There’s more to Barcelona than Antoni Gaudí.
As a visitor to Barcelona, you can’t miss the celebration of the architect Antoni Gaudí. All tours visit the Sagrada Familia, the Casa Battló, Park Güell, and many other Gaudí-designed buildings. All the souvenir shops are filled with Gaudí-inspired objects.
But Gaudí, while an unequaled genius, was one among many expressive modernisme architects and artists who flourished at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century in Barcelona. Another was Lluís Domènech i Montaner.
At the turn of the 20th century, the catalan choir association Orféo Català commissioned the design of a new performance hall. They chose the most prominent architect in Barcelona at the time, who was not Gaudí. It was Lluís Domènech i Montaner. Construction was completed in 1908.
For the people of Barcelona, this was a time of great industrialization, economic prosperity, social change, and Catalan cultural resurgence. The founders of Orféo Català sought to celebrate Catalan choral music and to support ordinary people in the working neighborhoods of industrial Barcelona. The singers in the choirs of the Orféo Català were ordinary people, not paid professionals.
The performance hall is squeezed in the midst of the textile-workers district. Still today, you can’t get a long view of the facades because of its tight location. Instead, its artistic exuberance reveals itself in glimpses and around corners.
Barcelona’s modernisme style is an explosion of classical, natural, regional, art nouveau, gothic and just plain creative elements. You feel the pride of Catalonia’s uniqueness. Forms and colors from nature react to the challenges of industry. You see the hands of artisans and artists in the mosaics, carvings and sculptures.
Characteristic materials of the mosaics of the modernisme style are broken ceramic, stone and glass. The broken pieces were less expensive than whole elements, and they allowed the construction of sinuous curving forms.
The lobby and entry stairs hint at the exuberance of design awaiting you in the main hall.
Natural light fills the hall.
The architect designed the space for choral performances, not orchestras or operas. The choral society wanted light and openness. Even with the building’s being squeezed between workers’ buildings, the architect filled the hall with light from great windows on all sides, and through an astonishing drooping glass ceiling.
The iconography of the art in the hall connects the cultural heritage of Catalan composers and performers with the greats of the Western tradition.
The sculpture to the left of the stage shows a famous Catalan composer of the time and illustrates one of his hugely popular songs.
Balancing this Catalan expression is the sculpture on the right, with Wagner and his valkyries. This pairing says that Catalan musical culture is the equal of the best of Europe.
Eighteen muses from around the world overlook the stage. Note the creative combination of two-dimensional mosaic forms with the emerging sculptural torsos. The Catalan flag holds the center. Catalan culture at the center of the world, and connected to all the world’s musical heritage.
Beyond all the history and meaning, we just find this place beautiful. The fertility of art, craft and design wraps you up. It is amazing that all this is just one room.
Here are more images of the design details. Enjoy!
Our guide from the Palau de la Música Catalana brought as much exuberance to our tour as the architect did to the hall. Splendid ambassador for this remarkable place.