The church organ in Cremona


Cremona churchThe first instruments that looked like what we recognise as a violin appeared around 1555 in Northern Italy. Around the same time the church organ in Cremona was overhauled and the pitch changed. Considering the fact that the church was the guiding musical force at the time, it is interesting to speculate around the effect this had on the design and use of the first violins. Here is an extract from the essay 'Music in the 16th century Cremona' by Francesco Rocco Rossi. 

In 1482 the Cathedral was endowed with an organ, built by Pantaleone de Marchis and Lorenzo Antonio from Bologna. It is possible to draw up an almost complete list of its organists during the 16th century, i.e. Bartolomeo de Piperariis, Battista de Ferrari, Giacomo Nardi, Gennaro Caffari (not of Cremona but of Naples), Camillo Maineri, Germano Pallavicino, Giacomo Bosio, Omobono Morsolino, Nicolò Corradini, and Bernardo Corsi. For some of them only their names remain, whilst for others (as will be seen), we fortunately possess greater information.

From 1542 to 1547 this organ was subjected to an overhaul by the organ builder Giovanni Battista Facchetti, who raised its pitch by a semitone. This work undoubtedly gave the organ very much appreciated and renowned acoustic brilliance – but in the meantime indirectly became the cause of a dispute that in 1582 featured the organ builder Giovan Francesco Maineri against the maestro di cappella Marc’Antonio Ingegneri, a dispute about which the Statuta provide us with ample documentation.

Maineri, appointed to perform periodical maintenance of the organ and to replace worn pipes, had been requested by the Chapel to change the instrument's pitch, lowering it by half a tone so that its sound “corresponds to the choir of the music and concerts performed and that will be performed […]”.

For their part the organists were used to the practice of transposing to satisfy the singers, as is also shown in part of a letter written by Giovanni Battista Morsolino on September 24th 1582:

It is always customary for the organists to be forced to play a tone lower for the singers' convenience.

This 'renovation', however, aroused such contrasting opinions among the numerous experts consulted that, in the end, the Chapel set up a commission, of which Ingegneri was a member, to assess the organ builder's work and the initiative's effectiveness. Discussions were protracted until, on April 20th 1583, a final pronouncement was achieved against the initiative and in favour of maintenance of the previous pitch. In the document drawn up by the commission and signed by Ingegneri one reads:

It must in no way be permitted that the said organ be touched for the said lowering, both because of the danger […] of decreasing the goodness and excellence of this instrument […] and also because, in lowering of a semitone for the greater convenience of the music and concerts proposed, the instrument would be deprived of that tone and liveliness of spirit that abound in most of the famous organs of Italy […] Besides the even greater damage of the said lowering since the instrument would remain without that tone and spirit that the great body of the church very much needs and the music itself would not gain any benefit from it.

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