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The Aeolian Organ of Villa Firenze

The rare Aeolian Organ, no. 1569, located above the Great Hall of Villa Firenze, is one of the most important pieces in the residence of the Ambassador of Italy to the United States. The rare pipe organ was built in 1925 by the Aeolian Company in New York for Colonel Arthur O’Brien.

The organ’s pipes, originally covered in gold, were renovated in lighter tones of silver. The organ is a very elaborate instrument with 1011 pipes arranged in 13 ranks: it can be played either by an automatic machine called “Duo-Art” contained within the console or manually by an organist. The automatic player uses a perforated paper roll to activate the notes and stops. The library of rolls is large and quite varied with orchestral versions of traditional musical scores being the most prevalent. Although the main body of the organ is located in the Great Hall, the blower which provides wind for the instrument is located in the basement.

When the Government of Italy purchased Villa Firenze in 1976, the organ was not working. There had been a fire in the house in the winter of 1946 and while it was not a devastating event, the organ was significantly damaged by water and smoke and the repairs were far short of the necessary. The organ’s many pipes had fallen over, mechanisms in the organ no longer worked, and many parts were broken. Subsequent renovations in the building cut off the electric supply to the blower motor and generators.

Miraculously, all the pipes were still present and the console still had all its original player mechanism and other systems in its interior. About 60 years of dust and reconstruction dirt had settled in the organ chamber, leaving it quite filthy.

On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy and of the celebrations of this milestone in the United States, the organ was brought back to working order thanks to the invaluable support of the Italian company SISAL S.p.A.

Part of the restoration effort consisted in a thorough cleaning which involved completely dismantling the entire organ and console down to the last screw. Every piece of leather, every piece of electrical wiring, every one of the over 1000 pipes needed cleaning, repairing, or replacing.

Eight people in all, technicians, electricians, and pipe-makers, worked on various aspects of the project. As David M. Storey, the organ builder who carried out the restoration said, the restoration was partially a work of discovery since there was no documentation anywhere about how the organ was supposed to work. The restoration effort started in July 2011 and was completed in October 2012.