El Palau de la Música Catalana

A Most Amazing Modernista Concert Hall

Located in the neighbourhood of Sant Pere, the Palau de la Música Catalana was designed and built by architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner between 1905 and 1908 and is one of the most emblematic buildings in the Catalan Modernista style.

The building was commissioned by the Orfeó Català, which had been founded by Lluís Millet and Amadeu Vives in 1891, as a concert hall for choral works and classical music.

The Palau de la Música still works as a fully operational concert venue with a complete and varied programme of classical, contemporary music and flamenco.

In 1997, due to its architectural importance, UNESCO declared the building a World Heritage Site so it is well worth taking a guided tour and, if at all possible, trying to see a concert as well.


Getting to Palau de la Música Catalana

Palau de la Música Catalana
C/ Palau de la Música, 4-6
08003 Barcelona


Metro Urquinaona - Red L1 LineYellow L4 Line

Some Background

In 1904, Joaquim Cabot, president of the Orfeó Català, commissioned architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner to draw up plans for a head office and social centre for the choral society.

Having had the budget approved, Cabot went ahead and bought the cloister of the Convent of Sant Francesc, which had a area of 1,350.75 m², for 240,322.60 pesetas and with a budget of a further 600,000 pesetas, the first stone was laid on April 23rd 1905.

At the time, Domènech i Montaner was one of the most important men in Catalonia, both as an architect and as a political and cultural activist.

Some of his better known works in Barcelona at the time were the Castell dels Tres Dragons in Parc de la Ciutadella and the Editorial Montaner i Simon, now the Fundació Tàpies.

He was also a key figure behind the growth of political catalanism at the end of the 19th century having been a founder member of the Lliga de Catalunya and a signatory of the Bases de Manresa.

Furthermore, Domènech i Montaner was president of the Jocs Florals, the Ateneu Barcelonès and the Acadèmia de Bones Lletres at different times during this period.

Three years later, on February 9th 1908, the building was officially opened and won the Concurs anual d'edificis artístics from the Ajuntament de Barcelona the same year.

The main function of the auditorium was as a showcase for orchestral music as well as choral events and interpretaions by individual singers.

However, the space has also been used for plays, cultural events, political meetings as well as concerts of contemprary music.

In 1971, the Palau de la Música was declared a National Monument and as a result some restoration work was done under the direction of Joan Bassegoda and Jordi Vilardaga.

In the 1983, the Orfeó Català created the Consorci del Palau de la Música Catalana, which brought the Palau under the joint control of Ajuntament de Barcelona, Generalitat de Catalunya and the Spanish Ministry of Culture, and more restoration work was undertaken, this time supervised by Oscar Tusquets.

The work lasted 7 years and the result was more or less the Palau we see today, which won the FAD Prize 1989 for Architecture, Reforms and Rehabilitations.

Politics and El Palau

Given the symbolic importance of the building, the Palau de la Música Catalana has often been the scene of important political events.

In the early part of the 20th century, the Catalanist coalition held meetings here and in 1925, the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera ordered the Palau's closure for four months.

In 1940, the Spanish fascist Falange party organised an event, which included the intervention of the "Orfeón que dirige el maestro Millet", who were forced to begin their programme with the fascist anthem Cara al Sol, which Millet apparently conducted motionless with his arms glued to his body.

In 1943, the Palau was host to a concert by the Choir of the Hitler Youth, who had been invited to perform by the Francoist regime.

In 1960, coinciding with a visit to Catalonia by General Franco, local Catalanists managed to obtain authorisation to perform the Catalan anthem El Cant de la Senyera, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of its composer, Joan Maragall.

The authorities withdrew permission at the last moment but the audience sang it anyway, which led to the arrest of a number of people, including the future President of the Generalitat, Jordi Pujol, who was sentenced to 7 years in prison by a court martial.

Incidentally, it remained illegal to perform El Cant de la Senyera until 1967.

The only major political event since the dictator's eath in 1975 has been the Cas del Palau scandal, in which the founder's grandson Felix Millet was accused of embezzling funds from the institution along with a number of Catalan politicians.

The scandal came to light in 2009 and has caused great consternation in Catalan society.

Visiting the Palau de la Música Catalana Today

The Facades of the Palau

The two main features of the Palau's architecture are firstly, the building's iron structure which allows the free floor encased in glass, and secondly, the extraordinary quality of the sculpture and decoration.

