Oakeley, Sir Herbert (Stanley)

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8. The English organ.

Evidence for the late medieval organ in the British Isles is extremely sketchy, partly because of the protracted period of religious and political instability that lasted from the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 until the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which wiped out a huge mass of material, and partly because the small instruments that were characteristic of this period warranted little in the way of extravagant description or fame. There is some evidence of connections with the European mainland. Despite Henry VIII’s leanings towards Italian culture, those connections (at least in organ building) seem to exist in greatest number and importance with Flanders. Most significant were the appearances in England of Flemish organ builders such as Michiel Langhedul at Salisbury Cathedral in 1530 and Jasper Blancart in London (1566–82), both from families of craftsmen well known on the Continent.

The nature of the organs associated with the great age of Tudor church music remained completely obscure until the late 20th century, when a number of significant finds were made. There may have been isolated large organs in Britain, such as the one built by Laurence Playssher for Exeter Cathedral in 1513 (for which bills survive), but all the remaining evidence suggests that the standard instrument used to accompany the choral liturgy was small. This evidence consists of large numbers of inventory records made after the Dissolution, a couple of early contracts, and, since 1995, two fragmentary remains of early 16th-century instruments preserved by chance. The most important of these, the ‘Wetheringsett fragment’ (an entire organ soundboard of about 1520 preserved as a door in a farm building in Suffolk fig.38), indicates the type of instrument typical of the school (Table 15), its size and scope directly confirmed by contemporary contracts at All Hallows, Barking-by-the-Tower, London (Antony Duddyngton, 1519–20), and Holy Trinity, Coventry (John Howe and John Clynmowe, 1526). In large buildings instruments of this type seem usually to have been multiplied in number, but not in size. At Durham Cathedral before the Dissolution, according to one account, there were five organs in various parts of the building, of which at least one had pipes of wood, each with its specific role in the liturgy and in the cycle of the church year. The largest instruments of this period may have been based on a full-compass Diapason of 10' pitch, though the Principal 5' was still regarded as the unison. The use of a long chromatic keyboard is characteristic of English instruments; the provision of the low accidentals, at a time when mean-tone tuning was probably universal, may be explained by the English love of ornamentation in keyboard music.

From around 1570 there is widespread evidence from all parts of the British Isles that, as a result of Puritan opposition, organs were removed and destroyed. With the revival of a High Church party in the early 17th century, led by William Laud, organs were returned to the cathedrals and collegiate churches, but not, it seems, to the parishes. The great majority of these new instruments, like the Worcester Cathedral organ of 1613 (Table 16), were built by members of the Dallam family. Many were ‘double organs’, i.e. of two manuals, for which the genre of organ music that became known as ‘double Voluntary’ was developed.

The Civil War of 1642 onwards brought an end to this activity, and organs across the land were again dismantled. The Catholic Dallam family sought refuge in Brittany, where they continued to ply their trade, adapting completely to the local style. After the Restoration in 1660, organs were restored or newly built at first on exactly the same pattern as before the war. However, new foreign influences soon promoted the arrival of a new style, and a further wave of rebuilding and new commissions. The post-Restoration English organ was partly the result of rivalry between two organ-building factions. In the aftermath of the Fire of London in 1666 the city was opened to all craftsmen in order to speed the rebuilding. One who came was Bernard Smith (c1630–1708), an organ builder then resident in the Netherlands (although probably German in origin), later to become known in affectionate recognition as ‘Father’ Smith. He established himself and gained a royal connection in the early 1670s, much to the chagrin of his rivals, the remaining members of the Dallam family and their in-laws the Harrises. Smith and Renatus Harris (c1652–1724) made a public exhibition of their rivalry in 1683–8, both building new organs for the Temple Church in London, a contest that became known as the ‘Battle of the Organs’. Smith's instrument (Table 17) was judged the better; Harris’s organ was removed.

Smith went on to build the organ for Wren’s new St Paul’s Cathedral, completed in 1697. This also had three manuals, the Great organ descending to low C', 16' pitch. Pull-down pedals to the Great organ were added in 1720. The split keys, used by Smith at the Temple and at Durham Cathedral (1686), allowed for some remoter keys to be used without any compromise to the mean-tone tuning.

Despite Smith’s success, Harris was ultimately just as busy. His own instruments (e.g. that for St Bride’s, Fleet Street; Table 18) showed some influence from the Dallam-Harris clan’s period of exile in France, and, given the continental background of these rival builders, the question might be asked as to why they did not introduce the conventional European C-compass or even independent Pedal organs. In fact Smith was working in the Netherlands at a time when the independent Pedal was only just becoming a feature of the largest new organs, and the depth of Harris’s debt to France was surely tempered by the fact that he was only eight years old when the family returned to England in 1660.

In the end it was the Harris style that succeeded into the 18th century, through the work of Renatus’s son John Harris and associated craftsmen such as Richard Bridge and John Byfield (i) and (ii). The standard three-manual instrument of the period, with its long-compass Great organ and (now) Choir organ (disposed as a Chair in some cathedral and collegiate instruments, but otherwise normally placed behind the Great), was enlivened by the conversion of the old short-compass Echo (where the pipes were entombed in a box of some kind) into an expressive Swell organ by fitting a movable front (operated by a pedal at the console) on to the box enclosing the pipes. The first example of this was introduced by the two Abraham Jordans, father and son, in their instrument at St Magnus the Martyr, London Bridge, in 1712 (and may have been derived by them from earlier Iberian examples). Even the most fully developed large instruments followed this established pattern, simply supplying stops of familiar name and type in more extravagant numbers. In the instruments of Bridge (Table 19 and fig.39) and the Byfields a superficial resemblance to the French type remains, right down to the occasional use of wide principal scales for the mutation stops. However, it is clear that English national taste exercised itself vigorously in excluding any blatant sounds or gross pitches, the emphasis being rather on sweetness, delicacy, and the accuracy of the imitative registers (Trumpet, Hautboy, French Horn, Bassoon, Vox humana and Flute). The extempore players of the 18th century, performing voluntaries perhaps slightly more complex than those which survive in printed form for the large semi-amateur market, would have exploited these imitative effects to the full. The Swell divisions, originally fitted with sliding sash fronts, but by 1800 with ‘Venetian’ shutters after the pattern of the familiar window blind, enhanced the expressivity of these effects.

