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 ensemble of the Große Concerte: a half student orchestra
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.