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The Music Chapel of the Cathedral

The Cappella Musicale del Duomo in Milan is the city’s oldest cultural institution and has been active continuously from 1402 to the present day. Its musical heritage is constituted by the music its masters have written over the centuries and which continues to be enriched to this day.

The Music Chapel accompanies the Chapter Eucharist every Sunday at 11.00 a.m. and on religious feasts, according to the liturgical calendar.

In 1402 the deputies of the Veneranda Fabbrica appointed the first master of the Cappella Musicale: the musichus Matteo da Perugia. The figure of the maestro di cappella had become necessary with the introduction of polyphony, the simultaneous singing of several melodies. By the time he left, the Chapel had its complete organisation: master, organist, deputy master, adult and children choristers.

The decisive years for the Chapel were 1461-62 when the choristers, who were mostly foreign, went on strike en masse and refused to go and sing the Vespers in St. Ambrose church and to attend mass on St. Ambrose Day. The deputies of Fabbrica then took the drastic decision to dismiss the whole choir and reorganise the chapel completely. The crisis of 1461-62 led to the formulation of the first regulations.
The presence of foreign choristers was not only a source of instability. Flemish composer Josquin des Près, one of the greatest musicians of the fifteenth century, was a chorister in the Music Chapel from 1459 to 1473.
The fifteenth century ended with the appointment of a young priest from Lodi, Franchino Gaffurio, as maestro di cappella in 1484. This Italian cleric was to give the Music Chapel new splendour. He reorganised the schola dei pueri (boys’ choir) on very strict terms, devoted himself energetically to the reform of the Chapel and established that only Italian choristers could be admitted.

In the sixteenth century the activity of the chapel masters Vincenzo Ruffo and Giulio Cesare Gabussi distinguished itself. In the seventeenth century, the Chapel experienced a golden period that began in 1631 with Ignazio Donati and continued with other masters who, like him, were accomplished performers of seventeenth century Italian music. This was also the period in which the Chapel was led by masters who had been trained internally, such as Antonio Maria Turati, who had sung there as a puer, and Michelangelo Grancini, who had been one of the cathedral’s organists.

During the eighteenth century, the Music Chapel was directed by a series of capable musical directors. The main figure of the period was Gianandrea Fioroni, who headed it from 1747 to 1778. One of the organists of Milan cathedral in those years was a son of J. S. Bach’s, Johann Christian.

Fioroni’s successor was another famous musician, an expert in the field of the opera, Giuseppe Sarti. He directed the Chapel for only five years, but was a prolific composer. The last master of the century was Carlo Monza.

When Milan came under Austrian rule, the Imperial-Royal Government reduced the autonomy of the Fabbrica by taking over the right to appoint a musical director from a list of three candidates proposed by the latter. In 1824 the government also carried out a reform of the Music Chapel: choristers were divided into sopranos, altos, tenors and basses, with the pueri (boys) of the schola as trebles, and imposed on the maestro the annual composition of masses and vespers to be handed over to the Archive.

In the nineteenth century Benedetto Neri and Raimondo Boucheron were distinguished masters of choristers whose vast production was characterised by technical ability and musical sensibility.

With the appointment of Salvatore Gallotti as maestro, the Duomo’s Music Chapel became a laboratory for the liturgical renewal of music and singing. Gallotti, who carried out with commitment and wisdom the task of the musical and human education of the pueri, promoted a school of Ambrosian singing and rediscovered the use of classical polyphony and the performance of music transcribed from the scores preserved in the Archive.

In the second half of the twentieth century a rich and fruitful phase began for the cathedral’s Music Chapel when Don Luciano Migliavacca, a musician endowed with creative originality, was appointed maestro. His first concern was the restructuring of the schola dei fanciulli (boys’ choir and school), which was extended to forty choristers, for whom the Fabbrica built new special premises to offer complete cultural and musical training to the pueri.

Migliavacca’s musical production was abundant and of high quality and spread throughout the Italian peninsula.

In 1998 Msgr. Migliavacca left the post and in his place was appointed regent master Claudio Riva, former sub-organist and his assistant since 1983, who led the Chapel until 2004. From 2005 Riva was joined by Gian Luigi Rusconi.

In 2007 the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo entrusted the direction of the Chapel to Don Claudio Burgio, a former boy chorister of the Duomo, who had been trained under the guidance of Msgr. Migliavacca.