As a prelude to the opening of Schinkel’s Schauspielhaus after three years of construction, Händel’s “Alexander’s Feast” is performed in the – small – concert hall.
In the presence of Frederick William III and his court, the entire theatre is ceremoniously opened with a prologue written by Goethe.
Music history is written with the premiere of Carl Maria von Weber’s “Der Freischütz”. Soon all of Berlin is singing and whistling catchy tunes like the “Huntsmen’s Chorus” and the “Bridal Wreath Song”.
The Berlin premiere of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony divides the critics. In the “Vossische Zeitung” one reads that while the “ladies were overcome with emotion”, the “faces of the gentlemen were beaming with laughter”. The “Berliner Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung”, on the other hand, is full of praise: “The glorious master, whom future generations will revere, is still alive...”
“Perhaps Goethe’s Mephisto would have played the violin like this.” Ludwig Rellstab, critic
Niccolò Paganini, the violin virtuoso from Genoa, sent Europe into a veritable frenzy in the first half of the 19th century. Now he was slated to come to Berlin to perform at the Schauspielhaus for twelve performances. “Perhaps Goethe’s Mephisto would have played the violin like this,” notes critic Ludwig Rellstab. And after the concert, Fanny Mendelssohn, sister of the composer, is no less reserved in her judgement of this “most wonderful, unfathomable talent, a man with the appearance of a murderer and the movements of an ape. A supernatural, wild genius. He is most exciting and piquant.” 1829
“A most wonderful, unfathomable talent, [...] a man with the appearance of a murderer and the movements of an ape. A supernatural, wild genius. He is most exciting and piquant.” Fanny Mendelssohn, composer
The revolutionaries of 1848 demand fundamental democratic rights such as freedom of speech, assembly and the press, as well as the right to vote. Troops of the Prussian king march against the barricades on Gendarmenmarkt and brutally put down the protest. Only four days later, however, the ceremonial laying-out of 183 “Märzgefallene” or March casualties there seems to demonstrate victory on the part of the revolutionaries. Adolph Menzel would immortalise this motif in a famous painting: a crowd of people from different walks of life gathering on 22 March 1848 to pay their last respects to the dead. From September onwards, Prussia’s first modern parliament meets in the Great Hall of the Schauspielhaus. There are demonstrations again, and on 31 October armed workers harass the MPs. Ten days later, the democratic experiment is once again brought to an end by royal troops.
Theodor Fontane’s career as a theatre critic for the “Vossische Zeitung” begins. Responsible for the “Royal Plays” column, he visits Schiller’s freedom drama “William Tell” just two days later. For the next two decades, Fontane would observe the stage from his famous stall seat 23. With his reviews, signed “Th. F.”, he made his mark, but also quite a few enemies: “‘There sits the monster again,’ I can often read in the faces.”
“I spent many pleasant hours there, but a strange place it was too.” Theodor Fontane
Berlin celebrates Friedrich Schiller’s 112th birthday with the unveiling of his monument, sculpted by Reinhold Begas, in front of the Schauspielhaus. In 1859, the laying of the foundation stone was still distrustfully monitored by the police. Now, alongside a dozen dignitaries, even the newly crowned Emperor William I is in attendance, albeit through the windows of Seehandlung Palace on the corner of Jägerstraße. Schiller’s grandson is in attendance, but organisers forget to invite the Schauspielhaus directors. In the evening, of course, a work by the jubilarian is performed, “Wallenstein’s Camp”.
“The fact that he saved lives while also being a beneficiary of the regime is part of the ambiguity one faces when contemplating Gründgens.” Thomas Blubacher, Gründgens biographer
The great actor Gustaf Gründgens (1899 – 1963) is appointed director of the Prussian State Theatre at the Schauspielhaus by Prime Minister Hermann Göring. He was an ambivalent personality, who allows the theatre to flourish in the darkest of times. Important productions – including “Faust” and “Hamlet” – are produced, and the ensemble includes Werner Krauß, Bernhard Minetti, Maria Koppenhöfer, Hermine Körner, Käthe Gold, Käthe Dorsch, Marianne Hoppe, Elisabeth Flickenschildt, Gustav Knuth, Paul Wegener, Theo Lingen and Heinz Rühmann.
During World War II, bombs hit the Schauspielhaus several times, destroying the south wing with the concert hall as early as 1943. The damage is repaired to such an extent that makeshift performances are possible until the final weeks of the war – ultimately, these are readings. The battles of the last days of the war, however, bring complete destruction to Schinkel’s building. The cause of the devastating fire can no longer be traced.
