BUILDINGS FOR MUSIC: The Architect, The Musician, and the Listener from the Seventeenth Century to the Present Day by Michael Forsyth

BUILDINGS FOR MUSIC: The Architect, The Musician, and the Listener from the Seventeenth Century to the Present Day

Email this review


A fascinating mosaic of architectural, musical and acoustical research. Forsyth traces the evolution of the concert hall from the earliest public ""musick"" rooms of 18th-century London to legendary halls such as La Scala, Royal Albert Hall and Boston Symphony Hall; from Wagner's revolutionary Bayreuth Festspielhaus with unimpaired visuals and sunken orchestra to the flexible multi-medical ""studio"" environments created for the electronic music of Stockhausen and Boulez. The history of the hall, he contends, turns on the tricky integration of acoustics, musicality and social changes which forced composers to adapt their music to varying environments; these were each affected by the materials used, dimension and shape. The adapted music in turn forced new halls to evolve. While the music of Beethoven and Haydn flourished best in the short reverberation and acoustic intimacy of small halls, the emotional and economic demands of staging huge 19th-century romantic dramatic music (Berlioz and Wagner) required larger halls to accommodate the expanded audience, orchestra and sounds, thus paving the way for the acoustic needs of such pungent, percussive and highly rhythmic 20th-century composers as Stravinsky. With the rise of electronic music have come attempts at the ""fully adjustable hall,"" equipped with amplifiers and adjustable sound absorbing/reflecting surfaces. Composers now insist on specifying and even designing the acoustic ambiance to accommodate the multi-media visuals, choreography and revolutionary placement of musicians and audience in their compositions. Where before architectural settings influenced musical styles, buildings now adapt to musical needs. Forsyth richly details the innovative milestones of concert hall building, from the different shapes used to the ""isacoustic curve"" construction, from the ""democratization"" of terraced seating and decline of elitist ""boxes"" to the influence of audio recordings and the founding of modern acoustic engineering. He finally determines that acoustic design is an art rather than a science and, as each variable is inserted into the equation, that perfection is unattainable. Acoustic prediction is at best a risky, albeit fascinating, procedure. An impressively technical, but understandable survey then, which will inform anyone interested in the fascinating marriage of acoustics, architecture and music.

Pub Date: Sept. 3rd, 1985
Publisher: MIT Press