The safeguard of the ancient Roman school operated by the Liberian Chapel received fortunately new lymph and support with the advent of the “Caecilian movement”. Relevance and dignity were given back to sacred music and efforts were multiplied in palaeographic research. In this way, it was possible to attain Pope Pius X’s promulgation of Motu Proprio, called Inter pastoralis officii sollicitudines (1903), which returned full dignity to sacred chant, and to the foundation of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music (1911).
In this atmosphere of renewed musical fervour, Licinio Refice, who with good reason can be described as the first talented master of this century, made his appearance on the scene. He was the director of the Liberian Chapel from 1911 to 1947. Together with Lorenzo Perosi and Raffaele Casimiri, he became the real creator of the renewal of Italian sacred music. Professor of the Pontifical Institute, he was the author of oratories, songs (cantate), choral-symphonic poems, operas such as Cecilia (1934) and Margherita da Cortona (1938), as well as an abundant production of liturgical music, in great measure still unedited. His work was brought to light by Mons. Miserachs and preserved in the archives of the Basilica.
From 1947 to 1977 his work was carried on by Domenico Bartolucci, who was called later to conduct the Sistine Chapel. Bartolucci, a figure of great authority and an attentive connoisseur of the ancient polyphonic school, which deeply permeates his style of composition, is also the author of oratories and professor of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music. In 1973 he was joined in the direction of the Liberian Chapel by Mons. Valentino Miserachs Grau, who is the current titular master. He was born in Catalonia in 1943 and has lived in Italy since 1963 in order to complete his theological and musical studies. Mons. Miserachs was the organist of the Giulia Chapel in the Basilica of Saint Peter, under the direction of Armando Renzi, from 1975 to 1980. For five years he was professor of composition at the Conservatory of Matera. Thereafter, he was one of the founders of the “T. L. da Victoria” music school of Rome, where for twenty years he taught Composition, Organ, Choral Chant and polyphonic Direction and orchestral Exercises.
His concert activity, both as an organist and a director of choral and orchestral bands, was remarkable . Among his musical productions, besides the liturgical one which had been intended for the solemnization of worship in the Basilica – 4 volumes of Mottetti, Magnificat, Masses, Responsorial Psalms, Vespers, etc. –, the oratories of the Beata Virgo Maria, Stephanus, Isaia, Mil anys, the choral-symphonic poem Nadal and the Suite Manresana for orchestra stand out. Since 1995 he has been the Dean of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music. Under the direction of Mons. Miserachs and his collaborator Fr. Aurelio Zorzi sm, for decades the Liberian Chapel has given the Basilica of St. Mary Major reason to boast. On every “per annum” Sunday, in fact, at 10 a.m. the capitular holy Mass is solemnized by the service of singers (about twenty-five consisting of tenors and basses) and by
M° Juan Paradell Solé, the titular organist, or his substitute,
M° Gabriele Terrone. On major solemnities the male voices are enriched by a female choir, prepared and directed by
M° Antonio Alessandri, which is able to compensate for the absence of a boys choir.
Another sign of determination to restore the brilliance and splendour which belong to this “living monument” of sacred music, has been the institution of a stable group of brass instruments, under the direction of Mons. Luca Petrongari. His involvement during the most important solemnities (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost etc.) crowns the atmosphere of awe-inspiring spiritual elevation, which one breaths in in the spacious nave of the Marian temple par excellence. And it is undoubtedly during the celebrations of the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption and the commemoration of the Dedication of the Basilica (August 5) – the traditional Roman feast of Our Lady of the Snows that culminates with the spectacular “snowing” of white petals in the central nave of the Basilica while singing the Gloria during Mass and during the recitation of the Magnificat at the celebration of Second Vespers – that the liturgy reaches its maximum splendour. Certainly no less charm graces the services during Advent and Lent which, out of respect for the most ancient tradition, are strictly performed “a cappella”.
Also striking is the participation of the singers at the Palm Sunday and Corpus Christi processions and during the liturgical celebrations of Holy Week. In the last decades, unfortunately, under the fanatic pretext of abiding to the dictates of the Second Vatican Council, often widely misunderstood, there has arisen a progressive and deleterious rejection of the sound choral practice in favour of “modern” musical forms with the illusive intent to render the liturgy more up-to-date and attractive. In this difficult panorama the Liberian Chapel places itself as a bulwark of the most authentic and genuine Roman tradition which has given so much to the world of music, and whose patrimony cannot and must not be forgotten. The signs of great esteem and appreciation offered by the Archpriest Cardinals who succeeded one another in the last thirty years and by the whole Chapter, as well as by several admirers and friends, motivate the Master, the collaborator masters and all the singers to persevere in their mission as witnesses of sacred musical art.