Registration followed conventional patterns. Solo stops (the reeds, Cornet and Flute) might be heard on their own. Otherwise the combinations referred to most frequently are ‘Diapasons’ (Open Diapason plus Stopped Diapason, used for slow introductory movements) and ‘Full Organ’ (all Great organ stops except the Cornet). The latter combination would be given an agreeable nasal twang by the Trumpets and Clarions, and by the provision of third-sounding Tierce ranks in the mixtures in addition to the usual unisons and Quints. During the 18th century organs such as this became universal in cathedrals, collegiate churches, and the parish churches of wealthier towns. In the cathedrals and colleges they accompanied the choir; in the parish churches they accompanied the congregation in singing metrical versions of the psalms and were used for extempore voluntaries before, during and after the service.

The market for new organs in the 18th century was vigorous and competitive, encouraging indigenous and immigrant craftsmen, including the Swiss-born John Snetzler (1710–85), who settled in London around 1740 and adapted completely to the local style. Considerable demand was also developing for small instruments for secular use. There had been a tradition of chamber organs in England since early times (see Chamber organ and Positive), and several examples of small organs, often with pipes entirely of wood, survive from the second half of the 17th century. There was a considerable revival of interest in the second half of the 18th century contemporary with (and perhaps because of) the great popularity of Handel, who seems regularly to have used small or even portable organs when playing continuo and for the performance of organ concertos as interludes to larger works.

Later 18th-century builders, notably members of the England family and Samuel Green, continued to refine the basic recipe, adding only the Dulciana (a delicate string-toned stop first used in Britain by Snetzler) to the range of available voices, and never exceeding the size of instrument established by their immediate forebears. The only expansion in range came in the occasional provision of pull-down pedals to the Great organ, in larger and later examples operating a single rank of unison Pedal pipes also.

The national taste for subtlety and delicacy meant that English organs gradually became softer and prettier in sound as the century progressed. The importance of the art of voicing had been demonstrated by the rivalry of Smith and Harris. The Englands and Samuel Green became obsessed with tonal beauty. When Green built a new organ for Salisbury Cathedral in 1792 (Table 20), the building was closed to visitors for two weeks so that he could attend to the tuning and voicing in near silence. Green also provided an organ for the Handel Commemoration festival of 1784, an enormous event held at the west end of Westminster Abbey. Hoping to address such new demands, Green’s successors attempted to build much larger organs in the years immediately following 1800, but still adhered to the insular recipe of the English classical organ type, until at last abandoning it in the 1840s in favour of the ‘German system’ of uniform C-compass keyboards and independent pedal organ.

Organ, §V: 1450–1800

9. The Baroque organ in the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America.

The organ of the Iberian peninsula has many special characteristics. Yet Baroque organs of Spain and Portugal differ in detail from area to area, and while the visual parts of such instruments were indigenous and individual, their musical characteristics are founded in common European traditions. In 1500 Spanish organs stood at much the same point as those of northern France, the Netherlands and northern Germany, having separable stops of varying colours and pitches, though being more likely to have but a single keyboard. The influences were Flemish rather than Italian – a Pedro Flamench (‘Peter the Fleming’) was at work in Barcelona in 1540 – and even the term ‘Fleutes’ for Principals (a later term was Flautado) was Flemish. Principals and Mixtures (Mixtura, Forniment, Simbalet) were the stop-changes or mutaciones available on the new big organs of 1550, as they had been earlier in the north, although positives were already showing an array of slider-stops, including regals, reeds and wooden flues. Evidently Flemish builders brought Chimney Flutes and Quintadenas with them, and by the 1550s new large organs of splendid proportions could be expected to have large-scaled reed stops. Often these reeds had colourful names: Trompetas naturals a la tudesca (‘German or Dutch trumpet stops with natural-length resonators’), Clarins de mar (‘trumpets of the sea’, as used for naval signals) or Clarins de galera, molt sonoroses (‘gallery trumpets, very sonorous’) at Lérida in 1554. Although none of these was horizontal, the terms are evocative and probably played their part in the later evolution of the remarkable Iberian reed stops.

Just as Flemish singers were called to Felipe II’s court chapel in Madrid, so Flemish organ builders were commissioned (notably members of the Brebos family), putting into practice their up-to-date ideas at El Escorial. The Brebos organ had a large Hoofdwerk of two chests and big flue and reed choruses, as well as flute mutations; the pedal was similarly a large modern department. But the only other manual was a Brustwerk (though one of 12 stops), and indeed Chair organs were never to become important in Spanish organ building, although the Cadireta (both interior and exterior) was later to become a common secondary division. Barcelona seems to have been a centre for northern European builders, but registrations left at the monastery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses in 1613 show the stops to have been used in a traditional or old-fashioned way, and during the 17th century emphasis shifted south and west.

Regals may have been the first reed stops to be placed horizontally in Iberian organs (in the manner later known by the French term En chamade), but in 1659 the builder Echevarría placed a full-length Trumpet (Clarin) horizontally in the façade of his organ in Alcalá de Henares, boasting that he was the first to do this. Placing reeds horizontally in the case front was convenient for sound (penetrating in big churches where the organ did not face the congregation), accessibility (for quick tuning), reliability (gathering little dust), economy (replacing cathedral trumpeters) and appearance (fig.40). But the documents rarely specify whether reeds were horizontal or not, just as documents before the end of the 18th century rarely specify whether or not ‘Eco’ chests or interior Trumpets and Cornets were placed in a box. Reeds were plentiful: in addition to the Clarins (‘mounted like cannons’ in the cornice), Echevarría’s organ contained Trompetas reales (‘of which there can be three kinds’), Dulzainas, Orlos (resembling ‘the guitar and harpsichord’ (zitara y clavicordio)), Trompeta mayor (‘a stop found in few other organs’), Bajoncillos (‘also newly invented’), Voz humanas and Angeles o Serafines (angel statues blowing trumpets). By 1750 a large organ would have a huge battery of reeds, vertical and horizontal, many kinds of chorus, large Swell departments and even a pedal rank or two. The well-known organ of Granada (fig.41) can be taken as an example; its stop-list is given inTable 21. No large Spanish organ can be called fully ‘typical’. As in Italy during the next century, the larger the organ, the greater the variety of solo stops; the large organ of Toledo (1796), however, shows no advance on the concept of smaller organs built nearly a century earlier.

