The pipe organ in Mdina Cathedral was built in 1774 by the famous Neapolitan organ builder Domenico Antonio Rossi. It is situated at the east side of the north transept.
Rossi built several organs for Maltese churches but the Mdina Cathedral organ is his largest organ in Malta. It seems that Rossi was anxious to build an instrument worthy of a cathedral in certain respects. This is so when one considers the fact that the organ has some construction characteristics which are quite unusual to 18th century Neapolitan organ building and which became the norm only several decades later. The most interesting example is the “complete” lowest octave in the manual and pedal. This is a rare case in such organs, since the usual practice was a ‘short’ octave in the bass. Another interesting feature is the extension of the keyboard by two notes compared to the usual compass of similar instruments.
Unfortunately the organ was modified substantially throughout its lifetime, especially in the first half of the 20th century. The original bellows, keyboard, pedal board and stop knobs were replaced (and the original ones lost). The stop action was altered and some tonal changes were carried out which were neither skilfully executed nor successful. Moreover, the original façade pipes, almost of pure tin, were extensively damaged by tin pest, a natural process.
The restoration of this organ started in 2003. From the start it was clear that this important and unique Rossi organ was to be returned to its original physiognomy. This decision was taken also when considering the fact that the changes and modifications implemented earlier were neither skilfully carried out nor enhanced the organ’s functional and tonal qualities to justify their retention. To attain this aim research was carried out in Malta and Italy, and various Italian experts (experienced organ-restorers and a superintendence inspector) were consulted. Fortunately a researcher made a recent discovery in the Mdina Cathedral archives of the 1774 purchase contract between Rossi and the Cathedral Chapter. This document contained a detailed description of the organ which Rossi was to build and this was very useful to verify, determine and confirm certain aspects of the organ’s physiognomy. It has to be stated however, that in practice one should not blindly accept what is described in such contracts and hence all conclusions reached through this contract were confirmed by thorough investigation of the existing original material.
The following parts were rebuilt according to Rossi models (Rossi organs in Malta and Italy) with reference to the 1774 contract :
(1) Three wedge bellows and all wind trunking – the bellows before the restoration was a large quadruple-rise parallel bellows which was definitely not in style with the organ. Hence three wedge bellows were rebuilt in style with the organ, together with the required manual operating levers that allow the organ to be supplied with wind by manual operation. A very silent electric blower was introduced for normal use but the organ can still play without the need for the electric blower through the reconstructed manual pumping system. All wind trunking were reconstructed because the original had been discarded in previous repairs.