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Rome Organ


DaveHarries
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Hi all,

 

I have no doubt that the Italians try and look after the organs in their churches - especially the much older ones - the best they can. So on a recent visit to Rome I looked into the Basilica of S. Maria sopra Minerva. The camera shots didn't come out 100% perfect, especially the shot of the right-hand case when I tried to photo the organ. Anyway, here was the result:

 

minerva1.jpg

 

Basilica di S. Maria sopra Minerva, Rome

Organ by Ennio Bonifazi, 1630, commissioned by Cardinal S. Borghese

Photo above: Left-hand case, in very good condition.

Photo below: Right-hand case, in bad good condition.

 

minerva2.jpg

 

Whilst the left-hand case is in good condition, the right-hand case (bottom photo) is not:

 

- there are two pipes missing from the left-hand part of the case

- the large pipe in the centre of the middle part of the case is bent

- there are also two pipes missing from the right-hand part of the case

 

In fact, from what I could see, the right-hand case appeared to be devoid of any interior pipework at all but I might be wrong.

 

Anyway, I purchased a CD of the organ from this church (includes music by Widor, Liszt, Capocci, Bellini and Franck. Cost: 13.00 Euros) and the organ sounds fantastic. However, I have to say that it is a pity that the right-hand case in the bottom photo is in such bad condition and I hope they will restore it sometime in the future although I am not aware of any plans to do so.

 

I shouldn't think there are too many (if any) more organs in Rome - or in Italy - as a whole that are in a similar condition to that right-hand case at S. Maria. I could be wrong there, but I hope I am not. If you get the chance to visit the church - which is not far from the Pantheon, about 5 minutes walk I think - then do so. The church is splendid and the CD comes recommended.

 

But I would have thought that the right-hand case at S. Maria would have been slightly better maintained and in better condition.

 

Regards,

 

Dave

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT

I am extremely surprised that Santa M. S. Minerva has an organ that is sounds as you describe. It is a vast church (one of the only ones in Rome in the Gothic style) and is the Florentine church in the city and houses the majority of the bones of Saint Catherine of Siena in its main altar. There are few instruments in Rome worthy of playing let alone recording! I have not heard that a new instrument has been installed in the church nor have I heard one. I used to live in Rome (and was an organist of a church not so far from this) but have not returned since 2001. The state of organs and of organ music in general is not the greatest in Europe to say the least.

Do give us the name of the artist, who built the organ and when it was recorded (if possible) on this CD so that I can be proved wrong.

Best wishes,

Nigel

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The state of organs and of organ music in general is not the greatest in Europe to say the least.

 

 

Too true, Nigel. I lived and played in Spain for a number of years and the same situation obtains there, with some notable exceptions. I wonder if it might be a result of the fact that the indiginous music of the Latin countries in general is a lot "freer" than that of those countries more readily associated with otgan playing and composition eg Germany - though of course France has a noble tradition of organ playing, building and composition. It could also be that the Catholic countries of Spain and Italy are more festive and feast-friendly than the more severe religious outlook (almost Calvinistic at times) championed by the traditinally Lutheran countries....

 

 

 

Peter

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT

But before some Italian friends (not violin case carriers from Sicily!) might see my previous general comments about the state of Italian organs etc. I must point out that there are some extraordinary exceptions in the country which makes the divide even greater. I recently had the greatest pleasure to play in the Festival at Bergamo where the Organ is championed by a few aficionadi and a multitude of audience. There, they proudly have the home of the Serassi firm and the birthplace of Donezetti and thus church organs built to play opera transcriptions! The sensational Serassi organ of 1860 I played was beautifully restored and sounded fabulous in the generous acoustics of Sant'Alessandro della Croce. But as for playing main-stream repertoire - one does so with a great degree of flexibility and trepidation as so many stops are divided or are just plain half a stop (eg. a 16ft Clarinet only from middle c upwards!). One such stop that I have never come across anywhere before was an Ottavino 2ft in the Soprano which is the loudest stop on the organ and chamade above the player's head, speaking through a little fretwork opening. Perfect for Papageno. All sounds are for making the most delicious renditions of Verdi, Donezetti and Bellini during the Mass. (Wouldn't it be fun to have the Mad Scene for an Offertory?)

 

Now for a Barrollo for lunch. Cheers!