A few registration guides for Spanish Baroque organs have been found. One, for an instrument made at Segovia Cathedral about 1770, suggests the few staple requirements organists made of these extravagant creations. They comprise French-style ‘dialogues’ (two-part pieces with mutation stops or reeds in each hand), regal solos (e.g. Dulzaina in either hand), half-stops for each hand on the same manual, echo effects and manual contrasts for two- or three-part music, flutes contrasted with reeds (perhaps for use in homophonic music), inner vertical reeds with outer horizontal trumpets, cornets and reeds 8', 4' or 8', 2' combined. Because organs of this period contained many halved stops (medio registro), the right hand could produce a line lower than that of the left hand, or one very much higher, and this feature characterizes much of the music of the time. The Echo box is also mentioned, not for swelling but to mute the effect of certain registrations. Pedals are ignored.

Over the whole period, the bellows of the Iberian organ were usually multifold and operated by hand. Wind pressure was low (c50–60 mm), though up to 90 mm on larger instruments. The chests were always slider-chests, usually divided into bass and treble, either between B and C (usual in the south) or C and C (usual in the north). As in French organs, the pallets are directly above the keys (suspended action). The chest layout is often very complicated, each group of stops set on channelled-off subsidiary chests, terraced at different heights, easy to tune and reach, and often some way removed from the pallet. Neither bellows nor trunks and channels allow the families of stops to be combined, but the rigidity of registration enabled builders to include helpful accessories like knee-operated ‘shifting movements’ to aid stop-changes. Secondary divisions are often placed on the floor of the main case (Cadireta interior) and operated by a sticker action; if there is a Chair organ (Cadireta exterior), the pallets are below and directly in line with the lower keyboard, and the channels pass below the closely placed organist’s seat. A middle manual may operate pallets of a pair of chests placed in the rear case-front of the organ, facing the side aisle. There are no manual couplers. Pedal keys are short, sometimes mushroom-shaped, usually encompassing eight or ten notes, as in Italian organs; there may be a rank of wooden pipes but most pedals are pulldowns, presumably for organ points and cadences. The hinged lid of the Echo box – known to contain a Cornet by about 1675 but including reeds by about 1710 – was raised by a pulley and rope operated by a pedal-lever that needed to be kept down if the lid was to remain open.

The scaling of the Principal is often narrow, the tone restrained; flutes are gentle, and Cornets expansive but thinner than the French. The quiet flutes contrast greatly with the reeds, which were designed to fill the spaces of a large Spanish church outside the immediate intimacy of the quire or coro over which the organ looms. Reeds and regals, and divided stops in general, encouraged solo music, and Correa de Arauxo’s Libro de tientos y discursos (1626) shows a matured technique of left- or right-hand solos, a technique similar in effect to other 17th-century dialogue music such as the English double voluntary and certain French pieces (Basse de trompette). The reeds also played chords, not only for the celebrated batallas (battle-pieces) but also for imposing intradas on feast days.

At Zaragoza (extant case dated 1443; fig.42) organs were already placed between the pillars of the quire of the church. It was probably this position that encouraged large flat façades bearing little resemblance to the inner construction of the organ itself, indeed often giving it the appearance of having more chest levels than it has. The amount of empty space within a Spanish organ absorbs strong partials in the plenum and helps to produce the mild quality of the flue choruses.

No account of the Iberian type of organ would be complete without some mention of its manifestations in the New World. Imported organs, at first small, are recorded in Mexico not long after the Conquest, before the midpoint of the 16th century; by the end of the 17th century there are numerous records of organs being both built and played by native Mexicans who had been taught by Spanish priests. In 1624 it was recorded that ‘no Augustinian church lacked an organ’, and that promising youths from each village were being sent to Mexico City at community expense to study music and organ playing. From this period to the late 19th century virtually all organs in Mexico were locally built. One notable exception is the large Epistle organ in Mexico City Cathedral, built in 1693 by Jorge de Sesma of Spain and first used in 1695. Its main manual has over 30 divided stops, with smaller Cadereta and Positivo divisions playable from the secondary manual. In 1734 José Nassarre, a Mexican who had already constructed a sizable organ in Guadalajara Cathedral, enlarged the Cadereta, and the following year he completed an organ of similar size on the Gospel side of the quire, which had an additional 27-note Recitativo enclosed in an expression box. Both organs have survived neglect and fire, and were restored in 1978 by the Flentrop firm. Many Mexican builders of the 17th century are anonymous, but in 1738 the first of several generations of Castros established a workshop in Puebla, and significant work of this family survives in the area. In 1786 Manuel Dávila was advertising that he built organs tuned in equal temperament, and in the early 19th century José Antonio Sanchez and Manuel Suárez were active in the Taxco area. Even at the end of the 19th century, Mexican-built organs were conservative in nature, generally following the 18th-century Iberian pattern of a single-manual instrument with treble and bass stops, housed in ornate casework often of considerable artistic distinction. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the decline of the Mexican organ-building school and increased importation of German, Italian and, to a lesser extent, American and French instruments. Many native Mexican organs were allowed to go to ruin, but since the restoration of the Mexico City Cathedral organs funds have been made available through the Patrimonio and private foundations to make possible the restoration of a number of significant instruments. Although Mexican organs became well documented and studied in the final decades of the 20th century, little is still known about those elsewhere in Latin America other than that significant numbers of older organs have been reported, especially in Peru.

