After the abolition of the religious orders by Napoleon, beginning in 1808 the convent and the Carmine church were used as “Ospizio delle Arti” to house the foundling and teach them handicrafts.
In 1818 duchess Maria Luigia decided to have singing lessons imparted to a group of orphan guests of the Ospizio, “so that they could be used in the various functions that took place in the Court Chapel". They were to be taught by head master Ferdinando Simonis and required to see him two to three times a week. These boys, that become known as `’Cantori ducali', continued living within the charity institute, but obtained a better treatment compared to their companions. Some of them, like composer Gualtiero Sanelli (1816-1861), made noteworthy careers.
The first set of regulations for the school came into effect on 28 October 1825: along with the nomination of a proctor, it established the separation of singers from the other guests of the Ospizio, and regulated the teaching of reading, writing, arithmetics, principles of Italian language, and a mechanical art. With the aim of forming new generations of instrumentalists for the Ducal Orchestra (Orchestra Ducale), a new rule, issued in 1840, established that the singers also had to learn how to play an instrument of their choice among violin, oboe, flute, clarinet, bassoon, and contrabass. The teaching of pianoforte and composition were added later on. The instrumentalists of the Ducal Orchestra were appointed the task of teaching the younger ones for at least three hours a day.
Meanwhile, in 1833, a school for female vocalists was set up at the Ospizio delle Orfane in the borough of Grazie, where Antonio De Cesari, the same maestro from the male institution, also taught. In October 1854 the women and the male schools were merged in the former Carmine convent.
New regulations were approved in 1848: the students were required to pass two exams a year as well as to attend a public academy. The proctor also taught composition and pianoforte, the maestro of “bel canto” taught theory, solfège and piano fundamentals, and each instrument teacher would oversee three students. When the Duchy of Parma merged with the Kingdom of Italy on the 5th of september 1859 there were no vacancies at the school.
In the 1800's the school housed all of its students: those who would pass a highly selective entrance exam were granted free boarding, others would pay a fee and received boarding, books, and music. Since the profession of the musicians guaranteed a minimal sustenance, the places for paying students were filled every year. In fact, the Carmine School delivered able musicians, accustomed to playing in ensembles and orchestras, thanks to the continuous participation of these instrumentalists in practice sessions and public concerts.
Some teachers played the role of leaders: the violinist Lodovico Mantovani taught an array of talented violinists, including Romano Romanini, Ferruccio Cattelani, and Enrico Polo. Stanislao Ficcarelli, exemplary concert performer until 1870, was another equally noteworthy teacher, and founder of a prestigious pianistic school. A special mention among woodwind players must be made of Virginio Ferrari for the clarinet, Raniero Cacciamani for the trumpet, and Luigi Beccani for oboe and bassoon. A central figure of this initial period was Giusto Dacci, piano and harmony teacher since 1862, and director of the school since 1875. Among his students was Arturo Toscanini, the most brilliant orchestral conductor of his generation. Toscanini remained tied to his fellow students.
Some of them, who become teachers at the Conservatory, were called to play prominent parts in the Bologna Orchestra, which he directed between 1904-06 (Paolo Cristoforetti, flute, Edgardo Cassani, clarinet, Antonio Jori, bassoon). Another great orchestral conductor that graduated from the school of Parma was Cleofonte Campanini.
In the transitional period before the annexation of the Duchy of Parma to the Kingdom of Italy, when the city of Parma was under the joint dictatorship of the Parmensi Provinces and the Farini family of Modena, the chair for brass, trumpet, horn and trombone became established. A decree issued in 1862, with which the school passed under the control of the State, gave rise to some controversy and a conflict ensued with the Ospizi Civili, owner of the Carmine building, which was finally ended by the decisive intervention of Giovanni Mariotti, mayor of Parma and parliamentarian. He was the most important figure in this period of transition and won the support and counsel of Giuseppe Verdi, who took an active interest in the school's fate. Thanks to Mariotti and Verdi's efforts the school was transformed with a royal charter issued on 18 dicembre 1888 into a Conservatory, along with that of Milan, Naples and Palermo.
