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  • Writer's pictureLondon On The Ground

Wigmore Hall: acoustic and visual delights - and a repeating history

Intimate early 20th century music venue boasts a striking 'Soul of Music' mural by Gerald Moira.

The Hall's iron and glass canopy, 36 Wigmore Street

Wigmore Hall opened in 1901, at 36 Wigmore Street, to showcase the products of the piano manufacturing company Bechstein, whose showroom was next door at 38 and 40 Wigmore Street. Originally called Bechstein Hall, it was designed by the architect Thomas Edward Colcutt.


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C. Bechstein Pianoforte AG had been founded in Berlin in 1853, a resonant year for the piano industry. The same year, 170 years ago, also saw the founding of Steinway (in Manhattan) and Blüthner (in Leipzig). By the start of the 20th century, Bechstein was Europe's leading piano manufacturer.

The entrance to the Bechstein piano showroom was via the large door on the left

During World War I, when Bechstein and other German businesses were forced to cease trading in the UK, its properties were seized. In 1916 Bechstein Hall was sold at auction to department store Debenhams for £56,000, little more than half the cost of constructing the Hall.

It reopened in 1917, when writer Virginia Woolf was in the audience at the first concert under its new name of Wigmore Hall.

In 2005 The Wigmore Hall Trust took a 250 year lease on the property from freeholder the Howard de Walden Estate (a major landowner in the Marylebone and Harley Street area). This assured its long term future.

The Hall's design is influenced by the Renaissance and neoclassical style of the 15th and 16th centuries, with a terracotta exterior of pleasing proportions. The interior is more opulent, featuring marble, alabaster and gilded details.

Wigmore Hall's auditorium, looking towards the stage

In addition to its sumptuous good looks Wigmore Hall enjoys excellent acoustics, helped by its barrel vaulted ceiling. With a capacity of 545 seats, including a balcony above the stalls, it is an intimate venue well suited to performances by small numbers of musicians.

The barrel vaulted ceiling and the balcony

Behind the stage is an apse, above which is a cupola with a striking allegorical mural by painter and muralist Gerald Moira.

The apse and mural

The painting shows a performer (front left) and a composer (front right) seeking inspiration from Love (far left) and Psyche (the Greek goddess of the soul, far right).

Gerald Moira's mural painting

Musician and writer are both searching for the often elusive essence, or soul of music, represented by the mural's central figure, crowned by the golden light of harmony.

The soul of music

Many great performers and musicians have appeared under Gerald Moira's mural in the Hall's 122 years. The Wigmore Hall website details many of them, including such luminaries as Saint-Saëns, Ravel, Coleridge-Taylor, Ivor Novello, Prokofiev, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Benjamin Britten.

David Bowie even appeared here in 1969 (read this article in The Guardian for more on that and on a range of other performers at the Hall, including pioneering African American musicians in the early decades of the 20th century).

It has a long established international reputation as a leading music venue, particularly for chamber music, piano and song recitals.

Elsewhere in London, Wigmore Hall's architect T. E. Collcutt (1840-1925) also designed the Savoy Hotel, Lloyd's Register of Shipping, the Palace Theatre and the Imperial Institute (of which only the tower remains, part of Imperial College).

The son of a Portuguese former diplomat and miniature painter, Gerald Moira (1867-1959) was born in London with the name Giraldo de Moura. In addition to his work at Wigmore Hall, he also created murals and stained glass for the palatial interior of the Central Criminal Court (more commonly called The Old Bailey), completed in the City of London in 1906.

Inside The Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court)

As part of restoration work carried out almost fifty years later, after World War II, he created a new mural painting showing the work of London's Civil Defence Forces during the Blitz, in which he painted his own face on a seated old woman drinking a mug of tea.

Gerald Moira's mural of London's Civil Defence Forces in World War II, in The Old Bailey

In addition, Moira created stained glass windows for a number of churches and a painting for All Saints Margaret Street. Considered by some to be his most important canvas, the latter, depicting the Bishop of Nassau celebrating mass at All Saints, subsequently went missing and has not been found.

John Golhooly, a classical singer, is Wigmore Hall's Executive Director and Artistic Director. He has expanded the Hall's audience and repertoire to include jazz, folk and world music, while retaining classical song, chamber and early music at its core.

Wigmore Hall also commissions new compositions, offers an inclusive Learning Programme and regular Sunday morning concerts (I am told that the sherry served afterwards is almost as popular as the music).

After more than a century filling a distinctive musical niche in central London, Wigmore Hall will soon witness the return of an important part of its past to Wigmore Street.

The Hall's original owner, Bechstein, is building a new showroom and 100 seat recital hall in a converted property a few doors away at 22 Wigmore Street, an address with its own piano pedigree. In the 1890s, piano maker and retailer John Brinsmead and Sons had a showroom, offices, warehouse and concert hall there.

Originally due for the spring of this year, the new Bechstein Hall is now anticipating a 2024 opening. It will harmonise with the history of Wigmore Street and the Bechstein company, further enriching London's live music culture and heritage.

The Bechstein Hall under development at 22 Wigmore Street

I attended a performance at Wigmore Hall for the first time only in September. The evening featured rising stars Sheku Kanneh-Mason on cello and Plinio Fernandes on guitar, duetting on a selection of short pieces by South American composers of the 20th and 21st centuries.

My second visit followed soon afterwards, for an early Saturday evening concert of only an hour. Wigmore Hall regulars the Nash Ensemble performed works by Antonín Dvořák, Joseph Suk and Johannes Brahms.

Both performances captivated audiences of all ages and backgrounds. I was happy to discover and share their passion for the Wigmore Hall, for they know what a delightful venue it is, both acoustically and visually.

Wigmore Hall gallery


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1 Comment

Oct 27, 2023

What a lovely post! It is indeed a beautiful venue and feels very inclusive, with prices starting at only £10. And I can vouch for the sherry on Sunday mornings!

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