The Schola Cantorum of the Lateran, the oldest Christian musical institution in Rome, has been traditionally attributed to Pope St. Gregory the Great (ruled 590–604) but possibly dates from the fourth century. Singers there received an excellent general education and musical training, and the Schola inspired a similar school at the Vatican and the ninth-century Carolingian effort to standardize liturgical chant in the empire.
   When the papacy transferred to Avignon (1309–1377) the Schola vanished, but it was restored by Pope Eugene IV in 1443 and increased to 24 singers by Pope Sixtus IV (ruled 1471–1784). Eventually, the Vatican had two choirs: a new training choir founded by Pope Julius II, the Cappella Giulia, and the principal papal choir, now called the Capella Sistina. Other major basilicas in Rome established permanent choirs in the early 16th century, coincident with the golden age of Renaissance sacred polyphony associated with Giovanni da Palestrina.
   The city also heard a great deal of popular religious music, including the laude of religious confraternities, rappresentazioni of the passion story, and the earliest oratorios early in the 17th century at the churches of San Girolamo della Carità, Santa Maria in Vallicella, and the Oratorio del Crocifisso.
   Thereafter, music of the theater and the secular world occupied the most talented composers, and the art of sacred music declined. The {}Pontificio Istituto di Musica was established by Pope Pius X in 1911 as part of his campaign to restore the ancient qualities of Roman Catholic sacred music. Despite this good intention, compositions and performance practices growing out of the Cecilian movement, such as accompanying Gregorian chant with 19th-century functional harmonies, have kept the papal choir from the front ranks of the world’s sacred choirs.

Historical dictionary of sacred music. . 2006.

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