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The parent website can be found by clicking: Maltese Historic Pipe Organs

A Great Organ - A remarkable history

Restored early 19th cent pipe organ plays again


Saturday, December 17, 2005 by George Cini


An 1827 pipe organ built by Sicilian Felice Platania for the Balzan parish church has just been restored by Robert Buhagiar.


The only other Platania organ on the island is in St Paul's Shipwreck church, in Valletta.


The restoration job will be inaugurated tomorrow with a concert at 7 p.m. at the Balzan parish church. As the organist for the evening, Mr Buhagiar, the restorer himself, will play works by Bach, Buxtehude, Boyce, Galea, Zipoli among others. He will be accompanied by soprano Marita Bezzina.


"I think this has been one of the most challenging restoration projects I have undertaken to date," Mr Buhagiar, who has restored the organs of the parish churches in Siggiewi, Naxxar, Qrendi, Nadur, Fontana and at the Mdina Cathedral, said.


In 1898 Giovanni Felter, a Maltese organ builder, practically rebuilt the organ, significantly changing its workings but thankfully much less its tonal structure.


"Felter's work was not very professional and the performance of the instrument was definitely not optimal. After Felter's rebuild it, the only Platania parts left were the main windchest and most of the pipes," Mr Buhagiar said.


The organ was in a very bad condition not just due to the passage of time but also due to the difficulty in restoring and attaining optimal performance from the mechanical parts installed by Felter. The pipe work was damaged and several pipes missing.


"I proposed to restore the Platania-Felter organ with as much fine-regulation to the Felter mechanisms as possible in order to render the organ as efficient as could be. Going back to the original Platania organ would have meant discarding Felter's work. Hence the decision to restore the organ as it was after Felter's intervention and basically as it had reached us.


The work started last year and included the restoration and fine-regulation of all the organ's mechanical action parts. This included two pedal windchests, the keyboard and the pedal board. Reconstructed parts include the rack board, missing pipes and some wind conduits.


An electric blower was installed while restoring Felter's manual pumping system. All the original pipes were restored, regulated and tuned.


A very interesting feature was the Flutta stop, the pipes of which are built in a different manner than usual giving a very full fluty sound.


The organ has 622 pipes of which 187 are new. The organ was tuned in a historically consistent tuning scheme - Tartini Vallotti that gives a mild key flavour while allowing the organist to play in all keys, Mr Buhagiar explained.


Historic pipe organ restoration by Fratelli Ruffatti in Valletta, Malta, built in 1579


Uploaded on 28 Apr 2011


Fratelli Ruffatti is one of the leading restorers of historical organs in Italy, with more than forty years of intense experience and more than one hundred instruments completed. Restoration is very specialized work, requiring a high degree of skill. The original parts, no matter how badly damaged by woodworms, wear, time, corrosion or vandalism, must be perfectly returned to their original state and made functional, by preserving as much of the instrument as possible.

This process is also a one-time-only opportunity to obtain valuable information on the manufacturing practices of the original builder: after the work is completed, many of the interior parts can no longer be analyzed in detail. Thus, documenting not only the restoration process itself but also the technical information on the original parts becomes a priority.



Built in 1684, the organ is considered one of the earliest and most important to have survived from this period. It is said to have been played by Handel while en route to Dublin for the first performance of the Messiah.


Restoration procedures will incorporate the latest techniques and technologies as well as historic methods for organs of the period, in accordance with conservation principles as specified by the International Institute of Conservation (IIC), in order to create the original form as accurately as possible.


“The 17th-century church organ is a gem to Maltese Heritage," said HSBC Malta’s CEO Mark Watkinson during a recent visit to St Pauls Pro-Cathedral. “Restoring the precious organ to its former glory befits the magnificent Cathedral and we look forward to listening to it playing beautiful music once again.”


This conservation project is being carried out in line with the HSBC Malta Foundation’s wide range of pioneering corporate sustainability programmes that focus on three key areas: improving the quality of life for children, achieving a more sustainable environment and preserving Malta’s heritage.



17th century pipe organ to be fully restored


The Malta Independent

04 September 2013, 17:33


The 17 century pipe organ located above the entrance of St Pauls Pro-Cathedral in Valletta will be professionally and extensively restored through a project partly funded by the HSBC Malta Foundation.



St Paul's Anglican Pro-Cathedral organ restored


The Malta Independent

Monday, 28 July 2014, 10:00 , by Anthony Hart


A prime example of Malta’s musical heritage has recently been restored to its former glory; the historic organ of the Anglican Pro-Cathedral of St Paul in Valletta.


The Cathedral’s Organ began its life in Chester Cathedral, England. Built in 1676, by "Father" Bernard Smith, a German-born master organ maker in England in the late seventeenth century, the organ is considered one of the earliest and most important to have survived from this period. It was removed from Chester and shipped to Malta in the 1850's. There is a long-held tradition that it was played by George Frederick Handel when on his way to Dublin for the first public performance of the “Messiah”. It is believed he carried out some final rehearsals to fine-tune some of the choruses at Chester Cathedral in 1742 when the organ was housed in the Cathedral.

Having been restored and rebuilt several times in its history work was again required to return it

to a fully playable state.

The current rebuilding work cost around €210,000. A campaign entitled "pull out the stops" was

started to raise the final €100,000 asking individuals to sponsor single pipes or ranks from €20 up

to €1000 per pipe and between €480 an €6100 per stop depending on the number of pipes involved. 

The restoration work not only included the restoration of the 2000 existing pipes and the visible

case work but also many modern additions such as a new custom designed three-manual console

and a new electric solid state microprocessor key action transmission system. All of the pneumatic

parts of the key and stop actions were restorated as well as the repairing and making good of the

wind system, bellows and the addition of a new silent blower motor. The original pipes on the organ

case were silent pipes for decoration; these were replaced by 25 new gilded Open Diapason functional

front pipes.