Organ, §V: 1450–1800

10. The 18th-century Italian organ.

The essentials of the Brescian classical organ were established by 1575 at the latest: large, shallow cases (somewhat altar-like in shape, open-spaced above the pipes), with one chest at the level of the case pipes (spring-chest, mortised with well-spaced channels often of equal size), and multifold bellows and low wind pressure. The compass would rise to a'' or c''', with all but case pipes of metal with a high lead content (thick-walled, principals relatively narrow in the bass, flutes wider with smaller mouths) and completely separate ranks (the upper of which break back an octave at regular intervals). The tuning would be some form of mean-tone temperament, but the general pitch level would vary from organ to organ (‘come si vuole’, as Antegnati remarked), as indeed it did throughout Europe. Sometimes there was an octave or so of pedal pulldowns (short keys sloping up slightly; ‘pedali a leggio’), and occasionally after about 1600 with thin-walled wooden Pedal Principals. Registration was standardized, and each combination suggested to the player a certain modal style to be played at a certain moment of the Mass (e.g. ‘Voce umana’ for the Elevation), as set forth by Banchieri (L’organo suonarino, 1605) and others.

Italian builders and organists remained faithful to these ideas, modifying them gradually but leaving them recognizable even in the large organs of the 1850s. Yet it could be that historians have overemphasized the Brescian organ, for each city or region had its own version of the general plan. The Flemish builder Vincenzo Quemar had already introduced stopped pipes (Flute 22/3'), Chimney Flute (2'), conical flute (12/3'), reeds (Tromboni 8') and regals (Voce umana 4') at Orvieto Cathedral by 1600, as well as a Tremulant and an aviary of toy stops. Less than a century later, another German (the Silesian Eugen Casparini) was introducing Mixtures and even Cornets in organs of the Tyrol, as well as confirming the trend towards the German-French C–c''' compass, and the Fleming Willem Hermans had a strong influence in Tuscany. But indirect Italian influences appear to have been strong elsewhere early in the 17th century, notably in Provence and Jesuit Poland (conventual churches). Second manuals remained the exception, and the one made by the Dalmatian builder Pietro Nacchini for S Antonio, Padua, in 1743–9 presented a character little different from that of S Maria in Aracoeli, Rome, in 1587: I Ripieno, Voce umana, two flutes, Tierce, regal; II Ripieno, Voce umana, one flute, Tierce, regal; Pedal 16'. As builders began collecting the upper Ripieno ranks on to one slider, a Mixture resulted that was not so different from a French Fourniture cymbalisée. A particular taste grew during the 18th century for Tierce or (as they were called) Cornetto ranks, but these had already been included in some two-manual registrations written down in Rome in 1666. Moreover, during the 18th century large, experimental organs were built on special commission, spreading new ideas from Bergamo to Sicily. Toy stops remained an important element in Italian organs. Although rivalry with the fine organs ‘at Marseilles, Trent and Hamburg’ may have been the motive behind the five-manual organ at S Stefano dei Cavalieri, Pisa (Azzolino Bernardino Della Ciaia, 1733–7), and elsewhere, the result was peculiarly unlike any of them. The 1730s may have seen a parting of the ways when builders throughout Europe were developing techniques beyond musical requirements; but the five-manual, three-console, 55-stop organ at Catania, Sicily (Duomo del Piano, 1755), though admired and even copied in the next century, was little more than an accumulation of several classical Italian organs, collected together, and it was decidedly atypical. The effect of Spanish rule on the Kingdom of Naples has yet to be explored from the point of view of organ building, but it seems doubtful whether Spanish influences ever went further east than the Balearics.

A characteristic and influential organ type of the later 18th century was the Venetian, brought to fruition by Nacchini and his pupil and successor Gaetano Callido. The Callido firm built hundreds of single-manual organs and many with two manuals (the pipes of the second being enclosed in an expression box from about 1785), all of excellent workmanship and summing up many of the 17th- and 18th-century trends, discarding the more extravagant elements, giving their organs a velvety, vocal tone far removed from Antegnati; indeed, in their wide-scaled Principals they influenced many a so-called Italienisch Prinzipal in modern German organs. The stop-list of an instrument by Callido is given inTable 22; for ease of tuning, the regal (Tromboncini) stops were placed in front, standing vertically before the Principale (as they did in other Italian organs of the period). Registrations provided by Callido elsewhere show orchestral imitations to have been important to organists of the period; there is no subtle play of two manuals, and in general swell shutters seem to have been used either quite open or quite closed, rather than expressively.

Research by Umberto Pineschi during the last two decades of the 20th century into the important Tuscan school and the influence of Willem Hermans thereon, together with the work of the state-sponsored restoration workshops at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, has added to the knowledge of the Italian organ and to the preservation of its heritage.

Organ, §V: 1450–1800

11. The organ of J.S. Bach.

In many ways the organs of Bach’s main area of activity, Thuringia, Weimar and Leipzig, showed the same kind of influences as his music: a basic German traditionalism tempered with French colour and Italian fluency. Neither the organ nor the music was as local in origin or as independent of other regional ideas as was usually the case elsewhere, even in the mid-18th century. Bach himself is known to have been well acquainted with organ music of many countries and periods, as were such contemporaries as J.G. Walther; later colleagues, however, seem in some respects to have had less wide knowledge. C.P.E. Bach’s remark that his father registered stops ‘in his own manner’, ‘astounding’ other organists, might conceivably refer to either a French or a 17th-century north German approach to stop-combination, one not known to players of the younger generation, who thought that ‘the art died with him’; however, one must be careful not to read too much into this remark. On the other hand, J.S. Bach is said to have complained that Gottfried Silbermann’s mixtures were ‘over-weak’, with ‘not enough sharp penetration’, which might suggest that he did not appreciate that Silbermann’s French plein jeu was different in function from a north German organo pleno, being one of the many colours rather than a total chorus. Moreover, the period in which Bach worked was one of a changing aesthetic for organs, when the large west-end organ became increasingly associated with congregational hymn singing, requiring big chests, large bellows capacity, many 8' stops (including those of string tone), a powerful 16' pedal tone for ‘gravity’ and a range of sound characterized more by extremes of loud and soft than by a full array of equal, piquant colours.

