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Academy of Music (Philadelphia)

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Title: Academy of Music (Philadelphia)  
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Subject: Music of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Ballet, 1872 Republican National Convention, List of National Historic Landmarks in Philadelphia, Philadelphia Boys Choir & Chorale
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Academy of Music (Philadelphia)

Academy of Music
Address 240 S. Broad Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
United States
Public transit Walnut-Locust:

12th-13th & Locust

15th-16th & Locust:
Owner Philadelphia Orchestra
Operator Philadelphia Orchestra
Type Opera house
Capacity 2,509
Opened 1857


Academy of Music
Built 1855-57[1]
Architect Napoleon LeBrun & Gustavus Runge
Architectural style Renaissance
Governing body private
NRHP Reference # 66000674
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 15, 1966[2]
Designated NHL December 29, 1962[3]

The Academy of Music, also known as American Academy of Music, is a concert hall and opera house located at 240 S. Broad Street between Locust and Manning Streets in the Avenue of the Arts area of Center City, Philadelphia It was built in 1855-57 and is the oldest opera house in the United States that is still used for its original purpose.[4] Known as the "Grand Old Lady of Locust Street," the venue is the home of the Pennsylvania Ballet and the Opera Company of Philadelphia. It was also home to the Philadelphia Orchestra from its inception in 1900 until 2001, when the orchestra moved to the new Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. The Philadelphia Orchestra still retains ownership of the Academy.[5]

The hall was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962.[3][6]


The Academy has been in continuous use since 1857, hosting many world-famous performers, conductors and composers, and a significant number of American premieres of works in the standard operatic and classical repertoire. Noted operas that had their American premieres there include Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos, Gounod's Faust, and Wagner's The Flying Dutchman. In 1916, Leopold Stokowski conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra in the American premiere of Mahler's Eighth Symphony (the Symphony of a Thousand).

The list of renowned artists who have performed at the Academy reads like a "who's who" of the past century of performing arts history, with such greats as Marian Anderson, Maria Callas, Enrico Caruso, Aaron Copland, Vladimir Horowitz, Gustav Mahler, Anna Pavlova, Luciano Pavarotti, Itzhak Perlman, Leontyne Price, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Artur Rubinstein, Isaac Stern, Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky, Joan Sutherland, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, among many others.

Outside of arts events, it hosted the 1872 Republican National Convention. In addition, parts of Martin Scorsese's 1993 film The Age of Innocence were filmed in the Academy.

The Academy of Music in 1870


An architectural competition for the Academy's design was announced in October 1854 and was won by the Philadelphia firm of Napoleon LeBrun and Gustavus Runge. The groundbreaking ceremony was held on June 18, 1855, with President Franklin Pierce in attendance and the venue opened with a grand ball on January 26, 1857. The first opera performed there was the Western Hemisphere premiere of Giuseppe Verdi's Il Trovatore, on February 25 of the same year.

Le Brun and Runge's design features an "open horseshoe" shape which offers greater visibility than most opera houses to the audience seated on both sides of the balconies. The auditorium is enclosed by a solid three-foot brick wall with studding and pine boards lining the inner sides to prevent echoes and absorb sound. The upper balconies are recessed in a tiered fashion and supported by 14 Corinthian columns. The front of the first balcony is highly ornamented. The hall has a seating capacity of 2,389 which can be expanded to 2,509 when seats are placed in the orchestra pit and proscenium boxes.

Interior furnishings

Proscenium wall and boxes. Architectural ornament by Charles Bushor and Joseph A. Bailly

The auditorium is graced by a large crystal chandelier, which measures 16 ft (4.9 m) in diameter, 50 ft (15 m) in circumference and weighs 5,000 lb (2,300 kg). When installed, the chandelier contained 240 gas jets; it was wired for electricity in 1900 and in 1957 was rewired and fitted with an electric-powered winch, allowing it to be lowered more easily. It previously required 12 people working four-hours to lower it by hand. Atop the proscenium is a bas-relief bust of Mozart. Seated on the cornice above are the figures of Poetry, on the left, and Music, on the right. The elaborate carvings and gilded wood sculpture decorations throughout the auditorium are the work of Charles Bushor and Joseph A. Bailly and the ceiling murals of allegorical figures were completed by Karl Hermann Schmolze.

Despite its name, the Academy has never contained a music school. Various voice and instrumental competitions have taken place there, including the Pavarotti competition.

A 2007 donation of $5.3 million by Leonore Annenberg was designated for restoration of the Academy's ballroom.[7] This was part of the almost $12 million (USD) in donations raised at the 150th anniversary concert for the Academy of Music.[8]


Some controversy exists regarding the Academy's acoustics. Although historically regarded for many decades as having excellent acoustics, some performers have been quoted as finding the Academy's sound problematic. The cavernous spaces above the hall's stage that allow for rapid set changes during an operatic performance tend to reduce resonance, giving the hall a dry acoustic. It has been theorized that the famous rich "Philadelphia Sound" of the hall's orchestra was, at least in part, the result of an effort by its music directors to compensate for this weakness. After some remodeling in the mid-1950s, Eugene Ormandy refused to make recordings with the Philadelphia Orchestra in the Academy. Riccardo Muti, Ormandy's successor, also made his commercial recordings with the orchestra elsewhere.

Various conductors have commented on the quality of the orchestral sound in the hall, as collected by Leo L. Beranek in his book Music, Acoustics & Architecture: Fritz Reiner commented: "The Academy has very good acoustics although somewhat dry. It is like an Italian opera house." Pierre Monteux: "This hall is too dry; the tone stops instantly. The sound should have a more flattering carry-over." Herbert von Karajan: "There is good orchestral balance, but the sound is too small. One doesn't get full power from the climaxes."'[9]

Extensive renovations beginning in 1994 have maintained the building's architecture and made acoustic improvements.

See also



  1. ^ Gallery, John Andrew, ed. (2004). Philadelphia Architecture: A Guide to the City (2nd ed.). Philadelphia: Foundation for Architecture.  , pp.56-57
  2. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places.  
  3. ^ a b "Academy Of Music". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-02-17. 
  4. ^ Tom Di Nardo, "Happy birthday: Academy of Music to celebrate 150 lavish years." Philadelphia Daily News (January 24, 2007)
  5. ^ Peter Dobrin, "A stalwart hall that does it all". Philadelphia Inquirer, 26 January 2007.
  6. ^ Charles E. Shedd, Jr., et al. (December 1979) National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: American Academy of Music; Academy of Music, National Park Service and Accompanying one photo, exterior, undated
  7. ^ Peter Dobrin (23 January 2007). "Academy ballroom gets major pledge".  
  8. ^ Peter Dobrin (1 February 2007). "Ways to show we treasure our Academy".  
  9. ^ Dobrin, Peter (26 January 2007). "When the music was cutting-edge". Philadelphia Inquirer ( Retrieved 2013-06-15. subscription required

External links

  • Academy of Music website
  • : 15 photos of the Academy of Music at Library of Congress - Historic American Buildings Survey
  • The Historical Society of Pennsylvania collection of Academy of Music programs, playbills, and scrapbooks, including playbills and programs from 1857 to 1972, are available for research use at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
  • G. Runge, Das neue Opernhaus „Academy of music" in Philadelphia
  • Opernhaus in Philadelphia Copperplate engravings, pp. 19–25 (pdf pp. 22–28)

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