Milan Duomo's Organ

Milan Duomo’s Organ

The Duomo di Milano Organ

Built by Mascioni of Cuvio (Varese) and Tamburini of Crema in 1938, restored and relocated entirely in the Presbytery by Tamburini in 1986, the grand organ of the Duomo is the largest in Italy and firmly maintains its second place in Europe as regards the number of pipes and stops (surpassed only by the organ of Passau cathedral, in Germany) and is among the fifteen largest organs in the world.

The current numbers of this giant are truly impressive:

  • 15,800 pipes, the highest over nine meters high while the smallest measures just a few centimetres
  • Five organ cases (Grand Organ North and South Side – Positive and Recitative North Side – Solo and Eco South Side – Choral at the altar level)
  • Five consoles (main console with five manuals, altar-side console with three manuals, choral console with two manuals, two apse consoles with one manual)

If these numbers look impressive, the artistic aspects are even more precious: the grand organ of the Duomo of Milan combines the timeless sounds of the Italian tradition with a decidedly eclectic sound structure, which allows for an exact characterisation of a considerable portion of the organ literature, making the Mascioni-Tamburini an instrument with an absolutely exceptional timbre for the romantic-symphonic repertoire, like the instruments of the most important European cathedrals.

However, an organ cannot be qualified as a work of art only through its numbers. It is the nobleness of its sound that characterises the grand organ of the Duomo as the last of a glorious series of musical instruments. The history of Milan cathedral has been linked to that of its organ since its foundation. The first instrument was reportedly built in 1394, after only 7 years from the laying of the first stone of the church. The assignment was entrusted to a friar, brother Martino de Stremidi, who completed it after two years of work. The original position of this first organ is not well known, but it must have been of considerable size because of the bellows that were operated through a large wheel set in motion by two men.

The liturgical and architectural reform promoted by San Carlo Borromeo in response to the new requirements arising from the Council of Trent entailed a rearrangement of the organs, which were definitively placed at the sides of the high altar.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the instrument was overhauled several times to adapt it to the growing needs for a more sophisticated sound. New stops were added and the bellows were replaced.

From the end of the nineteenth century, the need to introduce electric transmission became more pressing. The new system allowed the consoles to be detached from the pipe cases, so that the organist and choristers could more easily see the master conducting.

Following the installation of the current instrument in 1938, the restoration works according to the liturgical directives of the Second Vatican Council were seen as an opportunity to intervene on the organ complex. The irregular arrangement of the cases, which were far from each other and from the console, caused considerable acoustic problems: the entire sound set then was brought together by placing two new cases next to those dating back to the sixteenth century and the console was placed at the level of the presbytery.

The panels on both sides of the two monumental sixteenth-century organ cases consist of sixteen large canvases depicting episodes from the Old and New Testament: the pictorial decoration was begun by the Fabbrica in 1559. Several artists took turns painting them, among them Giuseppe Meda, Ambrogio Figino and Camillo Procaccini.

The entire renovated organ complex was solemnly inaugurated on 8 September 1986 with a concert by Maestro Luigi Benedetti, then principal Organist of the cathedral.

The instrument is suitable for of all services on Saturdays, Sundays and on other religious holidays, also allowing the possibility of offering concert performances that have seen the presence of some of the most renowned performers on the international scene.

The Organists of the Milan Duomo are Maestro Emanuele Carlo Vianelli and Maestro Alessandro La Ciacera.

Give Italy’s biggest organ its voice back

Historical Complex

Discover the history, the details and the curiosities of the Historical Complex of the Duomo of Milan.