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MUSIC CONSERVATORIES & Music Education in Italy

There are four entries on this page:
(1) from February 2016 on Italian music conservatories & Music Education in Italy in general;
(2) the general entry on the Naples music conservatory;
(3) the entry on Charles Burney in Naples.
(4)
from February 2016 on the Salerno Music Conservatory

 Items 2 & 3 appeared separately in the original Around Naples Encyclopedia and were consolidated here onto a single page.

1. Italian Music Conservatories & Music Education in General-                             (entry Feb. 5,  2016)

The type of educational system beyond elementary school that I am most familiar with is one of state-supported high schools and universities in the United States. It is one that sees high school (grades 7-12) as a provider of a general broad-based liberal arts education with some emphasis on special "major" subjects. It is thus possible to "major" even in specialized subjects such as music. High schools then feed into state-run universities that also offer "major" subjects, often including music at a level of training comparable to specialized music conservatories, a level that prepares one for a profession in music; at the same time, high schools and universities both provide general musical enjoyment to many who simply want to play in a band for a few years. It is a system that promotes a great deal of "extra-curricular" activity, one that permits early specialization but does not necessarily encourage it. Indeed, you can "major" in not much of anything and still be wandering through a very extended adolescence at a university without knowing what you "want to be when you grow up." (That happened to someone I know!)

That entire process is quite different than the Italian one.
These things change with education reforms over the years, but currently, Italian education promotes specialization as soon as possible after "obligatory" schooling (currently, primary school and scuola media - a Middle School; plus two years of secondary schooling
thus, until age 16). Secondary education is grouped into various kinds of specialized licei (sing. liceo) - high schools: Classical, Scientific, Artistic, Linguistic and, recently, Drama & Music (usually grouped together). Some of those fit into the umbrella sub-classification of alta formazione artistica, musicale e coreutica [higher instruction in the arts, music and dance]. Included are academies of fine arts, dance, drama, industrial arts, music conservatories and "equivalent" schools of music. "Equivalent" [pareggiato=made equal] is the Italian term that generally covers private schools that have become certified by the Italian state such that their diplomas or degrees are accredited as equal to those issued by state schools. This is quite common and there are many such "equivalent" institutions of higher education. They all answer to the Ministry of Education. In the case of music, there are, indeed, many institutions that started life as private schools and were later promoted or "made equal to" conservatories. (As noted in items 2 and 3, below, the word conservatorio, itself, originally meant a church-run institution that "conserved" childrenorphanages dedicated to preparing children for life in various trades, including music. That particular musical training was very strong in Naples (and also in Venice); there were four original conservatories that specialized in musical training in Naples.

In the case of music, you don't just pick any lyceum and then go and "major" in music. You try to go to an appropriate high school. Music instruction is thus generally aimed at preparing young people for a profession in music; it is not a means to broaden their general education. Many years ago if you were destined for music as a career, you would have made that decision very early and gone to a conservatory as early as possible after elementary education. With the addition of the Drama & Music Lyceum, that choice can now be postponed somewhat. Nevertheless, such specialized education in music is not to make you an all-round well-educated person but to make you a professional musician. So your educational track would be (1) elementary school (2) a Drama & Music Liceo (3) a music conservatory. One hears that there are many dozens of music conservatories in Italy. While that is true, it is also important to realize that they offer training that is not available elsewhere (such as at a regular university).


entry Mar. 2003
2. Music Conservatory & San Pietro a Maiella 


I got a note from a woman in France the other day asking me if she could use my snapshot of the statue of Beethoven located on the premises of the Naples Music Conservatory. That gave me an excuse to wander down to that part of the city and have another look at the place. The conservatory is right near Piazza Bellini and a long street, via San Sebastiano, known simply as the "music street" because every shop on it sells musical instruments. It's always a pleasure to walk by the conservatory and listen to the sounds of students practicing. The statue of Beethoven, indeed, broods prominently in the courtyard of the conservatory. I had the opportunity to take another photograph for the young woman and to learn that the statue is the work of the prominent Calabrian sculpture, Francesco Jerace

Popular Neapolitan etymology suggests that Naples is where the term conservatorio was first used to mean 'music school'.  Originally, however, a conservatorio was where they conserved young, unmarried women with children as well as orphans; thus, a 'conservatory' was a shelter or orphanage. There were so many orphans being trained in music in these church-run orphanages that the transfer of meaning came about rather naturally over time. 

