This website may ask your browser to store cookies. See our Cookies Policy for more information about our use of cookies.

Back to previous page

Music in Bologna - Celebrating the arts of Italy

Combine music, architecture, good food and relaxation for a joyous experience unique to the festivals put together by Martin Randall Travel.

Eight private concerts in beautiful and appropriate historic buildings, some not generally open to the public.

Music largely by composers associated with Bologna from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century.

Includes Rossini’s glorious Stabat Mater on the 150th anniversary of the composer’s death, and a reconstruction of the 1530 coronation of Charles V.

Participating musicians are among the leading international specialists; and include Håkan Hardenberger, The Dufay Collective, Basel Chamber Orchestra and Australian String Quartet.

Plenty of free time in Bologna, one of the loveliest and most manageable of Italian cities.

Talks by leading experts on music and history, and optional guided tours with art historians.

Suits independent-minded travellers as well as those who like the social aspect of these events.

  • Photograph of the ceiling of the Palazzo Albergati.
  • Chimneys of Bologna, watercolour by Maxwell Armfield, publ. 1926
Navigate tour


Martin Randall Travel’s music festivals are unique. The mix of music, architecture, talks and relaxation in a beautiful historic setting makes for an unforgettable experience.

Bologna is an ideal venue for an MRT festival. Of great historical, artistic and musical importance, it is yet relatively small and walkable and partially pedestrianised. Few Italian cities are more alluring – and, given the richness of its heritage and the multiplicity of its charms, perhaps none is so neglected by travellers.

Arcades flanking streets and squares, great churches encrusted with artworks and monuments, palazzi and ancient civic buildings – these are among the visual treats, together with first-rate galleries, frescoed halls and dazzling shops and markets. As the home of Europe’s oldest university, with a world-wide reputation for gastronomic excellence and a wide selection of first-rate hotels, one would think that a visit would be practically mandatory for every civilised traveller. But still the tourists stay away.

Not so scholars, scientists, artists and musicians, who for hundreds of years were attracted in droves from far and wide to one of Europe’s greatest centres of culture and learning. Patrician and commercial wealth nurtured a long tradition of music-making that drew performers and composers from all over the Continent.

Important and influential Bologna-born composers include Jacopo da Bologna (fourteenth century), Adriano Banchieri (1568–1634), Giacomo Antonio Perti (1661–1756) and Ottorino Respighi (1879–1936). Among composers from elsewhere who spent significant amounts of time here are Giuseppe Torelli (1658–1709), famous for developing the concerto, and Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868), in his lifetime the undisputed colossus of opera. W.A. Mozart spent several months at the Accademia Filarmonica in 1770 studying with ‘Padre’ Martini, whose other pupils included J.C. Bach and C.W. Gluck.

The concerts

Fortuna disperata – a Bolognese songbook reveals its secrets

Rose Consort of Viols:
John Bryan, Alison Crum, Andrew Kerr, Roy Marks viol
Jacob Heringman lute | Clare Wilkinson mezzo-soprano

Palazzo Magnani

The Bentivoglio family were leaders of Bolognese culture in the years around 1500: the younger members were painted by Lorenzo Costa, clustered around a musical manuscript. One such songbook, now in Bologna’s Biblioteca della Musica, contains the sort of music the family would have enjoyed – secular settings of French and Italian poetry, a few devotional pieces and items which would have been perfect material for the consorts of viols that many wealthy families were acquiring at that time.

As the Bentivoglio songbook was being compiled, Lorenzo Costa was painting an altarpiece for the Chiesa di San Giovanni in Monte (our venue for Rossini’s Stabat Mater) which depicts two early viols. The Rose Consort plays a set of instruments designed on the basis of this painting.

This programme presents songs and instrumental pieces from the Bologna manuscript Q18, performed on these ‘Costa’ viols. Composers include Josquin des Prez, Heinrich Isaac, Johannes Martini and Alexander Agricola, as well as frottole by their Italian contemporaries.

