The Gewandhausorchester: from town band to institution of international renown
The earliest roots of the Gewandhausorchester can be traced as far back as 1479. In this year Leipzig City Council appointed three musicians - Kunstpfeifer ('artistic pipers') - as municipal employees. This small ensemble remained in civic service until 1840, by which time their number had increased to seven. The musicians played a central role in Leipzig's cultural life, performing at functions in the City Hall, providing the musical accompaniment for services in the city's churches and participating in theatre productions, as well as forming a part of the orchestra of the Große Concerte ('Grand Concerts').
The concert enterprise Großes Concert was founded in 1743 by a society comprising both nobility and regular citizens alike - the first venture of its kind in Leipzig. The original Große Musicalische Concerte were held in the more spacious of homes of Leipzig society. The concerts' popularity soon, however, necessitated the hire of a hall in the hostelry Zu den drei Schwanen. For over thirty years, this inn played host to those citizens of Leipzig who could afford the society's substantial annual membership fee, from which the musicians were renumerated. The original orchestra comprised sixteen musicians, half of whom were professionals (including the Kunstpfeifer), half students at the city's university.
The year 1766 saw the opening of the nearby Komödienhaus ('Comedy House'). The theatre employed no musicians and ensemble of its own, rather hosting itinerant theatrical and operatic troupes for which the Stadtmusiker (the City Musicians) were engaged as orchestra. As time passed and the demands of the theatrical productions increased, the orchestra was to be ever more frequently bolstered by the musicians of the Große Concerte. So began the gradual symbiosis of Leipzig's concert and theatre orchestras.
At this time, the Gewandhaus (Gewand = robe), the trading house of the city's textile merchants, had no use for a substantial part of the upper floor of the building. On the initiative of the mayor, this space was converted into a concert hall. In November 1781, the first Gewandhauskonzert took place. The audience consisted of the members of the society which had promoted the concerts in the inn; the 32-man orchestra comprised the musicians who had given the Große Concerte, the majority of whom were, by this time, also employed regularly by the theatre. The orchestra of these Gewandhaus Concerts, therefore, soon became known as the 'Gewandhaus and Theatre Orchestra'.
In 1789, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart travelled to Leipzig in order to give a concert in the Gewandhaus. By this time, the hall was well established as the centre of Leipzig's concert life and would remain so for the subsequent 100 years. The nine symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven received their first performance as a complete cycle worldwide during the composer's lifetime in the 1825/26 season. Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy's celebrated tenure as Gewandhauskapellmeister (conductor and music director of the Gewandhausorchester) began in 1835. His Scottish Symphony and Violin Concerto in E minor were both premiered in the Gewandhaus. Mendelssohn also conducted the first performances of symphonies of Robert Schumann and of Franz Schubert's C major Symphony The Great. In later years, both Richard Wagner's Meistersinger Prelude (1862) and Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto (1879) received their world premieres in the Gewandhaus, conducted in both cases by the composers themselves.
This period saw the development of the Gewandhaus- und Theaterorchester's additional role as orchestra of the city's churches. The musical provision for the services held in Leipzig's two principal churches, St. Nikolai and St. Thomas, was the responsibility of the Thomaskantor (Cantor of St. Thomas's), who also embodied the position of Civic Music Director. The Thomanerchor (St. Thomas's Choir) sang in both churches, accompanied by the Stadtmusiker. Here too, however, were the musical demands to increase; from 1789, the City Musicians were augmented by seven members of the Gewandhaus and Theatre Orchestra. During the following years, members of the Orchestra became increasingly involved in the realisation of the churches' musical requirements until, in 1840, the Gewandhaus- und Theaterorchester was officially declared the "civic orchestra" by the City Council. The performance of sacred music has since this time formed a staple part of the Orchestra's duties.
In 1868, a new opera house was opened in Leipzig. The theatre was able to accommodate significantly more ambitious, more elaborate stagings than the erstwhile Komödienhaus (remodelled as 'City Theatre' in 1817). At this time, the Gewandhaus- und Theaterorchester numbered 58 musicians, a strength which was not sufficient, firstly, to satisfy the orchestral requirements of the larger-scale operas now being staged and, secondly, to fulfil these increased duties adequately in addition to its symphonic commitments in the Gewandhaus. The ensuing conflict between the theatre and Gewandhaus managements was resolved by the City Council's decision to augment the Orchestra to a total of 72 players.