 

Nigel

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It could also be that the Catholic countries of Spain and Italy are more festive and feast-friendly than the more severe religious outlook (almost Calvinistic at times) championed by the traditinally Lutheran countries....
I would wonder rather whether it is not a case of these most catholic of countries remaining as conservative in matters of organ music as they have been in matters of theology (and liturgy?) Perhaps in the context of the old Latin rite they never saw the need to develop grandiose instruments in the way the Germanic countries did - or to keep them in trim. Partially guessing here, but prima facie it seems plausible.
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I would wonder rather whether it is not a case of these most catholic of countries remaining as conservative in matters of organ music as they have been in matters of theology (and liturgy?) Perhaps in the context of the old Latin rite they never saw the need to develop grandiose instruments in the way the Germanic countries did - or to keep them in trim. Partially guessing here, but prima facie it seems plausible.

 

 

=============================

 

 

I suspect that the Italian catholics tend to operate like most others, in that there is a distinctly autocratic approach to most things, unlike the protestant churches, which in varying degrees, tend to favour some sort of democratic process.

 

Also, many of these old organs were gifts, and if some prince or other paid for it personally, those in charge would accept it with gratitude. It doesn't follow that they would want to pay for the maintenance once the prince expired.

 

Even here in the UK, the organ I play was one priest's idea, and he took the (inspired) decision to get an organ built for a church and acoustic which had long cried out for it.

 

Even the huge music programme here in the Leeds diocese is really down to the vision of the Bishop, and rather like the old days of courts and courtiers, there is a certain hierarchy, to whom people make petition.

 

MM

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I would wonder rather whether it is not a case of these most catholic of countries remaining as conservative in matters of organ music as they have been in matters of theology (and liturgy?) Perhaps in the context of the old Latin rite they never saw the need to develop grandiose instruments in the way the Germanic countries did - or to keep them in trim. Partially guessing here, but prima facie it seems plausible.

 

Well actually Vox I don't think of either Spain or Italy being especially conservative in theology. I was a seminarian in Spain for 4 years in the 70s and can assure you that theologically many of the lecturers we had - nearly all of them Augustinians - were up there with Kung and Schillebeekx in the liberal stakes. Even in those days they were drawing certain conclusons about the ecstacy of St Teresa of Avila!

 

P

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Sorry, Peter, I didn't make myself very clear. I agree that catholicism has seen some significant changes in modern times. What I actually had in mind, though, was the situation in the late Renaissance and Baroque eras. Conservatism at this time (most obviously evident, I suppose, in their resistance to prostestantism) might possibly be one reason why Italy and Spain clung to organ design not so very much at odds with the earlier instruments designed principally for use alongside the plainsong of the services, rather than following the more northen countries in developing instruments with a more distinctly solo or congregational role.

 

This is only a thought, though, and may still be rubbish. I haven't thought it through at all.

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Sorry, Peter, I didn't make myself very clear. I agree that catholicism has seen some significant changes in modern times. What I actually had in mind, though, was the situation in the late Renaissance and Baroque eras. Conservatism at this time (most obviously evident, I suppose, in their resistance to prostestantism) might possibly be one reason why Italy and Spain clung to organ design not so very much at odds with the earlier instruments designed principally for use alongside the plainsong of the services, rather than following the more northen countries in developing instruments with a more distinctly solo or congregational role.

 

This is only a thought, though, and may still be rubbish. I haven't thought it through at all.

 

 

No Vox, it is not rubbish at all; I was assuming you were thinking of the modern era! Having said that, the organ I played most in Spain - in the English College in Valladolid - was a digital!!

 

P

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Sorry, Peter, I didn't make myself very clear. I agree that catholicism has seen some significant changes in modern times. What I actually had in mind, though, was the situation in the late Renaissance and Baroque eras. Conservatism at this time (most obviously evident, I suppose, in their resistance to prostestantism) might possibly be one reason why Italy and Spain clung to organ design not so very much at odds with the earlier instruments designed principally for use alongside the plainsong of the services, rather than following the more northen countries in developing instruments with a more distinctly solo or congregational role.

 

This is only a thought, though, and may still be rubbish. I haven't thought it through at all.

 

 

========================

 

 

I don't think it was just restricted to Italy. We tend to judge things by the North European route of Sweelinck, Scheidemann, Buxtehude and Bach, and the organs which developed from the Niehoffs in response, but there remained an earlier school, which also made it to the far North of Europe, within the catholic tradition.

