Introduction to the Project
Historical Archetypes of Perfection
The research at ConstellationCenter has uncovered previously unidentified historical design standards for music spaces. Starting around the year 1000, European musicians and architects began to collaborate in experiments that integrated music and space in ways previously unknown.i The built space became fully part of and necessary to the performance. Indeed, the space became in effect a critical instrument played by the performers. By about 1200, design criteria coalesced and produced spaces where music not only sounded beautiful, but also seemed to speak directly to the emotional, inner life of the listener.ii The connection between the performer and listener became almost inexplicably strong and open.
These design criteria encompassed room shape and size, materials, and surface texture. Rooms with specific dimensions emerged as optimal. These exceptional designs were repeated in secular palaces, civil institutions, and sacred spaces built by the greatest patrons of music, including Roman emperors, Medieval prelates, Renaissance princes, Enlightenment monarchs, and Industrial Age benefactors. They included halls treasured by history’s greatest composers, including Palestrina, Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart, Berlioz, Stravinsky, and Schoenberg.
Stereo audio systems give a 2-D allusion, in the flat plane defined by the two speakers and the listener. From the listener’s perspective, no sound originates from above or below this plane. Home theater and digital movie sound systems enhance this 2-D effect with more speakers surrounding the listener, but the effect is still planar. The historical archetypal room places the listener in a 3-D, spherical sound field, with reverberant sound extending in time to give a rich blend of music. The precise sequence of spatial and temporal effects created by these halls seems to connect with the emotions of listeners. Halls not built to these archetypal specifications cannot achieve this degree of connection.
ConstellationCenter’s research not only has identified these exceptional designs, but the acoustic properties that make them work. All of ConstellationCenter’s halls are based on these exceptional historical designs.
Comprehensive Performance Experience
Beginning before 1300, in addition to continued experiments with the quality of sound, composers, performers, and their patrons began to envision performance spaces as sites of a comprehensive or total artistic experience.iii They implemented complex decorative programs within the requirements of acoustic surface treatments. Lighting, both natural and by candle, were programmed with candelabras, sconces, and chandeliers with mirrors, cut glass, and reflective metals. Heating and ventilation, seating, food and drink played their parts. The performer/audience relationship was vital, with a close connection between them.
Part of this experience was provided by what ConstellationCenter’s team has named “Musical Architecture.” This interior decoration program enhances the performers’ ability to produce their best work and the audience’s ability to be receptive to it. Another key ingredient is lighting, especially the warm coloration, gentle flicker, gradation of shadow, and eye-level focus of beeswax candles.
The later half of the 18th century, saw some of the highest achievements in this area. These must surely be the Ceremonial Hall at Fertőd (also called the Music Room) built by Haydn’s patron Prince Esterhazyiv and the Music Room at Sans Souci built by Frederick the Great.v
The qualities that distinguish these historical performance spaces inform all of ConstellationCenter’s halls. These qualities provide for intimate, personal performances, seen as a comprehensive experience includes lighting, air quality, seating, the performer/audience relationship, the ambience of the space itself.
Spectacular Stage Effects
As explorations of sound quality and room design flourished, in about 1500 efforts began to combine the arts of music, theater, interior design, lighting, dance, rhetoric, and pyrotechny into what became known as opera.vi By about 1600, a system of stage machinery was developed that produced stunning effects, similar to visual effects in 21st century movies.vii Scenes dissolve and reappear faster than the eye can follow. The real world of the audience blends imperceptibly into the three-dimensional world of the performers. The artifice of the stage melted away, and the “fourth wall” separating the audience from the performer vanished.
This system includes a method of changing a scene’s walls, ceiling, floor, and stage furniture in one measure of music. Lighting effects also change within that time. The architecture of the hall flows seamlessly into many scenes. The whole space becomes a retort distilling a fantasy.
As spaces for opera developed, it became possible to blend the best sound qualities of the archetypal halls into the opera space. The best of these opera houses provided sound that was intimate, enveloping, and gripping.
By the mid-19th century, after 250 years, this system was being replaced by fly-tower systems.viii While the fly tower can cope with a big stage, there are great costs to performances— the sound gets absorbed in the space above and scene changes take too much time. The Odeon at ConstellationCenter reinvigorates the historical system.
A Building for Social Interaction and Exchange
By the 1630s, a fourth element was added to the examination into sound quality, space design, and stage effects. Performance venues were examined in terms of a grouping of rooms, each mutually supporting the others. At first, “foyers” were added to opera houses, as a place for social interaction, flirting, and gambling, and soon a collection of spaces evolved.ix Often, these included:
Some were in palaces, such as the larger and smaller Redoutensaal in the Vienna Hofburgx or the Munich Residenz.xi Stately homes began to be designed with entertainment rooms with circular movement patterns for social interaction, rather than the linear arrangements of Renaissance and High baroque interior design.xii Others were privately operated such as the Assembly Rooms in Bath.xiii The concept became particularly popular by 1700. In the early 18th century, nearly every German town had its Redoutensaal complex, English town its assembly rooms,xiv and Italian town its opera house/foyer complex. In France and the Low Countries, the “bosquet” (grove), or enclosed garden filled the same social function.
In the late 19th century, large Symphony Halls in most US cites and state-sponsored opera houses in Europe became objects of civic and national pride. The multiplicity of function was not a focus. Opera, symphonic music, dance, the theater, and family ceremonies began to be housed in separate facilities, with less emphasis on social interaction.
ConstellationCenter recovers this rich social and cultural environment. It features fours halls of varying size and capabilities with common support rooms. Its collection of space is much like the assembly rooms and opera houses of former times, with the goal of facilitating the rich interchange and connective environment of these older models.
Interior shot of Bachkirche,
43 Thorndike Street
Tel 617.939.1900 Fax 617.939.0190