As well as holding art treasures of architecture, sculpture and painting, the Basilica di San Petronio can boast a great musical tradition, for which it is numbered among the most significant ecclesiastical institutions for the history of European music.
The Papal bull of Pope Eugene IV goes back to 1436 in which a schola cantorum was set up and directed by a “maestro del canto” in order to ensure suitable dignity at the rites officiated in the most important church in the city of Bologna. Thus, the first nucleus of the Cappella Musicale was established, originally made up only of the Maestro and a group of singers. From 1449 onwards, an organist was added, while the presence of other instrumentalists in the established body is recorded from 1560.
Between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the activity of the Cappella flourished thanks to the mastery of famous people such as the theorist and composer Giovanni Spataro (Maestro di Cappella from 1512 to 1540), Andrea Rota (1583 – 1596) and Girolamo Giacobbi (1604 – 1629). With the reform carried out by Maurizio Cazzati (1657 – 1670), aimed at encouraging the practice of modern concertata music, the golden age of the Cappella di San Petronio began. It became famous throughout Europe for the magnificence of its performances, involving up to one hundred and fifty musicians including solo singers, choir members and instrumentalists. The knowledge of the maestri who followed on from each other (Giovanni Paolo Colonna in 1674 and Giacomo Antonio Perti in 1796) and the quality of its musicians including Giovanni Battista Vitali, Domenico Gabrielli, Giovanni Bononcini, Arcangelo Corelli, Giuseppe Torelli, Giuseppe Jacchini was renowned. The role of the Cappella was significant not only in the sphere of sacred polyphonic music, but also in instrumental music. Within the Basilica the first experiments of ‘concerto grosso’ saw the light as well as the first music written for the cello repertoire.