Aeolian Hall

Aeolian Hall was a concert hall near Times Square in Midtown Manhattan, New York City located on the third floor of 29-33 West 42nd Street (also 34 West 43rd Street, from the other side) across the street from Bryant Park. The Aeolian Building was built in 1912 for the Aeolian Company, which manufactured pianos. Located on the site of the former Latting Tower, which during the 19th century was a popular observatory, the 18-story building included the 1,100-seat Aeolian Hall. The New York Symphony Society performed concerts in both Aeolian and Carnegie Hall, but moved in 1924 to the new Mecca Auditorium on 55th Street. Aeolian Hall was designed by the New York architectural firm of Warren and Wetmore.

Aeolian Hall also featured concerts by leading musical figures such as Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev, Ferruccio Busoni, Guiomar Novaes, and Ignacy Jan Paderewski, as well as Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra. The hall is most famous for a concert given by Whiteman's orchestra on February 12, 1924 titled "An Experiment in Modern Music". Intended to be an educational demonstration on how far American music had progressed in recent decades and how Jazz could be performed in the concert hall, the concert included a suite by Victor Herbert and closed with the Pomp and Circumstance marches by Edward Elgar. The concert is remembered, however, for the penultimate piece, the world premiere of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with the composer at the piano, orchestrated by Whiteman's arranger Ferde Grofe. This concert is today considered a defining event in the Jazz Age and the cultural history of New York City.

In the summer of that year, however, the Aeolian Company sold the building to Schulte Cigar Stores Company for over $5 million, and it has not been used as a concert hall since. It still hosted concerts by the International Composers Guild up to January 1926, at least, when the appearance of African American Broadway performer Florence Mills, singing jazz-based pieces by William Grant Still, caused a minor sensation. The New York Times reported on 3rd April 1926 (page 14, Social News) that Nadezhda Plevitskaya delighted the Aeolian Hall audience with her Russian folk songs.

From 1961 to 1999, the building housed the CUNY Graduate Center, and today houses the State University of New York's State College of Optometry.


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