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Music and labour: Pirelli-MiTo concerts and the conversation between factory and culture

Building compatible behaviours, bringing people together, tuning instruments. Learning how to aggregate original expressions and dissonance. Making music. Organising labour. Creating symmetry. Building beauty. A product made with the hands or mind. This attempt to draw connections between industry and music, sound and labour, it is audacious? It is difficult, perhaps. But not impossible. If anything , it’s unusual but not audacious. The creativity that connects people and builds communities must always be built.

This is a subject close to Pirelli’s heart. It’s part of the history of the bonds Pirelli has forged between manufacturing and culture, and between technology and artistic narration, using every tool available to it. The advertising illustrators of old. Painters. Writers. Poets. Architects. Artists. Photographers. People of words and machines. Invoking essential values. The quality of work and interpersonal relations. The joy of a hard-working community that is receptive to research and change.

Let’s make music our focus this time. Let’s tell why Pirelli is resuming its partnership with MiTo. And why concerts are returning to the workplace, on the factory floor at Settimo Torinese industrial park in 2010, 2011 and 2014 and now at Pirelli HQ in Milan, to relive, and of course, also to renew, that sense of deep-rooted tradition.

We’ll see labour and its “sound”, the evocation of 19th century soundscapes (the “industrial century”), meticulous execution, and the pursuit of perfection all return as the same central themes as previous concerts. All summed up in a simple phrase: to produce, and to do it well. Finding and creating original, new harmonies. A challenge in constant evolution.

Pirelli has renewed its commitment to another of its self-imposed obligations: to restore music to its central role in popular culture, aware that people have never stopped loving classical music and, if anything, the younger generations in particular, are eager for more open, intense relations, charged with inventive and emotion. MiTo has always been central to this. The choice of Beethoven and his “sons”, starting with Schumann, are proof-positive of this: music that is not limited to the Baroque tradition of a violin, violoncello and piano trio and which gives form to the surge of what was once romantic modernity, in the innovative “counterpointing” and in the creation of chords narrating change in the world, heralding evolutions on the horizon. Extraordinary creativity. And meticulous execution. Times past and times future, just like we said. Metamorphosis. Once again, industry breeds culture and champions  all that is contemporary.

Where shall we start our exploration? From skills with something in common. The skills of manufacturing and machines. And of philosophical reasoning, as it seeks original interpretations to make sense of the complexities of society and evolving markets. And of the stories they tell. The skills to be found in R&D labs, where the grounds are laid for new products and new production, distribution and consumer systems. The skills of artistic creativity.

Worthy of note is sociologist Aldo Bonomi, for example, an exponent of “molecular capitalism theory”,  of the “infinite city”, a world crammed with intelligent and far-reaching manufacturing and service networks, of “In-finite capitalism”, in the transition from post-Fordism to fragmentation and the “liquid labour swamp”: for a recovery to be made,  “made in Italy” must be replaced with “remade in Italy”, and a fourth season inaugurated, in the wake of the cottage industry, factories and business parks.  Supply chains must enter an era in which the host territory becomes a source of value, held aloft as a common asset to be regenerated and no longer treated as merely a repository of knowledge, traditions and resources to be extracted, or contemplated purely in terms of growth of the quantitative kind, founded on local consumption and social dumping. It should be an era that recognizes the social and cooperative nature of investment in the knowledge economy. A world in which manufacturing, in order to rebuild the value base, must pollinate industrial culture with the scientific and social skills propagated by the creative in our society, professionals, young “digital natives”. In turn, if  their investment in vocational development is to translate into work and an associated income, they can no longer harbour the utopian idea of virtual and deindustrialised capitalism.” In other words, there must be a fusion of different skills within the production system. And dialogue between an industry’s inner and outer worlds.

