Violin Online: Conservatory System

History of Violin Pedagogy: How Did They Learn?

Conservatory System

by Dr. Robin Kay Deverich

Although the apprenticeship system and private instruction were the primary means of instruction for professional violinists, musicians were also trained in church cathedral schools and conservatories. The precursor of modern conservatories were 16th-century Italian orphanages: cori and ospedales. One of the most renowned ospedales was Pio Ospedale della Peta (la Pieta) in Venice, an orphanage for illegitimate, orphaned, or abandoned girls. Antonio Vivaldi was affiliated with la Pieta from 1703-1740, and composed hundreds of his concertos and symphonies expressly for student and faculty associates of la Pieta.

Successful state-run music conservatories were founded in locations such as: Paris (1795), Prague (1811), Vienna (1817), London (1822), and Brussels (1832). The Leipzig Conservatory, founded by Felix Mendelssohn in 1843, quickly achieved an international reputation for excellence and became a model for many conservatories throughout the world.

Keene described the purpose of early European conservatories:

In many instances the European conservatories were sponsored by governments for the purpose of preserving a country's musical culture. Ordinarily, they were free for all, their directors realizing that musical talent was no respecter of social class. In general the curriculum consisted of applied music, solfeggio, harmony, and other theoretical branches. The aim of the conservatories was to produce excellent performers with broad musical backgrounds. [35]

In the late 1800s, six major conservatories opened in the United States: Oberlin (1865); Boston (1867); Cincinnati (1867); New England (1867); Chicago Musical College (1867); Peabody (1868). Sollinger described how these American conservatories sought to do more than merely educate the musically gifted:

Today the term, conservatory, connotes an institution accepting only the most talented students for professional training. While the nineteenth century conservatory prepared many fine professional musicians, its philosophy extended beyond that goal. The founders, such as Even Tourjee of the New England Conservatory, were concerned with uplifting the cultural level of the whole nation. In order to educate as many students as possible, the conservatory system of class instruction was used and students of all ages and levels of ability were accepted, not just the talented few. [36]

An indication of the popularity of conservatory instrumental classes is indicated by enrollment figures at the Boston and New England Conservatories:

Conservatory founders were concerned with the whole nation's culture and with students of all ages. As a result of these broad aims (and for financial reasons) large numbers of students were admitted for study. From 1867 to 1886 at the Boston Conservatory, a total of 15,000 students had been taught; from 1867 to 1878 at the New England Conservatory, a total of 14,000 students had enrolled. Many additional thousands were taught in conservatories established in all major cities and many smaller towns. [37]


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