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Sunday, 30 June, 2002, 08:46 GMT 09:46 UK
Sweet music from water pipes
Fountain of the Water Organ in Tivoli
The fountain houses the recreated water organ

For an instrument designed to make beautiful music, its ending struck something of a sour note.

Villagers near the Villa d'Este, near Tivoli, in Italy, embarked on a frenzy of destruction to smash the workings of the 16th Century water organ.

They were annoyed because the broken organ - which uses water pressure to blow air through its mighty tubes - would play one note continuously.

But now a Norfolk craftsman is recreating the organ which was left wrecked by the villagers' attack in the 18th Century.

The organ mechanism
The organ is made of stainless steel and bronze

Rodney Briscoe, of Roydon, near Diss, in Norfolk, will see his water organ officially unveiled in September this year.

Mr Briscoe, who has been making and repairing church organs for about 40 years, had to rediscover the lost art of making this water organ - which was built in about 1570.

"The water organ was one of the marvels of the Renaissance, but when it fell into disrepair, the skills necessary to maintain it had been lost," said Mr Briscoe.

"The organ works on a principle of creating air pressure with the suction of water plunging down a pipe."

The water is channelled into a chamber, displacing air which provides the wind for the organ pipes.


The organ's aim was to instill fear and get you to lead a good Catholic life

David Dernie, historian

Water drives round a barrel which picks out the notes in a similar way to a music box.

Mr Briscoe said the principles behind this organ go back to Ancient Greece.

"Greeks and Romans knew of it, and the Italians used it for many things, but the technology was not written down and was lost," he said.

"We built a model to prove that the technique worked as described in the contemporary sources, and then embarked on this project.

"It is a great privilege to be involved in a project such as this."

The organ has been constructed from stainless steel and bronze to protect it from damp conditions.

The organ mechanism
Notes are picked out on the barrel

Architectural historian David Dernie, who has written a book on Villa d'Este, commissioned Mr Briscoe to make a model of the organ - which led to him being asked by Italian authorities to build a full-size recreation.

He said the gardens and fountains were built by Cardinal Ippolito d'Este II, son of Lucrezia Borgia, and governor of Tivoli in the mid-16th Century.

"The organ's aim was to instill fear and get you to lead a good Catholic life," he said.

Mr Briscoe is also working on the mechanism for another of the fountains in the garden which plays bird songs.

The water organ has arrived in Italy and is in place for the unveiling in September.

Mr Briscoe said he hoped his water organ will survive longer than the last one, but only time and the temper of villagers will tell.


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10 Jan 02 | Business
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