Palau de la Musica Catalana, Barcelona, Spain | CruiseBe
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Palau de la Música Catalana

History and museums
concert hall, historic building, landmark

The Palau de la Música Catalana (Catalan pronunciation: pəˈɫaw ðə ɫə ˈmuzikə kətəˈɫanə, English: Palace of Catalan Music) is a concert hall in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. Designed in the Catalan modernista style by the architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, it was built between 1905 and 1908 for the Orfeó Català, a choral society founded in 1891 that was a leading force in the Catalan cultural movement that came to be known as the Renaixença (Catalan Rebirth). It was inaugurated February 9, 1908.

The project was financed primarily by the society, but important financial contributions also were made by Barcelona's wealthy industrialists and bourgeoisie. The Palau won the architect an award from the Barcelona City Council in 1909, given to the best building built during the previous year. Between 1982 and 1989, the building underwent extensive restoration, remodeling, and extension under the direction of architects Oscar Tusquets and Carles Díaz. In 1997, the Palau de la Música Catalana was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Hospital de Sant Pau. Today, more than half a million people a year attend musical performances in the Palau that range from symphonic and chamber music to jazz and Cançó (Catalan song).




The Palau is located in the corner of a cramped street, Carrer Palau de la Música, and Carrer de Sant Pere Mes Alt, in the section of old Barcelona known as Casc Antic. Most of the other prominent modernista buildings, those designed by Antoni Gaudí, for example, are located in the chic 19th-century extension of the city known as the Eixample.


The design of the Palau is typical of Catalan modernism in that curves predominate over straight lines, dynamic shapes are preferred over static forms, and rich decoration that emphasizes floral and other organic motifs is used extensively. In contrast to many other buildings built in the modernisme style, however, it must also be said that the design of the Palau is eminently rational. It pays strict attention to function and makes full use of the most up-to-date materials and technologies available at the beginning of the 20th century (e.g., steel framing). As Benton (1986, 58) has pointed out, "To eyes unaccustomed to the architecture of Barcelona, the impression of a riot of ornament lacking any logic or control seems overwhelming. And yet the building follows exactly the exhortations of the architectural rationalists. The structure, in brick and iron, is clearly expressed." Actually, its walls are the first example of curtain wall structures.

The wealthy citizens of Barcelona, who were becoming ever more sympathetic to the Renaixença at the time the Palau was built, asked its architect for building materials and techniques that symbolized the Catalan character. In response, he commissioned and gave great creative freedom to a variety of local artisans and craftsmen to produce the fabulous ornamentation, sculpture, and decorative structural elements for which the Palau is famous.


The rich decoration of the façade of the Palau, which incorporates elements from many sources, including traditional Spanish and Arabic architecture, is successfully married with the building's structure. The exposed red brick and iron, the mosaics, the stained glass, and the glazed tiles were chosen and situated to give a feeling of openness and transparency. Even Miguel Blay's massive sculptural group symbolizing Catalan music on the corner of the building does not impede the view into or out from the interior (see photograph). As Carandell and co-authors (2006, 20) have pointed out, in the Palau "the house as a defense and protected inner space has ceased to exist."

Two colonnades enjoy a commanding position on the second-level balcony of the main façade. Each column is covered uniquely with multicolored glazed tile pieces in mostly floral designs and is capped with a candelabrum that at night blazes with light (see photograph). Above the columns are large busts of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Ludwig van Beethoven on the main façade and Richard Wagner on the side. The top of the main façade is graced by a large allegoric mosaic by Lluís Bru that represents the members of the Orfeó Català, but it is impossible to see it clearly from the narrow street below.


Originally, guests entered the Palau from the street through two arches supported by thick pillars that opened into the vestibule. The former ticket windows, which are located in the center pillar, are beautiful concentric arches adorned with floral mosaics of various materials created by Lluís Bru.

Vestibule, staircases, and foyer

The ceiling of the vestibule is decorated with glazed ceramic moldings that are arranged in the shape of stars. From the vestibule, on the left and right, grand marble staircases ascend from between crowned lamps on columns to bring visitors to the second floor. The balustrades of the staircases, also marble, are supported by unusual transparent yellow glass balusters. The underside of the staircases is covered with tiles that form gleaming canopies on either side of the vestibule.

