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Beethoven's concert of 22 December 1808 was held in an extremely cold theatre. How could it have been heated at the time?

The date is too early for central heating to have been commonplace. Braziers or other space headers could have been used, but ventilation would be a problem. Am I missing something obvious?

  • If you research underfloor heating, you will find the romans did it... – Solar Mike Dec 23 '18 at 21:27
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The normal ballpark estimate of how much heat a person gives off is comparison to a 100W (sometime 120W) incandescent light bulb. The Theater an der Wien had a capacity of 2,000 in Beethoven's time, which was more than sufficient to heat a building in temperatures only near freezing.

Originally, it was “more spacious than any in Vienna”, with a capacity of almost 2,000 whereas today it seats 950.

Even at only 3/4 capacity that is generated heat of 1500 * 100W = 150kW. If the building was reasonably insulated, one might in a normal winter have been more concerned with how to cool the building when at or near capacity.

Typical December temperatures in Vienna are not particularly cold, with typical daily highs around 3C (38F) and overnight lows about -1C (30F). However the winter of 1808/09 was one of the coldest on record across Europe. I coudn't find records specifically for Vienna, but:

At Stockholm [, only] the winters 1788/89 and 1808/09 are found to be colder [than that of 1941/42].


From my comment below:

Theatrical events are typically preceded by 60 minutes or more of meet & greet as patrons enter the building. It can take another 20 minutes after that to seat everyone. And, traditional European formal attire is already intended to keep one warm in temperatures of around 10-12 C; not the 20-22C we normally think of as room temperature.

Observe here, from the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the men's attire for a business meeting. Note the jackets, with stiff high collar on both jacket and blouse to keep out drafts. The reason men today feel so compelled to remove their jacket immediately on entering a building is that our modern room temperature is about 10C warmer than that which the attire is designed for. This is also why the collars have lowered and gotten looser over the past century.

enter image description here

For women, formal dress seems to have always been a bit lighter than for men. However the tradition was that decolletage was for dancing, and every fashionable woman had a stole, preferably ermine if affordable, to keep her shoulders and neckline warm:

enter image description here Also, Mrs. Willott in a white Stole:

enter image description here

Here, German Biedermeier period fashion, 19th century: enter image description here

  • Most fascinating perspective! Although I wonder whether 1 a direct source would support that, & 2 a temperature well freezing wouldn't make the venue quite inhospitable at first (how long does it take to heat up the place; how much ist that hampered by people keeping their insulation (both ways) on until accommodation? – LangLangC Dec 21 '18 at 21:26
  • @LangLangC: These events are typically preceded by 60 minutes or more of meet & greet as patrons enter the building. It can take another 20 minutes after that to seat everyone. And, traditional European formal attire is already intended to keep one warm in temperatures of around 10-12 C; not the 20-22C we normally think of as room temperature. – Pieter Geerkens Dec 21 '18 at 21:32
  • OK. And agreed. For formal attire of gents. Without having really looked into it: How would typically ladies dress? (From jostling current observation as well as historic paintings: just inadequate for 10-12°?) – LangLangC Dec 21 '18 at 21:39
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    Now this A is very useful answer: +1 :) [Although I am not quite sure if it really follows that the people depicted really kept it all on when "in session"? – LangLangC Dec 21 '18 at 22:04
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    Agreed; I live in Canada 3 degrees further south than Vienna. Temperatures with Vienna's typical December overnight low of -1C would be a mild April here. – Pieter Geerkens Dec 21 '18 at 22:40

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