These music conservatories in Naples go back to the mid-1500s when the Spanish rulers set up schools to train young singers on the premises of four monasteries in the city: Santa Maria di Loreto, Pietà dei Turchini, Sant'Onofrio a Capuana, and I Poveri di Gesù Cristo. They enjoyed a considerable reputation as training grounds not only for young children to be trained in church music, but, eventually, as a 'feeder system' into the world of commercial music once that opened up in the early 1600s. [Also see this entry on the original conservatories.]

In 1806, with Napoleon Bonaparte's brother, Joseph, installed as the king of Naples in what would be a decade of French rule of the kingdom, monastic life in the kingdom was drastically reorganized and the four monastery music schools were consolidated into a single building, the Church of San Sebastiano. In 1826 that  consolidated conservatory was moved to the present site, the ex-monastery, San Pietro a Maiella. The conservatory (still bearing the inscription 'Royal Academy of Music' over the entrance) is still an important music school in Italy. It houses an impressive library of manuscripts pertaining to the lives and musical production of composers who lived and worked in Naples, among whom are A. Scarlatti, Pergolesi, Cimarosa, Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti.  The historical museum has a display of rare antique musical instruments.


The conservatory and adjacent church (photo, right) are both part of the old San Pietro a Maiella monastery complex, built at the end of the 13th century and dedicated to the monk Pietro da Morone, who became Pope Celestine V in 1294. (Maiella is a geographical reference to the mountain of that name in Abruzzo in central Italy where Celestine had his hermitage when he was a monk.) Celestine subsequently became one of the very Popes to abdicate, an event that also took place in Naples, in the Maschio Angioino, the Angevin Fortress. At least in Dante's version of the afterlife, Celestine resides in Hell. The Divine Comedy places him just past the gates of Hell among the Opportunists —(in John Ciardi's translation)— "...the nearly soulless whose lives concluded neither blame nor praise...[and in reference to Celestine]...I recognized the shadow of that soul who, in his cowardice, made the Grand Denial...".  (To play the Pope's advocate, I remind you that Dante was really upset at the fact the Celestine, by quitting, left the door open to the subsequent Pope, Boniface VIII, corrupt and, in Dante's view, responsible for much of the evils that befell Dante's city of Florence.)

The building is a square Gothic-style church; after a fire in 1407 it was restored and enlarged by the addition of two chapels and the relocation of the facade. The interesting art works within include a chapel by an anonymous artisan that tell the story of Saint Martin, and the numerous frescoes above the choir. The marble altar is from 1645 and is by Cosimo Fanzago. The church was redone in Baroque style, as evidenced by the paintings of Mattia Preti inserted into the ceiling of the central nave. They depict the Story of the life of San Celestino and Santa Caterina of Alexandria and were done in 1657-59. The church is on a street of the same name near Port’Alba, within the bounds of the old Greek city. 

The life of the conservatory has always been bound up with that of another great musical establishment in the city of Naples, San Carlo Theater.

updated Sept. 2014


entry Sept. 2003
3. the music conservatory & Charles Burney

Charles Burney (anon. portrait)

I don't know when scientific soundproofing came of age—all those foam baffles, ceiling tiles, fabric panels, and clouds. (I have even had sound engineers tell me how effective and cheap it is to use good, old-fashioned cardboard egg cartons.) But I have had the misfortune of practicing music in large, old rooms—cavernous spaces that used to resound only to the shuffling sandals of monks—in institutions that are more willing to spend money on modern electronics than on a few square yards of anything at all to put on the walls, ceilings and floors to dampen sound. The echo in such places is a disaster, doubly so if there are two of you trying to practice. (For more than two, the disaster becomes logarithmic, and the scale becomes Richter, not B-flat, measuring major and minor soundquakes of cacophony.) 

