A Brief History of Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona
What is Palau de la Música Catalana?
Palau de la Música Catalana is an early-20th-century concert hall designed by architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner to celebrate Catalan identity and artistry.
Palau de la Música Catalana History
The Orfeó Català, a choir specialising in Catalan music, was founded in 1891 to disseminate the traditional and classical forms. Their choral repertoire and artistic excellence gained them great popularity by the turn of the century. In 1904, the governing board of the society, then directed by the influential jeweller Joaquim Cabot, commissioned prominent Catalan architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner to design the Orfeó its own headquarters and concert hall. His brief was to create ‘a temple of Catalan art, a palace to celebrate its Renaissance’.
The main issue faced by Domènech i Montaner was the cramped site. To address this, the architect decided to place the auditorium on the first floor and turned the ground floor into a large vestibule that’s connected to the street by a spacious arcade. Domènech i Montaner designed the building around a central metal structure covered in glass, which creates a fluid space that plays brilliantly with light and shade.
The concert hall’s design is an eclectic, whimsical combination of architectural features. The façade is decorated with numerous sculptures and mosaic-covered columns. Busts of great masters such as Bach and Beethoven share the same space as a sculpted group symbolising Catalan folk song (at the corner of the façade). This magnificent and richly detailed work was executed by Miquel Blay, one of the most well-known artists in Catalonia at the turn of the 20th century. His Cançó Popular Catalana depicts an angelic maiden surrounded by characters of different social classes. Above the group stands the patron saint of Catalonia, Sant Jordi (or Saint George), his sword arm protecting them. The composition aims to demonstrate that this structure was built for everyone, regardless of class or wealth.
Inside, a pipe organ is situated above and behind the stage at the far end of the large oval auditorium. A central stained-glass skylight, symbolising the sun, fills the room with natural light and shifting colours throughout the day. Domènech i Montaner incorporated floral-themed decorative elements throughout the interior of the hall, to produce an atmosphere of joy and optimism. The back of the stage is decorated with the coat of arms of Catalonia, which is flanked by 18 muses carrying musical instruments whose upper bodies are sculpted and lower bodies are depicted by colourful mosaics. They symbolise various musical styles and embody the spirit of the concert hall, a venue where all genres are welcome – a successful architectural translation of the Orfeó’s inclusive and liberal ideology.
In the 1980s, the concert hall was refurbished, modernised and enlarged under the direction of architect and art historian Òscar Tusquets but still retains its original exuberance and charm. Today, the Palau de la Música Catalana is the only Art Nouveau concert auditorium listed as a World Heritage Site. The venue is not only a celebration of music, but also of Catalan identity and artistry at the beginning of the 20th century.
Enhance your visit to Barcelona with our free Barcelona self-guided walking tours app.