 

From the Casparini tradition of organ-building, there are elements which trace right across the catholic regions of Europe; from Italy, through Austria, parts of South Germany, across the Austro-Hungarian Empire of the Hungarian Plains, Czech lands, and even to the far North of Poland. Here, you will find organs with short-octave pedals, which persisted long after the introduction of the more complete pedal-organs of the Northern Western European tradition.

 

Of course, there is also a substantial repertoire written for these instruments; many of which remain, (if not undiscovered), a little obscure.

 

It is also interesting that the pace of musical change was slower, and the baroque-style persisted in the former Czechslovakia some 50-70 years later.

 

I always speculate, knowing that Mendelssohn was "introduced" to Bach by his teacher, that the music of Bach continued to be played to the south-east of Germany, and possibly further north, long after his death.

That would re-write the traditional "Bach's music lay forgotten" theory, which we all learned.

 

MM

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========================

I don't think it was just restricted to Italy. We tend to judge things by the North European route of Sweelinck, Scheidemann, Buxtehude and Bach, and the organs which developed from the Niehoffs in response, but there remained an earlier school, which also made it to the far North of Europe, within the catholic tradition.

 

From the Casparini tradition of organ-building, there are elements which trace right across the catholic regions of Europe; from Italy, through Austria, parts of South Germany, across the Austro-Hungarian Empire of the Hungarian Plains, Czech lands, and even to the far North of Poland. Here, you will find organs with short-octave pedals, which persisted long after the introduction of the more complete pedal-organs of the Northern Western European tradition.

 

Oh yes, the aspect of confession is an important one: In catholic liturgy the organ was ALWAYS decorative (for some it is still today, and not integral part of the liturgy, as the Vaticanum II council articulated in 1963). But having a singing congregation as integral part of the service (as in protestant liturgy) and needing to clarify the melody which has to be sung or to accompany it, this gives the organ a more important role.

Scholars will say (and are right!), that accompaniment of congregational singing started much later than the period of Sweelinck, his pupils Scheidt, Scheidemann, J. Praetorius a. o. dates, so there must be more behind it.

Well, Churches like St. Mary's in Lubeck and many others in the hanseatic cities, have been projected as "citizen churches" (Bürgerkirche) - they were the counterpoints to the cathedrals, who were symbols of foreign domination. After the storms of reformation (which happened relatively soon after this churches have been built) have calmed again, it was much easier in those cities to "celebrate yourself" as citizen by funding or donating large organs, bells or whatever, to your local church. This would always have been possible in a R.C. church, too, but in those centuries, the clergymen and bishops kept trying to concentrate all attention on themselves, at least during the service. Often they were people of secular power, too.

 

Protestant churches - when developing well and in the sense of their proponents - tried more to focus on the words of the bible or the messages of salvation than to create pomp and circumstance in displaying "earthly" glory. And they were merely situated in parts of Europe, where people had a tendency to design life in a more intellectual than emotional way. (Why did every northern artist have to travel to Italy? He could not find this way of living and feeling in the North!)

 

I always speculate, knowing that Mendelssohn was "introduced" to Bach by his teacher, that the music of Bach continued to be played to the south-east of Germany, and possibly further north, long after his death.

That would re-write the traditional "Bach's music lay forgotten" theory, which we all learned.

 

MM

 

That's definitely true! Bach was always KNOWN among scholars and educated musicians. Mostly he was not loved, but he was known at least as a strange apparition in music history. There are sources reporting that there have always been a few "freaks" around to read or play the Kunst der Fuge, the WTC etc.

Of course, Bach was not mainstream taste for about one century.

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Bach was always KNOWN among scholars and educated musicians. Mostly he was not loved, but he was known at least as a strange apparition in music history. There are sources reporting that there have always been a few "freaks" around to read or play the Kunst der Fuge, the WTC etc.

Of course, Bach was not mainstream taste for about one century.

 

=====================

 

 

Ah! But this is where church catholic conservatism comes into the equation, because not only did Josef Ferdinand Seger utilise a number of Bach's themes in his own compositions, he also (I believe, but have never seen) re-arranged some of Bach's organ-works to fit the short-compass pedals of Czech organs.

