The restoration of ancient organs is a highly specialized activity, which requires specific knowledge and a high level of skill. It involves several disciplines: restoration of wood, metal, and complicated mechanisms, and, of course, of the pipes and the sound that they produce.
Each instrument is a unique piece, which must be studied in its technical and tonal features. The additions and modifications that have taken place during the course of its history must also be studied. Documentation from archives, when present, is an invaluable help for the correct interpretation of the artifact.
All components, even when severely damaged by woodworms, wear, corrosion, or vandalism, must be perfectly restored and made functional, while at the same time preserving their integrity.
The restoration process is also a unique and unrepeatable opportunity to gather important information on the manufacturing techniques of the original builders. Only when an organ is disassembled is it possible to analyze in detail its components, which are not otherwise visible or accessible. This is another reason that documentation is a priority.
The documentation produced by Fratelli Ruffatti for each restoration project always includes the complete inventory of pipes with description, measurements, and computerized analysis of sounds; a detailed technical report which often includes drawings; and a complete photographic record. The research is conducted with the most advanced technologies and equipment.
A TYPICAL SHEET USED BY RUFFATTI FOR INVENTORY OF PIPES
Documentation is not only necessary for study purposes. Some parts of the instrument, like the windchests, are extremely complex. In order to perform accurate restoration they must be disassembled. During this process, great care is devoted to keeping a record of all possible details in order to reproduce the original features and follow original procedures as closely as possible. This is particularly true for the perishable parts, such as the leather, which must be replaced. While disassembling, the exact dimensions and position of such elements are documented, so that identical conditions may be reproduced at re-assembly, thus perpetuating the original organbuilder’s praxis.
The photo at left shows a good example of how Fratelli Ruffatti places the utmost care in preserving all original features. The iron nails used to fasten the windchest’s toeboards are hand-forged, all of them different in shape and size. When removing the nails, we insert them into panels with holes that allow us to keep track of their location on the windchest. At re-installation, each can be replaced into the position from which it was originally taken.
Even the smallest details, often thought to be marginal, are given the utmost attention. This is the case with these lamb leather seals, which we have faithfully reproduced from the originals and hand sewn at their edges.
THE RESTORATION OF WOOD
Before any attempt is made to consolidate and restore the wooden parts, it is essential to carry out an efficient disinfestation. Particularly demanding situations require a highly sophisticated treatment. In 2004, Fratelli Ruffatti introduced a truly innovative system, which had only been used, on a smaller scale, for the restoration of ancient books or wooden artwork. It was the first time this system had been used in pipe organ restoration in Italy.
|With this system, the wooden parts of the entire instrument are placed inside a thermo-sealed plastic envelope, from which all air is extracted. Nitrogen is then introduced in its place and the residual oxygen content, at a level of less than one per cent, is monitored by a computer. The wood is kept inside this envelope for more than a month, at constant temperature. Afterward, the wood is further treated with a permetrine-based liquid, which will make the wood poisonous to parasites. This liquid has the same effect on wood as water. It leaves no oily residue, and does not alter or color the wood fibers.
The restoration of wood is an important part of the entire process. Woodworms can totally disintegrate the wood or, at best, severely damage it. When this happens, we do not simply replace the old with the new, but we preserve the original elements, even when woodworms have left them with a sponge-like consistency. After consolidating the wooden elements, we fill all of the holes and re-construct the missing parts with homogeneous material. We then make all wind channels airtight by using hot glue. The original parts become operational again, and will last for generations to come.
Severely damaged keyboards are completed with the re-construction of missing parts, and are made perfectly operational again. A good example is the sixteenth century keyboard of the organ in the oratory of St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta, the oldest instrument in Malta. Badly damaged by woodworms and vandalism, with most of its ivory key coverings missing, it has been completed by Fratelli Ruffatti and made once again fully operational through a meticulous work of restoration.
If the original keyboard is missing, the procedure often requires the manufacturing of a new keyboard as a copy, utilizing instruments of the same builder as a model. In such a case, Fratelli Ruffatti faithfully reproduces even the smallest details. This keyboard has been manufactured for the organ of the Parish Church of Lion (Padova), Italy. It is one of the few surviving organs by Girolamo Zavarise, built between 1790 and 1791.
THE RESTORATION OF PIPES
It is not uncommon to find, in ancient organs, pipes that have been damaged by vandals: stepped on, broken, or twisted. For Fratelli Ruffatti, there is nothing that cannot be restored. Acting with the utmost care, we bring back each pipe to its original shape, and repair pipes that are broken, while respecting their original parameters. The pipes in the photos below are from the organ of the Cathedral of Cervia, Italy, built by Giuseppe Cipriani in 1840.
A good example of the great care in the restoration in extreme situations is offered by the façade pipes of the organ of the Co-Cathedral of Valletta, Malta, built in 1579 and attributed to Raffaele La Valle from Palermo. The corrosion of tin was so extensive that the possibility of a total restoration seemed remote.
The sixteenth century pipes of the Maltese organ, before and after restoration.
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Restoring the sound of ancient instruments often demands the reconstruction of entire pipe stops which have disappeared. The reconstruction is made as a copy, following the original manufacturing procedures of similar stops by the same builder. In the short video below we can see the stamping out of “duck-tail” reed shallots made with the hand press.
Difficult and delicate restoration work is often necessary on wooden pipes as well. In many instances mouths are found that were damaged in the past by cutting out a portion of the upper lip with the purpose of altering their sound character. In such cases it is necessary to act with care, researching the original mouth height and reconstructing the missing parts, as can be seen in the following photo. This procedure allows us to re-instate the original conditions for the correct formation of sound.
THE MECHANICAL ACTION
The restoration of the action normally involves the de-oxidation of ferrous materials, the regulation of the connecting points, the reduction of loose motion, and other operations necessary to provide precision of movement and to reduce noise. Sometimes more demanding work is needed, as shown in the video that follows: missing mechanical elements are forged at the anvil, following the exact centuries-old procedure of our predecessors.
THE RESTORATION OF SOUND
Recovering the original sound is an aspect of major impact for the successful outcome of any restoration process. It is necessary to know how to detect and analyze the voicing style used by the original builder, and to isolate and correct improper changes and modifications that have taken place over the years. It is quite complex to fully describe this process, but some innovative techniques can provide an idea of the extreme care used by Fratelli Ruffatti to carry out the task.
The restoration of sound is always connected with the research of the ancient pitch and tuning temperament, with the aim of restoring the oldest configuration which can reliably be found.