MILAN – S. Maria della Passione


The Basilica of Santa Maria della Passione is located in the heart of the city, and is second in size only to the Duomo. It was commissioned in 1486 by the rich prelate Daniele Birago who then bequeathed it to the Lateran Canons Regular of St. Augustine. Due to the complexity of the building, the construction work extended over a lengthy period from the end of the fifteenth century to the first half of the eighteenth century.

In the sixteenth century the original layout of a Greek cross was extended to a Latin cross, with three front aisles. The original designer, Giovanni Battagio, was followed by Cristoforo Lombardo who completed the dome. The Baroque façade, designed by the sculptor Giuseppe Rusnati, presents reliefs with scenes from the Passion of Christ.

The church’s chapels contain many paintings of great value: “Il Cristo alla Colonna” (Christ at the Column) by Giulio Cesare Procaccini, “L’apparizione della Madonna a Caravaggio” (Madonna of the Caravaggio) attributed to Bramantino and “Il digiuno di San Carlo Borromeo” (St. Charles Borromeo Fasting) by Daniele Crespi. Paintings on the pillars of the presbytery are mostly by Daniele Crespi, recounting the episodes of the Passion of Christ, amongst which the most important is “Il Cristo inchiodato alla Croce” (Christ Nailed to the Cross). The Basilica of Santa Maria della Passione has such a great number of paintings that it can be considered as a real art gallery. Main testimony to this is a series of works: “L’ultima cena” (The Last Supper) by Gaudenzio Ferrari in the left transept, the cycle of frescoes in the Sala Capitolare, by Ambrogio da Fossano known as Bergognone, that represent Christ and the apostles on the walls, the saints in the lunettes, and Lateran canons on the starry sky.
The “Deposizione di Cristo con i Santi Ambrogio e Agostino” (Deposition of Christ with St. Ambrose and St. Augustine) attributed to Bernardino Luini, is located in the right transept.

The adjacent monastery now houses the historic “Giuseppe Verdi” Conservatory; its great symphonic and choral hall can accommodate 1,800 people. The library has over 80,000 volumes, 400,000 music literature booklets and numerous precious manuscripts by composers such as, amongst others, Mozart, Paisiello, Rossini, Verdi and Bellini.


On August 12th, 1558 the organ builder Gian Giacomo Antegnati received the balance on the payment of the amount owed for the construction of an organ in the Milanese church of Santa Maria della Passione. The acts of notary Christopher Venegoni who had concluded the contract dated 7th September 1555, are lost unfortunately: we must therefore rely on the analogy with other instruments to imagine how the Antegnati organ was. The beautiful case, still exists, facing the altar “in cornu Epistolae”. It reveals one of the salient features: it was an organ of 12 feet, with the bigger pipes in the facade; almost certainly the tonal scheme included the Principal, the Ripieno ranks and one or two Flute stops.

In the first half of the seventeenth century a second organ was built opposite the ‘Antegnati organ in a “twin” case. We do not know the name of the manufacturer of this second organ, which was restored, including all the pipework, by Mascioni in 1985. The windchest and keyboard are antique. The tonal scheme is clearly according to the Renaissance tradition and presents some additions probably from the eighteenth century: a cornet, a reed stop in the bass and double bass in the pedals; Perhaps the author of these additions was Gio.Paolo Binago, organ builder from Milan, whose name is engraved on the case of the instrument next to the date 1726-1727. In the following centuries in Santa Maria della Passione there have certainly been many organ builders.

While the organ in the “in cornu Evangelii” case had long been silent until our restoration in 1985, the old case of Antegnati hosted, until recently, an organ built by Balbiani-Vegezzi-Bossi. This instrument, however, appeared inconsistent in proposing a “dialogue between two organs”: hence the courageous decision was taken to surrender this instrument, old but not historic (today it is located in the church of San Martino della Battaglia), and to build a new organ aiming for better artistic quality and which allows the simultaneous performance of two organs.


The desire to play a vast organ repertoire, particularly the music of J.S. Bach, is almost always the first request that most organists make to an organbuilder. When asked for an opinion on this project, our priority was to have an organ placed in the Antegnati case and in an architectural context similar to the tradition of old, historic Italian instruments.

On the Great manual, the Ripieno and the Octave Flute are based on a 12 foot base, down to bottom F (12ft on the Principale stop) of the ‘counteroctave’ (ie. notes which are lower than the lowest C on the keyboards of modern organs). The pedal coupler to this ‘counteroctave’ allows the use of this organ in the purest Italian style, and as the perfect antagonist to the other organ on the left. In this instrument one can add a second Principal and a Mistura. These make a louder and more polyphonic sound, as demanded by the great works of Bach. This sound is supported by the appropriate stops in the pedal, in particular, the Trombone 16 feet.
A second manual allows the execution of trio sonatas and all the transalpine repertoire which specifically requires a second manual. Flutes and reeds provide colour: the Cornet on the Great was conceived according to the tonal character of the eighteenth-century instrument on the left, while the Trumpet and Dulzian represent the typical pair of reed stops so dear to the German organ tradition.

Organ in cornu Evangelii

In the choir to the left of the presbytery, there is a baroque pipe organ of the seventeenth century, also restored in 1985 by Mascioni.

The instrument employs mechanical action, with only one keyboard of 57 notes (Do1-Do5), with ‘short octave’. The slanting pedalboard has 18 notes (Do1-La1), its lowest octave similarly ‘short’ like that of the keyboard. The pedalboard is devoid of any stops and is constantly united to the keyboard.


Principale 16′
Flauto in VIII
Voce umana Soprani
Cornetto Soprani
Regale Bassi

Contrabbassi (al Pedale)


Organ in cornu Epistulae

In the Choir on the right of the presbytery, there is the new pipe organ: Mascioni Opus 1155, built in 2001, in the case of the pre-existing baroque instrument by Gian Giacomo Antegnati.

The organ, created specifically for the performance of the German Baroque repertoire, has full mechanical action, with two keyboards of 56 notes each (F1-D5) and pedalboard of 30 notes (C1-F3).

Artistic consultant

M° Bardelli,  M° Ghielmi,  M° Salerno


Enrico Mascioni

First keyboard – Great Organ

Principale (12′) *

Ottava *

XV *




Flauto in VIII *

Bordone 16′

Principale II 8′

Ottava II 4′

Ripieno 4/5 file 2′

Flauto a camino 8′

Cornetto 4 file Sopr. 4′

Tromba 8′


*  These stops are in dialogue with the other organ

Second keyboard

Bordone 8′

Principale 4′

Flauto camino 4′

Nazardo 2.2/3′

Superottava 2′

Terza 1.3/5′

Ripieno 2 file 1.1/3′

Dulzian 8′



Subbasso 16′

Principale 8′

Ottava 4′

Ripieno 4 file 2.2/3′

Trombone 16′

Tromba 8′


Gustav Leonhardt & Matteo Imbruno
at organs in S. Maria della Passione – Milan