Today, guests generally enter the Palau through the foyer, which was created in the renovations of Tusquets and Díaz from what originally were the headquarters of the Orfeó Català. The large space of the foyer is more soberly decorated than the rest of the Palau, but the wide exposed brick arches with their marvelous glazed green, pink, and yellow ceramic flowers recapitulate the ornamentation of the rest of building. The foyer features a large counter where tapas and beverages can be served to concert-goers or visitors who are touring the building. The bar is situated between massive pillars of brick and is illuminated from behind by expansive stained-glass panes that are suspended above it. A glass case in the foyer displays the Orfeó Català's banner, which bears its crest embroidered on fabric in the modernisme style.

Lluís Millet hall

The Lluís Millet hall is a salon located on the second floor of the Palau that is named after one of the founders of the Orfeó Català. The hall is a popular gathering place for concert-goers and also serves as a teaching area for visitors touring the building. From floor to ceiling the hall is two stories high and affords views of the intricate mosaics on the two rows of columns outside its windows that are much better than those available from the street.

It is ornated by several bronze busts of musicians related to the Palau: Lluís Millet and Amadeu Vives (Orfeó Català founders), Pablo Casals, Eduard Toldrà (founder and first conductor of the Orquestra Municipal de Barcelona, Just Cabot (Orfeó Català president) and pianist Rosa Sabater.

Concert hall

The concert hall is one of the most beautiful in the world (...) without exaggeration. It is one of its most important architectural treasures. Its pace, simple, complex, mystical and paradoxical, defies accurate description.

-David Mackay
(Quoted in Carandell et al. 2006, 62)

The concert hall of the Palau, which seats about 2,200 people, is the only auditorium in Europe that is illuminated during daylight hours entirely by natural light. The walls on two sides consist primarily of stained-glass panes set in magnificent arches, and overhead is an enormous skylight of stained glass designed by Antoni Rigalt whose centerpiece is an inverted dome in shades of gold surrounded by blue that suggests the sun and the sky.

The architectural decoration in the concert hall is a masterpiece of creativity and imagination, yet everything has been carefully considered for its utility in the presentation of music. The hall is not a theater, because the massive sculptures flanking the stage make the use of scenery nearly impossible. Likewise, even though a noble pipe organ graces the apse-like area above and behind the stage, the hall is not a church.

The dominant theme in the sumptuous sculptural decor of the concert hall is choral music, something that might be expected in an auditorium commissioned by a choral society. A choir of young women surrounds the "sun" in the stained-glass skylight, and a bust of Anselm Clavé, a famous choir director who was instrumental in reviving Catalan folk songs, is situated on the left side of the stage, under a stone tree. Seated beneath this statue are sculpted girls singing the Catalan song Les Flors de Maig (The Flowers of May).

The whole arch over the front of the stage was sculpted by Dídac Masana and Pablo Gargallo. On the right side is depicted the ride of the valkyries in Wagner's opera Die Walküre (The Valkyries), an opera in which the female choir sings with great musical power. Under the valkyries and among two Doric columns—symbol of classical art—is a bust of Beethoven that many think was placed there in honor of the beautiful choral composition in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony known as the Ode to Joy. So, the arch represents folk music on the left and classical music on the right, both united at the top of the arch.

In a semicircle on the sides of the back of the stage are the figures of 18 young women popularly known as the muses (although there are only nine muses in Greek mythology). The monotone upper bodies of the women protrude from the wall and their lower bodies are depicted by colorful mosaics that form part of the wall. Each of the women is playing a different musical instrument, and each is wearing a different skirt, blouse, and headdress of elaborate design. In the early days of the Palau, many critics found these figures unsettling or even eerie, but today they are widely regarded as perhaps the best sculptural work in the concert hall. The upper bodies were sculpted by Eusebi Arnau, and the mosaic work of their lower bodies was created by Lluís Bru.

The sculptures of winged horses that enjoy a commanding position in the upper balcony are said to honor Pegasus, the horse of Greek mythology that is the symbol of high-flying imagination. Pegasus was ridden by the muses when called by their father Zeus to be by his side on Mount Olympus.

Remodeling and extension

Between 1982 and 1989 parts of the building were restored to their original state, technically upgraded and expanded to allow additional uses. The new work did not compromise the decorative or structural integrity of the original building. Stone, brick, iron, glass, and ceramics were used in the same way that Domènech i Montaner used them. One of the most important expansions is the adjoining building of six stories that houses dressing rooms, a library, and an archive.

