SIXTH GENERATION OF ORGANBUILDERS
Based in Northern Italy near Switzerland and the Alps, Mascioni is one of Europe’s oldest organbuilding companies. We have built, restored and maintained organs since 1829.
Around here, craftsmanship passes from father to son. It is why almost every part of a Mascioni organ, from keyboards to pipes, is still made in-house. Local oak, fir and walnut still age in our special wood-store. Soundboards are hand-jointed. Pipes are cast and burnished by craftsmen in the same way their fathers did.
But tradition must never hinder progress. As a member of the ISO (International Society of Organbuilders) since 1972, our staff attend workshops across Europe to embrace new skills and technologies. Independent engineers, acousticians, architects and musicians, too, are part of our team.
This mix of ‘old’ (tradition) and ‘new’ has put Mascioni in demand worldwide. We regularly export to France, Portugal, Iceland, Japan and China to name a few. In fact, two instruments for China are being built right now.
Europe, especially Italy, is also a treasure trove of historic organs. Luckily, we’ve the skills to restore them. And in turn, by studying the pipework, voicing and scaling of old Italian, German and French organs, we often learn methods of use today. A new Mascioni organ can often recreate voices of the past.
In the early 1800’s, Northern Italy was under Napoleonic rule. Napoleon Bonaparte issued a decree that effectively suppressed all religious orders. And interestingly, the company’s roots go right back to then.
Two monks, who were brothers, Pasquale and Giuseppe Mascioni, were forced to take refuge in a village at the foot of the Alps. Cuvio sits in a lush, green valley, through which the Boesio stream flows on its way towards Lake Maggiore.
The brothers encouraged their nephew to become an organ master, sending him to study with the musician Pietro Della Valle. Gradually, he learnt the secrets of the craft and 1829 he founded the organ workshop “Giacomo Mascioni”. His reputation grew fast, and in 1969 he exported for the first time to Switzerland’s Bernese Juras.
In turn, Giacomo brought his three sons into the business. With Bernardo, Gaspare and Anacleto the company built many new organs with spring chests and mechanical actions, in line with the style of that time.
Giacomo’s grandson Vincenzo then took over, quickly expanding the firm and bringing in revolutionary new methods. Hydraulic presses made components, and actions became pneumatic. This, too, was the height of the romantic era in Central Europe, so along came new pipes and scales to meet the tastes of the day.
Throughout the 30s the firm specialised in electric action organs, patenting several technical advances along the way. Several are still in use today, like the uniquely positive key-touch on our electric consoles. Mascioni’s reputation spread fast. Orders came from Switzerland, Malta and beyond. And by the 50’s, the firm was building up to 16 new organs a year, some of them with four or five manuals.
On Vincenzo’s death, his sons Giacomo, Ernesto, Giovanni, Angelo, Vincenzo and Tullio ran the business and expanded it even more. These were changing times in the organ scene all over the world. In the 70s, new generations of organists demanded a break from heavy romanticism and a return to mechanical action. The firm responded. Tracker-action is now once again our standard action.
Today the company is led by Ernesto’s sons, Eugenio, Enrico and Mario, along with grandsons Andrea and Giorgio who are the sixt generation and possibly the most progressive to date. From proposals to finished organs, Mascioni guarantees quality by keeping one eye on the traditional past end the other well ahead through new machinery, methods and technology. By collaborating with other experts. Through technical workshops held by the International Society of Organbuilders since 1972. And through an unerring sense of pride.
Quality comes first at Mascioni. And it’s achieved in many ways.
First, by making every organ an individual, with a personality of its own. Since the beginning of our firm, no two of its instruments have ever been the same. After all, no two buildings are the same, while artistic tastes constantly change over time. In the 1930’s, for example, most organs had electric action, romantic voicing and often no case. Today, the combined roles of mechanics, casework and voicing are understood and appreciated.
Being individual takes organisation. Organ building has many facets, so every department here has a system that’s evolved literally over centuries. Machines and tools are always to hand, even when we’re up ladders or soldering a 16’ principal. The drawing office adjoins the erecting area, so artisans and designers can work as a team.
Materials are selected and stored to meet both traditions and the needs of today. Tastes change, and so do the conditions in which organs have to live. Inside a Mascioni organ you’ll see time-proven timbers, leathers, metals and finishes living intelligently next to new ones.
Opposite the main workshop, about 200 cubic meters of Italian walnut, Val di Fiemme spruce, ebony and European oak season naturally in a special building to ensure a lifetime of stability, no matter how unstable its surroundings.
Timber for casework is chosen for stability and appearance, especially the direction of the grain. Bone is sourced for keyboards, lamb and sheepskins for reservoirs, pneumatics and bellows. Pipes, too, start as ingots of pure tin and lead, alloyed and cast on a special bench before being planed, cut, rounded and soldered.
Windchests demand special materials and high degrees of precision. At Mascioni, slider chests are standard in most new organs but traditional Italian spring chests are also still in demand. Their tuning stability is unrivaled, even today.
Each instrument is then moved to the erecting area for assembly, inspection, testing and even playing: naturally, the organist is the final judge! Finally, everything is transported to the organ’s final home and, after assembly, tonal finishing can begin. Here, scaling, temperament and voicing are put to the test. They must match the building, satisfy its musical needs and function as one.
Mascioni is also a qualified authority in sensitive, intelligent restoration. Restoring an historic organ is more than just a skill. It must fulfil an authority’s guidelines and is always open to theoretical debate along the way.
Not to mention, of course, cleaning, overhauling and regular maintenance. Another advantage of passing skills down through generations is that we are still well acquainted with mechanisms that are no longer produced. Pneumatic chests, romantic voicing and electromechanical capture systems can still demand the same attention as the organs of today.
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