Musical Instruments

of the Castello Sforzesco Museums

Milanese Mandolin (6 courses) (1797) by Giuseppe PresblerSforzesco Castle

The Museum of Musical Instruments

With one of the richest collections in Europe, the Museum of Musical Instruments is Italy's second in terms of its significance and the number of pieces it owns, with 884 instruments dating from the Renaissance to the second half of the 20th century.

Oboe, P. Miglio, Mid-19th century, From the collection of: Sforzesco Castle
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Grand piano, Johann Fritz (attribuito), 1815 circa, From the collection of: Sforzesco Castle
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Double-action pedal harp (1810/1830) by Sébastien ErardSforzesco Castle

Cousineau harp

The type of harp we know today began to take shape in the 18th century with the transition from the diatonic harp, in which each string could only produce one note, to single-action and then double-action variants in which pedals control metal tangents that shorten the strings, thus raising or lowering the note emitted by a semitone. The system adopted by Georges Cousineau, the official luthier of the French royal family, and his son Jacques-Georges, was rather complex and would soon be replaced by the models developed by Paris-based manufacturer Érard.

The soundboard of the instrument is decorated with floral motifs. At its base are seven pedals, plus a central one responsible for opening and closing small holes in the soundbox to control the volume, increasing the instrument's expressive potential. The pedal harp became a permanent feature of orchestras in the Romantic period thanks to French composers such as Meyerbeer and Berlioz.

Musical repertoire: In 1905, Ravel wrote the Introduction & Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet & string quartet,at Érard's request.

Resonating box of chitarrone Resonating box of chitarrone (1633) by Giorgio LungmanSforzesco Castle

Iungman chitarrone

The chitarrone belongs to the lute family and is characterised by a very long handle and by the presence, in addition to the fingered strings, of drones (strings that are played open, producing the lowest notes). The handle of this item was shortened in the 19th century, turning the chitarrone into something akin to a large ten-stringed almond. The shell, the soundboard and what remains of the handle are the work of Giorgio Iungman, a skilled German luthier who worked in Genoa in the first half of the 17th century.

Since the modifications are part of the instrument's history and testify to how musical tastes evolve over time, a decision was made to maintain the current trim.

To discover how the original long-handled version would have sounded, in-depth historical and organological research was carried out and a very faithful replica was produced.

Musical repertoire: Since it first emerged towards the end of the 16th century, it has been used to accompany songs as the basso continuo.

5-Course guitar (Early half of the 17th century) by Johannes Magnus Lang I (Mango Longo)Sforzesco Castle

Mango Longo guitar

Originally designed as a baroque guitar with five courses (whereby each gut string was doubled to increase the volume), the instrument was later modified in the style of a chitarra battente (a type of folk guitar from southern Italy): the soundboard was bowed near the bridge, the original bridge was replaced with a movable one, metal strings were added and fastened not to the bridge but to small pegs fixed near the bottom of the instrument, and the handle was shortened.

This instrument features particularly sophisticated decorations and details. The rosette is made of thin layers of wood and parchment on several levels along with small metal birds fixed on pins.

Mango Longo is an Italianised form of the name Magnus Lang; he was one of the many German luthiers who moved to Italy for work, some of whom achieved excellence. In addition to providing chordal accompaniment, the baroque guitar is also used as a solo instrument in suites.

Musical repertoire: The chitarra battente is mainly used to provide chordal accompaniment.

Oboe Oboe (1722) by Giovanni Maria AnciutiSforzesco Castle

Anciuti oboe

The oboe originated in the French royal court during the 17th century and soon became a favourite among baroque musicians as a solo instrument. It also formed the "woodwind" section along with the flute, bassoon and clarinet. This specimen was purchased by the museum in 1997. It is accompanied by a spare body that extends the instrument's bore, altering the pitches that it is possible to play.

This item is incredibly valuable due to its perfection and rarity: the yellowing of the inner chamber and the wear around the holes attest to heavy use during its musical life, but it is nevertheless in excellent condition, a very rare occurrence for ivory instruments.
Few instruments bearing the name Anciuti have survived to this day, but his skill is undisputed, particularly when it comes to his virtuosic ivory crafting.

Musical repertoire: solo instrument from the 18th-century concertos of Albinoni through to Berio's contemporary Sequenzas.

Pair of natural horns ("hunting horns") (1712) by Michael LeichamschneiderSforzesco Castle

Pair of Viennese horns

The natural horn or hunting horn is an aerophone instrument with a mouthpiece consisting of a long brass tube and no holes or pistons (unlike other brass instruments). Different notes can only be obtained by producing harmonics, while the musician can alter the pitch by inserting a cupped hand into the bell. Horns have a very long bore in order to produce low notes; this is curved into several coils so as to take up less space and make the instrument easier to hold.

As the oldest surviving pair of orchestral horns in the world, the two models owned by the Castello Sforzesco are some of the most valuable pieces in the museum's entire wind instrument section.

They bear the name of Michael Leichamschneider, an emblematic figure among Vienna's early 18th-century horn makers; he may even have invented this type of horn. Its use in orchestras dates back to the turn of the 18th century.

Musical repertoire: used by Mozart as a solo instrument in his concertos for horn and orchestra.