This could also said in another way,  using the “Milano Steam” acronym for example.  Assolombarda, Lombardy’s association of industries,  decided to use the word Steam to represent the fusion of the city’s manufacturing and creative sectors, borrowing  the initial letters of Science, Technology, Engineering and Environment (the sustainable environment), and Arts. The latter comprises  the collective knowledge of the humanities, an area in which Italy excels, and manufacturing, also referred to as “the beautiful factory” of the high-tech industry in which creativity, research, production, and services measure their competitiveness against the exceptional ability to “make beautiful things that the world finds beautiful.” Milan is therefore a paradigm  for Italy, a country in which social capital, economic capital, scientific capital and aesthetic capital play as a team in the development game. Can all this be conveyed in a single word? “Harmony” – a musical word – might work.

This brings us back to the issue of dialogues between an industry’s inner and outer worlds, from Pirelli’s experiential perspective. How about another example? First, there are the workplaces animated by philosophical and scientific debate, as was the case when, in June 2013, Pirelli hosted a section of the “Milanesiana” in the group’s Bicocca HQ Auditorium. Directed by Elisabetta Sgarbi, the central theme of the concert was “Philosophy, Cinema, Secret” and welcomed among its cast Massimo Cacciari, Remo Bodei, Umberto Veronesi, Marco Bellocchio, Tzevan Todorov  and Emanuele Severino. Or we might want to mention the frequent sharing of experiences between artists working on giant installations in the HangarBicocca and Pirelli engineers and technicians working in Pirelli labs. Or the positive conversations between writers and artists to illustrate and enrich Pirelli’s annual accounts. Or the factory music events (more about that in a second)  held in Pirelli’s Settimo Torinese site, an industrial complex whose infrastructure and research labs were designed by Renzo Piano around the “beautiful factory” concept. The complex is in green belt territory (hence the nickname with obvious literary charm: “the factory in the cherry garden”) making it a transparent, safe, pleasant and ecologically forward-thinking location. Or industry itself, and the material it provides for industrial narratives that form the basis of books and theatrical productions  (such as the collaboration with Mondadori and Laterza, or with Piccolo Teatro di Milano, on “Settimo – La fabbrica e il lavoro” directed by Serena Sinigaglia and performed to a full house at Piccolo Teatro almost every night for three weeks in 2012). Or even the didactic exhibitions and projects that Pirelli Foundation has run in schools across Milan for thousand of pupils, in an effort to reaffirm and renew links between industry and education, labour and professional development. In each, there is an intermingling of knowledge and perspectives, and the questions raised by differing cultures are met with answers offering a wealth of “cross-fertilizations”.

It is intense stuff. The intention is to improve the quality of city life, seen as a place of visionary thinking and high-end production, within the context of the knowledge economy and, as suggested earlier, industry seen as the fulcrum of responsible development. It is another way of bringing business culture to the community and experiencing industry as a place of culture, open to culture and manufacturer of culture. It all amounts to a larger-than-life “manufacturing renaissance”, as it was so brilliantly named at a recent Aspen Institute Italia seminar held in the Bicocca Villa degli Arcimboldi. The event produced a very successful publication offering much food for thought on the subject of good business culture.

As we’ve said, modern businesses need a modern, namely new, culture. Something that echoes the making of products and the making of music, which brings us full circle. Tuning and harmonizing. Learning how to bring together consonances and, it goes without saying, also dissonances. Original harmonies. And discords which recompose.

It is a cultural proposition of fascinating proportions, and also the subject of a very useful book for men and women whose job has to do with industry: “Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz” by Frank J. Barrett (the Italian translation has a wonderful and very insightful introduction by Severino Salvemini). What makes the book so interesting are the two identities Barrett occupies: management lecturer at Harvard and jazz pianist. Equally compelling are how his thoughts move confidently across the many levels at which the best business cultures manage to exist. Organisation and improvisation. Team play and the creative talent of the soloist. The repetition of a familiar note. The courage to break away from established patterns and explore new rhythms. Research and innovation, in other words. Built on a solid base of instrumental technique.