The guest performance of the legendary Alexandrov Ensemble has become engrained in the collective memory. In the midst of the destroyed city, between the burnt-out ruins of the cathedrals and the Schauspielhaus, the members of this Red Army cultural ensemble not only perform folklore from their homeland, but also sing their way into the hearts of some 35,000 listeners with German folk songs that move them with their longing for hope and beauty. A recording of “Im schönsten Wiesengrunde” (In the Fairest Meadow) becomes one of the audio documents that is broadcast several times afterwards.
The team of architects Ehrhardt Gißke, Klaus Just and Manfred Prasser is commissioned to rebuild the ruins of the Schauspielhaus as a concert hall. Prasser does not foresee a modern interior, as the GDR leadership initially desired, but hopes to see it designed in the spirit of Schinkel. He finally obtains the green light and, over the years, plans his new model down to the very last detail in a highly creative way.
“Schinkel would have been pleased to see what we accomplished.” Manfred Prasser, architect
For a long time, the Berlin Symphony Orchestra had no venue of its own. Now it can finally call the newly renovated Schauspielhaus its home. Under the direction of Kurt Sanderling and Claus Peter Flor, the orchestra inaugurates “its” home in front of assembled GDR luminaries with works such as the “Freischütz Overture” and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Incidentally, the first music had already been performed there three years earlier. As a thank-you, the orchestra played the legendary “building site concert” for construction workers in the shell of the building.
In the divided city of Berlin, the 750th anniversary of the first mention of the city in historical documents is celebrated with great fanfare. Prominent artists from around the world perform at the Schauspielhaus, including Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra with Leonard Bernstein, the Choir and Orchestra of La Scala Milan with Riccardo Muti, the Munich Philharmonic with Sergiu Celibidache, the Vienna Philharmonic with Claudio Abbado and the Philharmonic State Orchestra with Sir Yehudi Menuhin. The first performance of the Jeunesses Musicales World Orchestra in the GDR is a cultural-political sensation. In the middle of the summer break, Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” is performed on 15 August under the direction of Jeffrey Tate.
In the Great Hall, Leonard Bernstein conducts Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the “Berlin Celebration Concert” a few weeks after the fall of the Wall. Musicians from East and West Berlin and the four countries of the victorious powers perform together. In the last movement of the symphony, Bernstein changes the text: instead of the “Ode to Joy”, an “Ode to Freedom” is sung. Many who were in the audience at the time still remember with great emotion this impressive gesture and the very special atmosphere of the concert.
Members of the German Bundestag and the People’s Chamber of the GDR, the governments of the two still-existing German states and prominent guests gather for the ceremony in the Schauspielhaus. The last premier of East Germany, Lothar de Maizière, bids farewell to the GDR in his speech. Kurt Masur conducts Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and a “pan-German” vocal ensemble.
Frank Schneider has been Artistic Director of the Schauspielhaus and the Berlin Symphony Orchestra since 1992. Now the theatre and orchestra are also merged as institutions. The Schauspielhaus is officially renamed as the Konzerthaus Berlin.
The Werner Otto Hall is opened on the top floor of the building, with architect Peter Kulka creating a soberly modern contrast to the rest of the building. Thanks to a very generous donation from patron Werner Otto, the former orchestra rehearsal hall is transformed into a flexible black box with lifting platforms.
The Berlin Symphony Orchestra becomes the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, reflecting its home on Gendarmenmarkt in its name from now on.
Over the summer, the stage of the Great Hall is completely rebuilt for three months. Just in time for the start of the season in autumn, it is now possible to set up the stage area in 34 platform levels and to lower the approximately 220 m² performance area completely to auditorium level. This means that events in the Great Hall can be set up and dismantled more quickly. The great flexibility makes innovative formats possible, such as the immediately enormously successful “Mittendrin – Right in the Middle”, in which the audience sits between the musicians of the Konzerthausorchester led by Principal Conductor Iván Fischer.
After an outstanding career as a pianist and principal conductor with other renowned orchestras in Europe and the United States, Christoph Eschenbach takes over as Principal Conductor of the Konzerthausorchester for the 2019/20 season.
“I was fascinated by the special history of the Konzerthausorchester and its concert hall, with all its ups and downs, reflecting the history of Berlin.” Christoph Eschenbach, Principal Conductor of the Konzerthausorchester Berlin.