Wigmore Hall: A Musical History
Wigmore Hall was built at the turn of the century by the German piano-making firm of
Bechstein next to its piano showrooms on Wigmore Street. The Hall was intended to provide
London with a venue that was both grandly impressive yet intimate enough for piano and
chamber music recitals. Bechstein Hall, as it was then called, opened on 31 May 1901 with
a gala concert featuring the Italian virtuoso pianist Ferruccio Busoni and Belgian
violinist Eugene Ysaÿe among others.
Built in Renaissance style, Bechstein Hall was designed by Thomas Colcutt, one of the
most distinguished architects of his day. The foyer of the Hall was built with alabaster,
with red Verona and Numidian marble walls, black and white marble floor paving and a
Sicilian marble stairway. The Hall retains most of its original features, including gas
lamps in the foyer and auditorium, and wall sconces in the foyer.
News of the Hall’s ideal acoustics quickly made it celebrated across Europe. It
acquired an almost legendary attraction for many of the greatest artists of the century,
including Carl Flesch, Artur Schnabel, Pablo Sarasate, Percy Grainger, Myra Hess, Artur
Rubinstein, and Camille Saint-Saëns.
The outbreak of war in 1914 brought a political climate hostile to German firms in
London. After two years in receivership, the affairs of the Bechstein family were
officially wound up by order of the Board of Trade. At an auction in November 1916, the
entire business – including showrooms, studios, offices, warehouses, furniture,
sub-lettings, piano tuning contracts and 137 pianofortes, as well as the Bechstein Hall
itself – was sold to Debenhams Ltd for just £56,500. The Hall alone had cost almost
£100,000 to build.
The Hall reopened as Wigmore Hall on 16th January 1917 and has staged
concerts more or less continuously ever since. The list of artists who have given recitals
at the Hall grows ever longer, including Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Dinu Lipatti, Victoria de
Los Angeles, Sergei Prokofiev, Paul Hindemith, Andrés Segovia, Pablo Casals, Benjamin
Britten and Peter Pears, Paul Tortelier, Francis Poulenc, Shura Cherkassky, the Amadeus
Quartet, and Jacqueline du Pré.
In 1966, William Lyne was appointed Director of the Hall – only the fourth holder
of that position since the Hall’s opening in 1901. Wigmore Hall has always been an
important venue for artists giving their first London performances, but it has now
increasingly attracted internationally established artists performing to capacity
audiences, and now presents over 400 concerts a year.