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Historical background

Resident in Geneva since his youth, Daniel Fitzgerald Packenham Barton (1850-1907), the British Consul, enjoyed two lifelong passions, sailing and music, and possessed private means which more than allowed him to indulge in both. He was able to maintain a personal fleet of boats on the lake, to create the Harmonie nautique, a wind symphony orchestra, in 1883, and to build a concert hall dedicated to his sovereign, Queen Victoria, and designed by the Geneva architect, John Camoletti.

The Victoria Hall was built between 1891 and 1894, close to the Grand Théâtre and the Music Conservatory. Its façade is characteristic of the French "Beaux-Arts" style, inspired by classical and renaissance architecture. The Main Entrance is surmounted by an aedicula bearing the coat of arms of the Barton and Peel families, which serves as a plinth for the allegorical figure of Harmony, a work by Joseph Massarotti based on a model by the Parisian sculptor Jean Coulon. The central frontage is designed as the representation of a loggia in Pompeian-red set off by two monumental Ionic columns, accompanied on either side by the more sober facings of massive corner towers on which are engraved the names of sixteen symphonic composers.

The unobtrusively decorated foyer leaves concert-goers totally unprepared for the decorative extravagance of the auditorium with stalls, dress circle, upper circle and stage resplendent in a neo-baroque style verging on the rococo. The multiplicity of elaborately moulded contours, from garlands and cartouches to caryatids and other mascarons, is enhanced by a liberal use of gold leaf, blending into the subdued red of the underlying colour scheme.

In 1904, Barton donated the building to the City of Geneva. 80 years later, the interior was partly destroyed in a fire and the City undertook its restoration. The stucco work was remoulded using methods similar to those used when the Hall was first built. Three large ceiling medallions, representing the earthly harmonies ascending towards the celestial, the work of the painter Ernest Biéler, were irreparably damaged and replaced with a contemporary work by Dominique Appia.

The Victoria Hall, nowadays used principally for performances of classical music, also welcomes leading performers in song, jazz and ethnic music. The splendour of the auditorium is complemented by acoustic qualities, which, as all music lovers will agree, are well-nigh incomparable.