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Historic Musical Instruments - Museums and private collections in northern Italy, with recitals

Some of Italy’s finest collections of musical instruments, some in private properties and viewed only by special arrangement.

Based in Milan and Cremona, with some free time to explore these historic cities, and excursions to Briosco and Bologna.

Recitals on period instruments and the opportunity to meet the collectors.

Dates chosen so that participants can continue on to Opera in Southern Sicily.

01 - 04 Nov 2019 £1,840 Book this tour

  • Cremona, cathedral and baptistery, from 'A Dawdle in Lombardy & Venice' by I.S. Williams, 1928.
    Cremona, cathedral and baptistery, from 'A Dawdle in Lombardy & Venice' by I.S. Williams, 1928.
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An instrument is the sole and precious witness to music that was performed in the past. Many years after the musicians and the sounds they produced have disappeared, a few rare instruments remain, in museums and private collections. Thanks to their preservation, we can today hear appropriate music played with more colourful timbres and more authentic performance styles, and better understand the stylistic choices made by composers.

This tour brings musical history to life by visiting some of the most influential centres of instrument making. No city can surpass Cremona for its tradition of bowed strings, dating to the early sixteenth century when the mellifluous tone of the Amati family’s instruments transformed the violin from a folk instrument to one capable of expressing the noblest musical sentiments of the Baroque period. Probably it was Nicolò Amati who taught both Antonio Stradivari and Andrea Guarneri, whose instruments have become legendary and whose tradition is continued today among Cremonese luthiers.

Milan was the centre of the violin family’s early development, but both Milan and Bologna were also famous for their lutes. As early as the thirteenth century Bologna was renowned for the quality of its wind instruments; the ensemble of cornets and sackbuts at the church of San Petronio was admired throughout Italy.

Northern Italy is home to some of Europe’s most important collections of historic instruments, many of which are in playable condition, making it possible to explore the evolution of the principal instrumental families – keyboards (harpsichords, clavichords, organs and pianos), bowed and plucked strings, woodwind and brass.

Day 1

Milan. Fly at c. 10.30am (British Airways) from London Heathrow to Milan. Visit the Musical Instruments Museum at the Castello Sforzesco, which has a vast collection of over 800 instruments, including a rare double virginal by Ruckers (Antwerp c. 1600), numerous examples from the Lombard lute and viol tradition and many African and Asian instruments. In the evening, visit a collection in a private palazzo where there is a harpsichord recital and dinner. First of two nights in Milan.


Day 2

Milan, Briosco. Drive to Briosco to visit Villa Medici-Giulini, a 17th-century stately residence which houses one of the most important private collections of European keyboard instruments and harps, many of which have been restored to playable condition. There are demonstrations and performances on the instruments, followed by lunch in the villa. There is some free time in Milan in the afternoon.


Day 3

Cremona. This glorious town in the Po Valley was home to the Stradivari, Amati and other families of luthiers whose stringed instruments have been the world’s best for more than 300 years. Learn about the violin in situ at the Museo del Violino (with a performance on a historic violin), and visit a violin-maker’s workshop. Cremona has a splendid central square formed of cathedral, campanile (Italy’s tallest), baptistry and civic palaces, and there is some free time to explore these. Overnight in Cremona.


Day 4

Bologna. Continue to Bologna. The Museo della Musica houses a rich collection of scores, portraits and instruments. The private collection of the late-Bolognese scholar Luigi Ferdinando Tagliavini, long-admired by specialists, has recently been made available to the public. It is housed in one of Bologna’s oldest churches and traces the history of keyboard instruments from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Fly from Bologna to London Heathrow, arriving c. 8.00pm.

If you are joining Opera in Southern Sicily, fly from Bologna to Catania (Alitalia), landing c. 10.30pm. A transfer to Ortygia is provided. Please indicate that you will arrive a day early (4 November) on the festival booking form.

Final day of the festival, 11 November. Fly from Catania to London Heathrow, via Rome Fiumicino, arriving c. 4.00pm.


Professor Robert Adelson

Professor of Music History and Organology at the Conservatoire de Nice. From 2005–16 he curated the collection of historical musical instruments in the Musée du Palais Lascaris. He has published widely; his latest book is The History of the Erard Piano & Harp in Letters and Documents, 1785-1959. Website:

Price, per person

Two sharing: £1,840 or £1,730 without flights. Single occupancy: £2,040 or £1,930 without flights.



Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus 320); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; 1 lunch and 3 dinners with wine, water and coffee; all admissions; all tips for restaurant staff and drivers; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager. 

If combining this tour with ‘Opera in Southern Sicily’, we charge you the ‘with flights’ price for this tour and the ‘without flights’ price for the festival. Supplementary cost for the flight from Bologna to Catania: £120 per person.



Hotel Rosa Grand, Milan: a smart 4-star hotel excellently located directly behind the Duomo. Rooms are well appointed in a clean, modern style. Dellearti Design Hotel, Cremona: a small, modern boutique hotel, conveniently located just metres from Piazza del Duomo. Rooms are large and bright with modern fittings. Single rooms throughout are doubles for sole use.


How strenuous?

There is inevitably quite a lot of walking and standing in museums on this tour. Some of the walking is uphill or over cobbles. The coach cannot be used within the town centres. Average distance by coach per day: 53 miles.

Are you fit enough to join the tour?


Group size

Between 10 and 22 participants.


Travel advice

Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting:


Tour combinations

Combine this tour with: Opera in Southern Sicily, 5–11 November 2019; or Venetian Palaces, 5–9 November 2019.