The university campus of Christiania (today’s Oslo), commissioned in 1851, consisted of three buildings. The Aula (assembly hall) was erected from private funds in 1911, on the centenary of the University's founding, at the rear of Domus Media.
The university buildings were designed by the architect and municipal geometrician Christian H. Grosch, supported by the famous German architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel.
The Aula is adorned by eleven monumental oil-on-canvas paintings by Edvard Munch. From the moment it was built, the Aula was the city's most important concert hall. Until 1977, when the Oslo Konserthus was erected, the Philharmonic Society Orchestra gave concerts in the Aula.
During his studies at the Conservatory (1948–1952), Arne Nordheim eagerly visited the Aula to listen to concerts and also to the morning rehearsals of the Philharmonic Society Orchestra.
In the first half of 1953, the New Music Association had the honour of organising the ISCM World Music Days festival, attended by composers from nineteen countries. From the stylistic point of view, the Festival represented a wide spectrum. For Nordheim and his fellow composers, it opened up new paths for musical development. When Karl-Birger Blomdahl's monumental cantata Speglarnas sal [The mirror room] for choir and orchestra was being prepared, Nordheim attended every rehearsal, looking at notes over the conductor’s shoulder. This process of studying the composer and his work was of crucial importance for his further development.
In the autumn of 1958, Nordheim got a job as a music critic with the Morgenposten, and he went on to report on 30 to 50 concerts, which took place mainly in the Aula. From 1963, he continued his work as a music critic with the Dagbladet.
A considerable number of his own works were presented in the Aula, including Aftonland and Canzona. In 1962 he conducted the orchestra in a recording of the music to Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson’s play Sigurd Slembe in the Aula, and on 9 February 1982 the Partita for six double basses, commissioned by the musicians, was performed there for the first time. A year later, in 1983, on the tenth anniversary of the Norwegian Music Academy, Nordheim’s Wirklicher Wald for soprano, cello, mixed choir and orchestra (to words by Rainer Maria Rilke) was performed.
For Arne Nordheim's seventieth birthday, in June 2001, the Ministry of Culture set up a composition prize in his name. On 13 October the same year, the prize was awarded for the first time in the Aula, accompanied by a performance of his Nedstigningen [Descent], to words by Stein Mehren.