The Rose Consort takes its name from the celebrated family of viol makers. It has been widely acclaimed for its unique blend of intimacy, intricacy, passion and flamboyance.

Palazzo Magnani is a magnificent sixteenth-century palace, designed by Domenico Tibaldi. In the great hall there is a fresco frieze by the Caracci brothers (1591).

The coronation of Charles V

Members of La Pifarescha
Ensemble Pian & Forte
Paolo da Col director

Basilica di San Petronio

Before Charles of Habsburg was elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1519, he had already inherited the Burgundian territories in the Netherlands, the newly united kingdom of Spain with all its New World colonies and the Habsburg lands in Central Europe. Thus it was as the most powerful ruler in Europe since the third-century Roman emperors that Charles descended into Italy to be crowned by the pope. By the sixteenth century, however, the imperial title conferred more prestige than power, and this was the last imperial coronation presided over by a pope.

Nicolas Gombert (c. 1495–c. 1560) was engaged by Charles V as singer and composer in 1526 and accompanied him in his travels, thus becoming one of the most influential composers of the century by furthering the cause of Franco-Flemish polyphony in Spain and Italy. This reconstruction of the 1530 coronation is built around a Gombert Mass with interpolations by other composers. The musicians will be accommodated with and above the audience in the sixteenth-century choir stalls and organ loft.

The brick-built Basilica of San Petronio is one of the largest Gothic churches in Europe (in Italy it is exceeded only by Milan cathedral). It was the centre of civic as well as church life – it was only transferred from the city to the diocese in 1929 – and in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it was renowned for its music.

The vocal group Odhecaton is dedicated to music of the Renaissance and pre-Classical period. Its prize-winning CD The Coronation Mass of Charles V was released in 2000 and has been followed by a steady stream of acclaimed recordings and tours. Musician and musicologist Paolo Da Col leads the ensemble. For this performance they collaborate with members of the early music instrumental groups La Pifarescha and Ensemble Pian & Forte.

Bologna 1666 – violin concerti from the Bolognese School

Kammerorchester Basel | Leila Schayegh violin, director

Palazzo Pallavicini

Bologna’s Accademia Filarmonica was founded in 1666 as meeting place for professional musicians and connoisseurs. To acknowledge its 350th anniversary in 2016, the Basel Chamber Orchestra recorded a CD of music written by composers closely associated with the institution, celebrating the highly evolved art of violin playing which was cultivated in seventeenth-century Bologna: violino alla bolognese. (Bologna 1666, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, released January 2017.) The Accademia encouraged experimentation in musical styles, leading to the innovative string-writing of composers such as Perti, Colonna, Torelli and Zavateri.

Founded in 1984 by a number of young graduates from Swiss Conservatoires, the Basel Chamber Orchestra is now one of the most sought after international chamber orchestras, and has made the lively interpretation and skilful juxtaposition of early music and modern music its trademark. For this concert the orchestra is directed by German violinist and conductor Julia Schröder.

In 1770 the fourteen-year-old Mozart performed in the Palazzo Pallavicini, one of the grandest of the aristocratic residences of Bologna. An impressive double stairway of 1732 leads to a succession of richly decorated rooms.

Stabat Mater

Orchestra Sinfonica Gioachino Rossini
Coro San Carlo di Pesaro
Soloists to be confirmed
Nicola Valentini director

Chiesa di San Giovanni in Monte

2018 marks the 150th anniversary of the death of Gioachino Rossini, honoured at this festival with a performance of his magnificent Stabat Mater, which had its Italian première in Bologna’s Archiginnasio. Rossini spent his formative years in Bologna, and returned there frequently throughout his life, including a visit in 1842 to hear this performance. One of the most important outputs of his long semi-retirement, his setting is shot through with the passionate vocal lines of his operas, combined with colourful orchestral scoring and heart-felt choral writing that incorporates distinctly unoperatic fugal textures.

