This is the second in a series of posts about the New York Chamber Music Society. The first post explored the founding of the group. Future posts will look at the musicians in the group, its repertoire, and composers of the time. There will be a salon-style concert, commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the NYCMS’s first major performance, on December 20, co-sponsored by The Gotham Center and featuring the chamber music of Mozart, Bach, and Bax, plus a special piece written for the occasion. Email here for more information.
From all contemporary accounts it was an ideal choice for chamber music recitals. The acoustics were better-suited to small ensembles than, say, Carnegie or Mendelssohn Hall. It was well-located,accessible from both 42nd and 43rd streets, easy to reach by subway or bus. (The Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company began subway service between Brooklyn and Manhattan in 1915.) It was larger than Mendelssohn, seating 600 more (1800 total), and smaller than Carnegie, much too large for ordinary recitals. And it was close to restaurants, clubs, theaters and other entertainment.
The bold, grandiose advertisement the Hall printed in concert programs and newspapers trumpeted:
How did the critics -– the only barometer of public approval then available -– like the new hall? The first reported, “The acoustics of the auditorium cannot be said to have had a satisfying test yesterday, for a piano recital cannot furnish one... But … it seems likely that sounds will be distinct in the Aeolian.” The standard-bearing New York Times agreed:
The establishment of Aeolian Hall was another decisive event in the history of chamber music in New York City, because it was among the first to be constructed with all forms of music in mind, not just orchestral or solo recital. Carnegie Hall, for example, was not built to accommodate smaller ensembles acoustically. There was no other hall in the city that was built to the specifications that Aeolian was. As the New York Times explained, describing the next major classical music event at the new venue:
Many of the players in Damrosch’s Symphony Orchestra would later be engaged by Beebe for the New York Chamber Music Society (NYCMS), a pivotal group in the history of chamber music in the city. So its players were by then already accustomed to the acoustics of the relatively new space. But it was the Kneisel Quartet that was was the first to perform chamber music in the new space, giving the first of a series of subscription concerts four days later. Sylvester Rawling, writing for The Evening World reported that “universal opinion” among the “typical Kneisel audience of serious and fashionable music lovers” was that a fine replacement had been found for Mendelssohn Hall, “the most famous exemplar” for “the exploitation of chamber music…The intimacy between the performers and the listeners that is essential for the proper understanding of music of this sort was maintained, while the larger floor space permitted the seating of many eager-to-be subscribers who for years vainly had sought for places.”
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:
In the final analysis, the NYCMS would possibly not have existed if Aeolian Hall was not built. It was a perfect hall for an ensemble of their size, thus the appropriate music could be programmed, knowing that any performance would be the best sounding acoustically, the most accessible to the public, and a great showcase for the critics to opine on the performances and the music. Additionally, the New York composers she commissioned not only took into consideration who they were writing for but also the acoustical space -– having a premiere at Aeolian Hall was a great honor. Whatever the reason, the NYCMS had established itself in New York City at Aeolian Hall and, were now able to move to another location knowing they would have an audience to follow.
Lisa A. Kozenko is a professional oboist, with a DMA from The Graduate Center. She teaches at The New School.
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