3 early regals in China

10 July 2018

The Project has consistently eschewed dealing with pipe organ-like instruments such as the regal, the harmonium, and all kinds of electronic and digital organs, except where these occasionally shed some light on the larger topic, or are important for the association of ideas.

Recently, our colleague Prof. Patrizio Barbieri published an article in Informazione Organistica (see below, and also PEK1720) from which some very interesting information about three regals in China has emerged.

The first of these is a regal presented to the Jesuits in 1598 by Rannucio I Farnese, Duke of Parma (r. 1592-1622). This was “a regal contained in a small writing desk to be sent to the Jesuit fathers…who have been instructed to present it to the King [sic.] of China.” Rannucio’s interest in the China mission may have been influenced by his mother, Maria of Portugal, and the fact that the China mission was almost entirely both Jesuit and Portuguese until the second quarter of the seventeenth century, due to the establishment by the papacy of the padroado. It was this same Duke of Parma who later sent an extravagant claviorganum to China (MAC1620).

It seems unlikely this 1598 regal ever got to Beijing, but this raises at the same time the interesting question, that if it did, is this then the organo used in Beijing in 1611 at the funeral of Matteo Ricci? This is a question easy to pose, and virtually impossible to answer.

The second regal appears over a century later, and was presented to the Kangxi emperor by the papal legate Charles Thomas Maillard de Tournon in 1707. Information about this comes from a letter written four years later by Teodorico Pedrini, who remarked that “Musical instruments are very pleasing to him [Kangxi], the best is a small regal presented to him by the late Cardinal [de Tournon].”

The third and last regal was a small instrument, a “regoletto…decorated with inlay” brought to Kangxi in 1719 with the embassy of the papal legate, Mezzabarba. This was among the instruments that included PEK1720.

We are grateful to Prof. Barbieri for sharing his research with us.