Nothing was actually published in his own lifetime.

 

Seger was but 9 years of age when Bach died, so this demonstrates that Bach WAS known, played and respected perhaps 50 or more years after his death; at least in Czechslovakia.

 

Whilst all this was going on in church, one must assume that Mozart was busily introducing his operas to Prague, and writing the "Prague" symphony....how wonderfully cosmopolitan is that?

 

But that is surely why Prague was called; "the great academy of Europe" as Charles Burney suggested.

 

MM

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Do give us the name of the artist, who built the organ and when it was recorded (if possible) on this CD so that I can be proved wrong.

 

Best wishes,

Nigel

Hi Nigel,

 

The organ is by Ennio Bonifazi and was built in 1630. The CD was released in 1999 and is played by Czech organist Jiri Lecian who, from what I can read of the Italian on the inside front cover, was at one time a pupil of Fernando Germani at the "Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia di Roma".

 

The other thing with those photos I psoted earlier is that they don't give away the somewhat nice decoration on the case.

 

I think that the one track that gives this organ at its best is ths first track (which is CM Widor's "Marcia Pontificalis" from his "Sinfonia no. 1 in D minor, Op. 13").

 

If you want I will digitise that track and send you a link by PM for your benefit only: I somehow think that if I made that track open to all then I might find myself in breach of the forum rules. But it is great to listen to.

 

Dave

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Hi Nigel,

 

The organ is by Ennio Bonifazi and was built in 1630. The CD was released in 1999 and is played by Czech organist Jiri Lecian who, from what I can read of the Italian on the inside front cover, was at one time a pupil of Fernando Germani at the "Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia di Roma".

 

The other thing with those photos I psoted earlier is that they don't give away the somewhat nice decoration on the case.

 

I think that the one track that gives this organ at its best is ths first track (which is CM Widor's "Marcia Pontificalis" from his "Sinfonia no. 1 in D minor, Op. 13").

 

If you want I will digitise that track and send you a link by PM for your benefit only: I somehow think that if I made that track open to all then I might find myself in breach of the forum rules. But it is great to listen to.

 

Dave

 

It would of course be absolutely impossible to play the "Marche Pontificale" on an Italian organ of 1630.

 

I would surmise that a new or newer organ resides inside one half of the case, whereas the other case contains either the unrestored rest of a divided organ, or the rest of the second organ - or even nothing at all, any more.

 

Cheers

Barry

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT

The instrument was built by Carlo Vegezzi-Bossi in 1909 and was their Opus 1300. This instrument was restored in 1999 and was opened on 22nd May at 9pm that year and the recording comes from that occasion. It would be interesting to hear a snippet as the organ was not working at all well when I lived there and thus I never really heard anything interesting in this remarkable church. I played at San'Andrea della Valle, the church where Puccini sets the first Act of Tosca - so I am quite steeped in the ecclesiastical Operatic tradition, so to speak where on special occasions our choir were the gentlemen of the Opera House who also mostly made up the Sistine Chapel Choir (a day job?) and which rehearsed in their special building behind San'Andrea. To hear Palestrina given the Puccini treatment is still an unforgettable experience!!

 

Best wishes and thanks for reminding me of the distant past.

 

Nigel

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The instrument was built by Carlo Vegezzi-Bossi in 1909 and was their Opus 1300. This instrument was restored in 1999 and was opened on 22nd May at 9pm that year

 

Hi Nige,

 

The information that I have on the organ in Santa Maria sopra Minerva is sourced from one of the information panels iin the church that was sited below the right-hand case: it merely mentioned Ennio Bonifazi's 1630 organ and nothing else so perhaps it was a rebuild but with some older work?

 

I will digitise that track later.

 

Dave

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT

There could quite possibly be some old pipework incorporated in the early 20th Century Bossi instrument but it would be more likely to be a brand new instrument to mirror the new style of that age. But quite often the unknowing write the guides and the descriptions. So in some situations where there is an ancient case, little or no mention is made of subsequent instruments or builders except the craftsman of what is seen. It is, say, a little like a notice today in Bristol Cathedral proclaiming a Renatus Harris organ of 1685 or in King's College, Cambridge that there is a Thomas Dallam organ of 1606 with an addition of a Chair organ by Lancelot Pease in 1661. Alas, only in my dreams .................!

 

All the best,

Nigel

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