The new regulations instituted the position of the school governor: the old director Dacci was replaced, upon Verdi's suggestion, by Giovanni Bottesini, a contrabassist and composer of achieved international recognition. Mariotti travelled to London in order to convince Bottesini, then engaged in a series of concerts, to accept the assignment. Unfortunately, the contrabassist died six months after assuming charge of the school. The renowned orchestral conductor Franco Faccio was designated, again following Verdi’s advice, as the new governor. In his later years though Faccio suffered from psychic disorders and Arrigo Boito was eventually nominated as the honorary director. He managed the school until Faccio's death. In 1891 Giuseppe Gallignani of the musical chapel of Milan’s Duomo was called to direct the Conservatory. He was the initiator of a remarkable expansion of activities: in 1893 he had the former Carmine convent’s refectory turned into a concert hall (Verdi hall), while the following year he obtained approval by the Ministry of Education for the Charter of the Concert Society. Since the inaugural season of the Concert Society, Gallignani was able to attract to Parma the most talented Italian and foreign concert players (the pianisti Ferruccio Busoni, Ilona Eibenschütz, Ernesto Consolo, and the violinist Teresina Tua).
A key strength of the Concert Society consisted in the fact that the orchestra was formed by students and teachers of the school. Gallignani then transferred to direct the Conservatory of Milan in 1897, and Giovanni Tebaldini, was invited to Parma, where he instituted a class for gregorian chants. Tebaldini was accused and criticized for being clerical and conservative (he was nicknamed `pretone'/ big priest). A controversy ensued and a legal battle lasted for years, which had a negative influence on the life of the school. In fact, in early 1901 the activities of the Concert Society stopped altogether. Ildebrando Pizzetti, a student of Tebaldini, emphasized instead Tebaldini’s efforts to widen and improve the quality of instruction imparted at the school. He remembers the visits organized by the director to Bologna, in order to expose the students to the orchestral concerts directed by Hans Richter and Giuseppe Martucci. In addition the orchestra of the Conservatory, formed by teachers and students, performed concerts outside of the city (for example at the Roncole, in front of Verdi's birth house). The director was later indicted for these trips, as they were not part of the school's curriculum.
After the short period of Zanella's direction (1903-05), who subsequently became the director of the Liceo Musicale of Pesaro, it was Guido Alberto Fano, winner in 1905 of a competition at only thirty years old to give new impetus to the institution. The violinist Mario Corti, well on his way to a prestigious career, moved to Parma in 1907: with his help Fano was able to resume the Society's concert activities. The musicologist Guido Gasperini founded the Society of Italian Musicologists in 1908, with its presidency/headquarters in Parma. Thanks to a subsidy from the Cassa di Risparmio bank Fano instituted a Schola cantorum, which he entrusted the care of to Gasperini.
The period of Fano's direction, that ended in 1911, was characterized by great dynamism. Under his guidance restoration work to transform the Carmine church into an auditorium began. But a collapse of the structure interrupted the work indefinitely. After Fano, Guglielmo Zuelli moved to Parma to direct the Conservatory until 1929. In 1912 new regulations were introduced whereby Conservatories were to close their student's dormitories. Meanwhile, the same law opened up the institution to a greater mobility of teachers coming from other cities. The following composers taught in Parma for several years: Gian Francesco Malipiero (1921-24), Carlo Jachino (1928-33), Giorgio Federico Ghedini (1938-41), Franco Margola (1963-75), Camillo Togni (1977-88). A special mention among organists must be made of Arnaldo Galliera, Renzo Bossi e Luigi Ferrari Trecate and among choir conductors, Eraclio Gerbella, Aldo Lazzari, Mario Dellapina, Edgardo Egaddi. In 1919 the Conservatory was named after Arrigo Boito. Zuelli governs the Conservatory in the difficult years of the war and during the following period of recovery, which was marked by a conspicuous faculty turnover. From 1929 until 1955, during fascism, organist and composer Luigi Ferrari was the director.
