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date: 10 April 2021


  • William Weber,
  • Denis Arnold,
  • Cynthia M. Gessele,
  • Peter Cahn,
  • Robert W. Oldani
  •  and Janet Ritterman


Schools designed for special instruction in music, often also in one or more of the other arts. The term originated in Italy as conservatorio; it was adopted by the French as conservatoire and by some German cities as Konservatorium. ‘Conservatory’, commonly used in the USA, has prevailed since the mid-20th century.

William Weber

The idea of a school where music is one of the principal if not the only subject of study dates back to medieval church choir schools. By 1600 these schools usually taught reading and writing, and sometimes rhetoric and literature as well. The concept of the conservatory, however, differs from this model in several respects. First, although in some early conservatories students were expected to take part in church ceremonial, that was never their sole occupation. Secondly, conservatories trained them for the music profession in general, rather than simply for church music. Thirdly, conservatories have usually been answerable to lay people, whether in the narrow sense of having lay governors or more broadly by being partly controlled by state or municipal authorities....

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