Naples, the music capital of Europe

Conservatorio di S. Onofrio2 photo Myrna Herzog lightDuring the baroque period, Naples was considered the music capital of Europe: as Blazio, a character in Storace's The Pirates says, "sir, the people here are all born musicians. The little children cry in tune!".

This was thanks to the huge number of talented musicians born in the city - and thanks to its four excellent music conservatories which gave them an outstanding musical education. It is for this reason that in 1774 Stephano Storace sent  his 12 year old English son Stephen all the way from from London to study at Sant'Onofrio a Porta Capuana, one of those four conservatories.
Pietro Antoniani Milan 1740 1805 A view of the Bay of Naples with figures on the Riviera di Chiaia
Sant' Onofrio dates from 1578, and among the composers who learned or worked there, we find Don (Nicolò) Francesco (de) Rossi (Bari 1627 - ca 1699) and Cristofaro Caresana (c.1640-1709) who at some point were also its directors;  Pietro Andrea Ziani (1616-1684),  Niccoló JommelliGiovanni PaisielloNiccolò Piccinni,  Antonio Sacchini (four of the great names in the 18th century Neapolitan music) andof course Stephen Storace (1762-1796).  

 The original building still stands, very near to Porta Capuana, just across the street on the north side of the old Vicaria, the tribunale, the Naples Hall of Justice. It is presently occupied by the Police, which does not allow visitation.

Charles Burney (1726-1814) described a day in S. Onofrio, Wednesday, 31 October 1770:

"...This morning I went with young Oliver to his Conservatorio of St. Onofrio, and visited all the rooms where the boys practise, sleep, and eat. On the first flight of stairs was a trumpeter, screaming upon his instrument till he was ready to burst; on the second was a french-horn, bellowing in the same manner. In the common practising room there was a Dutch concert, consisting of seven or eight harpsichords, more than as many violins, and several voices, all performing different things, and in different keys: other boys were writing in the same room; but it being holiday time, many were absent who usually study and practise there together.Conservatorio di S. Onofrio photo Myrna Herzog light

The beds, which are in the same room, serve as seats for the harpsichords and other instruments. Out of thirty or forty boys who were practising, I could discover but two that were playing the same piece: some of those who were practising on the violin seemed to have a great deal of hand. The violin-cellos practise in another room: and the flutes, hautbois, and other wind instruments, in a third, except the trumpets and horns, which are obliged to fag, either on the stairs, or on the top of the house.


The only vacation in these schools, in the whole year, is in autumn, and that for a few days only: during the winter, the boys rise two hours before it is light, from which time they continue their exercise, an hour and a half at dinner excepted, till eight o’clock at night; and this constant perseverance, for a number of years, with good teaching, must produce great musicians."