The ideas presented are recurring themes in the constant positing of ideas to find the most imaginative relations between industry and culture. Not to mention ever present in the attempt to make sense of the “industrial metamorphosis” that demands we continually seek new paradigms in order to change how we conceptualise production, products and consumption. In changing times, if we are to respond to the Great Crisis, we must be impartial about organisational forms and the relations between the people in them. Music, or jazz as we discussed, provide some answers. Really? Salvemini explains, “New business management models must be based on examples taken from new contexts which are less rigid than traditional ones.” The great historical examples of Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker and, more recently, the great Keith Jarrett, tell us that a great soloist needs the accompaniment of solid rhythm sections, a supporting orchestra or of a group of some kind (a trio, a quartet, etc.) able to anticipate, provoke, or to follow the soloist’s trumpet or piano: “The group supports its leader,” Salvemini insists, “as should also happen in an organisation in which cohesion and harmony reign.”

To be prolific, cultures need contrast. Or better still: they need hybridisation. This means the combination of languages, techniques, behaviours and ways of working. The mixing of words about doing and telling. Of machines, people, production and products. However you approach it, music is the perfect interpretative, and even narrative, tool.

Want more proof? Well, how about the experience of a string ensemble, the Italian Chamber Orchestra directed by Salvatore Accardo, an outstanding violinist of international standing who held two concert rehearsals a year, before going on tour, in the Pirelli HQ Auditorium in Milan. The rehearsals were open to all employees who used their break to check for themselves, in a live performance, what “playing a concert” and “building an execution” really mean. The performance sparked many conversations. About work. What it sounds like. About music. Not to mention the work that goes into playing it, the search for perfection (a common experience, known to both violinist and engineer, for whom Accardo was the ultimate ambassador during Pirelli’s Quality Week, in front of an audience of  production engineers and people. ) Produce, but do it well. Find and create original, new harmonies. That’s good business, isn’t it?

There’s another option in this ongoing intrigue, which is to renew the current calibre of classical music. And tie concerts, symphonies, sonatas to workplaces to produce “high” culture that is, at the same time, popular, as well as the extraordinary dimension of a highly original symphony, in which Italian culture, throughout the 20th century, gave Europe a constant supply of innovative elaboration and original fusions.

This is the sense, then, of the by now long-standing relationship between a  grand Italian and international organisation and the Verdi Orchestra, one of Milan’s leading international companies. And also with the Scala theatre, in a long season of its lifetime. Through such a prestigious a festival as MiTo Settembre Musica (nearly four weeks of concerts in Milan and Turin, for which there has often been, and still is, an active collaboration with Pirelli Foundation.)

The value of factory concerts, like the ones held in the Settimo Torinese industrial complex (the last one was 19 September 2014) where thousands of people gave the Turin Philharmonic Orchestra, directed by Micha Hamel, a standing ovation for its performance of two Beethoven symphonies, the First and Seventh, can’t be emphasized enough. “La Settima a Settimo” – Beethoven’s masterpiece, his 7th symphony ”, as it was so brilliantly called. Beethoven played with robots worked and research labs buzzed in Pirelli’s cutting-edge plant. Incidentally, Europe has a tradition of tying music to places of work. Take the workers’ concerts of 20th century Vienna: classical performances were played to new audiences,  spectators who were not traditional middle-class concert-goers, and the compositions were at, for that period, contemporary (just one example: Mahler’s symphonies directed by the young Webern.) This was also the Italy of the 60s and 70s, and the work of musicians like Luigi Nono, Claudio Abbado and Maurizio Pollini , who used their different sensibilities and experiences to “illuminate the factory”.

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”41″ gal_title=”MIto 2014″]

There is a deep bond, after all, between doing business responsibly and making music. Central to the issue are themes like work and what it sounds like, the effort of execution, the pursuit of perfection, in the knowledge that factories are made of people at work, gestures of agile, able hands and the movements of machines. Factories are rhythm. Voices and noises. Noises which become sounds. Factories have their own music. And music can enter factories. Industries have their own culture. And culture can, indeed it must, find a place in industry. In short? Produce, but do it well. Find and create original, new harmonies.

