From the many enormous and apparently amorphous organ specifications given by Praetorius it could be reasonably thought that many central German builders of the late 16th century did not have clear control of the organs that their technology enabled them to build. The number of stops and stop types listed by Praetorius is evidence of his attempt to give order to a somewhat embarrassing luxury of choice. The number of 4' solo Flutes alone, for instance – narrow, wide, open, stopped, chimney, spindle, narrow-stopped, narrow-conical and overblowing–narrow-stopped – contrasts strongly with the 17th- and 18th-century systematized French organ of average size, where there was probably only one plain Bourdon 8' or Flûte 4', and that with a very specific function. Some of the biggest organs, such as those in Prague and Danzig, are scarcely credible: the Týn Church in Prague appears to have had a four-manual, 70-stop organ built between 1556 and 1588, but it is possible that it was a conglomerate instrument, finished in part, but perhaps never all playable or ready at once.
More important was the potential opened up by new mechanical skill in disposing multiple chests – giving the Pedal, for example, a pair of back or side chests for the large pipes, using front chests for middle Principals and a Brustwerk chest or two for smaller-scaled solo stops. Each pedal key then connected with two or even three pallets. The first such ‘multiple action’ may have been built earlier in the century in the central Netherlands (Antwerp Cathedral, 1505; St Zwysen, Diest, 1523), but the evidence is inconclusive. By the end of the century extravagant court chapel organs were built with some of the richest mechanical layouts ever known before pneumatic action, allowing an immense array of stop combinations. If the simple organ of 1563 for the Dresden court chapel allowed 77 manual combinations with its 13 stops and Tremulant, as stated in a contemporary document, then hundreds were no doubt possible on the famous Groningen court chapel organ of 1592–6 (Table 12). Whether there was enough fish for all this sauce might have been doubted by Schlick.
Clearly the Groningen organ offered many colourful effects, particularly those of two or three stops only; indeed, the number of stops normally drawn at once by organists of that time cannot be assumed from modern practices. With the exception of three Principal choruses of four or five stops, the registrations at Dresden (referred to above) were all of three stops or less. Quite apart from what this fact might imply about the state of contemporary wind-raising techniques, it suggests that organs of the period were geared towards subtle colour and musical variety. As to the ‘multiple chests’ themselves, a very plausible attempt to describe their complex action, double pallets, transmission and extension system has been made by Bunjes (D(xv)1966). The most useful arrangement was the most traditional and long-lived, namely the multiple pedal division in which the biggest bass pipes would take one or two chests, and the cantus firmus and other high stops another chest. Wind could be prevented by a Sperrventil from entering any chest not immediately needed; and a low pressure could be the better sustained if no chest was above a certain size.
A circumspect reading of Praetorius reveals three main types of complex layout, two of them multiple action: (i) the double action enabling two or more chests to be played by one keyboard (e.g. Brustwerk and Oberwerk from Oberwerk keys only); (ii) the transmission chest (with two pallets), enabling one or more ranks of pipes to be played by two keyboards (usually the bigger stops of the Oberwerk played by pedal keys); (iii) octave and even quint transmission or ‘extension’, that is, a chest construction enabling a rank of pipes to be played at unison, quint or octave pitches. The third was very rare, but important in view of later developments. Since couplers were also much to the fore in organs using complex action, and since the Sperrventil increased the registration possibilities (by making drawn stops inoperative until required), it can be seen that an important musical aim was maximum variety for a given number of ranks. But such aids had the potentially bad effect of overemphasizing the main Oberwerk chest to the detriment of true secondary manuals, weakening the independence of the pedal, and encouraging the cultivation of intricate workmanship as an end in itself. But the Chair organ remained an independent department in the major organs, and as such helped to provide the right conditions for most idiomatic organ music of 17th-century Germany, as it also did in France, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and England.
Organ, §V: 1450–1800
6. The Werkprinzip organ.
The Chair organ was indeed the manual that supplied the true balanced chorus to the Great; but in areas or periods in which second manuals were required for simple echo effects or soft background colours (Spain and Italy during the whole period, France during the 16th century, England after 1700) or in smaller churches where expense had to be avoided, the Chair organ was dispensed with and smaller chests were incorporated in the main case.
The visual characteristics of the Werkprinzip organ (the term is a modern one, coined by the 20th-century reformers) – the single main case, the Chair organ, the separate pedal towers – were all known by the 15th century. But by the time of Praetorius, owing to the range of available organ colour and the widespread mechanical skill in making good actions, builders were able to develop a type of instrument using such features put to new, unified purpose. Scheidt’s remarks in his Tabulatura nova (1624) imply a sophisticated and codified practice for organs and their music, and show the instrument to have developed well along the lines laid down by Schlick and beyond recognition of those laid down by Arnaut. Indeed, it is a mistake to relate the Werkprinzip Chair organ and (even more so) its pedal towers to the organ of Arnaut’s period. It is often very uncertain whether in about 1450 the Chair organ of a large instrument had the same pitch as the Great or its keys aligned with it; nor was two-manual playing necessarily known outside Schlick’s area and period. Similarly, although side towers or trompes held bass pipes, they were not necessarily played by pedal keys; in any case, a vital function of Werkprinzip pedal towers is that they hold cantus firmus solo stops near the Protestant congregation in or below the gallery. No doubt the larger instruments of about 1550 might have had pedal towers combining both characteristics; but the Werkprinzip organ flourished many hundreds of kilometres north-east of the areas knowing the old trompes, and did not become fully developed until after the Reformation.
