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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 illusion, 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 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 five 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.

Acoustic Test Sites

iMichaeliskirche, Hildesheim, Germany, built in 1022, is one of the earliest examples found as part of ConstellationCenter’s research.
iiParticularly in the Gothic Cathedrals of France, such as Notre Dame de Paris, Amiens, and Rheims, and in the imperial cathedrals of Germany
iiiThe Popes at Avignon 1309-1415 (particularly the elegant court of Clement VI, 1342-1352) and the Dukes of Burgundy 1364-1477 are among the first to promote these early efforts.  Another notable example is the possible bedroom of Louis IX (St. Louis 1226-70), now the Première Chambre Civile (formerly called the Grand Chambre, site of royal law court), which was the site of the royal entertainments.  It was restored in 1878 in the style of Louis XII.
ivThe Esterhazy summer palace, now in Hungary.  Eszterháza was first compared to Versailles in the 1770s, a comparison that has been repeated many times.  This sort of comparison is a commonplace in Central Europe: Potsdam was dubbed the Prussian Versailles in the eighteenth century, Ludwigsburg was the Versailles of Württemberg, Jan Klemens' palace at Bialystok was labeled the Polish Versailles.  The label refers to the palace, garden, park, and housing for servants seen as a unit.  It naturally presumes grandeur and sumptuous execution.  Prince Nikolaus Esterházy and his architect set this goal in 1762 and achieved it in ten and twenty years.
vSans Souci in Potsdam near Berlin, also conceived as a summer palace, was built in between 1745 and 1747.  See the famous candlelight picture "The Flute Concert of Sanssouci" by Menzel, 1852, depicting Frederick the Great playing the flute in his music room at Sanssouci with his sister Wilhelmina von Bayreuth, his music master C. P. E. Bach and his flute teacher Johann Joachim Quantz (1697-1773) looking on.
viAn early intermedio was in Florence in 1539, combining music with dramatic interludes.  The similar form which developed in France at the same time was called the intermède; it was more reliant on dance than the Italian version.  The masque in England also had many similarities to the intermedio.
viiBy 1637 in Venice, the main elements of the scenery system were present. See Stage Design: Four Centuries of Scenic Invention by Donald Oenslager.
viii The Opéra national de Paris (Palais Garnier) built in 1875 installed the older stage machinery system, as did the 1990s remodeling of Covent Garden.
ixA famous example is the ridotto in Venice, the earliest known the Ridotto (Foyer) at Palazzo Dandolo, between San Moisè and San Marco.  This public Ridotto opened in 1638 and was redecorated in the Rococo style in 1768.  The Ridotto was the epitome of the final flowering of a city where the arts flourished and visitors abounded, but virtue was outmatched by vice and dissipation.
x The Redoutensaal was originally built in 1629 in the Hofburg, the chief imperial palace.  The first entertainment venue on the site was built 1629-1631 as a dancing hall.  It was converted to the "Komödienhaus" theatre by Giovanni Burnacini, Sr. in 1651.  In 1659, it was rebuilt by Lodovico Ottavio Burnacini. After it was destroyed by a fire on 19 July 1699, it was subsequently rebuilt as an opera house by Francesco Galli-Bibiena for Emperor Joseph I.  Grand baroque operas were performed in the Redouten Halls.  In 1748, Maria Theresia commissioned Jean Nicolas Jadot to redesign this part of the Hofburg.  The festival halls were the venues for many concerts, "Redoutes" (masquerade balls), as well as for the magnificent wedding banquet of Joseph II and Isabella of Parma.  Ludwig van Beethoven’s 8th Symphony as well as Franz Schubert’s Symphony Nr. 8, in B-minor "Die Unvollendete" (The Unfinished) premiered here.  The composers Josef Strauss and Franz Liszt conducted concerts in these glamorous halls and a number of smaller Mozart operas were performed here.  At a public masquerade ball in the Redouten Hall one Carnival Monday on March 3rd 1783, Mozart performed “Masquerade” (a pantomime piece with music that he had written himself) during an intermission.
xiRenovations in 1726-37, 1746-48, and 1751-55 created these rooms in the Munich Residenz.
xiiThe Eszterháza Palace at Fertőd. 
xiiiBuilt in 1769-1771.
xiv See The EnglishTown: A History of Urban Life by Mark Girouard and The English Urban Renaissance: Culture and Society in the ProvincialTown, 1660-1770 by Peter Borsay.


Interior shot of Bachkirche,
Arnstadt, Germany

Markgräfliches Opernhaus,
Bayreuth, Germany

Markgräfliches Opernhaus,
Bayreuth, Germany

Erfurt, Germany

Erfurt, Germany

Vienna MusikVerein

Vienna, Austria

43 Thorndike Street
Suite 301
Cambridge, MA
Tel 617.939.1900 Fax 617.939.0190