The Rossini Symphony Orchestra was established in Pesaro, Rossini’s birthplace and home to the annual Rossini Opera Festival, at which the orchestra regularly performs. It is the producer and organiser of Sinfonica 3.0, a symphony season based in several historic theatres throughout Le Marche. The orchestra received a recognition of excellence from the Italian Ministry of Education in 2016. It is joined for this concert by Pesaro's San Carlo Choir.

Of red brick and whitewash, San Giovanni in Monte has Romanesque parts but was largely rebuilt in Gothic style in the fifteenth century. The light-filled cupola over the crossing, finished 1496, harmoniously introduces Renaissance forms.

Venue to be confirmed.

Chamber music in the Accademia

Australian String Quartet:
Dale Barltrop & Francesca Hiew violin
Stephen King viola | Sharon Grigoryan cello
William Howard piano

Sala Mozart, Accademia Filarmonica

It was as a teaching institution that the Accademia Filarmonica acquired international fame. During the Classical period in particular, the didactic skills of Padre Martini attracted Grétry from Belgium, Mysliveček from Bohemia, Berezovsky from Ukraine, J.C. Bach from Leipzig and Mozart from Salzburg in 1770. In the late nineteenth century it became an important centre of chamber and orchestral performance.

In this programme, Mozart is represented by his String Quartet in D K575, the first of the great ‘Prussian’ quartets. The ASQ also performs works by Corelli, one of the Accademia’s earliest members, and Puccini, who was awarded an honorary fellowship in 1899.

It is joined by pianist William Howard for the Piano Quintet by Ottorino Respighi (1902), a native of Bologna and one of the few Italian composers to make significant contributions to the chamber repertoire. William Howard also performs two Notturni for solo piano by Respighi’s teacher, Giuseppe Martucci, who played an important part in the revival of musical life in Bologna.

From its base in Adelaide, the Australian String Quartet has for over thirty years been thrilling audiences across Australia and the world with an outstanding programme of performances, workshops, commissions and education projects. The quartet’s distinct sound is enhanced and unified by its matched set of eighteenth-century Guadagnini instruments, built between c. 1743 and c. 1784 in Turin and Piacenza.

Described in The Independent as ‘a pianist of quite special lustrousness and versatility’, William Howard is established as one of Britain’s leading pianists. As soloist and founder member of the Schubert Ensemble he has performed regularly at major venues and festivals. He has made over forty recordings and premièred several dozen new works.

O Jesu Dolce – faith and devotion in mediaeval Bologna

The Dufay Collective

Oratorio di Santa Cecilia

Bologna was a thriving mediaeval urban centre, and the musical life of its churches and religious fraternities was particularly rich. The Dufay Collective presents music of procession, saints days, private devotion and public ceremony. The range is broad, including the subtle eloquence of the motets of Guillaume Dufay, who worked in Bologna 1426–28, the finely wrought frottole of Josquin des Prez and the robust processional laude for the festive processions for local saints. Instruments and voices combine to create a vibrant musical representation of religious faith.

Formed in 1987, the Dufay Collective has remained at the forefront of mediaeval and Renaissance music interpretation. The group has toured the world, and critical acclaim has greeted all its recordings. Thorough musicological research, inspired programming and virtuosic performances turn its performances into uplifting occasions.

The Oratory of St Cecilia was commissioned by Giovanni II di Bentivoglio, the then ruler of Bologna. Starting in 1505, it was entirely frescoed by artists of the Bentivoglio court, including Francesco Francia, Lorenzo Costa and Amico Aspertini. The ten vibrant frescoes depict the life and death of St Cecilia, patron saint of musicians.

Venue to be confirmed.

Glimpses of musical life in Bologna

William Howard piano

Sala Grande, Museo Internazionale della Musica

William Howard gives a musically illustrated talk at the International Museum of Music. The music performed is by composers closely associated with Bologna, ranging from ‘Padre’ Martini and J.C. Bach in the second half of the eighteenth century to Respighi and Bossi in the late nineteenth century.