One of the attractions of the Werkprinzip was that an organ could be altered and its potential enlarged simply by adding a new department to the old. While the Totentanz organ of the Marienkirche, Lübeck (destroyed in 1942), is much less understood than modern references to it suggest, it is certain that its four departments expressed the ideals of four quite different periods: the Hauptwerk, the late 15th century; the Rückpositiv, the mid-16th century; the Brustwerk, the early 17th; and the completed Pedal organ, the early 18th. Many famous organs of this type in northern Europe (e.g. Jakobikirche, Lübeck; Johanniskirche, Lüneburg) are in fact composite instruments (quite apart from modern rebuilds), accumulations of Werke constantly altered in compass, specification, tuning and no doubt voicing by builder after builder. The smaller Jakobikirche organ, restored in the 1980s to the form given it in 1636 by Stellwagen, still contains part of its late 15th-century Principal chorus, the pipes made of nearly pure lead. The big organs of the Niehoffs, the Scherers, and the Compenius and Fritzsche families were like living organisms; except for the large chamber organ in the chapel of Frederiksborg Castle, Denmark, none remains in anything like its original state.
Organ historians are often tempted to trace the organ’s evolution in terms of the best-known builders. Frequently, however, contributions are attributed to a builder on the basis of mere conjecture or even fable. Probably not a single item in the list of innovations commonly attributed to Gottfried Fritzsche, for instance, is specifically his: inclusion of a fourth manual; more systematic use of 32' and 16' reeds to written C; introduction to north Germany of rare stops, both flue (Viol, Schwiegel, imitative flutes) and reed (Sordun, Ranket); contrast between narrow ‘male’ and wide ‘female’ stops (e.g. Nasat 22/3' and Quinte 22/3' on the same manual); reduction of the big Brabant Scharf Mixture to a high repeating two-rank Zimbel; greater use of tin in the pipe metal, and also of wooden pipes (reeds, flues, stopped, open); and systematic adherence to C compass, sometimes with split keys (d/e etc.). But they certainly belong to his period. Such a list, taken with the provincialisms running through Praetorius’s Syntagma musicum, ii (2/1619), does lead to a distinct kind of organ. The chief musical characteristics of the Werkprinzip thus emerging in a purer form in the north were: the contrast between a full, round Hauptwerk and a thin, piercing, more variable Rückpositiv; the versatile pedal; and the clarity of the whole in average parish churches with little reverberation. In most cases it was the Rückpositiv that was understood to be the ‘solo manual’, and as such it performed an important function in the chorale-based literature of the 17th century. The idiom was clearly defined for organists, who seem to have been in little need of registration hints either from composers or from builders. (Balanced contrast could easily be achieved between two manuals if the same number of stops was drawn in each.) Explicit and firm registration rules have been formulated only in areas and at periods in which organs were more uniform (e.g. in northern Italy c1600, France c1700 and England c1750).
The Hamburg Werkprinzip organ reached maturity and indeed satiation in the work of Arp Schnitger, famous in his day far and wide, the possessor of many privileges, and, with Gottfried Silbermann (whose organs were quite different in many ways), the inspiration for the German Organ Reform (Orgelbewegung) of the 1920s. Despite work in progress, surprisingly little is certain about Schnitger – how responsible he was for his individual instruments (his workshop was large and active), what his scaling policy was (scales vary hugely, depending on the church, the pitch, the value of the old pipework he re-used, etc.), what his pitch and temperament were, why he usually changed small multifold bellows to large single-fold bellows in his rebuilds, why he dropped the Rückpositiv in his late work around Berlin, who designed his cases (fig.35), etc. Research has established that his wind pressures varied between about 94 mm or higher (the large organs in Hamburg) and about 67 mm, an average being about 85 mm (Nikolaikirche, Flensburg).Table 13 gives the stop list of his first four-manual organ, in the Nikolaikirche, Hamburg (destroyed in 1842). Such very large organs give a kind of highest common factor of instruments known to such composers as Buxtehude, Lübeck and Bruhns and on which toccatas and chorales of the older composers (Scheidemann, Weckmann, Tunder and others) were still played. In some areas of the Netherlands, north Germany and Scandinavia, such an organ remained the model until 1850 or so, and the Werkprinzip can be recognized behind later organs very different in sound and appearance from the Hamburg Nikolaikirche.
Organ, §V: 1450–1800