Apart from the qualities of his music, then, the position of Bach in organ history is important, and can serve to show some of the currents affecting the flow of German organ music. In the course of two centuries, the area between Hanover and Breslau produced great builders (the Fritzsche and Compenius families, Casparini, Silbermann, Joachim Wagner, Engler, Hildebrandt, Trost and Schulze) and some even more influential theorists (Praetorius, Werckmeister, Adlung, Agricola, Marpurg, Sorge, Knecht, Seidel and Töpfer). Its composers included many who travelled to hear and see great organ traditions elsewhere (for example Bach, who went to Lübeck to hear Buxtehude and to Hamburg to prove his ability on a Schnitger organ) or who settled down in another part of Germany and formed schools of keyboard playing around them (Froberger, Pachelbel, C.P.E. Bach). Many details of the stop-lists of J.S. Bach’s organs at Arnstadt (1703–7), Mühlhausen (1707–8) and Weimar (1708–17) remain unclear, as do larger matters of registration and tonal effect; but fine restorations during the 20th century of organs by Trost and other builders contemporary with Bach, along with the increased accessibility of Thuringia and Saxony since 1989, has helped considerably in the understanding of these matters and in the dispelling of many Orgelbewegung misconceptions. The Arnstadt organ (Table 23) can be taken as typical, one known by the Pachelbel school as well as Bach’s family. The particular kind of second manual on this instrument, the pedal department, and the range of 8' manual colours had long been traditional in this part of Germany, and in style the Weimar court chapel organ followed much the same patterns.


Bonifaciuskirche, Arnstadt

J.F.Wender, 1703

Hauptwerk (Oberwerk)








Hohlflöte** (g-d''')


Viola da gamba













Quinte* (open)






















Violon Bass


Prinzipal Bass




Compass: CDE-d'-d'''

Couplers: Hauptwerk to Pedal; (? Brustwerk to Pedal, Brustwerk

to Hauptwerk); (? Hauptwerk to Pedal coupler stop later addition)

Two tuned Zimbelsterne (Glockenaccord, ?1703)

Tremulant (Hauptwerk)

* pitch length uncertain

** compass and manual uncertain

Larger church organs began to allow for new attitudes towards the plenum. When Bach was a student in Lüneburg in 1700 or visited Lübeck in 1706 organists there would not have ‘mixed the families’ of organ stops by drawing more than one rank of any given pitch even on the larger organs. As Werckmeister had written in 1698, organists should not draw two stops of the same pitch, because wind-supply and tuning problems would prevent them from being fully in tune together; but by 1721, shortly after Bach’s visit to Hamburg, Mattheson was suggesting an organo pleno of all stops except reeds – Principals, Bourdons, Salicionals, Flutes, Quintatöne, Octaves, Fifths, Mixtures, Tierce, Sesquialteras etc. The significance of any remark made by Mattheson, or its precise meaning, is often a matter of conjecture, but after the midpoint of the century Adlung and Agricola both seem to have supported the idea of mixed stops. Adlung thought that good modern bellows ought to allow an organist to draw Manual Prinzipal 8' + Gedackt 8' + Gemshorn 8' + Rohrflöte 8' with Pedal Contrabass 32' + Posaune 32' + Sub-Bass 16' + Violon 16' + Posaune 16' + Oktave 8' + Gedackt 8'; and composers such as Gronau drew Prinzipal 8' + Flute 8' + Oktave 4' + Flute 4' + Salicet 4' + Trompete 8' + Oboe 8' to bring out the melody of an organ chorale. Thus, during Bach’s lifetime, ideas about what constituted Full organ were in the process of changing, as were ideas about the number, kind and use of solo stops and combinations, as illustrated in Kauffmann’s Harmonische Seelenlust of 1733–6.

In Lüneburg, Lübeck and Hamburg Bach would have heard organs with Rückpositive, but after about 1710 such divisions were rare in new instruments of his own area and further south; some cities had not known them since about 1650. The Rückpositiv at Mühlhausen already had a stop-list ( quite different from the bright, colourful manual of Dutch and French organs, and, where gallery space was sufficient, builders preferred to hold such second-manual chests within the Great case, usually above the Great. The resulting Oberwerk was thus different in origin from that of Niehoff and Schnitger. At the same time pedals became progressively less able to provide solo colour for cantus firmus music, itself a dying genre; and organs took on a stereotyped character that varied only if the builder was sensitive to different voicing and scalings demanded by different church acoustics.

The privileged organ builder to the court of Saxony was Gottfried Silbermann, a native of Saxony who was apprenticed to his elder brother Andreas in Alsace and returned to make the friendship of such composers as Kuhnau and Bach. Silbermann’s early organ in Freiberg Cathedral, Lower Saxony (1710–14; now restored), already demonstrated many of these developments Table 24). Here was not a mass of clumsy auxiliary stops but a unique blend of Saxon and Alsatian-French elements, full of well-thought-out balance between the three manuals, and implying a mode of registration needing to be learnt carefully by the organist. Silbermann’s voicing is strong, particularly of the Principals; his smaller village organs have great power and energy. Wind pressure (as in Joachim Wagner’s organs) was c94 mm (manuals) and c104 mm (pedals) in later organs, about 10 mm higher than that of good large organs of about 1700.