Which brings us back to the combination of tradition and innovation. The choice of Beethoven (for the September 2014 concert) is proof-positive of this: his music has firm roots in the best 18th century canon; he interprets a lively romantic modernity and represents the monumental status of “classical” while also foreshadowing compositions to come many decades after him. Extraordinary creativity. And meticulous orchestration.

The location selected is also hugely significant. After the Great Crisis, industry resumed its place at the heart of the economy. The Settimo facility is proof of how factories have changed and developed, with the adoption of sophisticated technologies. Metamorphosis. Industry breeds culture and champions  all that is contemporary. “Staging a concert in a factory,” said director Micha Hamel, orchestra director of the “Settima a Settimo” concert, “is a singular experience and also a sign that something new is taking place. Music is entering an unusual place. Boundaries are being broken. Artistically speaking, it is a very important concept.”

It was precisely this realization that inspired the entire music-in-a-factory experience. From the very first concert, back on 13 September 2010, in the old Pirelli plant on the eve of its closure (to give way to the new complex). On the stage were the Turin Wind Ensemble and musicians from the Rai Torinese Symphonic Orchestra. In the background were tyres produced in the plant. In the audience, the industrial forecourt, were more than four hundred people. All there to hear music by Mozart, Bach and Beethoven, Berio and Gabrieli, Saglietti and Stravinsky: music from the 1700s to modern-day. Double the significance: of sound and place. It was a concert for brass, the instruments echoing the metal, a symbolic relation to the metal used to make cars. It was a game of harmonies, evoking what work can and should be, even when the harmony is difficult to achieve.

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”42″ gal_title=”MIto 2010″]

Now that latest generation technologies make the workplace a more varied, rich and complex place, music can find a new space, and a more intense contemporary role. Bringing classical back. And adding original evocations to the contemporary. Innovation is also a language.

At the second concert, held on 9 September 2011, the orchestra was the Pomeriggi Musicali di Milano, directed by Luca Pfaff. The venue was the large warehouse space in the new industrial complex. The sounds of machines at work, a faint echo, could be heard in the distance. It was a factory after all. Playing to an audience of 700 people, the orchestra performed Stravinsky, Milhaud, Honegger and De Falla. It was the music of the 1900s. The century of great change. And of industry, a complexity that monopolized innovation, caused serious upheaval, involved millions of men and women: a world of brand-new responsibilities, struggles to take centre stage and  the reclaiming of rights and obligations. The 20th century was all about words, pictures and movement. Noises -and sounds – that had never been heard before.  Literature, figurative art, music were deconstructed then put back together again. Classic forms faded from existence. Research was the new form, and it has continued into our present, uncertain age.

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”38″ gal_title=”Mito 2011″]

To reflect upon the 20th century, with the music it brought to the factory floor, means  more than just critically examining our recent origins; it also means trying to build a new epistemology of post-modernity, and tracing a futuristic map of a better future. To chart a world in movement. Listening to music helps, it can bring comprehension to the deep sense of change, both in work and in its associated relations. Business culture is building a theme tune, starting from the notes of Beethoven at the Settimo concert. Classic symphony and contemporary presence.

Contemporary presence, of course. We see it again in the MiTo theme  for 2016: “Fathers and sons”, or rather,  Beethoven and Schumann in the Auditorium concert. It is a theme to be re-explored and revisited, a baton being passed, from the “classical” to the experimentation which prefigured the decompositions of the 20th century. Times past and times future. And metamorphosis. As applied to creation; to narration; to labour. Besides, it’s what our laborious, controversial, painful modernity is made of: metamorphosis. But it’s happy, too, in the sparks, as it looks to the future.