As time passed and the 19th century ran its course, the concert hall in the Gewandhaus became increasingly unable to cope with the demands placed upon it by the Orchestra's steadily burgeoning public. Following several measures over the years to increase the audience capacity, the management of the Gewandhaus eventually bowed to the inevitable necessity of erecting a new concert hall. Following two-and-a-half years construction, the Neues Gewandhaus was inaugurated in December 1884. The New Gewandhaus witnessed the tenures of Arthur Nikisch, Wilhelm Furtwängler and Bruno Walter, among others, as Gewandhauskapellmeister, as well as playing host to the likes of Johannes Brahms, Peter Tchaikovsky, Edvard Grieg and Richard Strauss conducting their own works. Anton Bruckner graced the Neues Gewandhaus with an organ recital. The new hall was also the scene of the Gewandhausorchester's first audio and film recordings.
The Gewandhausorchester undertook its first foreign tour during, of all times, the First World War. Prior to this, the Gewandhaus directorate had been thoroughly opposed to such ventures, "due to the risk that our illustrious orchestra, which has, heretofore, served only noble causes, could descend to depths such as those occupied by a philharmonic orchestra in Berlin with its commercial undertakings. Should the orchestra members begin to travel, they will very well take to the variety this affords and demand its recurrence." On receiving an invitation from Switzerland in 1916, however, the City Council and the Gewandhaus approved the enterprise "on the grounds that it represents an artistic cultural mission of great significance." Two further visits to Switzerland were to follow before the colossal undertaking of a first extensive tour of Europe in 1931. The political developments of the ensuing years were, sadly, to prevent the Orchestra capitalising on its newly-established reputation abroad.
The Gewandhausorchester - now homeless - did not venture beyond Germany's borders to represent Leipzig anew until 1951. Both the Neues Theater and the Neues Gewandhaus had been destroyed by bombing during the war. Since the cessation of hostilities in Europe in 1945, opera performances and concerts had taken place in temporary, sometimes somewhat makeshift locations throughout Leipzig. Following the opening of the city's new opera house in 1960, Leipzig would have to wait a further two decades for the construction of a new concert hall for the Gewandhausorchester. The Neues Gewandhaus (named, as its predecessor, New Gewandhaus) opened its doors to the public in 1981 - the only genuine concert hall to be built in the GDR (former communist East Germany). Overwhelming credit for the realisation and success of the undertaking must be granted to the Gewandhauskapellmeister of the day, Kurt Masur.
Masur's successor, Herbert Blomstedt, led the Orchestra - now numbering 185 musicians - into the 21st century, before handing the baton on to Riccardo Chailly. In the 2017/2018 season Andris Nelsons will beginn his tenure as 21st Gewandhauskapellmeister. Much has changed in Leipzig during the past decades - one thing, however, remains constant: the Gewandhausorchester performs in the Gewandhaus, in the Leipzig Opera and, together with the Thomanerchor, in St. Thomas's Church. The combination of symphonic, operatic and sacred repertoire has imbued the Gewandhausorchester with an artistic profile of unparallelled diversity and richness.
Founding of the Orchestra with the inception of the Großes Concert
Inauguration of the Orchestra's first genuine home, the Gewandhaus, from which the Orchestra's name was to derive
Reciprocal agreement signed by the members of the Orchestra
Declaration as "civic orchestra
First foreign tour to Switzerland
First European tour
First tour of Japan
First tour of the USA
First tour of South America
First tour of Australia
|1781-1785||Johann Adam Hiller||1. Gewandhauskapellmeister|
|1785-1810||Johann Gottfried Schicht||2. Gewandhauskapellmeister|
|1810-1827||Johann Philipp Christian Schulz||3. Gewandhauskapellmeister|
|1827-1835||Christian August Pohlenz||4. Gewandhauskapellmeister|
|1835-1847||Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy||5. Gewandhauskapellmeister|
|1841/1842,1852-1854||Ferdinand David||6. Gewandhauskapellmeister|
|1843/1844||Ferdinand Hiller||7. Gewandhauskapellmeister|
|1844-1848||Niels Wilhelm Gade||8. Gewandhauskapellmeister|
|1848-1860||Julius Rietz||9. Gewandhauskapellmeister|
|1860-1895||Carl Reinecke||10. Gewandhauskapellmeister|
|1895-1922||Arthur Nikisch||11. Gewandhauskapellmeister|
|1922-1928||Wilhelm Furtwängler||12. Gewandhauskapellmeister|
|1929-1933||Bruno Walter||13. Gewandhauskapellmeister|
|1934-1945||Hermann Abendroth||14. Gewandhauskapellmeister|
|1946-1948||Herbert Albert||15. Gewandhauskapellmeister|
|1949-1962||Franz Konwitschny||16. Gewandhauskapellmeister|
|1964-1968||Václav Neumann||17. Gewandhauskapellmeister|
|1970-1996||Kurt Masur||18. Gewandhauskapellmeister|
|1998-2005||Herbert Blomstedt||19. Gewandhauskapellmeister|
|2005-2016||Riccardo Chailly||20. Gewandhauskapellmeister|
|from season 2017/2018||Andris Nelsons||21. Gewandhauskapellmeister|