From 2006 to 2008 some further restoration was carried out: the lantern on the top of the tower on the corner of the building was reinstalled, as were some ornamental features of the façade.

Petit Palau

Opened in 2004, the Petit Palau is 11 metres below the square that was created in the work of 1982-1989 between the Palau and the neighbouring church. It has a seating capacity of 538 people and is equipped with variable acoustics for different types of music and spoken word. It also possesses the latest in audiovisual technology. Like the other additions, it was designed in the spirit of Domènech i Montaner. It is light and transparent like the Palau proper, but at the same time it is modern in its great flexibility for different cultural, social, and business uses.

Artistic history

From the opening of the Palau de la Música Catalana in 1908 special attention was given to the promotion of local composers and artists. After World War I the Orquestra Pau Casals performed at the Palau, and among composers featured gave presentations of the music of Enrique Granados from 1921 onwards.

Many of the world's best soloists and singers have visited the Palau de la Música Catalana, among them: Andrés Segovia, Lela Tsurtsumia, Pablo Casals, Jacques Thibaud, Alfred Cortot, Eugène Ysaÿe, Albert Schweitzer, Enric Granados, Blanche Selva, Wilhelm Backhaus, Emil Sauer, Wanda Landowska, Clara Haskil, Fritz Kreisler, Manuel Quiroga, Arthur Rubinstein, Claudio Arrau, Yehudi Menuhin, Mstislav Rostropovich, Julian Lloyd Webber, Alicia de Larrocha, Victòria dels Àngels, Montserrat Caballé, Josep Carreras, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Barbara Hendricks, Alfred Brendel, Wilhelm Kempff, Sviatoslav Richter, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Maurizio Pollini, Maria João Pires, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Jessye Norman, and Daniel Barenboim.

Many great orchestras and conductors have played at the auditorium, including the Berliner Philharmoniker with Richard Strauss, Herbert von Karajan, Claudio Abbado and Mariss Jansons; the Wiener Philharmoniker, with Carl Schuricht, Karl Böhm, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein; the Amsterdam Concertgebouw with Eugen Jochum, Antal Doráti and Mariss Jansons;the Israel Philharmonic with Zubin Mehta; the Staatskapelle Berlin; the Chicago Symphony with Daniel Barenboim, the New York Philharmonic with Kurt Masur; the Münchner Philharmoniker with Sergiu Celibidache; the Cleveland Orchestra with Lorin Maazel; the Philharmonia Orchestra with Carlo Maria Giulini; and Concentus Musicus Wien with Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Václav Neumann, Jordi Savall, and Philippe Herreweghe.

Also performing at the Palau have been choirs, such as Capella Sistina di Roma, Orfeón Donostiarra, Escolania de Montserrat, and the Wiener Sängerknaben. From 1920 to 1936, the Orquestra Pau Casals was resident under the direction of Pablo Casals (sometimes known by his Catalan name, Pau Casals), Richard Strauss, Vincent d'Indy, Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schönberg, Anton Webern, Arthur Honegger, Manuel de Falla, and Eugène Ysaÿe, among others. For years, the resident orchestra at the Palau has been the Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona.

Important composers have performed or conducted their own works, including Enric Granados, Richard Strauss, Maurice Ravel, Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky, Manuel de Falla, Arnold Schönberg, Sergei Rachmaninov, Anton Webern, Roberto Gerhard, Georges Enescu, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honegger, Frederic Mompou, Krzysztof Penderecki, Witold Lutosławski, and Pierre Boulez.

Other artists, actors, dancers, jazz soloists, popular singers, and bands have performed at the Palau: Lela Tsurtsumia, Vittorio Gassman, Maurice Béjart, Ángel Corella, Charles Aznavour, Duke Ellington, Tete Montoliu, Oscar Peterson, Woody Allen, Keith Jarrett, Ella Fitzgerald, Michel Camilo, Tamara Rojo, Paco de Lucía or Bebo Valdés, Jorge Drexler, Cassandra Wilson, Vicente Amigo, Anoushka Shankar, Norah Jones and Juanes

The Palau became an emblematic theater for Catalan singers of the Nova Cançó (New Song, or Catalan popular song from the 1960s). Singing at the Palau was a kind of consecration for a singer. For example, Raimon, Joan Manuel Serrat, Maria del Mar Bonet, and Lluís Llach have sung there.

