One upon a time, 120 years ago.
The history of the Schola Cantorum is before all else the history of a strong will, the one of a single man : Charles BORDES (1863-1909). As early as 1890 he set the basis for his enterprise. In 1894, he brought together some friends benefactors and shareholders and creates a company taking the name of « Schola Cantorum ». Bordes’ initial collaborators included two great musicians whose renown will confer high recognition to its project : Alexandre GUILMANT (1837-1911) et Vincent d’INDY (1851-1931).
The school officially opens doors to public on 15 October 1896 rue Stanislas in the Montparnasse district, before settling down permanently in 1900 within the Latin district in the old convent of the English Benedictines.
The English Benedictines’ Convent … 400 years of history
In 1640 the English Benedictine monks, fleeing the schism in England, took refuge in France and settle down in Paris between the Feuillantines and the Val de Grâce, on the current location of the Schola Cantorum, benefitting from the protection of Richelieu and Anne d’Autriche. The first cornerstone of the current buildings, built thanks to the generosity of Louis XIV, was laid on 29 May 1674 by Marie-Louise d’Orléans. The church (the school’s current concert hall) was completed in 1677 and dedicated to Saint Edmond, king and martyr. This house and its church stood out in the history of French diplomacy and still remain today in Paris as one of the testimony of the Stuarts’ melancholic fate.
The King James II, forced to seek asylum in France, lived there. After his death in 1701, Louis XIV requested that the King’s body lie at the English Benedictines’ convent. His remains were deposited in the chapel adjoining the Church (now the King James II Room), awaiting more favourable days for his burial in Westminster. Later his children rested by his side in the same place, together with most members of the Fitz-James family. Very soon a rumour circulated: one said that « God has bestowed marvellous cures at the tomb of James II ». The location then became a court of miracles and a place of pilgrimage.
During the whole XVIIIth century, the convent was the meeting point and the refuge of the Jacobins, the Stuarts, and of English aristocrats emigrating on a massive scale as they were robbed and hunted down. Then arose the French Revolution. The convent and the buildings were confiscated and were used as detention houses under the Terror. The graves were desecrated and looted, and no one knows what happened to the body of James II. Under the Consulate, the abbey was returned to the « catholic bishops of the English nation ». Since that time the abbey has remained their property, however as foreign « inalienable religious endowment », the building was placed under the authority of the French State. From 1804 to 1900, the venue was transformed and successively rented to a cotton factory, to the Ecole Polytechnique, to a marine institute, to various religious institutions, before finding at last, at the dawn of the XXth century, its vocation of music school.
From 1900 until his death in 1931, Vincent d’Indy was responsible for the direction of the school. Since then, the school has played a key role and has been deeply rooted into the Parisian, French and international musician life, having proven its worth all along the XXth century. Thousands of students have been trained here and masters of exceptional prestige and reputation illustrated the school’s history, among whom : Isaac Albeniz, Léon Barzin, Charles Bordes, Joseph Canteloube, Gaby Casadesus, Sergiu Célibidache, Jacques Chailley, Maurice Duruflé, Jean-Jacques Grunenwald, Alexandre Guilmant, Vincent d’Indy, Alexandre Lagoya, Wanda Landowska, Jean Langlais, Daniel Lesur, Roland Manuel, Olivier Messiaen, Darius Milhaud, Maurice Ohana, Ida Presti, Albert Roussel, Eric Satie, Déodat de Séverac, Paul Tortelier, Joaquim Turina, Edgar Varèse, Louis Vierne, Karin Waehner…
The Schola Cantorum’s public, philosophy and teaching spirit
Genuine « free and independent conservatory », free because it respects each and everyone’s personal expression and creativity, the Schola Cantorum provides to students across the world, a teaching adapted to all levels, from beginner to concert artist, and which addresses a very wide audience of mixed ages and diverse ambitions. The purpose can be, from case to case, either professionalism or the pleasure of an active approach and the art for the art. The Schola answers this dual expectation. His prestige built over time, is a reference for all professionals. The openness and flexibility of its teaching also enables to address the serious, motivated and enlightened amateurs. In this institution, art is considered as a formative factor of personality. Competitive spirit, too often induced by the notion of « competition », is not accepted. « One does not play music against someone else. » The school prepares however to exams which do not classify individuals between themselves, but achieved proficiency levels according to standards. The degrees awarded under the school’s own authority have an internationally recognised value.
The Schola Cantorum today
The Schola Cantorum, at the dawn of the XXth century, continues to stamp its mark and to mark its difference. Combining attachment to traditions and attraction for novelty, its permanent concern is to enlarge its scope of action and to take into account all the contributions of modernity as well as the needs and trends of a constantly moving art, therefore regularly opening new courses and creating new disciplines. The school currently has an enrolment of close to 1000 students. 50 disciplines are taught by some 100 professors. Constantly “on the move”, the school is committed to maintaining an entrepreneurial spirit and culture while continuing to adapt and preserve its independence. The Schola’s history has always required this approach, its status as a private and free enterprise demands it, and the flexibility of its administrative functioning, as well as the quality and dedication of its teachers, enable it.