The World’s Most Extraordinary Organ Concert to Be Played Again Two Centuries Later

Palacio-Convento de Mafra

It took eleven years and a one-million-euro restoration but this weekend Mafra Palace will once again have its basilica’s organs playing. They’re no ordinary organs, but a total of six which are unique in the world. While most churches, cathedrals, or basilicas have one or two organs (in some very rare cases, four), none in the world have six, and it’s not just the number that makes Mafra’s unique, but what they were intended to do. These six organs were strategically placed in a way to create a never-before-heard “surround sound” and had music written for them to be played simultaneously, meaning that those musical sheets can only be used here. When the Portuguese royal family moved to Brazil to escape Napoleon’s invasion in the early 19th century, the palace and consequently the organs suffered a period of decadence, with the instruments becoming inoperable. Only recently has there been an effort to bring them back to life, and 203 years after they last played together, this weekend there will be concerts that were never able to be performed since then. Because all six organs are necessary to hear the musical compositions, no one alive has heard the effect created by this unique assemblage but from now on all 12,000 tubes that make up the organs can emit the sounds King João V imagined would be a grandiose affirmation of his power in the 18th century.
The palace was built at a time when fortunes were pouring into Portugal thanks to the discovery of gold in Brazil, a precious metal that here transformed into a colossal monument of record-breaking proportions that has just been announced is a candidate to the World Heritage list by UNESCO.
This weekend’s concerts are at 9PM on Saturday and 6PM on Sunday, and are free. The palace is open every day except Tuesday for tourist visits. More info: Mafra Palace

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