7 May 2018

Domenico Bartolucci – composer

Talented musician served under six popes

Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci
Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci
Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci, director of the Sistine Chapel Choir for 40 years and a talented and prolific composer, was born on this day in 1917 in Borgo San Lorenzo in Tuscany.

Bartolucci was considered one of the most authoritative interpreters of the works of composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and he led the Sistine Chapel Choir in performances all over the world.

His own compositions are said to fill more than 40 volumes and include masses, hymns, madrigals, orchestral music and an opera.

Bartolucci was born in Borgo San Lorenzo near Florence, the son of a brick factory worker who loved the music of Verdi and Donizetti. Bartolucci was recruited as a singer at the seminary in Florence at a young age. After the death of his music master, Bartolucci succeeded him as director of music for the Chapel of the Duomo of Florence and began to compose masses, motets and organ music.

Bartolucci went to Rome to deepen his knowledge of sacred music and served as deputy master of the choir at the Church of St John Lateran. In 1947 he was appointed Master of the Choir of St Mary Major, and in 1952 was appointed deputy master of the Sistine Chapel Choir.

Bartolucci was director of the Sistine Chapel Choir from  1956 until his retirement in 1996
Bartolucci was director of the Sistine Chapel Choir from
1956 until his retirement in 1996
Pope Pius XII gave him the position of permanent director of the Pontifical Sistine Chapel Choir in 1956. During his 40 years of leadership he strengthened the choir and took it to perform in countries all over the world.

Bartolucci had been a child prodigy and composed his first mass at the age of 12. His best known mass is the Misa Jubilei, written in the Holy Year of 1950. His biggest musical influences were Palestrina and the opera composer, Giuseppe Verdi. Bartolucci’s own three-act opera, Brunelleschi, dedicated to the history and construction of Filippo Brunelleschi’s colossal dome atop Florence’s cathedral, is yet to be performed.

Pope Benedict XVI created Bartolucci a cardinal in 2010 in recognition of his contribution to the church in the area of sacred ecclesiastical music. He became the fourth oldest member of the College of Cardinals and because he was over 80 was not eligible to vote in a papal conclave.

Bartolucci died in 2013 at the age of 96. After his funeral mass at St Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis described him as ‘an ‘illustrious composer and musician, who exercised his long ministry particularly through sacred music, which is born of faith and expresses faith.’

The unusual campanile at the church of  Pieve di San Lorenzo
The unusual campanile at the church of
Pieve di San Lorenzo
Travel tip:

Borgo San Lorenzo, the birthplace of Bartolucci, is the largest of the towns and villages of the Mugello, the green, hilly area to the north and west of Florence. The Romanesque church of Pieve di San Lorenzo has a campanile that is circular in its lower stages and hexagonal above. Nearby are the Medici properties of Castello del Trebbio and the Villa di Cafaggiolo, both built for Cosimo il Vecchio in the 15th century.

Travel tip:

The Sistine Chapel, whose choir Bartolucci led for 40 years, is in the Apostolic Palace, where the Pope lives, in Vatican City. The chapel takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV, the uncle of Pope Julius II, who had it restored during his papacy. Between 1508 and 1512, Michelangelo painted the ceiling at the request of Pope Julius II.  His amazing masterpiece is in bright colours, easily visible from the floor, and covers more than 400 square metres.


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