Museum of Musical Instruments, Sforza Castle

The Museum of Musical Instruments of Milan exhibits over 700 musical instruments from the fifteenth to twentieth centuries with particular attention to Lombard instruments. The collection contains plucked instruments, Lombard and Cremonese violins, hunting horns, numerous wood instruments (e.g. flutes, oboes, clarinets, English horns), bassoons, pianos and some ancient organs. In particular the Cremonese lutherie (from Cremona in low Lombardy) is appreciated all over the world for the high quality of its musical instruments. The museum also displays the equipment of the former Studio di fonologia musicale di Radio Milano.

In 2000 a donation by the Fondazione Antonio Monzino added 79 musical instruments, made between the 18th and 20th century, to the civic collection; they had been collected by the Monzino family. These musical instruments represent the strong tradition of Lombard lutherie.

The museum is situated in the Sforza Castle complex that also includes The Museum of Ancient Art, the Pinacotheca, the Applied Arts Collection and the Egyptian Museum (that includes the prehistoric sections of the Archaeological Museum of Milan).

The museum was founded in 1958 thanks to the purchase by the then municipal administration of the collection of instruments that belonged to the maestro Natale Gallini. Initially the instruments were placed at Palazzo Morando, seat of the Museum of Milan. The site soon became inefficient due to the large collection, extended until 1963, by the master Gallini and then was definitively moved to the first floor of the rocchetta in the Castello Sforzesco.

The aim of the exhibition is to analyze the knowledge of music through the study of instruments at the end of the nineteenth century, from the private to the establishment of the Conservatory (1881). The initiative aroused the interest of the master Gallini who in the early twentieth century began collecting musical instruments. In the second half of the 50s the Museum of Milan, buying the collection of the master Gallini and not only, obtained 358 instruments to be exhibited. With a second purchase from Gallini in 1963, as these instruments were more cumbersome, the exhibition had to be transferred to the Castello Sforzesco. The keyboards are displayed in the Sala della Balla; in the adjacent room there are the bowed, wind, and ethnographic string instruments protected by showcases specially designed by the BBPR studio. Technical-scientific analyzes of the instruments have also been carried out, including wall panels placed next to the works.

Packed with over 700 European musical instruments of different types such as bowed, plucked, wind and keyboard instruments, the Civic Museum of Musical Instruments is proof of the city’s attention to collecting art objects. In this way it was also possible to maintain important ancient Italian musical instruments on the territory, avoiding the diaspora towards important foreign museums (Brussels and Leipzig above all) as happened to the Arrigoni collection, presented at the Milan music exhibition of 1881 and sold after a few years entirely in Paris.

A small group of non-European instruments from Africa, China, Japan and Australia completes the collection.

The Monzino collection
The museum’s collection expands again in 2000thanks to the donation of Antonio Monzino: the family collection, Milanese luthiers (1700-1900). This collection is mostly composed of string and bow instruments. Most of the instruments are self-made and five pieces in particular date back to the Baroque era. The curiosity of the collection is the guitar-harp or the trio (guitar with two mandolins side by side). The exhibition opens with this collection, located in two rooms (34, 35): one dedicated to the vision of the instruments and the other dedicated to teaching, or to the illustration of the production of a string instrument, also presenting the materials used. The Sforzesco Castle musical instrument exhibition has always remained in the city where it was born and raised,


Non-European instruments
The exhibition is organized by typology and continuing (36) there are European instruments with a bow, a pinch and a breath from the sixteenth to the twentieth century; non-European instruments from Africa, China, Japan and Australia. Many works are made with natural materials, even of natural origin: snakeskin, elephant tusks, turtle shells. A noteworthy tool is the Didgeridoo, used by the Australian aborigines; it is decorated with geometric designs engraved using a kangaroo nail on superficially burned wood.

The group of exposed Mandolins is formed by 48 specimens.

The mandolins of Milanese origin are 16. Widespread especially between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, these instruments have survived, albeit with some modifications, over time until today. The most important Milanese mandolin exhibited at the Castle is certainly that of Giuseppe and Carlo Fixer (1759). The brothers were among the greatest violin makers of their period and made several modifications to the classic mandolin: they increased the space of adhesion of the bridge and reinforced the structure by replacing the gut strings.

The Genoese mandolin is represented by a single copy.

There are four Brescian mandolins, one of which has double orders.

Among the violins on display the most important is the Cremonese violin of around 1650, probably created by Andrea Guarneri. The violin has undergone variations to adapt to the needs of the musicians, but, in addition to its historical and aesthetic value, it is highly appreciated for its exceptional sound characteristics. Lent to be played on several occasions after the last restoration in 1989.

The viola by Giovanni Grancino (1662) is an instrument of great aesthetic interest. In fact its form and its details are not typical of its time. This instrument did not undergo the changes required by the evolution of musical needs and taste, preserving its beauty and the fame of its author. The instrument, like other works in this section of the museum, is still used today in concerts of considerable importance.

