On 2018, July 12th the famous Gate of Glory in Santiago de Compostela has been re-opened. This extraordinary document of art and thinking still leaves us astonished and admired. The many colours of the original gate have been partially restored, giving a new look,a new surprising light to the monument.

At the same time NEW researches have revealed that a polyphonic experience lies behind the depictions of musical instruments in the hands of the 24 Elders of the Apocalypse, all around the arch.

All instruments are depicted in couples (2 harps, 2 lauds ...etc.) suggesting they can be played in duet. The so-called Organistrum, at the top of the arch, played by two musicians, shows a chromatic scale, thus indicating a possible extraordinary evolution in musical thinking at Santiago de Compostela during the 12th century.

Then, two-voices compositions in Codex calixtinus witness the developement of Polyphony at Santiago in the same age.

In our studies we have clearly demonstrated that Portico de la Gloria top instrument is a SPECIAL ONE, different from any other "two men lyre" known. In fact, its chromatic scale, quite useless for sacred music at that age, has suggested us the creation of a POLYPHONIC KEYBOARD that serves perfectly 12th century  new polyphonic repertory. If the first "two men lyre" with its diatonic scale could help may be accompanying simple polyphonies such as those discribed by "Musica enchiriadis" and "Micrologus", SANTIAGO's INSTRUMENT is the improvement of it, the herald of a new musical world.

This shed a new light over the whole Portico della Gloria music instruments setting: the couples are actually showing a polyphonic idea, not following only a sort of scenical arrangement.

Such as nowadys "chromatic restoration" of the gate: everything there shines in a better light !




please watch to our videos:










polyphonic keyboard

Organistrum: new polyphonic keyboard

My reconstruction of the instrument is mainly based on my own interpretation of its possible musical function. Since I want to consider iit  as a genuine polyphonic instrument I  invented  a  special  keyboard, fit for 12th century two voices polyphonies, suggesting also a diffferent managing of the wheel.


By tuning the strings  either:  A – d – a   or:  A – e – a    we get an overall extension of two chromatic octaves (minus the last semitone). Before lifting each key, the performer  can choose which string he is going to touch, simply by turning the key to the proper position: the first one allows him to operate on the bass string, the second on the middle one, the third on the higher string.

Thus it is possible to play two different melodic lines simultaneously. In Santiago sculpture the hands of the musician on the right are on the third and on the fifth key. This means he is playing  -c, g -  rather than  -d, f -  bichord on bass and middle strings,  or  - g, c’  rather than  - f, d’- bichord on middle and higher strings (first tuning).


First string                              a..       a#      b     c’     c’#     d’

Middle string                         d..       d#      e      f      f#      g    

Bass string                            A..       A#      B     c     c#      d

Keys                                      0          1       2     3       4      5


 In position 4 the key is provided with two tangents so as to act on  second and  third strings (tuned either in Fifth or Fourth)  at the same time to perform  Organum parallelum, leaving the bass string as a drone. 

How they calculated the semitones progression

Known medieval texts neither describe  nor discuss about the possibility of a chromatic scale. But, reading Boethius's De institutione musica, easy to be found in monastic libraries since 9th century on, the monks could learn a lot about semitones both from pythagorean tradition and from Aristoxen's. There are only few lines, but enough, dedicated to the description of Aristoxen's practical method to divide the monochord. From this source the medieval scholar could learn a practical method in order to draw a correct chromatic scale of 12  tempered semitones. We discuss about this in another blog in this website


connecting astronomical and musical  knowledges through 10th and 12th centuries. Anyway, this idea comes from very early roman sources: Plinius and Boethius. In case the author of Santiago instrument intended to describe a revolutionary full chromatic/polyphonic keyboard we can suppose he was aware of that very ancient tradition.



On the other side, the musician who is in charge of turning the crank, by a smooth, even movement of his right hand,  can also lift one or even two of the strings from the edge of the wheel with his left hand in order to stop them vibrating. This way you can either avoid conflicts between the voices or stop  undesired drone effects.  







SYMPHONIA (CAELESTIS) should be preferred

- Reading Ch.Page articles in GSJ 1982, 83 convinced me to reject the name Organistrum

- Guido D'Arezzo Micrologus, XVIII, 1-18  pushed me to prefer the name Symphonia:

"...symphoniae, id est aptae vocum copulationes dicuntur, cum symphonia et de omni cantu dicatur." trad.: "...symphoniae are sound combinations, but this name indicates all songs"

Then, in Regulae rhythmicae the same author writes:

"Quinque habet ipsa tonos, duo semitonia;

Habet in se diapente et diatessaron;

maxima symphoniarum et vocum est unitas"


"(the diapason) contains 5 tones and 2 semitones/the fifth and the fourth/is the highest unity of symphoniae, or sounds"

SYMPHONIA matches with the medieval highest idea of music and sound, while ORGANISTRUM sounds like a deformation of the word ORGAN and like a ridiculous nickmame.

I believe that the name Organistrum  fits better the later "one-man Lyre", a diatonic, melodic instruments with drones, sort of early hurdygurdy used for secular music.

(Ch.Page is of the same opinion)



I chose one big  Red Willow (Salix purpurea) planck, seasoned in nature, from which I  carved the sound box and the base of the keyboard in one piece, average thickness  8-10 mm. Flat back, flat sides as in the original. 

GENERAL MEASURES:                      

 Total length    940mm                                                                                                           

Max width      230mm                                                                                                              

 Depth              80mm                                                                                                                

 Diapason        720mm


In the bottom of sound box I drilled a 10mm hole for the wooden axis, made of Beech (Fagus silvestris). Axis ends into another hole of 10mm drilled directly with no axle box in a wooden bar (Spruce) 15mm thick, glued between the two lobes of sound box which has been carved out of one piece of Spruce (Picea  abies) 8mm thick with no other bars glued underneath. Keyboard  box is independent from the body of the instrument and can be easily removed to modify  general level of the bars, changing their angle with the strings or making reparations. The 11 bars of the keys, diameter 10mm, are of Pine (Pinus nigra) and the 55 pivoting tangents of Beech. The problem of the distances among the bars is discussed in the present article. To avoid noise made by the bars returning to their previous position, after being pulled up to play, a stripe of cloth has been glued at the bottom of the keyboard. The carved lid has been made of Spruce, 8mm thick and is simply interlocked with the body of the keyboard without any hinge or other device.

The wheel, 11cm  wide and 20mm thick is of Walnut (Juglans regia) and forced on  wooden axis without any screw, nail, or wedge. No axle box at the end. The Beech crank , stuck in the square end of the axis, can be easily removed. The soundboard is glued to the body of the instrument , no sound pole in it. The bridge is of Poplar (Populus nigra) reinforced with a Beech edge. The tailpiece  of Chestnut (Castanea sativa) is linked to the bottom of sound box by a leather lace. Tuning pegs are of Beech, no need for a tuning key. Two light  layers of pure almond oil have  been used as  finishing . Gut strings: 0.80, 1.10, 1.40mm.






Subscribe to this RSS feed