The water-powered organ of the Quirinale, Rome


Historical overview

Historical overview

1596Hydraulic organ built by Luca Blasi
1647-8Athanasius Kircher & Matteo Marione build a new organ to replace the one built by Luca Blasi
1704Restoration - Filippo Testa
1732,1736Restoration - Giovanni Battista Testa
1778-80Restoration - Antonio Alari


The Quirinale organ is powered by water.

    Water is used
  1. to turn the paddle-wheel which drives the drum with the melody, which moves the keys of the organ, and
  2. to provide the wind which enters the chest and is used to make the pipes sound.
animation Using a technique which was also employed in the iron-foundries of Italy as early as the the sixteenth century, water is made to enter a long vertical tube, usually with a funnel-shaped opening. In doing so, the water forms a gyre, and sucks air into the tube as well, forming an air-water mixture. At the end of its descent through the tube, the water is separated from the mixture in a special container ("Aeolian chamber"), and may be used to drive a paddle-wheel, as in the case of this organ. The air is allowed to exit via another tube which is connected to the windchest. No bellows are involved - the pressure is regulated by controlling the flow of water into the system.


68k 110k 91k
General view General view - keyboard Aeolian chamber
122k 87k 76k
Keyboard/drum Drive wheels Detail of spring-chest


Latanza, Antonio,
Il Ripristino dell'Organo Idraulico del Quirinale, Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, Libreria dello Stato, Roma, 1995
"The Hydraulic Organ, the self playing water organs of the Italian Gardens," in Music and Automata, July 1990
Barbieri, Patrizio,
"L'Organo idraulico del Quirinale," in L'Organo,vol. XIX (1981), Bologna, 1985, pp7-61
See also:
Barbieri, Patrizio,
"Organo e automi musicali idraulici di Villa d'Este a Tivoli", L'Organo, XXIV, 1990
Morelli, Arnaldo,
"L'Arte Organaria a Roma dal XV al XIX secolo", in Organi e cantorie nelle chiese di Roma, Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, Libreria dello Stato, Roma, 1994
"I Testa celebri organari romani", in Note d'archivio, I, 1983


Luca Blasi (ca.1545-1609)
Organ builder originally from Perugia, active in Rome. Builder of the 24' transept organ of S. Giovanni in Laterano (1599). Blasi was granted an exclusive papal privilege to use a rolling mill to produce organ pipe metal.
Athanasius Kircher
Jesuit priest and scholar, collaborator with Marione in the re-building of the hydraulic organ, and author of Musurgia Universalis, Rome, 1650, in which the hydraulic organ is described.
Matteo Marione
Roman organ builder active during the 17th century.
Filippo Testa (1665-1726)
Roman organ builder, son of Giuseppe Testa.
Giovanni Battista Testa (1675-1753)
Roman organ builder, brother of Filippo.
Antonio Alari (ca.1723-1798)
Roman organ builder, son of Lorenzo[I] Alari.

English summary © N. Waanders