The Vatican is launching a bid for the Christmas number one after Pope Francis approved the first ever studio recording of the Sistine Chapel Choir.
The world’s oldest choir, made up of 20 adult singers and 30 boy choristers, will release its debut album, Cantate Domino, through Universal Music, home of Taylor Swift and Eminem, after receiving special permission from the Vatican.
The album includes music written for the Sistine Chapel Choir by Palestrina, Lassus and Victoria during the Renaissance.
It also features two Gregorian chants and a world-premiere recording of the original version of Allegri's Miserere. The pieces are sung in Latin, as the composers intended.
The singers include baritone Mark Spyropoulos, who is the first British full-time member of the choir. The album was recorded by Anna Barry, a Grammy-winning British producer, who set up a specially constructed studio within the Chapel to capture the building’s unique acoustic properties.
The chapel is in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope, in Vatican City, Rome. The mixing desk was set up in an ante-chamber, next to the “Sala del Pianto”,where the newly elected cardinal is first dressed as Pope. Ms Barry said it was an “overwhelming privilege” to work among Michelangelo’s frescoes in the building which is home to the papal conclaves.
The first regularly constituted company of singers at the Chapel dates back to the pontificate of Sylvester I (314–35) under the name of schola cantorum.
The album is the Vatican’s second attempt to crack the Christmas chart. Pope Benedict XVI released Alama Mater, a seasonal collection of Lauretan litanies and prayers with musical accompaniment, in 2009.
The market for sacred music has since expanded. The Benedictine monks of Norcia in Italy, who brew craft beer in their downtime, topped the US classical charts this Summer with an album of Gregorian chants.
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Nuns are getting in on the act too. The Missouri-based Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles enjoyed chart success with their recent album, Easter at Ephesus.
Massimo Palombella, director of the Sistine Chapel Choir, said now was the right time for a chart bid. “The Sistine Chapel was consecrated in 1483 and has been home to the papal choir ever since. After an intensive period of study and scholarship of the sacred music in the Renaissance and its aesthetic pertinence, we have arrived at the point of making the first commercial recording, in this remarkable building, with this prestigious label.” He said. “It is my hope that these masterworks will touch millions of listeners worldwide, and connect them to the historical culture and deep spirituality of the Catholic Church.”
“The music we have recorded was created for papal celebrations in the Sistine Chapel and by composers who wrote specifically for the Sistine Chapel Choir,” Monsignor Palombella added.
Mark Wilkinson, President of Deutsche Grammophon, Universal’s classical imprint, said: “This very special record has the power, the beauty, and the excellence to find a truly global audience ‒ and an audience beyond the traditional confines and boundaries of classical music.”
Cantate Domino will be officially launched at a press conference held in Vatican City later this month, ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. His Holiness will be presented with the very first copy of the album.
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