Phoenix, AZ

Musical Instrument Museum’s renewed Italy exhibit

Alistair Dominguez

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PHOENIX, AZ — A significant redesign of the Italy exhibit now illustrates several centuries of influential musical history while bringing more than 20 new instruments from the Musical Instrument Museum's permanent collection into public view.

Recent acquisitions had made this update possible, with authentic instrument collections from the Renaissance period when Italy was the world's cultural epicenter.

Highlights from this exhibition include a 16th-century tenor cornetto from Venice, a harpsichord originally manufactured in Rome in the 1630s, and an ornamented 17th-century baroque mandolin with a body made from ivory.

The exhibit explores the extensive popularity of the opera, which fully emerged in Italy in the 1600s and spread across Europe in the 1700s. Accompanied with a small orchestra, the spectacle of the opera filed theater seats.

Away from the stage, the local bands imitated the women's voices with high-pitched flutes and cornets, while flugelhorns or trombones played the male vocal lines. From bells used to perform Puccini's Madame Butterfly to vintage brass band instruments, the power and legacy of Italian opera are newly featured.

In a dedicated display space, guests visiting will discover the origins and development of the mandolin. Ten historic Italian instruments representing multiple regions and periods will be showcased at MIM's world-class mandolin collection. Include a special collection from Raymon Zéliker, Vinaccia, Calace, Embergher and Monzino are present.

Italy exhibit also honored the local folk music that has accompanied social gatherings and daily life for generations. A dramatically stylized 1920s harp guitar comes from the northern town of Genoa and the Tamburello frame drum and vintage accordion help introduce guests to the tarantella dancing of southern Italy. A 19th-century zampogna illustrates just one of Italy's distinctive bagpipe traditions.

One of the pieces that highlighted Italy's baroque period is a historic harpsichord, initially built in the 1630s by notable Roman maker Giovanni Pietro Polizzino. Before it arrived in MIM's collection, it has undergone a meticulous restoration. The instrument was completely disassembled and then rebuilt, taking all the surviving original parts to the project.

Italian harpsichords were smaller and more delicately built. It was customary to place them in a custom lidded outer case for protection and decorate the cases in a flamboyant European style of the period.

MIM's Polizzino harpsichord resides in an outer case decorated with painted biblical scenes on the interior of the lid dated to 1652. The black and gold chinoiserie lacquer on the exterior sides was especially popular in the mid-18th century.

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