The regime controlled musical life through The Fascist National Trade Union of Musicians (SNFM), of which Ferrari Trecate was a provincial secretary. In this period the musical life of the city revolved around the Conservatory. And Ferrari Trecate proved to be a skillful organizer. This proved to be an especially useful talent after the war, when, remaining in charge as the school's director, he had the task of relaunching its activites. A special mention among teachers of pianoforte must be made of the following maestri for their positive influence on the school: Attilio Brugnoli, Renzo Lorenzoni, Eriberto Scarlino, Carl Vidusso. Among violinists, a special mention goes to Romeo Franzoni, Giuseppe Alessandri, Umberto Supino, Ermanno Marquises. Among cello players Gilberto Crepax, Gino Francesconi and Fernanda Buranello. The school of contrabass was enriched by the presence of Oliviero Gianelli; that of Oboe by Aristo Cassinelli. The Conservatory of Parma has been known for its prestigious School of Harp, founded in the 1800's by Ines Pia Ruata, and continued by Rosalinda Sacconi and Rita Hazon. Equally prestigious was the School of Voice/Canto thanks to its talented teachers Giulio Silva, Fiorello Giraud, Ettore Campogalliani, who instructed singers destined for outstanding careers: Adele Bianchi Montaldo, Italo Campanini, Adalgisa Gabbi, Italo Gardoni, Flaviano Labò, Carlo Negrini Villa, Aldo Protti, Renata Tebaldi.
In 1956 the Ministry of Education sent Rito Selvaggi to direct the Conservatory: its authoritarian management came to be contested from many teachers, who demanded his resignation from the post. Consequently, in January 1959 Selvaggi was transferred to another school, and Lino Liviabella arrived in Parma, bringing peace back to the institute. Amongst other things, Liviabella set up the new chair for chamber music, entrusted for three years to Claudio Abbado. In October 1964 Liviabella went on to direct the Conservatory of Bologna. The position of director was left vacant and the teacher's council voted for temporarily assigning the post to a member of faculty the violin teacher Riccardo Capsoni. In the absence of any transfer requests to fill the role of director, the Ministry gave its approval.
It was the first time that a director of a Conservatory was elected from the faculty, a fact that would become the norm just a few decades later. In the period of the Capsoni management, new schools came into being for Harpsichord, Guitar, Percussion. In October 1965 a middle school was established in all Conservatories.
In 1966 the roman composer Guido Turchi was transferred to Parma to direct the Conservatory. He opened the elementary school connected to the institute, the first of its kind in Italy, in which the Orff method was applied. The two classes of guitar, timpani and percussion were entrusted to Renzo Cabassi and Guido Zorzut, with excellent didactic results. In this period the school of woodwinds confirmed its solid tradition with some prominent teachers: Renzo Robuschi for trumpet, Enzo Muccetti for basson and the french horn player Argeo Lusardi.
Since 1975 the following directors have succeeded one another: Piero Guarino (until 1989), pianist and composer and remarkable interpreter of chamber music; Renato Falavigna (until 1996), composer and former student; Claudia Termini (until 2004), organist and former student; and Emilio Ghezzi (until 2010), composer from Milan. Currently the director is the pianist Roberto Cappello. The end of the 1970s marks the beginning of renewal and transformation, on a national level, of the profile and the scope of Conservatories. In the scholastic year 1976-77 the first Liceo Artistico Quinquennale ad Indirizzo Musicale in Italy is set up in Parma with a Ministerial Decree issued on 1 March 1977.
On the tail end of other previous experimental experiences (foremost that of Milan, where some years prior a similar four-year high school was inaugurated) a formative model that addressed high school age students came into being. The Musical High School of Parma, after 34 years of trial, was transformed in 2010-11 in one of the Musical High Schools that the Gelmini reform of March 2010 had definitively institutionalized. However, the most significant changes arrived in 1999 with the introduction of law 508 which reorganized the Conservatories into institutions of high culture, under the provisions of article 33 of the Constitution which states the right to self-governance and regulation within the system with a high level of instruction and artistic and musical specialization.
The first effect of this reform was to set up an experimental three year program for undergraduate students"Triennio" (from 2003) and of an advance graduate two year program "Biennio" (in 2004), both characterized by new educational curricula which aimed at providing students with the acquisition of hitherto unprecedented expertise. This rearrangement of didactic activities made it possible for the Conservatory of Parma to receive in 2009 (along with the Conservatory of Trieste and the Academy of Praga, the only three institutions in Europe to have received such an acknowledgment) the “Diploma Supplement Label” by the European Agency of Brussels which allows students to make use of their academic qualifications and of the educational content of their studies. On 24 November 2008 the Carmine Auditorium was inaugurated with a concert of the Trio of Parma: the austere gothic church was transformed, thanks to a brilliant architectonical restoration, into a concert hall, also available for conventions and other cultural events. Shortly thereafter, the new hall had become the site of a full calendar of artistic activities, becoming an hallmark of the city's cultural life.