to find a common universal language through the architectural field.

“All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom.”

— Albert Einstein, scientist

Review of Literature


Listening to Architecture, Relations and Tensions between Architecture and Music

Interdisciplinarity is the significant key word – concerning not only architecture and music, but arts in general. For the design-process of architects in the European Renaissance like Andrea Palladio, the use of antique music-proportions was common practice. Philosophers and poets like Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Arthur Schopenhauer were talking about architecture as “fixed”, “silenced” or “frozen” music, Richard Wagner influenced various architects of his time and the trend of expressionism in Europe with his music.

In the early 20th century, the German architect Erich Mendelsohn used, among others, Johann Sebastian Bach’s compositions as an inspiration for his designs, and the architect Le Corbusier developed the “Modulor”, an anthropometric scale of proportions, by reference to antique traditions of music, and his project head Iannis Xenakis was not only working as an architect but as a composer during night time.

Vice versa, musicians were influenced by architecture, too. After the French Revolution, for example, music was democratized. Composers had to face the fact that music was no longer an elitist art and began to be commercial. Music halls were built for the public, so they had to consider space, acoustics and even the enhanced size of the orchestras in their compositions.

A brief history

Mediaval Times

Throughout much of the history of the Western world, there exists a clearly discernible connection between the development of music, the development of musical ensembles, and the development of spaces for music performance. One of the earliest examples of this connection rises out of the Early Christian and Byzantine religious practices. During the politically and socially unstable Medieval times, the church became the primary vestige for the continuation and advancement of scholarly knowledge and the creative arts. As a result, sacred music centered on the liturgy of the church was a very prominent musical style at the time. Suchmusic took the form of chant, which was codified during the reign of Pope Gregory I (AD 590-604), and was performed by monks and other clergy as an integral part of the Mass). The slow-moving, monophonic nature of these chants is directly attributable to church architecture at that time. Most often, large spaces constructed of stone were the norm, and they correspondingly possessed extraordinarily long reverberation times (Barron, 65). Exemplary churches in this tradition include San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey among numerous others; and in general, they are much too reverberant making speech difficult to understand. Consequently, chant was the ultimate vehicle for the monastic choirs to convey the text of the Mass in a manner which took full advantage of the effect of these ethereal and spiritual sounds resounding in these large spaces.

Classical Period

During the 18th century, improvements in orchestral instruments, the decline of musical patronage, and the rise of public concerts all contributed to a general growth in size of the orchestra, the audience, and the concert hall. In response, composers, continually aware of the effect of room acoustics on performances, began to write pieces which lent themselves to these larger spaces and ensembles.

As instrumental improvements occurred, public concerts also slowly replaced the fading tradition of court musicians and private performances. The first recorded occurrence of public concerts was in 1672 in London, where the violinist John Banister advertised and charged admission for performances held every afternoon at four o’clock. Quickly catching on in England, music rooms became a common feature of taverns which advertised concerts as a popular attraction. Although the idea worked well there, Germany and France did not follow suit until 1722 and 1725 respectively. Rooms specifically for public concerts sprang up in the ensuing years, but not until mid-century were they firmly established as the dominant purveyor of the musical arts. As a consequence of the increased popularity of public concerts, concerts strictly for the nobility slowly died out. By the late 1700’s, royal patronage of musicians was largely extinguished. The architecture of concert halls, owing to the increase in the size of the audience and the corresponding increase in the number of players in the orchestra, had to respond to these new demands. The construction of the Hicksford’s Rooms (1738) and the Holywell Music Room (1748) in England allowed seating for 300 persons and, at Holywell, an increase in reverberation time to 1.5 seconds. This trend of increased seating and longer reverberation times continued with the 1775 Hanover Square Rooms in London which seated 800 persons and had a reverberation time of approximately 1 second, as well as with the 1781 Leipzig Altes Gewandhaus for 400 persons with a 1.3 second reverberation time.

