The city of Bologna boasts of a musical past and tradition that can be compared only to a few other cities in Europe.
Since the second half of the 13th century, the city was subject to the papal administration and ruled for short periods by the Pepoli, Visconti and Bentivoglio families, from 1512 to 1860 it was then definitely governed by the Papal State. Bologna, also known as “the erudite” (“la dotta”) for her celebrity in academic community, hosts the famous Law University since 1088. The city has developed a musical tradition of incredible relevance over the centuries, and in 1450 the university course ad lecturam musicae was founded here.
The 15th Century
There are traces concerning music that date back to the 13th Century, but a regular and well-defined activity is documented only since the second half of the 15th Century.
Thanks to the university course dedicated to music by Pope Nicolas V, Bologna became the repository of the knowledge of the most famous theoreticians of the time, protagonists of unforgettable lessons and of heated debates. In the years of the papal domination, the city was enriched by numerous churches and religious communities, which became the main places where music was requested at local level.
Between the 15th and the 16th Century
Between the 15th and the 16th Century, in each one of the most important city churches a chapel choir was formed, that is an organised body of musicians (singers and then also players), who contributed to the liturgical service and were conducted by the Choir Master. In the Saint Peter Cathedral, on the contrary, the musical activities started immediately after it was built in the 11th Century.
In 1439 Eugene IV officially decreed the existence of a magister cantus et gramaticae, and the first employment of an organist is dated 1491. The schola of the cathedral was the place where, among others, also Giovanni Guidetti learnt music; at the end of the 16th Century he collaborated with Palestrina and Annibale Zoilo in revising the Gregorian gradual and antiphonary. In 1596 some noblemen of Bologna founded in the church of Saint Dominic the Confraternita del Rosario (Rosary Brotherhood), which sponsored concerts every Saturday of the year and on occasion of the most important festivities connected to the Blessed Virgin.
A regular chapel choir was established at the beginning of the 17th Century: it gathered some of the most famous musicians active in Bologna at the time, including Domenico Manzoli, Maurizio Cazzati, Giovanni Battista Vitali, Giulio Cesare Arresti, Giacomo Antonio Perti.
In the church of San Francesco, from the end of the 13th Century, children choirs were taught singing and employed in the liturgical service. In 1537 a chapel choir was officially established, which two centuries later would be conducted by Father Giovanni Battista Martini, one of the greatest figures of the 18th century’s European musical scene.
The most important chapel choir of Bologna, the one of the basilica of Saint Petronius, was founded in 1436 by Pope Eugene IV; it lived its brightest period under the conduction of Maurizio Cazzati (1657), who was followed by Giovanni Paolo Colonna, and then by Giacomo Antonio Perti for more than half a century. In those years, the orchestra was formed by various famous musicians, known also for their activity as composers: in particular Giovanni Battista Vitali and Giuseppe Torelli, violinists, and Domenico Gabrielli and Giovanni Bononcini, cello players.
Solemn events were celebrated by performing music written for the occasion, that exploited the physic and acoustic characteristics of the building (with a prohibitive echo of 12”); usually the pieces included the performance of soloists, two ripieno choirs, an orchestra in five parts, sometimes with one or two trumpets, for a total of over one-hundred musicians.
The music production for the chapel choir of Saint Petronius played an important role in the history of vocal and instrumental music in the second half of the 17th Century and afterwards, and in particular for the development of the concertato style; this production is still preserved, largely in form of manuscripts, in the archives of the basilica, but it is also documented by the editions published in the workshops of the printers of Bologna (above all, Giacomo and Pier Maria Monti, Marino Silvani, Giuseppe Micheletti and Lelio Dalla Volpe), who in the 17th and 18th Century transformed the city in a very important centre for the art of music typography.
The most prestigious symbol of the Chapel Choir is an organ, which still works, built around 1470 by Lorenzo da Prato: it is the oldest organ in the world to be still used. In 1596 another organ, built by Baldassarre Malamini, was added: it too is still perfectly working, notwithstanding its four hundred years of life.
The oratorio genre
In Bologna particular appreciation was reserved to the oratorio genre, which lived a first period of flourishing thanks to Giovanni Paolo Colonna, pupil of Giacomo Carissimi in Roma, and found worthy continuators in Giovanni Battista Vitali, Attilio Ariosti, Domenico Gabrielli, Francesco Antonio Pistocchi, Pietro Degli Antonii, Giacomo Antonio Perti.
