Cronologia degli organi del Duomo di Milano
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Chronology of the organs of the Duomo of Milan

by Emanuele Vianelli
(Principal organist of the Duomo of Milan)

1395 – On July 18 BROTHER MARTINO DE’ STREMIDI was commissioned to build an organ inside the North sacristy. A barrel organ was used for services celebrated at the high altar.

1449 – BROTHER MARTINO DE’ STREMIDI’s organ was transferred to the wall facing the transept, still on the North side.

1463 – FRANCESCO SFORZA personally contributed to the cost of a new organ, to be positioned in the South arm of the transept. The organ-maker, the German BERNARD D’ALLEMAGNA, asked for “six carts of wine” as extra payment. The new instrument was inaugurated in 1466 but did not satisfy the testing commission, triggering a dispute about its payment, which had to be resolved by the Podestà of Milan, the chief magistrate.

1490 – restoration and partial reconstruction of the North organ, by BARTOLOMEO ANTEGNATI.

1508 – restoration of the South organ by LEONARD D’ALLEMAGNA.

1540 – Start of negotiations with GIAN GIACOMO ANTEGNATI for the reconstruction of the North organ. In 1550 this organ was moved to its current position in the presbytery. The panels were painted by GIUSEPPE MEDA.

1579-1590 – Negotiations and construction of the new South organ by CRISTOFORO VALVASSORI. Construction of the new case, which was symmetrical with the case of the Antegnati organ.

1600-1800 – Over the years, both organs were overhauled and restored by MICHELANCELO VALVASSORI, CARLO PRATI, ANTONIO BRUNELLI, GIOVANNI PAOLO BINAGHI, GIOVANNI ANTONIO BOSSI, GIOVANNI BRUNELLI, ROCCO BINAGHI, ANGELO and ANTONIO BOSSI.

1825 – Reconstruction of the South organ by EUGENIO BIROLDI.

1842 – Reconstruction of the North organ by the SERASSI brothers.

1876 – Reconstruction of the South organ by PIETRO and LUIGI BERNASCONI. An Echo organ was added.

1905-1907 – Reconstruction of both organs by VINCENZO MASCIONI. Two twin organs were created, each with 31 ranks, and with tubular-pneumatic action. Strangely enough, the 24-foot base was maintained.

1937-1938 – An increase in public funding from Lire 150,000 to Lire 500,000, obtained by Giuseppe De Capitani D’Arzago, the Commissioner of the Veneranda Fabbrica, made it possible to undertake some large projects. These included the complete reconstruction of the organ by the best Italian organ-makers, working together. The team included the BALBIANI-VEGEZZI-BOSSI firm from Milan, the MASCIONI firm from Cuvio and the TAMBURINI firm from Crema. The first abandoned the project because they felt that it was artistically wrong for such an important instrument to be built by combining different organ-building techniques and aesthetics. The organ that was completed by the MASCIONI and TAMBURINI firms alone, had 5 manuals, 2 consoles, 180 ranks, 15,350 pipes and seven elements “distributed” around the transept.

1965 – 66 – The organs were completely dismantled because the pillars of the dome urgently needed repairing. A new Tamburini choral organ was built (1968), with mechanical action and 16 ranks. This instrument was portable and could be moved around the apse to avoid the building work.

1984-1986 – The TAMBURINI company of Crema reassembled the large organs, which were revoiced to a certain extent, and grouped them entirely in the apse, building two new cases. The two manuals positioned on the two ancient choir stalls were also restored, making it possible to recover the interplay between the “hammering organs”. A new console with three manuals, positioned to the left of the high altar, also made it possible to use the two organs in the historical cases, as well as a section of the positive organ and Tamburini’s choir organ (the latter fitted with dual mechanical and electrical action). This meant that part of the large organs could be used to accompany the Cathedral Choir, which usually sings in an appropriate area of the transept.

1999-2000 – To mark the Great Jubilee, the organs underwent radical cleaning and tuning.