By Lisa A. Kozenko
In October of 1912, a few weeks before the formal opening of Aeolian Hall, the New York Times announced:
New York’s newest music hall, which is to harbor the concerts of the Symphony Society, the Kneisel and Flonzaley Quartets, and several other organizations, as well as a great number of recitals, will be opened this week. Aeolian Hall is on West Forty-third Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. The builders of the new concert hall have had in mind not only the establishment of a place where concerts could be heard to the greatest advantage, but also a temple of music . . . The stage is large enough to comfortably seat the largest symphony orchestra, yet so cleverly have the plans been laid that a single soloist can stand there alone without the large vacant space being apparent.
The bold, grandiose advertisement the Hall printed in concert programs and newspapers trumpeted:
This building is without precedent. Giving space under one roof to a magnificently appointed concert hall, a floor of model studios, and a Sales-Exposition which will eventually comprise practically every known form of musical merchandise, this structure is the first really complete musical center the world has seen. It embodies a true and logical union between musical art and musical commerce, providing for every possible need of the artist, the teacher, the student, and the public. Here one may listen to a concert or recital under conditions as ideal as modern architecture can make them. In the last analysis this immense structure typifies, in the magnitude of its proportions, the world-wide appreciation of Aeolian-built instruments and Aeolian merchandising methods. For the visible growth of any business is merely the tangible evidence of public approval.
The new hall, so far as could be discovered from this recital, possesses acoustic properties of the most excellent. The tone carried freely and fully in all ranges of dynamics, and there appeared to be a rich and ample resonance. Further experience soon to be gained will test its capacity for the voice, the string quartet, and the orchestra. Its promise is of the best. It seems at first sight smaller than its stated capacity… The ceiling looks low and the gallery and boxes small. It has a suggestion of intimacy that many have hoped for and will welcome.
At last the New York Symphony Orchestra will have a chance to sound and be heard. After its two seasons of handicap at the Century theatre and The New Theatre, a place that was not intended for orchestral music on the stage, and that was exceedingly unkind to it when produced there, the Symphony Orchestra will now give its concerts in Aeolian Hall. The first one took place yesterday afternoon and will be repeated tomorrow afternoon. There was a large audience that made the hall look full.
The new hall seemed well adapted to orchestral music, even played by an orchestra of the size of Mr. Damrosch’s. The various instrumental voices, while they fuse sufficiently, are clearly distinguishable.
For Carolyn Beebe of the newborn NYCMS it was no doubt news of great import. Two years later the NYCMS gave the first of twenty-four programs they would perform at Aeolian Hall (every Tuesday and Friday evening at 8:15 pm, for the low price of $2.50, or $59 today). The last concert took place in February of 1925, ostensibly their tenth season. By November, they had moved to the salon concert format at the Hotel Plaza. It could be the sale of the Aeolian Company to Schulte Cigar Stores that summer precipitated the move. Or that in 1924 the International Composers Guild, a similar organization in size and concept, known for programming more challenging modern music, began performing in the Hall as well. But Aeolian remained a major concert venue until 1927, when it ceased operation for good. The stage demolished, a five-and-dime store moved in to occupy the building’s ground floor.
As the New York Times wrote:
Today will see the closing of the doors of New York’s Aeolian Hall, which in fifteen years has been host to over five million people. The stage in not only to be darkened but demolished, except for three square feet to be cut from the platform and transferred to the new building at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-Fourth street.
According to the old hall’s director H.B. Schaad, there is “probably no place of public entertainment of its size” that has held as many notables among its audiences. Its official opening took place on Friday afternoon, Nov. 8, 1912, with a concert of the New York Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Walter Damrosch, with Maggie Teyte as soloist. Since that time there have been over four thousand five hundred events and over five thousand artists have made their appearance there.
Paderewski made his reappearance at an Aeolian recital, after an absence of five years, in November 1913. The late Ferrucio Busoni gave his only recital there on his last trip to America. Igor Stravinsky presented his own works in his only evening of chamber music. A few other more famous have been Rachmaninoff, Stokowski, Ysaÿe, Heifetz, Elmann, Hofmann, Mengelberg, Emma Calve, the Kniesel and the Flonzaley Quartets. George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” played by the composer with Paul Whiteman had its premiere at Aeolian Hall.
Lisa A. Kozenko is a professional oboist, with a DMA from The Graduate Center. She teaches at The New School.