The Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (= SCB) boasts a world famous Department of Musicology which records and produces its own albums under the prestigious French recording label Harmonia Mundi and publishes specialist books, such as facsimile editions of scores from the Vatican Library and priceless codices from the National Library of Vienna.
Th Deputy Director of the Schola Cantorum, is the German linguist and musicologist Dr Thomas Drescher. Since 1933 the Schola Cantorum has operated as both a music academy and a research centre, the oldest of its kind in the world.
The Schola Cantorumís history goes back a long way. Until 1954, when the centre merged with the Basel Academy of Music, it was the private residence of Paul Sacher, a conductor and early music enthusiast who also commissioned new works by contemporary composers. In fact, Paul Sacher commissioned pieces by Igor Stravinsky, Arthur Honegger and Béla Bartók, whose Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste was first performed in Basel. Paul Sacherís goal was to return to "a new simplicity, to go back to the origins" of music, and he flatly rejected the principles governing interpretation that were prevalent in his day, imbued as they were with 19th century notions of performance. In the 1930's, Paul Sacher invited the great Polish harpsichordist Wanda Landowska to Switzerland; so deeply impressed was he by her interpretation of Bach and her analysis of the composerís works, that he was moved to bring into being the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis.
Paul Sacher was the director of the school until 1969, and since the 1970's it has been the first, and indeed, only music school in the world devoted exclusively to the study of medieval music. Among its other accomplishments, the centre boasts Switzerlandís principal and most widely consulted music library, as well as a museum of original instruments including such gems as an English piano dating from 1830 that was owned by both Brahms and Wagner. Dr Drescher says: "our approach to music theory differs from that of other conventional schools. We work with tablatures (an ancient form of musical notation now fallen into disuse) and we work on historical analytical principles. Even our way of training musiciansí ears is different. In our view, musical analysis means learning to look at the work in a different way. Musicians need to understand that they are here, the work is there, and history is what lies in between."
The school is divided into two main branches. One, which offers non-degree courses and is open to the public, has some 500 students; the other, catering to professional musicians, has more than 200 students from all over the world. The latter study at the Schola Cantorum for 4-5 years. These advanced students are professional musicians who come to further their knowledge of early music to a degree equivalent to the post-doctoral level in other disciplines. Although there are many students from central Europe, Spain and Latin America, the majority of our students today come from Eastern Europe, mainly from Poland and the Czech Republic. It is also interesting to note that, unlike some years ago, the instrument now most in demand is the human voice, which accounts for almost 50% of student applications.
Famous names who have studied at the Schola Cantorum include the great Dutch harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt, Catalan musicians Jordi Savall and his wife Montserrat Figueras, and the lutenists Hopkinson Smith and Rolf Lislevand. One interesting fact that speaks reams for the quality of the teaching at the centre is that the gambist Jordi Savall was for many years a teacher at the Schola Cantorum, having succeeded August Wenzinger, the first musician to record early music using original instruments back in 1950. Decades before Nikolaus Harnoncourt and others, August Wenzinger was the first to record Monteverdiís Orfeo following historical criteria. Jordi Savall, in his turn, was succeeded by Paolo Pandolfo. It is remarkable that since 1933, the Schola Cantorum has had only three viola da gamba professors: August Wenzinger, Jordi Savall and Pandolfo. Its strength of tradition is undeniable.
In 2004, in an attempt to understand the current phenomenal success of early music, the Schola Cantorum organized a seminar entitled "Early Music and Marketing".