Musicalia, the museum of mechanical music

An 18th century country house in the green hills of Cesena hosts a museum dedicated to mechanical musical instruments. Discover with us the fascination of curious and historical devices that enabled the reproduction of sound in the past.

The Musicalia museum was founded in Cesena in 1998 from the need to bring back to life mechanical musical instruments of the past that have long accompanied our ancestors, grandparents and great-grandparents with their notes, making them dance and sometimes even making them fall in love! The museum has been designed as an itinerary in seven rooms that retrace the significant moments in the history of mechanical music: from its invention, to the various stages of its development and imposition in society, up to its decline due to the appearance of the gramophone and other modern means of sound diffusion.

The visit begins on the first floor with a historical ancestor of mechanical music: Leonardo da Vinci's War Drum, reconstructed on the basis of information from texts and drawings in the Codices Leonardiani of Venice and Paris, placed in a setting that recreates a 16th-century war tent. The next room is dedicated to House Organs. There are numerous mechanical musical instruments on display in this room, which populated the homes of the upper middle class from the 18th century until the early decades of the 20th century. Among the instruments on display, there is no shortage of curious and unique objects: snuffboxes equipped with tiny music boxes, small mechanised saxophones, cages with mechanical birds that sing and move. The third room, known as the Street Organs, exhibits the mechanical musical instruments that most frequently populated the streets of cities until the early 1900s: spalloni, cylinder pianos and mandolin pianos that were hired daily or were owned by beggars who played in the streets for money. The fourth area is the Sound Recording Room: the instruments displayed in this room represent the decline and then the end of mechanical music in Italy. At the same time, one of the first recording rooms is represented in this room. With the advent of the record and gramophones, in fact, music began to enter Italian homes and, as this new medium became cheaper and cheaper, the small organs disappeared from the streets. Next is the Stanza della Regina Margherita (Queen Margaret Room), which the Pasolini-Zanelli Counts had specially renovated and frescoed on the occasion of the planned visit of Queen Margherita of Savoy, which did not take place. This splendid oval room is dedicated, due to the beauty of its frescoes depicting small daisies, to the Queen and to a very special piano: the Racca melodic piano. It differs from all other mechanical musical instruments in the home because the perfection of its finish and the prestigious materials of which it is made destined it exclusively for the drawing rooms of the upper middle class. What also made this type of instrument unmistakable was its extremely delicate and suave sound, which made even Queen Margherita, Pascoli and Puccini appreciate it. Descending to the ground floor one then enters a room furnished like the entrance room of a 20th century Grand Hotel: these rooms, in fact, featured large musical instruments that served as background music for waiting or as substitutes for orchestras for small events. In the setting of a hotel lounge, an instrument built in Germany for the then Grand Hotel in Rome is displayed. The instrument, designed in an era without electricity, is driven by a large counterweight and is started by introducing a 20 cent coin. Finally, the Stanza delle Piazze. This room is dedicated to all those large musical instruments that were used at village fairs or in living rooms and public places, stunning in their majesty. These include a Gavioli fairground organ, from Modena, famous for the power and sound quality of its instruments, an Atlantic Orchestrion, intended for public places, and a reconstruction of a puppet theatre with a barbershop organ inside.