When you walk by the music conservatory in Naples, you hear the sounds of instruments wafting out over the street from practice rooms on the premises, a monastery that was converted into a music school in the early 1800s. I have not been inside the building to see students practicing, so I don't know what they have to put up with. I hope it is better than this description by Charles Burney (1726-1814) an English musical historian (portrait, above). He wrote an important 4-volume History of Music as well as accounts of his travels. I found the following in Musical Italy Revisited by Sigmund Levarie (MacMillan. New York. 1963.) The author cites as his source, Charles Burney: Musical Tours in Europe  (ed. Percey A. Scholes. 2 vols. London: Oxford University Press, 1959). The original source is apparently Burney's The Present State of Music in France and Italy, published in 1771. The reference is to the Conservatory of St. Onofrio, one of the original music schools in Naples before they were combined into one facility. It was on the premises—as they all were, at the time—of a monastery. 

Burney’s description, dated Wednesday, 31 October 1770: 


    ...This morning I went with young Oliver to his Conservatorio of St. Onofrio, and visited all the rooms where the boys practise, sleep, and eat. On the first flight of stairs was a trumpeter, screaming upon his instrument till he was ready to burst; on the second was a french-horn, bellowing in the same manner. In the common practising room there was a Dutch concert, consisting of seven or eight harpsichords, more than as many violins, and several voices, all performing different things, and in different keys: other boys were writing in the same room; but it being holiday time, many were absent who usually study and practise there together.

    The jumbling them all together in this manner may be convenient for the house, and may teach the boys to attend to their own parts with firmness, whatever else may be going forward at the same time; it may likewise give them force, by obliging them to play loud in order to hear themselves; but in the midst of such jargon, and continued dissonance, it is wholly impossible to give any kind of polish or finishing to their performance; hence the slovenly coarseness so remarkable in their public exhibitions; and the total want of taste, neatness, and expression in all these young musicians, till they have acquired them elsewhere.

    The beds, which are in the same room, serve as seats for the harpsichords and other instruments. Out of thirty or forty boys who were practising, I could discover but two that were playing the same piece: some of those who were practising on the violin seemed to have a great deal of hand. The violin-cellos practise in another room: and the flutes, hautbois, and other wind instruments, in a third, except the trumpets and horns, which are obliged to fag, either on the stairs, or on the top of the house.

    There are in this college sixteen young castrati, and these live up stairs, by themselves, in warmer apartments than the other boys, for fear of colds, which might not only render their delicate voices unfit for exercise at present, but hazard the entire loss of them for ever. 

    The only vacation in these schools, in the whole year, is in autumn, and that for a few days only: during the winter, the boys rise two hours before it is light, from which time they continue their exercise, an hour and a half at dinner excepted, till eight o’clock at night; and this constant perseverance, for a number of years, with good teaching, must produce great musicians.


4. The Salerno Music Conservatory                                    added February 6, 2016

The Salerno Music Conservatory is named for Giuseppe Martucci (pictured).* According to the institution's own publicity it is the “second largest institution for musical studies in Italy.” It has undergone recent additions (a 350-seat auditorium), structural restoration inside and out and has seen a notable increase in students (more than 1,200 in 2013). It offers a wide range of instrumental and vocal degree programs, master classes, concerts and is an active member of ESN, the Erasmus Student Network, a Europe-wide student exchange program. It is located on a height with a fine view of the gulf of Salerno, just down the way from the beginning of the famed Amalfi coast.
*(Martucci, 1856-1909. was one of the few 19th century Italian composers who wrote no opera! He wrote orchestral music exclusively and extensively and was admired by conductors such as Toscanini. Martucci was also the head of the Naples conservatory in the very early 1900s. More at this link.)

The history of the building is long and mixed. It started life as a Benedictine monastery, founded in the 11th century when the city of Salerno was still part of the capital of the Longobard Duchy of Salerno. The Benedictine order held the premises until 1407. The building then went through centuries of other use, clerical and secular, including use as an orphanage where music instruction was given beginning in the very early 1800s under French rule. At the unification of Italy in 1861, it followed the nationwide trend of expropriation of religious orders and the conversion of the old buildings to a variety of uses, all secular. The premises remained a musical school, but the Salerno institution was in reality a “music liceo” (see item #1, above) administratively connected with the Naples conservatory (see item 2, above). It was fully accredited as a fully autonomous university-level conservatory after WWII.

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