This beautiful instrument, now been restored to its former magnificence, can be heard on 28 August 2014 played by the international UK organist Wayne Marshall during the opening concert of a two-week long organ festival, the First Malta International Organ Festival sponsored by Lions Sliema Club. Other organists who will play this instrument during this festival include Erwin Wiersinga (Holland), Vladimir Suzdalevich (Norway), Irina Rozanova (Russia) and Vladimir Shliapnikov (Russia).

This festival will celebrate the rich heritage of Malta’s historic pipe-organs and will give audiences an opportunity to experiences the beauty of which only comes alive when it is played.

Some Thoughts on Old Organs in Malta

Nick le Neve Walmsley


The restoration by Robert Buhagiar of the Severino 1778 Italian positivo organ to its original 18th

century condition has given the village of Qrendi a musical treasure of which it can be justly proud,

for it has all the qualities to transport the listener back to the Malta of two centuries ago.


If organs have personalities – and they do, for they live, and breath and sing – then the little Qrendi

positivo is the musical equivalent of the cheerful, barefoot, open-shirted country boy of the presepju:

simple, fresh, lively and, as Oliver Friggieri once wrote, “ … more beautiful than the children who grow

up in villas.” The ringing, glittering tone of the pipework (much of which is original) and the sweetness

of the flute stops take us straight into a Christmas scene; so of course the organ is perfect for all those Pastorales written by Italian and Maltese composers 200 or so years ago for instruments such as this. To hear these pieces played at Qrendi, or – even greater joy – to be able to play them there, is to experience a revelation. The organ, like the country lad, can only be described as cheerful, and it encourages the organist to make music: surely the mark of an extraordinary instrument. There are other quaint 18th century touches, like the ‘short’ octave at the bottom of the keyboard (no F# or G#) repeated in the Sicilian-style pedals, all guaranteed to confuse a modern organist until he agrees to surrender to the ways of his predecessors! Even the rope handles to blow the bellows are here, though now the sweat and toil have given way to a discreetly placed electric blower, the only thing in the whole organ which is not entirely mechanical. The casework, beautifully gilded and painted with floral decoration to the highest standards, yet retains a rustic naivety that, like the shepherd boy in the presepju, is disarmingly attractive.


Robert Buhagiar has also restored the 1774 organ at Naxxar. This one’s personality is quite masculine too – unlike the organs at, say, Santu Wistin in Valletta and San Lawrenz, Birgu, which are far more like sophisticated ladies: full of grace and elegance, with the capacity to be capricious as well! Naxxar is clearly first cousin to Qrendi: a little older, bigger, and slightly more complex – imagine the country lad with a bit of schooling, some shoes, and a new hat for the Festa! Although Robert has retained some late 19th century alterations to the organ here, it is essentially what one would expect a late 18th century Italian-style instrument to be. To anyone whose senses are dulled by the constant noise in which we live, the tone here will be found to be refreshingly clear and sharp; although there is only one manual and 17 pedals, divided stops and couplers mean that there is endless scope for the organist to mix tonal colours with which to paint his picture in sound.


Why should it be that these organs are so important, not only to the communities they serve, but to Malta as a whole? Simply because they date from a time when Maltese music was equal to any in Europe though, perhaps for reasons of geography (but with a few notable exceptions) it did not become known beyond the Southern Mediterranean – or maybe it was that the Maltese cognoscenti mistakenly believed, as did many of their kind in other countries (notably England) that anything ‘imported’ from France or Italy was automatically ‘better’ than their indigenous music? But now, thanks to a handful of dedicated researchers and performers, more Maltese are rediscovering their classical music heritage, which is very rich, easily approachable, and has generally stood the test of time. But for all the old pieces that have been saved, and are still performed, how many have been neglected, lost, or destroyed? The same can be said of the old organs: of all the older instruments that exist on the Islands, only about two-fifths are playable today. In some ways, the fact that money was never plentiful has been a blessing, because the old organs – the true Maltese instruments – were never replaced, or rarely altered beyond recognition at a later date. They have remained to this day, often unplayable, rotting quietly in their galleries. For every organ like Qrendi or Naxxar, there are dozens more lying neglected, awaiting their resurrection – unique instruments, like the little Italian positivo in the old church of Santa Venera, in Gudja, Ghaxaq, and even in the Oratory of St. John’s Co-Cathedral. They are the last of their kind in the world, and irreplaceable: once they are gone, they are gone forever but, restored, they would be a worthy focus of parish and civic pride, able to give voice once again for God’s praise as they were built to do two and more centuries ago.


“Ah” the parish priest might say; “There is no-one to play the organ, so why restore it? An electronic one will do!” Firstly, an electronic one will last ten or fifteen years at the most, and then have to be replaced: not exactly sound economic sense, quite apart from musical considerations. The old organ restored will last over 100 years with little maintenance required; there is a bigger initial outlay for the restoration, yes, but the minimal running costs for decades to come and the cultural considerations far outweigh the short-term solution offered by an electronic instrument. Secondly, good old organs will attract organists, as a lamp attracts moths. Young parishioners with a sense of their village background will be proud to be a part of a continuing tradition, using an instrument that has been part and parcel of village life for so long. No, you will not be without good organists if you restore the old organs, for fine old organs never lack friends! Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, these are the instruments which have helped generations of the Maltese Faithful give form and music to their worship and, under skilful hands, have inspired and maybe raised them a little nearer Heaven for a time. Now that so many of the old organs are neglected and silent, is it not part of our duty to help them speak once more for the glory of God, as they once helped those who have gone before us to worship Him?


Nick le Neve Walmsley: Valletta, April 13th 2002

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