From Gregorian Chant to Opera's Origins

Throughout the Renaissance, music formed a central element in the activities of the curia and a bright thread in the rich tapestry of Roman religious and artistic life. The singers and composers of the papal choir -- recruited at first from northern Europe, but in the sixteenth century chiefly from Spain and Italy -- appeared at daily services in the Vatican Palace and on greater occasions in the Sistine Chapel. They performed both the traditional chants of the Middle Ages, using splendid chant manuscripts, a few of which are exhibited here, and modern, polyphonic music of great richness and difficulty.

In the course of the sixteenth century, the authorities became dissatisfied with the traditional melodies, which seemed to obscure the words of the liturgical texts (humanists and Reformers had long complained about this). Palestrina and others were commissioned to revise the Gregorian chants, and the new versions, printed by the Medici Press in Rome, provided the music that popes heard every day for centuries. Meanwhile music flourished in other Roman institutions as well, like the choir of Saint Peter's, which Julius II reconstituted in 1513, and where Palestrina served as maestro di cappella.

The manuscripts shown here present only a few samples of the extraordinary musical life sponsored by the Renaissance papacy and the remarkable musical libraries of the papal singers. Together with the image of the papal choir in the Sistine Chapel on display in this section [Ris. Strag. 7], they give a vivid idea of the ways public performance and high art could enhance the majesty of the papacy.

From this music hall you can go into three rooms:

There is also a storage room with some objects not originally on display. You could have a look in the storage room or go back to the main hall.