Installed in the Palazzo Sanguinetti, the Museo Internazionale della Musica contains some of the most important examples of frescoes from the Neo-Classical period in Bologna. The museum presents the history of six centuries of European music though a collection of musical instruments and a picture gallery.

Concerti grossi for trumpet and strings

I Solisti dell'Orchestra Mozart
Håkan Hardenberger trumpet, director

Palazzo Albergati

For a triumphal finale, the programme features works for trumpet and strings by composers who were Bolognese by birth or by later association, Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713) and Giuseppe Torelli (1658–1709) among others.

Trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger is one of the world’s leading soloists, recognised for his phenomenal performances and tireless innovation. He performs with pre-eminent orchestras and conductors, and has championed the works of numerous contemporary composers. He was born in Malmö, Sweden, and begun studying the trumpet at the age of eight. He has been called ‘the cleanest, subtlest trumpeter on earth’ and ‘the best trumpet player in the galaxy’ (The Times).

The Orchestra Mozart was established in 2004 and was served by its founding artistic director Claudio Abbado until his death in 2014. It is built around principal players from renowned orchestras and younger musicians from all over the world, creating opportunities for artists from different generations to meet and exchange musical experience. The orchestra now works with various international conductors, and for this concert will be play-directed by Håkan Hardenberger.

Situated on the agricultural plain outside Bologna, rising high and sheer from a superannuated arboretum, the imposing bulk of the Palazzo Albergati is a startling sight. External austerity masks interior sumptuousness: 1660s Baroque with vigorous sculpture and abundant frescoes, and suites of rooms cocooning a three-storey, 37-metre hall. During the eighteenth century the palace was renowned as a lively centre for cultural and social activities, hosting popes, princes, musicians and more.


The festival package

Access to the concerts is exclusive to those who take the festival package, the price for which includes:

Eight concerts. These are essentially private, and tickets to individual events will not be available.

Accommodation for five nights in one of five carefully selected hotels within the historic centre of Bologna.

Flights from Heathrow to Bologna or Gatwick to Venice, with British Airways (there is a price reduction for not taking these).

Coach transfers from Bologna and Venice airports to the hotels and vice versa. If you book your own flights, you can join these transfers provided your flights coincide with one of the festival flight options.

Meals: three dinners, all with wine, water and coffee, and all breakfasts. Two meals will be in the hotels or carefully selected restaurants, and the third will be in Palazzo Albergati, the venue for the final concert of the festival.

Lectures by Professor John Bryan, Professor David Ellwood and William Howard (with live musical excerpts).

All tips for restaurant staff, porters, drivers, etc.

All state and airport taxes and obligatory charges.

A team of Italian-speaking staff to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

Programme booklet: every participant is issued with a booklet which contains information about the itinerary, concerts and all other practical arrangements.

Optional extras

In addition, there are extra services which can be booked:

The option of joining a pre- or post-festival tour.

The option of arriving a day early at your hotel in Bologna. See below for prices.

An optional package of two extra dinners, which means each evening is spent in the company of other festival participants. Details available at a later stage.

A range of visits and short walks led by art historians and appropriate experts. Details available at a later stage.

Travel to and from the festival

Flights between London Heathrow and Bologna, or London Gatwick and Venice, are included in the package price. There is a price reduction if you make your own travel arrangements.

Arriving a day early

Option 1: Heathrow to Bologna

31st October: depart London Heathrow 08.35, arrive Bologna 11.40 (BA 540). 6th November: depart Bologna 12.35, arrive London Heathrow 14.00 (BA 541).

Option 2: Gatwick to Venice

31st October: depart London Gatwick 12.35, arrive Venice Marco Polo 15.40 (BA 2584). 6th November: depart Venice Marco Polo 16.30, arrive Gatwick 17.40 (BA 2585). Transfer time between Venice Marco Polo and Bologna: c. 1 hour 45 minutes.