There is little direct connection between any of Bach’s organ music and such instruments as that at Freiberg; but were the Trio Sonatas, for instance, known to the organist of such a church, he may well have drawn for lively movements the combination of stops noted by the local priest as having been recommended for Silbermann’s Fraureuth organ (1739–42) for jeu de tierce en dialogue (called Tertien-Zug zweystimmig): right hand Prinzipal 8' + Rohrflöte 8' + Oktave 4' + Quinte 22/3' + Prinzipal 2' + Tierce 13/5'; left hand Gedackt 8' + Rohrflöte 4' + Nasard 22/3' + Oktave 2' + Quinte 11/3' + Sifflöte 1'; and Pedal Sub-Bass 16' + Posaune 16'. Given a free choice, as he may have been in the design for Hildebrandt’s large organ at St Wenzel, Naumburg (1743–6; restored in the 1990s), Bach might well have chosen to combine the features of several organ types: three manuals including Rückpositiv, 53 stops including Cornet and solo pedal stops, and each manual designed as an entity with its own auxiliary stops (Viola, Fugara, Gamba, Unda maris, Weitpfeife, Spillflöte etc.). As in all organs frequently played by Bach, Naumburg had several string-toned stops, either narrow cylindrical or conical, and various sources, including Bach himself, suggest that they were used not only in chorale preludes, but in continuo work. Tierce ranks, alone or as constituents of the Sesquialtera-Cornet, were indispensable for solo melodic lines in an organ chorale. Manual reeds were never numerous (even at Naumburg they accounted for less than 10% of the manual stops) and were, except Vox humana and Krummhorn, for chorus purposes, although pedal reeds at 16', 8' or both are found even in organs of moderate size. The Mixtures at Naumburg were more in the bright German tradition than Silbermann’s pleins jeux, and the pedal reeds (32', 16', 8', 4') had something of Silbermann’s élan. A contemporary critic of one of Hildebrandt’s organs in Dresden thought its tone dull and heavy, owing to increased wind pressure, higher cut-ups, and new voicing methods in general which spoilt the Praetorian ‘Lieblichkeit der Harmonie’. But such factors were characteristic of the new mode of the 1730s and 1740s in general, and ‘gravity’ in an organ was praised by Bach and others.

In view of the cross-currents in German organ design from 1700 to 1750, it is not surprising that Bach should have left only a few registrations, and those only of a general nature. The published Schübler chorale preludes (c1746) make it clear whether the pedal is a 16' quasi-continuo bass line or a 4' cantus firmus melody line, but they do not specify colour. The manual Prinzipal 8' and pedal Trompete 8' registered in the autograph manuscript of the Orgelbüchlein prelude bwv600 are there as much to indicate that the canonic voices are to sound an octave apart as to suggest actual stops to be drawn. For a concerto or a prelude and fugue it is rarely clear on whose authority the manuals (and particularly the manual changes) have been specified in the manuscript copies. The subject is thus open to many solutions and suggestions. But on no single organ that Bach is known to have played would all his organ music have sounded at its best or been given a registration suitable to its carefully conceived style and genre.

Organ, §V: 1450–1800

12. Splendours of Europe, 1650–1800.

Between 1725 and 1750 a large number of important organs were built: the great organs of Haarlem, Gouda, Weingarten, Herzogenburg, Naumburg, Dresden, Breslau, Potsdam, Uppsala, Catania, Pisa, Tours, Paris (Notre Dame), Granada and Braga. All these and many other organs of their type were designed both to fill their churches with big sound and to tickle the ear with delicate effects. Neither purpose was known to the 16th-century builder. The very tendency to build organs exclusively at the west end of the church pinpoints this move towards extremes of sound, for apart from the large conventual churches, and larger French parish churches, the new west-end organ was the only instrument in the building, especially in Protestant countries, where the need for a smaller auxiliary organ in the liturgy had largely disappeared and choirs, if any, occupied the west gallery. The generation of builders who produced the even bigger, later organs of the 18th century (Toledo, Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, Hamburg Michaeliskirche, Rostock Marienkirche, Arnhem, Nijmegen, Amorbach, St Florian and Oliwa) or theorists who planned yet bigger ones (Vogt, B1719, and Bédos de Celles, B1766–78) were mostly seeking to exploit the same extremes.

Earlier, however, characteristic national developments had frequently resulted in organs which, though conceived within classical limits and not, as it were, stepping outside idiomatic, traditional usage, nonetheless had greater potential than their composers seem to have been aware of, although improvisation was widely practised, an art of which we have little concrete knowledge in this period. Thus the problem with organs of 1650 to 1750 is to know for certain what they were meant to play and how they were meant to sound, whereas the problem with organs of 1750 to 1850 is that the music for which they were built, often with great ingenuity and unsurpassed technical skill, may be difficult to admire.

Two good examples of the northern organ about 1650 are at Klosterneuburg and Alkmaar; both retain many features of their originals in spite of extensive rebuilding. Much is still unknown, however, of the detail of the originals, and it is necessary to rely on the stop-lists, given in Table 25. At Klosterneuburg neither the Brustwerk nor even the Rückpositiv competes with the main chest (Hauptwerk and Pedal), either in sound or in appearance. The Hauptwerk dominates the ensemble, in the true 16th-century tradition of central Europe; perhaps it, not the pedal, was originally meant to take the 16' pipes in the case. The instrument should be seen not so much as a three-manual organ but as a group of three independent organs: Hauptwerk for postludes etc., Rückpositiv for interludes, solos and major accompaniments, Brustwerk for continuo. It is uncertain whether the organ originally had manual reeds, other than the Regal; but mutations are also few, and colours were obtained by a variety of 8' and 4' ranks. 8' colour stops were becoming very popular throughout the area Vienna–Ulm–Prague–Vienna, and on paper the main chests of such organs often appear misleadingly large. 14 out of 28 stops at the Týn Church, Prague (J.H. Mundt, 1671–3), were on the Hauptwerk,, but four of the 8' stops were colour changes, not chorus ranks. Salicional 8', Viola 8' and similar stops were characteristic of late 17th-century Habsburg Europe; Salicet 4', Fugara 4' and Dulciana 4' were common by the early 18th century; and reeds, except a pedal rank or two, gradually disappeared. Theorists like the Cistercian writer Vogt (B1719) emphasized 8' colour stops; and for such registration rules as those given by J.B. Samber (Manuductio ad organum, i, Salzburg, 1704), the conical Viola 8' was useful in many varied combinations: continuo playing, Viola 8'; fantasias, Viola 8' + Flöte 4'; fugues, Viola 8' + Mixtur III; versets, Viola 8' + Zimbel II.

