The keys to good music

The Italian maestro Luigi Tagliavini gives me a special tour of his incredible collection of musical instruments at San Colombano in Bologna, Italy.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Maestro Luigi Tagliavini

“I was born on October 7th, 1929,” Luigi Tagliavini tells me. It’s the start of one of his stories.

“My pregnant mother had waited and waited and I didn’t arrive. Finally, on October 6th in a theatre in Bologna, Rossini’s opera Cinderella was played and my grandmother said to my mother ‘the child doesn’t come, let’s go to the opera’.”

“And then they went to the theatre – and I too of course – and a day later I was born. Then my grandmother said ‘oh, he will be a musician’.”

San Colombano, Luigi Tagliavani, Bologna, Italy

83 years later, it’s clear his grandmother’s prophecy was realised. Luigi Tagliavini is standing at a harpsichord, his fingers on the keys, softly caressing the instrument as it sings.

The harpsichord is more than four hundred years old and the Italian treats it with respect… but also with an intimate familiarity. The instrument is one of his.

San Colombano, Luigi Tagliavani, Bologna, Italy

Over his many years, Luigi Tagliavini has collected the instruments of music – specifically those which are his specialty. As a professional organ player, he has a love of the keyboard and the majority of his collection consists of harpsichords, spinets, pianos and clavichords.

San Colombano, Luigi Tagliavani, Bologna, Italy

“It’s just like a kind of illness,” he jokes.

“If you look for instruments you don’t find them. You have to wait and the instruments themselves find you.”

San Colombano, Luigi Tagliavani, Bologna, Italy

San Colombano, Bologna, Italy

Maestro Tagliavini has donated about ninety of his prized possessions, the bulk of his collection, to be displayed to the public. Their home is now the remarkable San Colombano church complex in Bologna.

San Colombano, Luigi Tagliavani, Bologna, Italy

Inside this complex, of which parts were first built in the 7th century, the instruments blend in naturally.

The walls in parts of the buildings are painted with the most detailed and beautiful iconography. So too are many of the harpsichords, which were once centrepieces in homes of the aristocracy.

San Colombano, Luigi Tagliavani, Bologna, Italy

Maestro Tagliavini walks amongst the collection, showing me some of his favourite pieces. He explains their history with his passionate and friendly manner.

The spinet made in 1681 which he found at an auction in Bern forty years ago…

A light blue instrument that he describes as ‘the last grand harpsichord’ built in Italy in 1792…

A Viennese piano from 1833 which was built by Schubert’s favourite maker…

And a small folding Italian harpsichord, of which there are only four in the world.

San Colombano, Luigi Tagliavani, Bologna, Italy

As he shows me the masterpieces, the 83 year-old removes the protective covering from the keyboard and plays a few lines of music.

He doesn’t talk while he plays. His head turns sideways and up towards the ceiling, eyes wide open and a half smile on his face.

He’s listening closely because we’re supposed to be comparing the sounds of the different instruments. I feel this is a game for one – although I appreciate the sweet melodies, my ear isn’t fine-tuned to the variations of each.

San Colombano, Luigi Tagliavani, Bologna, Italy

I ask about how he chose which instruments to buy. “I don’t want or need to have many,” he explains.

“The important thing is to have special pieces and also instruments building a unity together. I will never consider the collection as closed.”

Bologna: UNESCO City of Music

These days Maestro Tagliavini splits his time between Italy and Switzerland, where he used to teach. But when he’s in Bologna he always comes to San Colombano to play his instruments.

They are his life as much as they are also his life’s work.

San Colombano, Luigi Tagliavani, Bologna, Italy

He’s not the only one allowed to touch the precious keys, though.

Promising music students are given the opportunity to play them during regular concerts at San Colombano. Passing on the love of music and fine instruments is part of the joy of having such a wonderful collection.

San Colombano, Luigi Tagliavani, Bologna, Italy

“One of my best friends is a girl of 10 years old,” Tagliavini tells me with a warm smile.

“She plays in an incredible way pianos but now she is in love with the harpsichord.”

The two of them share an adoration of certain musicians (such as Mozart) and songs. Together they talk about their common interests in a way that seems unlikely with such an age gap between them. It’s an art that transcends generations, though.

“That means there is no old or modern music,” Tagliavini says. “There is just good and bad music.”

And a unique collection of instruments to share that good music.


Bologna is a great place to base yourself to explore the region. Here are my tips for some of the best accommodation.


For a good budget option, I would suggest the Dopa Hostel near the city centre.


For an affordable hotel, Albergo Panorama has good rooms right in the town centre.


If you’re looking for an interesting design hotel, I would suggest Art Hotel Commercianti.


And to splurge, the Savoia Hotel Regency is probably the best in Bologna.

Time Travel Turtle was a guest of the Emilia Romagna tourism board but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

11 thoughts on “The keys to good music”

    • If you’re a piano player then you would love this place. Although you can’t just wander around and play them yourself, unfortunately. They’re a bit too valuable for that…

  1. Thanks for this fascinating glimpse into the life and work of one of the world’s great musicians! Might you have an email address I could use to contact Maestro Tagliavini directly concerning my research on organ playing in historic liturgies?


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