The oratorios were performed preferably in the church of Santa Maria di Galliera (Saint Mary of Galliera), which in 1621 became the seat of the Congregazione filippina; among the Choir Masters of the Oratorio dei Filippini the most important are Colonna and Perti, who then became conductors of the Chapel Choir of Saint Petronius and prolific drama composers. As it was considered an effective way of making religious propaganda, the music of these oratorios enjoyed a high quality level for almost two centuries.
Another important music institution in Bologna was the Concerto Palatino della Signoria (Palatine Concert of the Signoria) at the City’s service, which fulfilled various functions from 1250 to 1797: it not only announced to the public the laws passed by the city govern following a precise ceremonial, but it also had a so-to-say “concert” function, according to which the musicians performed in public from the railings of the Palazzo degli Anziani overlooking Piazza Maggiore, they accompanied the magistrates on public outings or religious or civil festivities, they livened up the university ceremonies and took part with their music in the celebration of the City patron (Saint Petronius) and in the jousts.
Between the 16th and the 17th Century
Between the 16th and the 17th Century various theatres were inaugurated: the Teatro del Pubblico (Public’s Theatre) in the Palazzo del Podestà located in Piazza Maggiore, the largest theatre of the city, structured according to a plan with a tier of boxes built on top of the other and used for public performances since 1547; the Formagliari Theatre used mostly for musical operas and, in 1653, the Malvezzi Theatre, which offered a more qualified opera activity and was therefore preferred by the aristocracy of Bologna to the Formagliari.
During the 17th Century the cultural life of the city was further spurred by the foundation of various academies, established with the main aim of promoting and carrying out musical activities, but also training members in music theory and practice. In this context it is necessary to remember the Accademia degli Accesi, which then changed name into Accademia dei Ravvivati and finally into Accademia dei Riaccesi, and was founded in the previous century; the Accademia dei Floridi, founded in 1615 by Adriano Banchieri in the coenoby of S. Michele in Bosco and then transformed in 1622 into the Accademia dei Filomusi, with seat in the residence of Girolamo Giacobbi, which counts among its members also Claudio Monteverdi and Tarquinio Merula; and the Accademia dei Filaschisi (1633), established when the previous one was closed and active until 1666.
In that same year the nobleman Vincenzo Maria Carrati formed the world-famous Accademia Filarmonica, one of the most important musical coteries of all times, propulsion centre of the art of music in Bologna, place of aggregation of renowned personalities of the music scene from all around Europe, thanks especially to the presence of Martini: among the most brilliant members there were Arcangelo Corelli, Farinelli, Nicolò Jommelli, André Grétry and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The motto of the Accademia, “Unitate melos”, highlights the desire to create a music institute that would be both centre of attraction and centre of excellence of international level for all the greatest Italian and European musicians of the time.
The Accademia, the most important music institution of the Papal State together with the Cappella Pontificia (Papal Chapel Choir), was structured from the beginning as a corporation in order to protect the prestige and professionalism of its members, thanks especially to the protection of the cardinals of Bologna and to the important awards assigned by the Holy See.
Creativity and innovation immediately appeared to be the guidelines of the music production activity of Bologna: the members of the Accademia, who were divided into the three classes of Composers, Singers and Players, met once a week in the concert hall and performed original pieces, which were accompanied also by theoretical discussions.
In the hall dedicated to concerts, various string and wind instruments were played, some of which are still preserved in the Museo dell’Accademia, together with the precious organ donated by the count Carrati in 1673, which can still be seen in the Sala Mozart (Mozart Hall).
One of the most prestigious initiatives of the Academy was the solemn mass and vespers in honour of Saint Antony, its patron saint, with the participation of all its members and of possible foreign guests. The annual event involved a considerable number of musicians that could reach up to a hundred.
Besides being one of the most sought-after professional aims for musicians of all parts of Italy, the Accademia Filarmonica became an undisputed authority in the field of music composition. In fact, it gave technical and musical advice also to more important institutions, such as the Cappella Pontificia in Rome, regarding the application of rules concerning the art of music and in particular for the counterpoint technique. In 1761 Cardinal Albini, Prefect and Protector of the Cappella Pontificia turned to Father Martini, new rule establisher of the Accademia, for an advice concerning the rules for the organization of the Roman institution.
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