Option 3: Heathrow to Bologna

31st October: depart London Heathrow 14.30, arrive Bologna 17.40 (BA 542). 6th November: depart Bologna 18.35, arrive London Heathrow 19.55 (BA 545).

Arriving on the first day of the festival

Option 4: Heathrow to Bologna

1st November: depart London Heathrow 08.35, arrive Bologna 11.40 (BA 540). 6th November: depart Bologna 12.35, arrive London Heathrow 14.00 (BA 541).

Option 5: Gatwick to Venice

1st November: depart London Gatwick 08.25, arrive Venice Marco Polo 11.35 (BA 2582). 6th November: depart Venice Marco Polo 16.30, arrive London Gatwick 17.40 (BA 2585). Transfer time between Venice Marco Polo and Bologna: c. 1 hour 45 minutes.

Option 6: Heathrow to Bologna

1st November: depart London Heathrow 14.30, arrive Bologna 17.40 (BA 542). 6th November: depart Bologna 18.35, arrive London Heathrow 19.55 (BA 545). Please note that those taking this flight option may be late for the welcome drink on Day 1.

If joining a pre- or post-festival tour

These have separate flight arrangements. You do not need to choose a festival option.

The ‘no-flights’ option

You can take the package without flights and make your own arrangements for joining and leaving the festival. The price reduction for this is £120.

You are welcome to join a coach transfer to your hotel in Bologna should you decide to meet at one of the airports above at a time which coincides with one of our flight arrivals. Otherwise you would have to make your own way to your hotel.

Accommodation and Prices

We have selected five hotels for this festival. All are in the historic centre of Bologna. The hotel is the sole determinant of the different prices for the festival package.

Quiet? There are traffic restrictions in the centre, which limit the sound of traffic to some extent, but busy street life and the permitted traffic mean that few hotels can be guaranteed to be absolutely quiet.

Luggage. Traffic restrictions also apply to coaches and there is a possibility that you will have to carry your luggage from a nearby set-down point to the hotel. Suitcases with wheels are advised.

Restaurants. The Grand Hotel Majestic is the only hotel with a restaurant, but all hotels have a bar and are only a few minutes on foot from good restaurants.

Arriving a day early. We are offering the option of arriving at your chosen hotel in Bologna on 31st October, a day before the festival starts. Dinner on that evening is independent.


Hotel Orologio, 3-star

A simple and charming hotel, located a stone’s throw from Piazza Maggiore and opposite the ancient clock tower from which it takes its name. The rooms are decorated in a classic Italian style, and are of a good standard for a 3-star. Some are quite small but all are comfortable and welcoming. At the time of printing (September 2017), the hotel is undergoing restoration work and hopes to obtain 4-star status by November 2018.

Prices, per person

Arriving 31st October

Classic double £2,630 or for single use £2,930
Deluxe double £2,780 or for single use £3,090

Arriving 1st November

Classic double £2,520 or for single use £2,750
Deluxe double £2,660 or for single use £2,900


Hotel Novecento, 4-star

A modern and comfortable boutique hotel, with just 25 rooms, located a short walk from Piazza Maggiore. Rooms vary in size, with elegant décor following a 1930s theme. Some rooms have balconies with views of Piazza Galileo and across Bologna's red rooftops.

Prices, per person

Arriving 31st October

Classic double £2,790 or for single use £3,100
Deluxe double £2,890 or for single use £3,210
Suite (two sharing) £3,140

Arriving 1st November

Classic double £2,670 or for single use £2,910
Deluxe double £2,760 or for single use £3,010
Suite (two sharing) £2,960


Hotel Commercianti, 4-star

Installed in a mediaeval palazzo, this is a traditional hotel with a wonderfully intimate atmosphere that has been in operation for over one hundred years. Rooms vary in size and décor and all are classically furnished and comfortable. Next to the Basilica of San Petronio, it is the closest of the festival hotels to Piazza Maggiore.

