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Boston Symphony Music Hall

Foundations of America

QU201 Prof. Scott Leone

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Boston Symphony Music Hall

Boston Symphony Music Hall

The historical Boston Symphony Hall, located in Boston, Massachusetts, is known as one of the finest concert halls in the world. The Symphony Hall was the first concert hall designed with acoustical principles in mind. The Boston Music Symphony Hall was chosen as a U.S National Historic Landmark in 1999. The historical landmark is home to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but it has also hosted jazz masters, folk singers, youth concerts, and the regular seasons of the BSO and the Boston Pops.  The Boston Symphony Hall was built after the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s original home was threatened by road-building and subway construction. The concert hall was inaugurated in the 1900’s.

Google Place mark:

Bing Birdseye View

The architectures of the Boston Symphony Hall were Charles Follen McKim, William Rutherford, and Stanford White. The firm, Mckim, Mead, and White, was a prominent architectural firm in the eastern United States. The firm began when Charles Follen McKim and William Rutherford Mead joined forces in 1872, and they were later joined by Stanford White in 1879.

McKim, Mead, and White began the construction of the Boston Symphony Hall from 1899 to 1901. The architects also hired Wallace Clement Sabine, a young assistant physics professor at Harvard University, as their acoustical consultant. Sabine advised the architects on the shape of the walls, the arrangement of the seats, the stage angles, and the building materials that would produce the best acoustics. The architecture of the Symphony Hall was also influenced by the second Gewandhaus concert hall in Leipzig. The picture below illustrates the Boston Symphony Hall seating chart, which was illustrates the original blueprint of the structure.

Mckim, Mead, and White designed other famous buildings besides the Boston Symphony Hall, and their designs can be found all over the United States. Some of McKim, Mead, and White’s famous buildings include the: The Smithsonian Institute, the Museum of History and Technology, the Lincoln Alliance Bank, and the Battle Monument at West Point. All the buildings were built with Stony Greek Granite.

The Boston Symphony Hall went through renovations in 2006 and 2008. In 2006, the concert floor was repaired. However, the new floor was built using the same methods and materials as the original floor, which was built of maple boards, a compressed wool underlayment, and hardened steel cut nails, so that the sound of the hall was not affected. Then in July 28, 2008, the Boston Symphony Hall replaced the shutters with glass windows in the fourteen half-moon windows that circle the top balcony.  In the past, the glass windows were hidden behind heavy curtains and wood panels. The windows were part of McKim, Mead, and White’s original design for the Symphony Hall. The new windows have motorized shutters on the outside that can be controlled electronically to let in more light into the Symphony Hall.

The Boston Symphony Hall was constructed by the Norcross Brothers Construction and Building Company. The Norcross Brothers were mostly noted for their stone structures and buildings, especially structures made in Stony Creek granite. Some famous structures include the West Point Monument in New York and the South Station in Boston. “The Norcross Brothers used contrasting black-specked pink granite quarried at its Milford, Massachusetts, operation” (Flesh and Stone 163) for the South Station in Boston.

In measurements, the Boston Symphony Hall is 61 feet high, 75 feet wide, and 125 long, and resembles a rectangular “shoe-box.” The exterior consists of burgundy-red bricks and eight artfully crafted columns, which stand in front of the entrances. The interior is mostly made out of brick, steel, and plaster, except for the wooden floors. Its stage walls slope inward to help focus the sound, and there are shallow side balconies, which prevent the sound from becoming muffled. There are also sixteen replicas of Greek and Roman statues related to music, art, or literature along the sides of the Hall. Then, there are plaques that line the stage and balconies, but Beethoven is the only composer whose name is inscribed on one of the plaque. The other plaques were left empty because the original directors felt that only Beethoven's popularity would remain unchanged.

The founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Henry Higginson, provided the land for the construction of the Boston Symphony Hall. Higginson was an active social, cultural philanthropist, and a veteran of the Civil War. When trolley and subway construction threatened the Old Boston Music Hall, Henry Higginson stepped in, and purchased the land for a new Boston Music Hall. The Boston Music Hall was later changed to the Boston Symphony Hall. There are recent articles that claim the Boston Symphony Hall as one the best symphony halls, like < http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/20/nyregion/halls-of-fame.html> and

< http://svconline.com/mag/avinstall_grand_old_room/>. In fact, “The Boston Globe proclaimed the hall to be "perfect in all requirements." (Massmovements.com)

The Boston Symphony Hall houses many artifacts. The Aeolian-Skinner organ, Opus 1134, is considered to be one of the Boston Symphony Hall’s most prominent features. The organ was built in 1947, and replaced the original organ, which was built in 1900. The organ is also widely recognized as one of the most versatile concert hall organs in the world, and is frequently called the “The King of Instruments, the Instrument of the Kings.” The Boston Symphony Hall perfectly accommodates the master organ, and the organ can be played to the best of its ability. However, the Concert Hall, itself can be considered an artifact and museum.

The acoustics of the Boston Symphony Hall can be experienced from videos, like

< ">> and . Even from the YouTube videos, it is obvious that the Boston Symphony Hall was built for the acoustics. The acoustics seem to fill the entire Boston Symphony Hall clearly and sharply. The Boston Symphony Hall is truly unlike other concert halls, and is a masterpiece.



Deford, Deborah, ed. “Flesh and Stone.” Stony Creek, Connecticut: Quarry Workers Celebration, 2000.

Rothstein, Edward. “Halls of Fame.” New York Times. 2004, May 20.

< http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/20/nyregion/halls-of-fame.html>

DeTogne, Gregory. “A Grand Old Room: Boston's Symphony Hall.” Sound and Video Contractor. 2002, November 1.< http://svconline.com/mag/avinstall_grand_old_room/>

Mass Moments.<http://www.massmoments.org/moment.cfm?mid=173>

AnnaBeha Architects. <http://www.annbeha.com/portfolio-project-details.html?category=performing%20arts&id=16>

Symphony Hall. http://www.bso.org/bso/mods/toc_01_gen_images.jsp?id=bcat5220065

A Musical Promenade.

McKim, Mead, and White in Buffalo.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 November 2010 17:33  


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Flesh and Stone

Flesh and Stone - Stony Creek and the Age of Granite - buy at Amazon.com
Available on Amazon

Uncirculated: Shrink wrapped in clear plastic from original Italian publisher, 1999. Ships with fresh samples of sparkling Stony Creek pink granite for historians, collectors, geologists and classrooms. Additional samples available upon request.