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Cappella Musicale Liberiana

Historical Background

The Liberian Musical Chapel (Cappella Musicale Liberiana) hails directly from the ancient Schola Cantorum, traditionally attributed to Saint Gregory the Great. It was affected by changes resulting from the meeting between Charlemagne’s French tradition and contact with the Papal Chapel of Gregory IX, who had returned home from Avignon (1377). The Chapel is the fruit of the splendid blossoming of the Renaissance and was formally established in 1545 by Cardinal Archpriest Guido Ascanio Sforza.

The Chapel was given the same status as the Chapels in Saint Peters and Saint John from the very start, partly because of the presence of the pueri cantores, who were trained and lodged there. Evidence of this can be seen in the fact that in 1561, it was led by the “prince of music”, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, who had received his first musical education as a child cantor at the Basilica, starting from 1537.

The polyphonic style of the great musician, in perfect harmony with the decrees of the Council of Trent, was able to make the counterpoint artifice of Flemish masters so incomparably clear and elegant that it brought greater clarity to the sacred text.

Inspired by him, his students and successors Giovanni Maria Nanino, Francesco Soriano and Annibale Stabile contributed to shape what would be known in history as the “Roman school”. Indeed, even in the 1600s, which was a time of peak exuberance for sacred music, propelled by the fanfare of the Venetian polychoral style, the Roman masters were able to set themselves apart. Domenico Allegri and Paolo Quagliati gave great impetus to instrumental participation in sacred music, but in a unique style that had a  majestic effect. Illustrious names travelled on their path, such as Paolo Tarditi, Antonio Maria Abbatini, Orazio Benevoli, Nicola Stamegna and the organist, Bernardo Pasquini. Francesco Foggia was Maestro di Cappella (Chapel Master) from 1677 to 1688 and is considered to be the last great representative of the Roman School as such. He was succeeded by his son Antonio.

A new figure, a sign of the times, thus arrived to bring prestige to the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major, leaving his mark in the two years in which he worked there: Alessandro Scarlatti. The important opera composer of Neapolitan training, was also an excellent composer of sacred music, including in the strict Palestrinian style. His teachings were welcomed by Pompeo Cannicciari, Antonio and Domenico Fontemaggi, Giovanni Aldega, Settimio Battaglia and Augusto Moriconi, who in the 18th and 19th centuries, in the heyday of musical theatre and of the bel canto, were capable of resisting the temptation of bringing into the Basilica, “churchy” adaptations of arias that could be heard everywhere. The historical archive of the Basilica is filled with works by the above-mentioned masters, ranging from the 1600’s to current times. The ancient Gregorian and polyphonic codes are kept in the Vatican Apostolic Library.


The last 100 years


Safeguarding the ancient Roman School of the Liberian Chapter fortunately found renewed vitality and support at the advent of the “Cecilian Movement”. Significance and dignity were restored to sacred music, palaeographic research efforts increased and there was the promulgation of  Pope Pius X’s Motu Proprion, Inter Pastoralis Officii Sollicitudines (1903), which gave full dignity to sacred hymns and to the foundation of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music (1911).

The first fully fledged great Master of the 20th century, Licinio Refice, was part of this climate of renewed musical fervour. He was Director of the Liberian Chapel from 1911 to 1947, and along with Lorenzo Perosi and Raffaele Casimiri, he was the true creator of the renewal of Italian sacred music.

Between 1947 and 1977, his work was continued by Domenico Bartolucci, who would later be called to direct the Sistine Chapel. He was a great authority and an attentive enthusiast of the ancient polyphonic style, which deeply  permeated his composition style.

Between 1977 and 2019, Msgr. Valentino Miserachs Grau directed the Liberian Musical Chapel. He served as Master Emeritus and Prefect of the Choir from 2019 to 2021. Between January 2019 and March 2022, the Liberian Musical Chapel was directed by Maestro Maurizio Scarfò.




As of 1 April 2022, Maestro Ildebrando Mura is the Titular Maestro of the Venerable Musical Chapel.

He is an organist, a composer and a conductor. He first became Master Cantor at the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome and then two years later, he was appointed titular organist and Maestro di Cappella (Chapel Master) of the Basilica of San Marco al Campidoglio (Saint Mark the Evangelist at the Campidoglio), a position he held for over ten years. He was appointed Maestro di Cappella of the Choir and Orchestra of the “Ludovicea Chapel”, the musical arm of the Pious Establishments of France in Rome and Loreto under the High Patronage of the Embassy of France to the Holy See, and organist of the church Trinità dei Monti in Rome, a post he has kept for 25 years.
He received an Honoris Causa degree in “Artistic Direction, Musicology and Musical Palaeography”, from the international university LUIRS. In June 2019, he was awarded the “Chevalier des Arts et Lettres” by the French Republic. In 2022, he was made Cavaliere di San Gregorio by Vatican City State.





During the Jubilee of 2025, the Basilica’s Venerable musical institution will celebrate the 480th anniversary of its formal foundation.
The Liberian Musical Chapel is currently staffed by 16 Master Cantors who are professionals from different national and international musical backgrounds, including three renowned organists: Juan Paradell Solè, Daniele Rossi and Davide Bucci. The Chapel is the musical expression of the ancient Roman tradition, using classical a cappella polyphony and Gregorian hymns. The Liberian Musical Chapel’s work spans the entire liturgical year, and includes participation in capitular celebrations, Sunday celebrations, Solemnities, Triduums and the Basilica’s  own Novenas. Moreover, the Chapel has a busy concert schedule, with performances, whose repertoire spans renaissance polyphony, the European Baroque period and the great composers of the contemporary age.