Chris Latham discusses the impact of the technological miracle from 1910 that changed the way we listen for ever.
Throughout history, humans have been drawn to make music inside resonant acoustic spaces. From the Greek and Roman amphitheatres through Gothic cathedrals, a mystical science of acoustics developed around the perfect proportions of these buildings, often relating to the Golden Section. The finest of these became pilgrimage destinations, such as Vienna’s Musikverein, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, London’s Wigmore Hall and New York’s Carnegie Hall.
Over the last 300 years the trend has been to increase the number of musicians on stage to create a larger sound and a more encompassing emotional effect for the listener. The increased cost of musicians required a larger audience to support the outlay, so auditoriums increased proportionally. In response to increased volume, orchestra sizes evolved from baroque string bands with winds and occasional brass, to the ‘double wind’ classical orchestra, to the romantic ‘triple wind’ orchestra, to the ‘quadruple wind’ modern symphony.
However, just over 100 years ago, an instrument was invented that would subvert all of this. The beginning of the 20th century ushered in the modern piano, the marimba and vibraphone (which John Deagan would build...