Oakeley, Sir Herbert (Stanley)

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Organ music.

See Keyboard music, §§I–II.

Órgano, canto de.

See Canto de órgano.

Organochordium [organochordon].

A type of Claviorgan built in 1782–9 by the Danish organ builder Kirschnigk and developed by G.J. Vogler, with Rackwitz of Stockholm. See also Reed organ, §1.


(Ger. Instrumentenkunde).

The study of musical instruments in terms of their history and social function, design, construction and relation to performance. Organology has interested scholars since at least as early as the 17th century. Praetorius, in his Syntagma musicum ii (1618) provided an important section on instruments, including some non-Western types, with realistic illustrations drawn to scale (Theatrum instrumentorum, 1620). Other technical discussions appear in the encyclopedic works of Mersenne (1636) and Kircher (1650). Modern organologists and reproducers of historical instruments (who might be called ‘applied organologists’) have benefited from the observations of such early scholars, particularly in cases where well-preserved original instruments are rare or nonexistent. In addition to providing practical information useful to performers and instrument makers, organologists seek to elucidate the complex, ever-changing relationships among musical style, performing practices and evolution of instruments worldwide. This study involves authenticating and dating old instruments by scientific means, discerning the methods by which instruments of different cultures have been designed and produced and investigating the many extra-musical influences – such as advances in technology and changing economic conditions – that lead to innovation and obsolescence. The symbolism and folklore of instruments are subjects that organology shares with music iconography and ethnomusicology.

Since the late 18th century, interest in instruments of all kinds has served an ethnomusicological purpose by providing a common avenue of approach to the music of diverse cultures. Guillaume André Villoteau (1759–1839) made the first scientific study of ancient Egyptian music largely on the basis of depictions of instruments in tombs and temples; later archaeological discoveries of actual if fragmentary Egyptian instruments allowed his conclusions to be refined and corrected. Organology as an academic discipline came into its own after the 19th-century development of large, permanent instrument collections in Europe and the USA. Once these repositories were established, organologists, who were often also museum curators, confronted the challenges of comprehensive classification and description. Curt Sachs's Real-Lexikon der Musikinstrumente (1913), a pioneering effort to systematize knowledge of instruments on a worldwide basis, and the widely-adopted classificatory scheme devised jointly by Sachs and Erich von Hornbostel were based on Victor-Charles Mahillon's research on instruments collected at the Brussels Conservatory beginning in the 1870s. Nicholas Bessaraboff, who in 1941 introduced the term ‘organology’ in the sense used here, applied a classification derived from Francis W. Galpin's (1910, 1937) to the collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The study of instruments per se became an important resource for comparative musicology (e.g. Hornbostel's adducing of panpipe tunings as evidence of a cultural connection between Brazil and Polynesia), but ethnomusicologists have tended to subordinate a purely object-oriented approach to a broader consideration of instruments' musical and social contexts. Especially in traditional and non-literate cultures, the shapes, materials, and decoration of instruments, no less than their sounds, convey meaning essential to their functions; seeking to understand these features, organologists might collaborate in field research with ethnologists and native informants. Efforts to interpret ancient and prehistoric sound-producing implements have thus far usually proved inconclusive or unconvincing, in part because of the difficulty of faithfully reconstructing scattered fragmentary remains. Since primitive noisemakers often served multiple purposes, the sonic function of an excavated artefact might even go unrecognized.

Recent studies of Western instruments have produced important, though sometimes controversial, results in such matters as pitch and tuning, historically appropriate string materials and the origin and dissemination of various instrument types. Technological advances, for example, in dendrochronology (the comparative study of the annual growth rings in timber and in ancient trees in order to fix dates in the past) and computer-assisted tomography (the use of scanning techniques to obtain a detailed image of a particular section or plane, of or within a solid structure or body), have broadened the scope of organological investigation and helped raise standards of connoisseurship. During the last quarter of the 20th century, John Koster and G. Grant O'Brien contributed valuable new information concerning the construction and uses of early stringed keyboard instruments, and Peter Williams explicated the obscure history of organs. Karel Moens raised fundamental questions about the authentication of antique bowed string instruments, while Herbert Heyde, a specialist in the development of woodwinds and brasses, demonstrated the relevance of geometric proportional schemes and local units of measure to instrument design. Studies such as these depend on close examination of extant instruments and primary documentary sources, including treatises, patent claims and musical compositions, as well as iconographic evidence. One striking conclusion to emerge from analysis of a wide range of data is that, contrary to common belief, major advances in instrument design often precede rather than result from musical style shifts, as innovative instrument makers, responding to general market conditions, introduce novel types having expressive potentials that might take generations for musicians to explore. The history of the piano and of the saxophone exemplify instances where, so to speak, the medium anticipated the message. Observations such as this demonstrate the power of organology to shift perceptions of music history.

See also Instruments and technology; Instruments, classification of; and Instruments, conservation, restoration, copying of.


C. Sachs: Real-Lexikon der Musikinstrumente (Berlin, 1913/R, 2/1964)

E.M. von Hornbostel and C. Sachs: ‘Systematik der Musikinstrumente’, Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, xlvi (1914), 553–90; Eng. trans. in GSJ, xiv (1961), 3–29 [trans. repr. in Ethnomusicology: an Introduction, ed. H. Myers (London, 1992), 444–61]

N. Bessaraboff: Ancient European Musical Instruments: an Organological Study (Boston, 1941, 2/1964)

P. Williams: A New History of the Organ from the Greeks to the Present Day (London, 1980)

J.H. van der Meer: Musikinstrument: von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart (Munich, 1983)

H. Heyde: Musikinstrumentenbau 15. - 19. Jahrhundert: Kunst-Handwerk-Entwurf (Wiesbaden, 1986)

G. O'Brien: Ruckers: a Harpsichord and Virginal Building Tradition (Cambridge, 1990)

J. Koster: Keyboard Musical Instruments in the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, 1994)


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