A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Rome


ROME. The early music schools of Rome, from the time of St. Sylvester to that of Palestrina, were so closely connected with the papacy that their history, as far as it is known, may be read in the article Sistine Choir, vol. iii. p. 519.

Whether or not Guido d'Arezzo founded a school of singing at Rome in the first half of the 11th century is only a matter of conjecture; the probabilities are in favour of the theory, as it is known that Guido spent a short time, at least, at the capital about the year 1032, and that the then Pope John XIX. was so delighted with his method of teaching singing that he urged him to take up his residence in Rome, an invitation which only ill-health prevented Guido from accepting. In any case there can be no reasonable doubt that the papal choir received many valuable hints from him.

The Sistine Chapel was not the only one which had a school or college of music attached to it, though it was by far the earliest. In 1480 Sixtus IV. proposed the formation of a 'cappella musicale' in connection with the Vatican, distinct from the Sistine; his idea was not however realized till the time of Julius II., when the 'Cappella Giulia' was founded (in 1513) for 12 singers, 12 scholars, and 2 masters for music and grammar. Arcadelt was the first 'Maestro de' Putti' (in 1539), Palestrina the first 'Maestro della cappella della basilica Vaticana' (1551–4); among celebrated 'maestri' in later days were Tommaso Bai (1713–15), and Domenico Scarlatti (1715–19). The 'Cappella musicale nella protobasilica di S. Giovanni in Laterano' was founded in 1535 by Cardinal de Cupis; one of the earliest 'Maestri de' Putti' was Lasso (1541); Palestrina held the office of 'Maestro di cappella' here after his exclusion from the Vatican chapel (1555–61). The 'Cappella di Musica nella basilica Liberiana' (or Sta. Maria Maggiore) was founded about the same time as the Lateran chapel, and numbers among its 'maestri' Palestrina (1561–71), Giov. Maria Nanini (1571–1575), Alessandro Scarlatti (1703–9).

Besides these exclusively ecclesiastical schools, others were established by private individuals. The first man who is known to have kept a public music school at Rome was a foreigner, Claude Goudimel, of Vaison, near Avignon; his school is supposed to have been founded about the year 1539, and among his earliest pupils were Palestrina, Giovanni Animuccia, and Giovanni Maria Nanini. In 1549 Nicola Vicentino, the would-be restorer of the Ancient Greek Modes, opened a small private school at Rome, into which a few select pupils were admitted, whom he endeavoured to indoctrinate with his musical views. But it was not till a quarter of a century later that a public music school was opened by an Italian. Whether it was that Nanini was inspired by his master's example, or, which is still more likely, was stirred by the musical agitation of the day, is of little importance; but it is certain that the year to which the opening of his school is attributed was the same which saw the foundation of the Order of Oratorians, who in the person of their leader, St. Filippo Neri, were then doing so much for the promotion of music. Nanini soon induced his former fellow-pupil, Palestrina, to assist him in teaching, and he appears to have given finishing lessons. Among their best pupils were Felice Anerio and Gregorio Allegri. After Palestrina's death Nanini associated his younger brother Bernardino with him in the work of instruction, and it was probably for their scholars that they wrote jointly their treatise on counterpoint. Giovanni Maria dying in 1607 was succeeded by Bernardino, who was in his turn succeeded by his pupil and son-in-law Paolo Agostini. It must have been this school that produced the singers in the earliest operas and oratorios of Peri, Caccini, Monteverde, Cavaliere, Gagliano, etc. In the second quarter of the 17th century a rival school was set up by a pupil of B. Nanini, Domenico Mazzocchi, who, with his younger brother Virgilio, opened a music school, which was soon in a very flourishing condition; this was due in a great measure to the fact that the masters were themselves both singers and composers. Their curriculum differed but slightly from that of the Palestrina-Nanini school. In the morning one hour was given daily to practising difficult passages, a second to the shake, a third to the study of literature, and another hour to singing with the master before a mirror; in the afternoon an hour was occupied in the study of the theory of music, another in writing exercises in counterpoint, and another in literature; the remainder of the day (indoors) was employed in practising the harpsichord and in composition. Outside the school the pupils used sometimes to give their vocal services at neighbouring churches, or else they went to hear some well-known singer; at other times they were taken to a spot beyond the Porta Angelica to practise singing against the echo for which that neighbourhood was famous. In 1662 Pompeo Natale kept a music school, at which Giuseppe Ottavio Pitoni, the reputed master of Durante and Leo, learnt singing and counterpoint. G. A. Angelini-Buontempi, a pupil of the Mazzocchis, writing in 1695, says that Fedi, a celebrated singer, had opened the first school exclusively for singing at Rome. His example was soon followed by Giuseppe Amadori, with equal success; the latter was a pupil of P. Agostini and no doubt had not entirely forgotten the teachings of the old school; but by the end of the 17th century its traditions were gradually dying out, to be replaced by the virtuosity of the 18th century.

We must now retrace our steps and give some account of the most important musical institution at Rome of past or present time—the 'Congregazione dei Musici di Roma sotto l'invocazione di Sta. Cecilia.' It was founded by Pius V. in 1566, but its existence is usually dated from 1584, when its charter was confirmed by Gregory XIII.; almost all the masters and pupils of the Palestrina-Nanini school enrolled their names on its books, and their example has been since followed by over 4000 others, including every Italian of note, I and in the present century many illustrious, foreigners, such as John Field, Wagner, Liszt, Gounod, etc., etc.

