As mentioned above (§1), the Society of Jesus was founded with an institutional bias against musical practice. Even though the reason for that bias was not in itself anti-musical, a certain degree of suspicion about music was generated within the ranks of the order; there were always members who felt that music was dangerous because of its ability to stir the emotions, thereby evoking sensuality, and they argued that music should therefore not be accorded a significant place within the Jesuit tradition. It was in spite of this bias that a worthy musical tradition developed throughout the early years of the order, and by the mid-17th century the principal arguments about music in Jesuit colleges and chapels concerned matters of finance. From the beginning, although Jesuits themselves may have been cautioned against or even prevented from a deep involvement in the musical arts, the Society nevertheless appointed some of the finest musicians available to be maestri di cappella, especially at the Jesuit colleges in Rome, including the Collegio Romano, the Collegio Germanico, the Seminario Romano and the Collegio Inglese. At one time or another Palestrina, Victoria, Agostino Agazzari, G.F. Anerio, Domenico Massenzio, J.H. Kapsberger and Giacomo Carissimi all worked for the Jesuits, as did M.-A. Charpentier and André Campra in France at a later date.
Throughout the Society’s history, there have nevertheless been a number of composers, musicians and scholars who were themselves members of the order. Francisco Borgia (1510–72), former Duke of Gandía and third Father General, was known to have composed a polyphonic mass setting. The polymath Athanasius Kircher (1601–80) was one of the most influential music theorists of the Baroque era. Domenico Zipoli (1688–1726) from Prato, sometime organist at the Gesù in Rome, entered the Society in 1716 and spent the rest of his life using his musical talents in the Jesuit reducciones of Paraguay. After Zipoli, the musician and architect Martin Schmid (1694–1772) dominated the history of the last days of the Jesuits in Paraguay immediately before their expulsion in 1767, while the French Jesuit composer Joseph Amiot (1718–93) worked at the close of the Jesuit period in China. A number of Jesuits have been more renowned for their scholarly research in music: Louis Lambillotte (1796–1855), chant scholar and composer of hymns; G.M. Dreves (1854–1909), medievalist and co-editor of Analecta Hymnica Medii Aevi; J.W.A. Vollaerts (1901–56), chant scholar; and Jóse López-Calo (b 1922), influential musicologist in the field of Spanish sources.
Much documentation exists about the music of the Jesuits before the order’s suppression by Pope Clement XIV in 1773, but very little of the music itself seems to have survived. Apart from the Kapsberger opera, the other collections of music manuscripts linked to the Society have come to light mostly outside the European orbit, and virtually all of that music is connected with the Jesuit mission lands. The most substantial manuscript collection is that of the episcopal archive in Concepción, Bolivia, but music associated with the Society has also been found in Brazil, Canada (Quebec), Chile, Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines. A collection of printed music, most of it dating from the 19th century but with a few 16th–18th-century prints, was discovered in the early 1990s in the church of the Gesù, Rome (it is now part of the Jesuit archive in I-Rcg). The disappearance of music manuscripts and prints belonging to the Jesuits is probably a result of the suppression; while some Jesuit libraries survived or were reconstituted after the restoration of the order in 1814, music from the college chapels and churches associated with the professed houses did not.