History of the Choir

The Pontifical Musical Chapel “Sistina”, commonly known as the Choir of the “Sistine Chapel” is the chorus of the liturgical celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff. Present since the first centuries of the Church, it was reorganized in the sixth century by Pope St.Gregory the Great, underwent major changes under Boniface VIII, and it was reorganized by Sixtus IV in 1471; since then, the Pontifical Musical Chapel became the Pope’s personal choir and was renamed “Sistina choir” as a tribute to the man who revived it, and because usually the choir sang in this chapel. During the Renaissance, Singers Chapel “Sistine”, among others, were Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Luca Marenzio, Cristobal Morales, Costanzo Festa, Joaquin de Prés and Jacob Arkadeh.  In the nineteenth century the Chapel had as its illustrious directors composers such as Giuseppe Baini and Domenico Mustafa. In 1898, Maestro Lorenzo Perosi became the director and, in 1956, Domenico Bartolucci. From 1997 to 2010 it was directed by Msgr. Giuseppe Liberto. On October 16th, 2010 His Holiness Benedict XVI appointed Msgr. Massimo Palombella Master Director of the Sistine Chapel Choir. In addition to its main commitment under the Papal Liturgy, the Choir of the Sistine Chapel in its totality as well as with only the White Voices section, performs in concerts around the world where, through the historical heritage of music for Liturgy, it carries out, according to its mandate, a work of Evangelization.

The White voices

The Pueri Cantores (Children Singers) of the Sistine Chapel make up the white voices section of the Sistine Chapel Choir. They are the young soul, propulsive and true pride of the entire choir. Called to follow five years of intense musical studies, the Pueri Cantores keep alive a tradition that albeit with various interruptions, has lasted for 15 centuries, contributing to the development of a unique musical heritage. The origin of the Pueri Cantores dates back to the sixth century, when Pope Gregory the Great founded a school of children singers to support the adult Cantori in Papal Celebrations . In more recent times, Lorenzo Perosi, appointed Master of the Sistine Chapel in 1898, introduced the young singers belonging to other Roman choirs and who were called as needed. Only in 1956, under the direction of Domenico Bartolucci, the Pueri Cantores of the Sistine Chapel were officially organized in their current configuration.

Lutherans and Catholics in St Peter’s Basilica

On June 29th, 2013, the Tomaner Choir of Leipzig, world famous coral group, sang in St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican along with the Sistine Chapel Choir, during the liturgical celebration of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, celebrated by the Holy Father. This important ecumenical initiative, which unites, through music, Lutherans and Catholics at the center of Christianity, marks the second time that, in more than 500 years of history, the choir of the Sistine Chapel joined forces with those of another choir, following the positive experience of 2012 in the United Kingdom Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis later, called for the establishment of musical collaboration, inspired by the Christian vocation of the choir, and consequently encouraged a rich exchange of experiences between the two liturgical and cultural traditions. This goal has certainly been achieved by the above-mentioned events: the two choirs, expressing a common Christian faith, have indeed proposed both traditional Roman polyphonic music, as that of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina than some of the Lutheran tradition, in German, as the motets by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The Chorus in Westminster Abbey

On May 30th and 31st, 2015, the Sistine Chapel Choirperformed in the UK, with a concert at Westminster Abbey in London. It was an historical event of great prestige for both the choir and for its Master, Msgr Massimo Palombella, with the participation of the Dean of Westminster Abbey, under the direction choir director James O ‘Donnell.

The concert, result of the union between the Catholic and Anglican traditions, saw for the first time the Sistine Chapel choir perform songs historically used in papal celebrations in non-Catholic Liturgies.