The officers originally appointed were a Cardinal Protector, a 'Primicerio' or president, usually a person of high position, a 'Consiglio dirigente' of four members (representing the four sections composition, the organ, singing and instrumental music), a Secretary, a Chancellor, twelve Councillors, two Prefects, etc.; there were also professors for almost every branch of music; Corelli was head of the instrumental section in 1700. Those qualified for admission into the institution were chapel-masters, organists, public singers, and well-known instrumentalists. By a papal decree of 1689 all musicians were bound to observe the statutes of the Academy; and by a later decree (1709) it was ordained that its licence was necessary for exercising the profession. Soon after this the Congregation began to suffer from an opposition which, though covert, was none the less keenly felt; and in 1716 a papal decree unfavourable to the institution was passed. In 1762 it was flourishing again, for in that year we find that a faculty was granted to the cardinal protector to have the general direction of all ecclesiastical music at Rome. By another decree, of 1764, it was enacted that none but those skilled in music should be in future admitted as members. The entrance-fee was, as it has continued to be, a very small one. The demands made upon members were also very slight. At first they were only expected to assist, by their compositions or performances, in the grand annual festival in honour of the patron saint. Towards the close of the 17th century were added one or two annual services in memory of benefactors; in 1700 a festival in honour of St. Anna, and in 1771 a 'piccola festa di Sta. Cecilia.'

The Academy originally took up its quarters at the College of Barnabites (afterwards Palazzo Chigi) in the Piazza Colonna, where they remained for nearly a century; thence they moved to the Convent of Sta. Maria Maddalena, and again to another college of Barnabites dedicated to San Carlo a Catinari. Here they resided for the greater part of two centuries, and, after the temporary occupation of premises in the Via Ripetta, finally, in 1876, settled at their present quarters, formerly a convent of Ursuline nuns, in the Via dei Greci. Besides the hostility which the Congregation had to undergo, as we have seen, from outsiders, at the beginning of the last century—which was repeated in another form as late as 1836—it has had its financial vicissitudes. Indeed at the end of the last, and beginning of the present century, the funds were at a very low ebb, from which they have been gradually recovering. The institution was dignified with the title of Academy by Gregory XVI. in 1839, and shortly after Queen Victoria consented to become an associate. Two years later Rossini's 'Stabat Mater' was performed for the first time in Italy in its entirety by the members of the Academy. Pius IX., who became Pope in 1846, though he founded several other schools for singing, such as that of 'S. Salvatore in Lauro,' did little more for the Academy than to bestow upon it the epithet 'Pontificia.' After the consolidation of the kingdom of Italy the Academy began to make great strides; Victor Emmanuel himself gave it his support and erected it into a Royal Institution. In 1870 Signors Sgambati and Pinelli started their pianoforte and violin classes, which are still the most popular, owing to the excellence of the instruction given and the very moderate price of lessons. It was not till 1877 that the long-wished-for 'Liceo musicale' in connection with the Academy became a fait accompli. Members were now divided into 'Soci di merito, ordinari, illustri, and onorari'; but the titles of the principal officers were not materially altered. Professors were appointed, twenty-nine in number (since increased to thirty-four) for every quality of voice and for every instrument of importance. Alessandro Orsini had the superintendence of the Singing, and Ferdinando Furino of the Violoncello classes. A school was also set up for choral singing; lectures were delivered by the Librarian, Professor Berwin (to whose efforts a great deal of the success of the 'Liceo' may be attributed); prizes were offered; public concerts were given by the members;—in fact it is to the Academy that Rome looks on all public occasions, whether it is for a charity concert or a requiem, as in the cases of Garibaldi and Victor Emmanuel. The Library, which was a very small one when Gregory XVI. bequeathed to it, in 1846, his musical library, has since, in 1875, been enriched by the Orsini collection, and, in 1882, by the musical works which had formerly belonged to the dissolved Monasteries; in the latter year were also added copies of all modern musical publications—since 1500—which were to be found in the various libraries of Rome; so that now the Academy possesses one of the largest and most important musical libraries in Itaty. Owing to the large grants made by the government, the municipality, etc., at the time of the creation of the 'Liceo,'—grants which have been for the most part continued annually and in some cases increased—the institution has been enabled to extend its sphere of operations. It still enjoys Court patronage, King Humbert being honorary president, and Queen Margherita also an associate. There are now nearly 200 members, and it is proposed to erect new schools to meet the increased demands. Interest in the Academy is not by any means confined to Italy; this is often shown in a substantial way, as in the presentation to it of pianofortes by Messrs. Erard and Brinsmead, etc. etc. At the present moment a large concert hall is in course of construction.[1]

The institution has done great service in the past to the Roman musical world, and is still continuing to do so, to such a degree that Rome no need longer fear comparison with any other Italian town, Milan perhaps excepted.

Still, notwithstanding the presence of such excellent musicians as Sgambati and Pinelli, whose classical concerts have done much to elevate the taste of the capital, notwithstanding its national Apollo theatre, its well conducted journal the 'Palestra Musicale,' and its numerous musical critics, the Rome of 1889 reflects but little of its former glories.

[ A. H.-H. ]

  1. A considerable part of the information relating to the Academy has been derived from Enrico Tosti's 'Appunti storici sull' Accademia di S. Cecilia.'