Prices, per person

Arriving 31st October

Classic double £2,970 or for single use £3,300
Deluxe double £3,110 or for single use £3,460
Junior suite (two sharing) £3,280
Suite (two sharing) £3,470

Arriving 1st November

Classic double £2,840 or for single use £3,100
Deluxe double £2,970 or for single use £3,250
Junior suite (two sharing) £3,120
Suite (two sharing) £3,250


Hotel Corona d’Oro, 4-star

An elegant hotel, a few minutes’ walk from the Two Towers and Piazza Maggiore. Its approximately forty rooms are tastefully furnished in a modern Italian style and most are spacious. Single rooms have a French bed (1m 40cm) and are quite small but comfortable. The hotel has a particularly attractive lounge area, located under an impressive glass cupola. It is also the hotel that we use for the pre-festival tour Parma & Bologna.

Prices, per person

Arriving 31st October

Single (French bed) £3,150
Classic double £3,170 or for single use £3,710
Deluxe double £3,270 or for single use £3,920
Suite (2 sharing) £3,880

Arriving 1st November

Single (French bed) £2,980
Classic double £2,980 or for single use £3,400
Deluxe double £3,070 or for single use £3,580
Suite (2 sharing) £3,560


Grand Hotel Majestic, 5-star

A luxurious hotel, the oldest and most prestigious in the city. It is conveniently situated on the Via Indipendenza, near Piazza Maggiore, and boasts an excellent restaurant with Caracci-school frescoes. There are just over 100 rooms, each of which is unique, richly decorated and lavishly furnished. There is a small spa and gym, and a courtyard terrace.

Prices, per person

Arriving 31st October

Classic double £3,720 or for single use £4,110
Superior double £3,860 or for single use £4,340
Deluxe double £4,190 or for single use £4,800
Junior suite (two sharing) £4,660
Executive suite (two sharing) £5,060

Arriving 1st November

Classic double £3,520 or for single use £3,830
Superior double £3,650 or for single use £4,030
Deluxe double £3,920 or for single use £4,410
Junior suite (two sharing) £4,310
Executive suite (two sharing) £4,650


Fitness for the festival

To be able to participate in this festival, you should have no difficulties with everyday walking and stair climbing. You should be able to walk unaided for at least thirty minutes. Pavements are often uneven, traffic can be unpredictable, many of the venues have steps and few have lifts. Festival staff will not be able to assist individuals with walking difficulties.

All of the concerts within Bologna are less than thirty minutes on foot from each of the hotels, though most are much closer.

Self-assessment tests

There is no age limit for this festival, or for the pre- and post-festival tours, but we do ask that prospective participants assess their fitness by trying these simple exercises:

1. Chair stands. Sit in a dining chair, with arms folded and hands on opposite shoulders. Stand up and sit down at least eight times in thirty seconds.

2. Step test. Mark a wall at a height that is halfway between your knee and your hip bone. Raise each knee in turn to the mark at least sixty times in two minutes.

3. Agility test. Place an object three yards from the edge of a chair, sit, and record the time it takes to stand up, walk to the object and sit back down.
 You should be able to do this in under seven seconds.

We also ask that on the day of departure you are in good health and free of infectious illness so that you do not risk transmitting it to fellow participants.

Are you fit enough to join the tour?


Travel advice

Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.

'Each Martin Randall music festival I have attended brings great joy- in the exposure to music that has enhanced my knowledge'

'Excellent. The thought and research that had gone into planning the programme was phenomenal'

'I don’t know how you did it! Organisation superb. Staff are helpful and standard of music very high.'

'One of your best festivals! Your choice of venues never ceases to amaze me- that combined with the wonderful music makes this one of my most enjoyable tours.'

'These are just tremendous events that you organise and we are very grateful to everyone at MRT for this one. To those with the vision to set it up and those with the grit and determination to plan in such an efficient and appropriate manner.'

'We particularly enjoyed the morning lectures - probably the best of any of the music festivals we have attended.'