Since 1822, the Music Hall has been the heart of the concert and community life in the North East of Scotland. A celebrated landmark in the city's main thoroughfare of Union Street, the Music Hall is a proud reminder of Aberdeen's most famous architect, Archibald Simpson.
Originally the City's Assembly Rooms, built at a cost of £11,500, the Music Hall was extensively restored and refurbished by the City of Aberdeen District Council in the mid 1980s. It now symbolises the perfect union between classical design and comfortable modern facilities.
The Music Hall plays host to an ever widening range of events. Concerts of all descriptions are enthusiastically attended. Programmes of classical, folk, rock, pop and jazz music are equally at home in the Hall while exhibitions, seminars, conferences, graduation balls, tea dances and craft fairs all find a professional welcome.
The Restoration of the Music Hall Murals
There exists a suite of murals in the Concert Hall of the Music Hall, in panels along the walls. These murals are the work of Aberdeen Artist Robert Douglas Strachan and were carried out from 1899 over a period of 8-10 years. It is also apparent that Strachan was responsible for the new painting of Apollo and the Muses in the apse immediately above the organ. This mural has been painted over the earlier scheme of Apollo and the Muses carried out by Messrs. Purdie, Bonnar and Carfrae who were responsible for the decoration of the Principal Rooms of the Music Hall in 1863-65.
The mural ranges across the apse in a curving pattern formed by the entwined branches of tall trees. Apollo stands centre with his lyre, which along with his laurel and cloak edging, is formed in raised gilded plaster; the muses are sent curled amongst the branches above his head. The border at the base of the apse fresco is reminiscent of part of the stencil decoration found in the concert hall and apparently dating from 1865.
Other murals are based on an "Orpheus" theme. The panel, which shows Orpheus leaving Eurydice, is located at the back of the stage on the right hand side. Located at the back of the stage on the left-hand side, is a work by Hugh Adam Crawford - Head of Gray's School of Art at the time - presumably to replace a Strachan, which had been damaged. This work was completed in 1949.
The panel above the fire exit door from the upper level balcony is a scene depicting some Bacchants overtaking Orpheus in a frosty glade with a river winding its way through a classical landscape into an evening sky and bade him to play some gay music, so they may indulge in a dance. Poor Orpheus is dazed with grief, however, due to the loss of Eurydice to the Underworld and could not comply with their demands. Conservation works on this painting were carried out in 1995 and revealed a very fine piece of painting, full of Venetian colouring, reds, pinks played off against muted acid greens, blues and golds.
The mural, which has been removed from the left-hand wall is another Episode from Orpheus and, is being kept at The Stenhouse Conservation Centre prior to restoration. It is envisaged that the painting will be restored and re-hung in the near future.
The large work at the rear of the hall sees Orpheus seated on a long sailing boat, his back to a female apparition at the far left. The action on deck is fully visible and shows sailors straining at oar and rigging.
The Artist - Robert Douglas Strachan - was born in Aberdeen in 1875. The Music Hall Murals suite of works is without a doubt in the mainstream of European Art Nouveau reminding us that Scottish Art had many links with the continent at this time. It is apparently the sole surviving example of the artist's early decorative work.
His later work in stained glass is renowned, with examples to be found in King's College, Aberdeen; New College , Edinburgh and the Scottish National War Memorial, Edinburgh. There were also examples of his work in the Goldsmith's Window in St Paul 's Cathedral, London, which was destroyed during the War and Britain 's contribution to the Palace of Peace in the Hague.