Europe’s oldest boys choir, the Escolania de Montserrat, has eased its residency requirements to raise enrollment. The move was effective and now they are on their first American tour.
L’Escolania choir school is a boys’ choir of sopranos and altos based at the Benedictine abbey Santa Maria de Montserrat near Barcelona, Catalonia. When the repertory requires it, they are accompanied by the Montserrat Chapel Choir, composed of old choirboys and the monks of the Ministry Chapel Choir. The Escolania of Montserrat, which belongs to the Monastery of Monserrat, is one of the oldest boys choirs in Europe.
Records show that the Escolania has existed as a religious and musical institution since the 14th century. It is composed of more than fifty boys, from ages nine to fourteen, originating from various towns in Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, and the Valencian community. During their time at the Escolania, they complete courses at the Primary, and beginning of Secondary levels, as well as corresponding musical studies.
The Escolania takes pride in providing muscial education at an exceptional level. Each student must study two instruments; the piano, as well as a second orchestral instrument of their choice. Along with this, they study Musical Language, Orchestra, and participate in the choir (the distinguished focus of the school).
Historically, boys choirs in Catholic churches were the training ground for many composers, from Guillaume Dufay in the 15th century to Puccini and Bruckner in the 19th. Schubert was a choirboy in Vienna in 1809, when he may have sung at the grand memorial service for Haydn, who had himself been a choirboy at the city’s cathedral in the previous century. The tradition is still going strong at the Escolania de Montserrat, a boys choir school in Catalonia that is making its first American tour, with a stop on Sunday afternoon in the Music Center at Strathmore.
The boys, about 40 of them, normally sing for liturgical services in the Basilica of Montserrat, a Benedictine monastery in Catalonia. The concert opened with a meditative section of sacred music, including a Gregorian introit, “Germinans germinabit” and “Imperayritz de la ciutat ioyosa,” one of the pieces from the “Llibre vermell,” a 14th century codex of music composed for the pilgrims at Montserrat. A setting of the “Salve regina” chant by Joan Cererols, a former Montserrat choirboy who became monk and choirmaster there, featured echos of each phrase by a quartet of soloists, stationed in the balcony above the stage.