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.
Milan. Independent arrival to Milan.Meet at the hotel before afternoon visits to 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.
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. Return to Milan. The Dominican friary of S. Maria delle Grazie was lavishly endowed by Duke Ludovico Sforza in the 1490s, the consequences including Bramante’s monumental eastern extension of the church and the Last Supper on the wall of the refectory.
Cremona. Drive to 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. There is the opportunity also to purchase. 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. First of three nights in Cremona.
Le Roncole, Busseto, Sant’Agata. An all-day excursion includes a visit to Verdi’s birthplace in the hamlet of Le Roncole, and Busseto, where he lived for the earlier part of his life. At the 13th-century Antica Corte Pallavicina in Polesine Parmense discover the rare and prestigious culatello di Zibello, made from the rump of a specially bred pig and cured for over a year in cellars to a near-unbelievable intensity of flavour and sweetness. Lunch is in the family-run restaurant here. In the afternoon visit the nearby Villa Verdi, which the composer built for himself.
Mantua. the Palazzo Ducale, a vast rambling complex, the aggregate of 300 years of extravagant patronage by the Gonzaga dynasty (Mantegna’s frescoes in the Camera degli Sposi, Pisanello frescoes, Rubens altarpiece). The palace is also significant as the site of the first performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo (1607). After free time for lunch, visit Palazzo Te, the Gonzaga summer residence and the major monument of Italian Mannerism, with lavish frescoes by Giulio Romano.
Parma, Bologna. Parma is a beautiful city; the vast Palazzo della Pilotta houses an art gallery (Correggio, Parmigianino) and an important Renaissance theatre (first proscenium arch). Visit the splendid Romanesque cathedral with illusionistic frescoes of a tumultuous heavenly host by Correggio. Also by Correggio is a sophisticated set of allegorical lunettes in grisaille surrounding a celebration of Diana as the goddess of chastity and the hunt in the Camera di S. Paolo. Continue to Bologna, one of the most attractive of the larger cities in Italy, with Renaissance arcades flanking the streets, for the first of two nights.
Bologna. At the mediaeval heart of the city are massive civic buildings and the vast Gothic church of S. Petronio, with sculpture by Jacopo della Quercia and two exceptional organs that are both very mcuh preserved in their original condition: that of Lorenzo di Giacomo da Prato (1470-1474) and that of Baldassarre Malamini (1596). Visit S. Stefano, a complex of early mediaeval buildings. 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 including over seventy functioning clavichords, harpsichords, organs and pianos, some of which will be demonstarted.
Bologna. The famous food market in Bologna sprawls through a maze of streets where shops and stalls display an overwhelming array of fresh pasta, artisanal mortadella, hams and salamis, cheeses, fresh fruit and vegetables, and an irresistible variety of bread and pastries. Led by a local expert, taste these products in some of the city’s historic food shops. The Corpus Domini church has one of the oldest string instruments in the world: the violeta of St Catherine de’ Vigri (c. 1450). Travel by train from Bologna to Milan for overnight accommodation.
Milan. The tour ends after breakfast, independent onward journeys.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £3,760. Single occupancy: £4,280.
Transatlantic flights are not included.
Travel by private coach; train travel from Bolgna to Milan; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; 3 lunches and 6 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.
Opera tickets at La Scala, Milan
These are not currently included in the price of the tour. Once the programme of events is announced by the opera house, we will provide details and prices.
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. Hotel Commercianti, Bologna: a traditional 4-star hotel in the heart of Bologna. Single rooms throughout are doubles for sole use.
Additional nights at the hotels before or after the tour are available on request.
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: 43 miles.
Are you fit enough to join the tour?
Between 12 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.
This tour is designed in partnership with Stringletter Media as a service to the readers of Strings, Classical Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Drum, and Ukulele.