Soon after the organ at Klosterneuburg, organ cases in the area became divided into a kind of Habsburg equivalent of the Werkprinzip design, with one case for the Hauptwerk, one for the Pedal and one for an Echo chest (Waldhausen, 1677). Such division led over the years to a rigorously applied design followed by most Austrian organs of the mid-18th century, with a half-case to one side of the west-end gallery (Hauptwerk), a second half-case to the other (Pedal) and a Rückpositiv in front, the total gallery being spacious enough to accommodate a considerable choir and orchestra for the Mass on feast days. By 1740 or so, the keyboards would be placed (in the form of a detached console) in a commanding position on the gallery floor, and the various parts of the case strewn around the west-end windows, as in the large monastery organs of Ochsenhausen, near Biberach, or Weingarten. In theory such an arrangement might encourage idiomatic, two-chorus organ music of the north German type, but in practice it did not.

Little is known about the music played on the great series of Dutch organs built between the death of Sweelinck (1621) and the vogue for Bach’s music two centuries later. But the array of mutations and flute and reed colours on the Laurentskerk instrument at Alkmaar would have made possible an immense variety in the settings of, and variations on, psalm tunes (probably improvised, as they are today). In the 1685 rebuild the Hauptwerk chest had to be lowered (fig.43), perhaps because by then the organist wished to be able to accompany the congregation during hymns (but such accompaniment was then still new). It is clear how the Alkmaar organ developed from the Brabant organ of Niehoff with its limited pedal, big Hauptwerk chorus, 8' Rückpositiv used for solo effects, and a quasi-Oberwerk (here placed below the main chest, however) with stops found on the main manual of other European organs. According to John Evelyn’s diary, such Dutch organs were used ‘only for show and to recreate the people before and after their Devotions, while the Burgomasters were walking and conferring about their affairs’. By association, then, the organs were secular, often indeed owned by the town council, who saw such magnificent creations as objects of rivalry. Hence the building of the organ at St Bavo, Haarlem, by Christian Müller (1735–8) is to be seen as a sign of competition with Zwolle (Grote Kerk; new organ by Schnitger’s sons, 1718–21), Alkmaar (rebuilt 1723–6), Amsterdam (Oude Kerk; Christian Vater, 1724–6), Gouda (Jean Moreau, 1733–6) and elsewhere. Moreau was from the south; but Müller, Vater and F.C. Schnitger were German, and from then the Dutch organ was dominated by German builders who imported new ideas (big pedals from Hamburg, heavy voicing from Westphalia), added them to Dutch features, and produced large, powerful instruments, but unfortunately often without either German brilliance or French éclat (thin reed trebles and a Cornet designed to outline the psalm-tune melody rather than to function in a grand jeu). Marcussen mistakenly tried to ‘correct’ the organ at Haarlem in 1961 with new pedal Mixtures and a new Great Mixture which attempted to convert the 16' to an 8' chorus and which was reversed in the 1980s. Although such tonal matters are subjective, the cases themselves can be more clearly seen to have lost their native Dutch characteristics, particularly the well-featured, classical designs of the 17th century, and to have begun to sprawl. It is true that, at Haarlem, Müller and his architect kept the traditional vertical emphasis and other essential details in the arrangement of towers and flats; but even there the classical pediment surmounting the best old Dutch cases gave way to an unstructural, Baroque coat-of-arms (fig.44).

Although the condition of the organs at Weingarten and Haarlem is nothing like as authentic as their fame leads admirers to assume, they do serve on paper (Table 26) as useful examples of their ‘schools’, being at once both traditional and exceptional, both formative and unapproachably ‘ideal’. The details of the Weingarten organ – the bells, the cherrywood stops, the ivory pipes, the doubled ranks, the undulating stops, the big Mixtures, the complex action – require a book to themselves, and it could be that a first-rate restoration of the instrument would fill out its tone. Nevertheless, the principles behind its dispensing of organ colours can be seen, and Gabler’s little quire organ in the same church contained an even clearer indication of his passion for 8' and 4' colour stops. Some writers have described the west-end organ as a ‘Rococo-Gothic conception’, but it is more like a southern European grotto organ. Three echo-like divisions (Oberwerk, Unterwerk, Kronpositiv) are bound to lead to a mocking of true organ tone, however logical an extension it may have been of current ideas in south Germany as a whole. Only the two Rückpositive offer well-balanced effects in the idiomatic north German manner; yet to an 18th-century organist visiting Weingarten after Salzburg Cathedral (organ by J.C. Egedacher, 1703–6) such Rückpositive must have seemed conservative and slightly puzzling. The original mechanical action must have been very troublesome to make, since even in this sprawling and unique case (fig.45) only eight of all the case pipes do not speak; clearly the detached console was the only practical arrangement. The influence of the whole instrument was wide and long-lasting; theory books (e.g. HawkinsH; Bédos de Celles, B1766–78) gave it notoriety, and it held a significant position between the colourful Renaissance organ of south Germany and the large factory organs of the 1830s.

Swabia also saw a remarkably good compromise organ during the 1760s: the larger instrument at Ottobeuren, built by K.J. Riepp (1761–8), incorporated French elements (learnt by its builder in Burgundy) and German ones (learnt in the vicinity of Lake Constance). Most major organs in both parish and conventual churches in Switzerland, Württemberg and Bavaria had such a mingling of organ cultures as to create distinct styles of their own; but the one at Ottobeuren was a simple amalgam. All the classical French registrations were possible on it, but so were German pedal music and hymn variations, from the evidence of its stop-list.