Bass viola da gamba (1687) by Michel ColichonSforzesco Castle

Viola da Gamba

The viola da gamba is not part of the modern orchestra and is only used nowadays by those who perform Baroque music. Its name (which literally translates as "leg viol") derives from the fact that the soprano instrument is played by resting it on one's legs, or between the knees for larger versions. This distinguished it from the "viola da braccio" or "arm viol", which rests on the player's chest and was the forerunner to the modern violin.The viola da gamba came into use in the early 16th century and enjoyed great success; at the turn of the 17th century, it was replaced by the violin family, although it survived for another century in northern Europe.

This instrument was one of the last examples to be constructed, but it reproduces the model of the previous century fairly faithfully, with this model being well-known thanks to various depictions in Flemish paintings.

Musical repertoire: Bach was the last great composer to write sonatas for the viola da gamba.

Milanese mandolin (6 courses) Milanese mandolin (6 courses) (1797) by Giuseppe PresblerSforzesco Castle

Grancino viola

The violin, viola, cello and double bass are all part of the same family; they differ in size and consequently in pitch. This viola produced by Giovanni Grancino, a Milanese manufacturer and musician, has an unusual shape that is inspired by other examples produced in the course of the previous century in the Lombardy region.

The item is crafted in a very sophisticated manner: the fingerboard and tailpiece are decorated with inlays of ebony, mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell, while the gold leaf underneath offers brightness.

Its distinctive shape, small size and very short fingerboard meant that it was spared the major alterations to its structure that almost all Baroque string quartet instruments underwent from the end of the 18th century onwards, when changing musical tastes called for the use of large concert halls and thus instruments capable of greater expression and volume. Between the 19th and 20th centuries, the viola also came into its own as a solo instrument.

Musical repertoire: starting out as a minor element of Baroque string orchestras, it became a key component of classical chamber music.

Hurdy-gurdy (Late 18th century - early 19th century) by Joseph BassotSforzesco Castle

Bassot hurdy-gurdy

The hurdy-gurdy derives from the large organistrum of the 12th century, which required two players. The crank turns a wooden wheel that has been suitably rosined (in a similar way to a violin bow). This wheel rubs the gut strings, creating the sound; the notes are produced using the keys, which are attached to wooden tangents that pinch the strings and thus shorten their vibrating length. This popular instrument was widespread throughout Europe and was typically played by blind beggars, as attested to by numerous depictions in art. In the 17th century, the fashion for the pastoral in France brought it to the attention of the aristocracy, resulting in more precise craftsmanship and written compositions.

This is the classic French hurdy-gurdy with six strings: two fingered strings produce the melody, while four drones create a fuller sound and add particular effects. The worn keys show that this instrument was used heavily.

Musical repertoire: used to accompany sung pieces in monastic music between the 10th and 13th centuries. Also used for folk dance music.

Double virginal (with ottavino) (1600 circa) by Ioannes RuckersSforzesco Castle

Ruckers virginal

Like the harpsichord, the virginal is a keyboard instrument with plucked strings. This example belongs to the mother and child category, meaning that one virginal contains another smaller one within it. The smaller instrument's strings are half the length, and it is thus pitched one octave higher. The two virginals could be played separately, at the same time by two musicians, or alternatively by a single person: when the smaller keyboard is placed on top, pressing the keys of the larger instrument also activates the jacks of the smaller one.

The signature belongs to a renowned family of harpsichord makers from Antwerp. The widespread use of these instruments in bourgeois houses is attested by frequent depictions in Flemish paintings.

The painting on the lid, attributed to Louis de Caulery, is also worthy of note.

Musical repertoire: the virginal shares its repertoire with the harpsichord. It was especially popular as a solo instrument in English instrumental music between the 16th and 17th centuries.

Harpsichord (Late 16th century -  Late 17th century)Sforzesco Castle

Trasuntino harpsichord

The harpsichord is a similar instrument to the piano in terms of its structure. However, the strings are not struck by hammers but plucked by plectrums; the resulting sound is much more delicate and allows limited dynamic variation.

This instrument is a valuable example of the work of the 16th-century Italian school: the workmanship is excellent, the piece is in good condition and, despite having undergone some alterations, its original structure has not been overly compromised. The authenticity of the inscription that attributes it to Vito Trasuntino, the well-known builder of the Venetian school, is in some doubt because it was Trasuntino's custom to sign his name somewhat differently. However, the attribution to the Venetian school at the end of the sixteenth century is indisputable.
The outer casing of the instrument is covered with burin-engraved leather, painted with spiral tendrils in gold and black on a red background.

Musical repertoire: used to accompany vocal performances and as a solo instrument, e.g. in sonatas and suites by Scarlatti, Couperin and Bach.

Guitar with two mandolins (1906) by Innocente RottolaSforzesco Castle

Rottola trio

This composite instrument consists of a guitar and two twin mandolins, all played independently, although the same conifer board was used for the soundboard of all three. Mandola strings were placed on one of the mandolins; the three instruments were therefore in different keys.

Instruments like this were often produced as one-offs simply to demonstrate the luthier's skill. These items were mainly intended for exhibitions in order to highlight the exceptional expertise of the company's workers.

This one in particular was probably made for the Milan International Exposition of 1906, where the company Monzino (where Rottola worked) won a prize.

Musical repertoire: this particular instrument does not seem to have had any real musical use.

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