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) is one of the most interesting examples of this era, for he was one of the last composers to be employed by a patron -the Esterhazy family of Austria -yet he also entered several public ventures in London with the help of concert impresario Johann Peter

Salomon. The differences between the orchestral forces and compositional techniques Haydn used at the EsterhBza castle versus those of the last set of Salomon Symphonies premiered at London’s King’s Theatre Concert Room are notable. Of particular interest are the prestissimo perpetuum mobile of Symphony no. 57 and the avoidance of sudden dynamic changes in Symphonies 102-104. In the case of no. 57, premiered in the Esterhhza Music Room, the “dry” acoustic was essential to the success of the passage. Had it been performed in a larger room with a longer reverberation time, it would have sounded not only muddied and blurred, but also too soft, for the orchestral forces for the performance numbered only 18 (Forsyth, 40). In contrast, the London Symphony no. 103 employed an orchestra of 59 and was premiered in the King’s Theatre Concert Hall. Forsyth writes, “The large orchestra Haydn used for these works “… combined with the comparatively reverberant acoustics for the size of the hall, would have produced a full, powerful tone, with audible sound reflections from the enclosing surfaces even when the orchestra played no more than mezzoforte. In these works Haydn avoids sudden leaps between piano and forte, the effect of which would be lost with the longer reverberation time

Tone Color, Romanticism, and the 19th Century

Changes in the 19th century followed the trends established earlier – orchestral expansion, instrumental improvements, and audience growth – with two significant additions, the emergence of the modern conductor and a compositional shift of emphasis away from melody and toward tone color. In terms of expansion, the addition of players in all sections of the orchestra as well as the common appearance of previously unusual instruments such as the English horn, the Contra-Bassoon, and the Ophicleide all aided the further standardization of the modern orchestra. The woodwinds, through the work of German flautist Theobald Boehm, augmented and standardized a system of keys which alleviated many of the problems of the old finger-hole system. These improvements combined with the success of public concerts, encouraged entrepreneurs, musical societies, and architects to accommodate still larger audiences and orchestras. While the growth of the audience demanded larger rooms, the expansion of the orchestra came with inherent problems in ensemble because, simply, more players are more difficult to keep together. Regardless, orchestras grew, conductors became both necessary and fashionable, and the arrival of the modern orchestra was imminent. As the halls, audiences, and orchestras changed and grew, so also did composers adapt their works and create new styles to fit the times. Larger halls meant longer reverberation times. Larger orchestras meant more varied instrumentation and thus a new array of possible sound combinations at the disposal of the composer. These factors, when combined with the long-held focus on melodic and contrapuntal music and contemporary movements in the other creative arts, set the stage for composers of the Romantic period to turn toward the expressionism and the use of tone color as a primary compositional tools. Tone color, tied to the art of orchestration, is the purposeful combination of different instruments to create specific effects. It relies heavily on the reverberant acoustic of the contemporary concert halls, for without such a “live” sound, the instruments would have lacked the blend and ring which made tone color a convincing effect. Concert hall architecture, becoming ever more scientific, evolved to meet the acoustic goals of the musical establishment in addition to the space requirements of a larger audience and orchestra. Some examples of the time include the 1870 Vienna Grosser Musikvereinssaal which seated 1,680 persons and had a reverberation time of 2.2 seconds, and New York’s Carnegie Hall which seated 2,760 persons and had a reverberation time of 1.7 seconds. Notable compositions which took advantage of these new developments are Hector Berlioz’s (1803-1869) Syniphonie Fantistique, a tour-de-force in orchestration and orchestral effects, the symphonies of Gustav Mahler (1860-191 l), the works of Richard Wagner (1 8 13- 1883), and many others.

Type of spaces for music performance

The types of spaces for music performance have changed throughout the centuries, and architecture just as music have been itself influenced from political and social world changes. The architecture used for music performances was different from time to time and fitted very well with the music compositions for the particular context.


Amphitheaters are round- or oval-shaped and usually unroofed. Permanent seating at amphitheaters is generally tiered.

Bandshell and bandstand

A bandshell is a large, outdoor performing structure typically used by concert bands and orchestras. The roof and the back half of the shell protect musicians from the elements and reflect sound through the open side and out towards the audience. Bandstand is a small outdoor structure.

Concert hall

A concert hall is a performance venue constructed specifically for instrumental classical music. A concert hall may exist as part of a larger performing arts center.

Jazz club

Jazz clubs are an example of a venue that is dedicated to a specific genre of music.

Live house

In Japan, small live music clubs are known as live houses, especially featuring rock, jazz, blues, and folk music, and have existed since the 1970s, now being found across the country.

Opera house

An opera house is a theatre venue constructed specifically for opera. An opera house generally has a spacious orchestra pit, where a large number of orchestra players may be seated at a level below the audience.

Public houses and nightclubs

Stadiums and arenas



By Laura Lila

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