Such composite schemes were curiously rare in the 18th century. It was more characteristic of organ building in general that even adjacent areas (e.g. Carinthia and Veneto, or Saxony and Bohemia) had totally different organs, as if builders of one area or religious denomination were thoroughly opposed to the ideals of their neighbours. Some of the major religious orders, particularly the Cistercian and Augustinian, had something of an international style crossing political frontiers, but even this kind of uniformity was not conspicuous. It was regional style that carried the day, giving the organ at Klosterneuburg, for example, great influence over the one built nearby a century later by a foreign builder well versed in other organ types (Augustinerstift, Herzogenburg; J. Henke, 1747–52). It may well have been such provincialism, however, that helped to produce the good, conservative designs (Amorbach; Rot an der Rot), the late flowers of Baroque organ art that were able to resist the extremes of fashion.

The large organs of the late 18th century were individually distinctive, keeping regional characteristics despite the availability to organists of many printed sources of music from other countries. The Michaeliskirche in Hamburg had a 70-stop, three-manual organ by J.G. Hildebrandt (son of Silbermann’s pupil Zacharias Hildebrandt); although he took with him many Saxon colours (Cornet, Unda maris, Chalumeau etc.) and followed contemporary ideas common to many regions (no Rückpositiv, thickening Quints etc), the instrument remained a Hamburg organ, more complete and comprehensive than an organ could have been anywhere else. The massive case (for which Burney did not care) has an appearance that anticipated the 19th-century; the stop-list (Table 27) is typical of a large organ, but many writers who heard the instrument commented on its ‘noble power’, described by Burney as ‘more striking by its force and the richness of the harmony than by a clear and distinct melody’. Yet the organ was no mere sacrifice to fashion, which was then rather geared to imitations of orchestral families, of wind concertos, and the like. Theorists like Hess and Knecht encouraged particular imitations of string stops and in general helped to deceive organists into thinking they could duplicate orchestral effects. So did G.J. Vogler, who typifies the less reputable side of late 18th-century organ playing, and whose bizarre organ-concert programmes sometimes proved irresistible to popular audiences in large cities from London to Vienna. Vogler’sSimplification system, however, has received more attention than it merits historically, for the development of the organ would probably have been little different without him. More important was the impasse brought about at the end of the century by the technical perfection of the late Baroque organ. Quite apart from the Napoleonic disruption, the organ historian must feel that the multiplied colour stops of St Florian and Oliwa monastic churches (1770s), the reeds of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, Poitiers and Toledo, and the choruses of Hamburg and Rostock parish churches, all pushed the classical organ as far as it would go. A total rethinking was necessary early in the next century.

Organ, §V: 1450–1800

13. Organs in the Americas.

The first organs in the Americas were brought from Spain to Central America by Franciscan and Dominican missionaries in the mid-16th century. During the 17th century the use of organs – both imported and locally built – was widespread throughout Spanish colonial America: 17 small organs are reported as being in use in 1630 in what is now New Mexico. (See §V, 9, above.) By the early 19th century small organs were used in most mission outposts, including some in present-day California. In the northern French colonies, there was a church organ at Quebec City as early as 1657, and between 1698 and 1705 a two-manual organ was imported for Notre Dame, Montreal.

The first documented use of an organ in a church in the British or German colonies of the eastern seaboard dates from 1703. A small German religious colony had settled near Philadelphia in 1694, apparently bringing with it a small positive organ, and this was lent in 1703 for use at a Lutheran ordination ceremony in the ‘Old Swede’s’ Church, Philadelphia. In 1713 a four-stop chamber organ of the ‘Father’ Smith school was placed in King’s Chapel, Boston; it was mentioned as early as 1708 in connection with its original owner, Thomas Brattle, by the diarist Samuel Sewall, and it may have been imported before 1700.

English organs, including some significant examples of the work of Bridge, Jordan, Green, England and Snetzler, continued to be imported in increasing numbers to the eastern coastal colonies during the rest of the 18th century. The first person known to have built an organ in the colonies was Johann Gottlob Klemm, a Saxon who emigrated in 1733 and who built several organs, the largest of them a three-manual instrument completed for Trinity Church, New York, in 1741. His work was carried on by his apprentice, David Tannenberg, who built more than 40 organs between 1758 and his death in 1804, many for Moravian churches in a small area of Pennsylvania (fig.46). His largest instrument, however, was built in 1790 for Zion Lutheran Church in Philadelphia. Other German-born builders, notably Philip Feyring, were active around Philadelphia during the late 18th century.

Tannenberg’s work reflected the influence of the central German school, as transmitted by Klemm, but he also kept pace with newer European developments and was familiar with the writings of the theorist G.A. Sorge. Following in his footsteps were Conrad Doll and several generations of the Krauss and Dieffenbach families, who, culturally removed from the urban mainstream of East Coast organ building, continued to produce small organs in the ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’ tradition for rural churches well past 1850.

Puritan (Calvinist) objections to the use of instruments in worship prevailed throughout the northern colonies until the last decade of the 18th century, so that most of the early church organs were built for the Anglicans, Lutherans and Moravians. There is also evidence for a number of domestic chamber organs in this period. Most organs (of all types) were still imported, but after the mid-18th century a few American-built instruments began to appear in the colonies north of Pennsylvania.

The first true organ builder in Boston was Thomas Johnston, who, beginning about 1753, built a small number of church and chamber organs modelled after imported English instruments. Among his followers were Josiah Leavitt and Henry Pratt, both of whom built several small church and chamber organs, primarily for rural churches west and north of Boston. The prejudice against instruments began to break down in churches of the Puritan tradition by the 1790s, creating a new demand for church organs that was largely met by American builders.

These early New England builders were essentially self-taught and supported themselves only partly through organ building. New York and Philadelphia, however, attracted some English-trained builders during the final years of the 18th century. One of the earliest to arrive was Charles Tawse, who in 1786 advertised himself as a builder of ‘finger and barrel organs’ in New York. He later moved to Philadelphia, where he was joined in 1795 by John Lowe, trained in the workshop of Gray of London. The most notable emigrant, however, was John Geib, who shortly after his arrival in New York around 1798 built several substantial church organs, most of them for New York, although some went to other cities including Providence, Rhode Island.


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