Architecture / Art / History / Spain / Travel

Pure Whimsy: Barcelona’s Palace of Catalan Music

Music Palace Dome

As a first-year university student, I made a scheduling mistake which haunted me for four months: Art History at 8:00am. The positively inhumane class-meeting time was bad enough, but my freshman folly was exacerbated by the class format.

Picture a barely-awake dweeb, sitting in a darkened lecture hall with 250 other catatonic classmates watching slide after monotonous slide of classic art and world-famous architecture. I don’t remember hearing snores, but it wouldn’t have been a surprise. And I’m sure there was lots of head-down drooling going on.

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Much of the final exam was re-watching the slide show of the professor’s “greatest hits” and identifying the art or building. The attributes I should’ve been remembering were, “flying buttresses + Gothic arches = Chartres Cathedral.” What I actually remembered was, “long copper roof + funky lizard downspouts = Chartres Cathedral.”

At the time, this class was pure torture, and in that dark classroom one cathedral looked pretty much like another. But luckily, when exams rolled around, there were a few distinctive buildings that were so unique I recognized them immediately – which brings me to the Palau de la Musica Catalana (Palace of Catalan Music) in Barcelona, Spain.

Columns + Balustrade

At the end of the 19th Century, the Catalonia region in eastern Spain was a hotbed of nationalistic fervor. With a unique, centuries-old language and culture, the people in general, and the Modernisme Movement specifically, wanted independence and recognition as a country on par with all the other countries of Europe. And architect Lluis Domenech Montaner, designer of the Palau de la Musica Catalana, was one of the prime movers in the new architectural crusade.

Montaner and his contemporaries, such as Antoni Gaudi, wanted their buildings to be uniquely Catalonian. And there’s no denying that this distinctively flamboyant structure is certainly one of a kind.

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What made Montaner’s buildings different was the extensive use of curves rather than straight lines, and asymmetrical design featuring rich decoration and detail both inside and out.

Columns

In 1905, when this concert hall was built, traditional architects probably said that this glass and ceramic balustrade, and the individually designed, mosaic columns had no “harmony.” But what a fabulous visual impact they make!

Glass Balustrade

The main concert hall, which is still used today, has a spectacular stained-glass ceiling which is a show-stopper in its own right. There’s so much exquisite detail on the interior, it’s difficult to find a part of the building which isn’t a beautiful work of art.

Stained Glass Bell

One of the pleasures of travel is seeing the real deal; not just a slide-show photograph. I know of no other building like the remarkable Palau de la Musica Catalana. In addition to being a delight to see, it was a nostalgic flashback to a time when I definitely wish I’d paid more attention.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

P.S. For a mind-blowing look at the interior, check out the 360° virtual tour created by The International Virtual Reality Photography Association. Montaner was definitely coloring outside the lines.   

Stained Glass

Photo Credits:
2. By jordi domènech via Wikimedia Commons
4. By Jaume Meneses via Wikimedia Commons
7-8. By Josep Renalias via Wikimedia Commons

18 thoughts on “Pure Whimsy: Barcelona’s Palace of Catalan Music

    • Peggy, I can probably answer this question with one word: Gaudi. There are so many examples of his work in Barcelona, that if you’re like most visitors, you felt compelled to see it all, which leaves little time for other attractions. ~James

  1. What astonishing columns!! The lack of symettry is particularly pleasing as are the curved lines. Amazing how modern this looks and how the use of colors has retained its full vibrancy. The stained glass ceiling is not only stunning for its design and intricacy but for the fact it remains in tact despite the fact that horizontal glass work is obviously somewhat fragile. Wow! Great post!

    Peta

    • Thanks Peta. Just about everything about this concert hall is unique. And the combination of materials, colors, and techniques truly makes it one-of-a-kind. Every part of the building is a treat for the eyes, but I think my favorite part on the exterior is the glass and ceramic balustrade. Outstanding! ~James

    • Stunning is the right word Laura, both inside and out. As I said in the post, I know of no other building like it. They certainly don’t build them like this anymore. ~James

    • That sounds like a good plan Curt. A month would certainly give you lots of time for digging deep into the art and architecture of Barcelona, and Catalonia as well. I hope you can make it. ~James

  2. How fun is that 360 view! We have been looking a bit at getting that technology. So cool.
    If your university professor could see you now! You who writes so often about architecture around the world. Amazing how life plays out.

    • You’re right Sue. Teaching art history to a bunch of first-year students has to be a truly thankless job, but I guess (big surprise) that some of it actually stuck with me. And I agree, that 360 is one of the best I’ve seen. I’m curious about the technology. Do you have a link that you recommend? ~James

      • James I will ask Dave if he has done more research on this. Our current quest is to find a drone. Dave is off to a info session tonight on that. I’ll let you know if he has any suggestions regarding 360.

  3. Like so many buildings in Barcelona, this one has the Wow! factor. I just returned from Barcelona and will have to put this one on my must see list for next time. My guests were blown away at the various buildings in this amazing city.

    • As you know Darlene, all of Barcelona’s wonderful Gaudi buildings pretty much overshadow any others in town, and the opera house is a case in point. It’s a fabulous building and I hope you can see it on your next visit. BTW, I’m envious of your ability to drop by Barcelona so easily. ~James

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