For some years, plays were performed there. Companies such as the Teatre Experimental Català, Companyia Adrià Gual or Agrupació Dramàtica de Barcelona (1955–1963) performed their shows at the Palau.

Premières performed

As the main concert hall in the city, the Palau de la Música Catalana has staged many world premières of musical compositions, including the following (the most relevant for music history are in bold type):

  • 1908 Enric Granados' symphonic poem Dante.
  • 1911 Enric Granados' first book of his piano suite Goyescas and his Allegro de concierto and Cant de les estrelles (Song of the stars), for chorus and orchestra; Isaac Albéniz's Azulejos, prelude for piano finished by Enric Granados.
  • 1914 Enric Granados' Tonadillas, song cycle for voice and piano.
  • 1921 Eduard Toldrà's string quartett Vistes al mar (Sight to the sea) (31 May).
  • 1923 Joaquín Turina's Tres arias for soprano and piano.
  • 1925 Manuel de Falla's Psyché, and Frederic Mompou's Charmes, núm. 4-6.
  • 1926 Jaume Pahissa's Suite intertonal (October 26); Joaquín Turina's Dos canciones (October 29) for soprano and piano; Manuel de Falla's Concerto for harpshicord and five instruments (November 5).
  • 1928 Eduard Toldrà's opera El giravolt de maig (The May sunflower); Frederic Mompou's Comptines, three songs for voice and piano; Joaquín Turina's Ritmos: fantasia coreográfica for orchestra (Rhythms: a choreographic fantasy) (October 23), and Evocaciones for piano (October 29).
  • 1929 Roberto Gerhard's Concertino for strings, Wind quintet, and other of the author's early works.
  • 1932 Manuel Blancafort's El rapte de les sabines (The Sabine women abduction) (other Blancafort's works were premiered here after: Ermita i panorama (Hermit and panorame) (1946), Concert omaggio a Franz Liszt (1944), Concert ibèric (Iberian concerto) (1950), Simfonia en mi (1951), Cantata Verge Maria (Virgin Mary cantata) (1968), Rapsòdia catalana (Catalan rhapsody) (1972), etc.)
  • 1936 Alban Berg's Violin concerto (April 19); Roberto Gerhard's suite from the ballet Ariel.
  • 1938 Roberto Gerhard's Albada, interludi i dansa (Sunrise, interlude and dance) (May 14)
  • 1940 Joaquín Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez (November 9).
  • 1945 Xavier Montsalvatge's Cinco canciones negras (only the four first songs; the first performance of the five songs was given a few months after at the Ateneu Barcelonès); many other of the Montsalvatge's works have had their premieres at the Palau.
  • 1946 Joaquín Rodrigo's Quatre cançons en llengua catalana (Four songs in Catalan language). and Tríptic de Mossèn Cinto (Jacint Verdaguer's triptych), both song cycles for soprano and orchestra.
  • 1948 Xavier Montsalvatge's Simfonia mediterrània (Mediterranean Symphony).
  • 1952 Frederic Mompou's Cantar del alma, choral version.
  • 1954 Salvador Bacarisse's 3rd piano concerto.
  • 1957 Salvador Espriu's play Primera història d'Esther.
  • 1959 Joaquín Nin-Culmell's ballet Don Juan.
  • 1960 Xavier Montsalvatge's Càntic espiritual.
  • 1961 Frederic Mompou's Variacions sobre un tema de Chopin for orchestra; Joan Brossa's play Or i sal.
  • 1963 Xavier Montsalvatge's Desintegració morfològica de la xacona de J. S. Bach (Morphological disintegration of J.S. Bach's chaconne); Josep Carner's play El Ben Cofat i l'altre.
  • 1966 Joaquin Homs' String quartet, num. 6; other of Homs's works have had their premieres at the Palau: Invention for orchestra (1965), Presències for orchestra (1970), Dos soliloquis (1976), Brief symphony (1978), Nonet (1979)...
  • 1967 Cristòfol Taltabull's oratory La Passió (Passion).
  • 1971 Krzystof Penderecki's Prélude for winds, percussion and double basses.
  • 1974 Josep Soler's opera-oratory Oedipus et Iocasta (many of Soler's works were first performed at the Palau); Cristóbal Halffter's Oración a Platero for choir and orchestra.
  • 1977 Joaquín Rodrigo's Sonata a la breve, for cello and piano.

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