Related Post

The group of collected guitars is made up of 20 instruments in all, two in particular from the Baroque period while there are 9 guitars with six strings.

The collection also features 5 hinged guitars, in particular among the seventeenth – century swinging guitar by Mango Longo, which is striking for the refinement of the details and the care in the realization.

Many details are not original and, like many ancient instruments, it was changed from a guitar to a baroque guitar to meet the changing needs of time and musicians.

Wind instruments
Among the wind instruments, the most relevant are the ivory oboe by Anciuti from 1722, preserved in perfect condition and of world importance for perfection and rarity, the tenor recorder of Bressan (1663 – 1731) which, despite the damage suffered over time, still reaches exceptional timbre qualities, and two Viennese orchestra horns of 1712, recognized as the oldest in the world.

Study of musical phonology of Milan of the RAI: the violin making of the twentieth century

After the Second World War it was necessary to raise the cultural scenario of Milan and after many initiatives in 1955 was born the musical phonology study of RAI designed by Lietti, by musicians Berio and Maderna. The qualitative leap came with the construction of the 9 oscillators, which with the voice of Cathy Berberian, became 10. The aim is to create the first electronic music and the airing of comments and music through the radio.

The current environment was created by the architect Michele De Lucchi on the basis of photographs and films after 1968 and includes, in addition to the technical equipment, the original furnishings designed by Giò Ponti. In the room are exhibited: sound generation, transformation and combination equipment, recording and production, and listening equipment.

Keyboard tools
Among all harpsichords, the virginal, the spinet, organs and pianos, deserve special attention the virginal double the Ruckers the seventeenth century, the family instrument mother and child, which contains within it a smaller virginal, worthy of note are the painting of a music scene inside the lid; the Venetian harpsichord of the end of the sixteenth century, whose original structure, although modified, was not very compromised, it also constitutes a precious testimony of the Italian school of the sixteenth century; the harpsichord by Taskin of 1788, an instrument built by one of the greatest masters of the Parisian school, belonging to the last generation of cymbals, which followed the advent of the piano..

The Sala della Balla
The Sala della Balla is located on the first floor of the Rocchetta del castello. We know that as early as the end of the fifteenth century, a document speaks of a hall in the castle that was used as a hall for the most important events: parties and receptions, dances and games like the “Balla”. Luca Beltrami, at the end of the 19th century, mistakenly identified this room with the one described in the fifteenth century document. Recent more accurate studies identify the party room in the ducal courtyard area, where the Furniture Museum is now located. This room nicknamed the bale was actually used as a deposit for the grains and flour of the whole castle: this also explains the large dimensions.

The installation that is visible today is the one proposed by the BBPR studio at the beginning of the seventies: in the right wing, there is the display of keyboard instruments and part of the Museum of musical instruments. In the left wing, starting from the 1980s, were built Tapestries of the Months woven from cartoons by Bramantino, called Arazzi Trivulzio, from the name of the client.

Sforzesco Castle
The Sforzesco Castle is a fortification that rises in Milan just outside the historic center of the city.

It was built in the fifteenth century by Francesco Sforza, who had recently become Duke of Milan, on the remains of a previous medieval fortification from the 14th century known as Castello di Porta Giovia (or Zobia). In the same area where the Castle of Porta Giovia stood, in Roman times, stood the homonymous Castrum Portae Jovis, one of the four defensive castles of Roman Milan.

Greatly transformed and modified over the centuries, the Sforzesco Castle was, between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, one of the main military citadels of Europe; restored in a historicist style by Luca Beltrami between 1890 and 1905, it is now home to cultural institutions and important museums. It is one of the largest castles in Europe and one of the main symbols of Milan and its history.

An integral part of the Museo di Arti Decorative (Museum of Decorative Arts), the Museo dei Mobili e delle Sculture Lignee (Museum of Furniture and Wooden Sculptures), was formed thanks to donations, bequests, and the purchase, in 1908, of the Mora collection. The Mora were a family of cabinet-makers from Bergamo, who for a period of time owned a famous shop in Via Solferino, in Milan. During the 20th century the core of the collection expanded thanks to the legacies of families such as the Durini, the Andreani, the Boschi, but especially thanks to the arrival of furnishings from the Savoy residences, including Palazzo Reale and the Villas in Monza and Milan, which were left to the state and earmarked for the civic collections.

The furniture collection, mounted according to chronological criteria that favoured categorisation by studio BBPR (Banfi, Belgiojoso, Peressutti, Rogers) in the 1960s, was reopened to the public with a new layout in 1981. In this particular arrangement attention was focused on the furniture of the Renaissance (much of which was restored in the 19th century) or in Renaissance style. In 2004 the section was completely rearranged under the direction of Claudio Salsi and following designs by architects Perry King and Santiago Miranda. At this time the chronological boundary was expanded to include contemporary design, so as create a more modern museum for a city such as Milan, known as the capital of design and a region such as Lombardy, which has been at the forefront of furniture production for the past two hundred years.