Interestingly, the auditorium is on the first floor, which means that the ground floor could be used as office and rehearsal space.

The facade, combines musically themed sculptures with architectural elements in a modernista baroque style.

The lateral facade on the corner of Carrer Sant Pere més Alt and Carrer Amadeu Vives was the only entrance until 1989 and features a sculpture depicting La cançó popular catalana by the artist Miquel Blay.

The sculpture is almost like the prow of a boat and shows Sant Jordi beneath a female figure and surrounded by a sailor, farmers, an old man and children.

Given the narrowness of the surrounding streets, it is actually quite difficult to get a decent perspective on the sculpture, which according to its inscription was completed in September 1909 and paid for by the Marquis of Castellbell, Joaquim de Càrcer i d'Amat.

The other element of this facade are the red brick and ceramic columns, which originally housed the ticket offices.

On the first floor, there a fourteen columns grouped in pairs, which decorated with mosaics, and on the second you can see the busts of musicians, Palestrina, Bach and Beethoven, by Eusebi Arnau.

Round the corner on Carrer Amadeu Vives, there is a bust of Wagner and a large mosaic depicting La Balanguera, a folk personality, who is the subject of a poem by Joan Alcover, which later when put to musc by Amadeu Vives himself became one of the anthems of the Orfeó Català.

The main facade is on the opposite side of the building on Carrer Palau de la Música Catalana and has been the main entrance since 1989.

This facade was originally completely blocked in by the church of Sant Francesc de Paula, so although it is now encased in a modern exterior, it is surprising how much detail Domènech i Montaner put into it, including wrought iron verandas, cornises, sculpted capitals and stained glass windows.

In order to insure the entrance of light, the architect built a three-metre wide patio that extended as far as the church.

To the left of the facade, you see the service building built by Òscar Tusquets, Lluís Clotet and Carles Díaz in the 1980s, which also serves as the artists entrance.

Inside the Palau de la Música

If you enter the building from Sant Pere més Alt, the first thing you see is a great double staircase leading up to the first floor.

It is illuminated by lanterns and the handrail is finely worked in stone with glass balustrades with other sections of ceramic with floral reliefs, a figure which is repeated on the ceiling.

The Sala Lluís Millet is a waiting area before you get the the main auditorium and is dedicated to the musician who founded the Orfeó Català.

The sala features wrought iron lighting and is decorated with busts of many of the people important in the history of the Palau, such as the founders Lluís Millet and Amadeu Vives, the president Joaquim Cabot and musicians Pau Casals, Eduard Toldrà, Rosa Sabater (by Josep Maria Subirachs), Frederic Mompou, Xavier Montsalvatge (by Manolo Hugué), Alícia de Larrocha (by Ramon Cuello) and Joan Massià.

There are also a selection of modernista paintings depicting female figures by Joan Brull i Vinyoles.

The doors and windows also include some sublime stained gall work by Antoni Rigalt i Blanch.

As you enter the concert hall from the first floor, you almost come out of the shadows into an explosion of light and colour.

The stained glass windows go from the floor to the ceiling and the supporting column flicker with the red and white ceramic roses while the intersections spread in the blues, greens and yellows of peacock tails.

In the centre of the ceiling, there is an enormous glass skylight by Antoni Rigalt i Blanch, which is yellow at the centre and blue at the edges and permits the entrance of even more natural light.

All around you are even more sculpted details depicting more figures from the world of music as well as two flying horses by Eusebi Arnau and I must admit that, when attending a concerts, it is very difficult not to be distracted from the music.

However, your eyes will inevitably be drawn back to the stage if only to look at the opening with a bust of Beethoven to the right under the Ride of the Valkyries and Josep Anselm Clavé, the father of modern Catalan music, to the left under a canopy of flowers and damsels depicting his embematic song Les flors de maig.

The piece is by Diego Massana Majò and a young Pau Gargallo.

The back of the stage is decorated by a mesmerising set of eighteen dancing muses by Eusebi Arnau, who are in relief from the waist up, which gives the impression that the are really moving.

Each is carrying a different musical instrument and in the centre there is a senyera or Catalan flag, specially designed for the Orfeó by Antoni Maria Gallissà, surrounded by medieval figures on a blue background by Lluís Bru.

Above are the pipes of the fine German organ, acquired in 1908, and once again these are flanked by more stained glass.

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