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[[File:|thumb|right|300px|The pipe organ in Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois, Paris.[1]]]

The pipe organ is a musical instrument that produces sound by driving pressurized air (called wind) through pipes selected via a keyboard. Because each organ pipe produces a single pitch, the pipes are provided in sets called ranks, each of which has a common timbre and loudness throughout the keyboard compass. Most organs have multiple ranks of pipes of differing timbre, pitch and loudness that the player can employ singly or in combination through the use of controls called stops.

A pipe organ may have one or several keyboards (called manuals) played by the hands, and a pedalboard played by the feet, each of which has its own group of stops. The organ's continuous supply of wind allows it to sustain notes for as long as the corresponding keys are depressed, unlike the piano and harpsichord, the sounds of which begin to decay once the keys are pressed. The smallest portable pipe organs may have only one or two dozen pipes and one manual; the largest may have over 20,000 pipes and seven manuals.[2] A pipe organ typically is described with an annotation indicating the number of manuals and ranks in the instrument: for example, an organ described as "IV/65" has four manuals and 65 ranks of pipes.

The origins of the pipe organ can be traced back to the hydraulis in Ancient Greece in the third century BC,[3] in which the wind supply was created with water pressure. By the sixth or seventh century AD, bellows were used to supply organs with wind.[3] Beginning in the twelfth century, the organ began to evolve into a complex instrument capable of producing different timbres. By the seventeenth century, most of the sounds available on the modern classical organ had been developed.[4] From that time, the pipe organ was the most complex man-made device;[5] it retained this distinction until it was displaced by the telephone exchange in the late nineteenth century.[6]

Pipe organs are installed in churches, synagogues, concert halls, and other public buildings and are used for the performance of classical music, sacred music, and secular music. In the early twentieth century, pipe organs were installed in theatres to accompany films during the silent movie era, in municipal auditoria, where orchestral transcriptions were popular, and in the homes of the wealthy, equipped with player mechanisms.[7] The beginning of the twenty-first century has seen a resurgence in installations in concert halls. The organ boasts a substantial repertoire, which spans over 400 years.[8]



A pipe organ contains one or more sets of pipes, a wind system, and one or more keyboards. The pipes produce sound when pressurized air produced by the wind system is driven through them. An action connects the keyboards to the pipes. Stops allow the organist to control which ranks of pipes sound at a given time. The organist operates the stops and the keyboards from the console.


Organ pipes are made from either wood or metal and produce sound when wind is directed through them.[9] Because one pipe produces a single pitch, multiple pipes are necessary to allow the organ to sound at different pitches. The longer a pipe is, the lower its resulting pitch will be.[10] The volume of the sound produced by a pipe depends on the pressure of the wind flowing to the pipe and how the pipe is voiced (adjusted by the builder to produce the desired tone and volume). Thus, a pipe's volume cannot be changed directly while playing.[10]

Organ pipes are divided into flue pipes and reed pipes according to their design and timbre. Flue pipes produce sound by forcing air through a fipple, like a recorder, whereas reed pipes produce sound via a beating reed, like a clarinet.[11]

The pipes are arranged by timbre and pitch into ranks. A rank is a row of pipes mounted vertically onto a windchest.[12] The stop mechanism admits air, or wind, to each rank. For a given pipe to sound, the stop governing the pipe's rank must be engaged, and the key corresponding to its pitch must be depressed. Ranks of pipes are organized into groups called divisions. Each division generally is played from its own keyboard.[13]


[[File:|thumb|right|225px|Cross-section of a mechanical-action windchest. Trackers attach to the wires hanging through the bottom board at the left.]]

An organ contains two actions, or systems of moving parts. When a key is depressed, the key action admits wind into a pipe. The stop action allows the organist to control which ranks are engaged. An action may be mechanical, pneumatic, or electrical.[14]

A key action which physically connects the keys and the windchests is a mechanical or tracker action. Connection is achieved through a series of rods called trackers. When the organist depresses a key, the corresponding tracker moves, allowing wind to enter the pipe.[15] In a mechanical stop action, each stop control is physically connected to a rank of pipes. When the organist activates the stop control, the action allows wind to flow into the selected rank.[12] This control is usually a stop knob, which the organist activates by pulling (or drawing) towards himself. This is the origin of the idiom "to pull out all the stops".[16] Tracker action has been used from antiquity to modern times. Despite the extra effort needed in playing, many organists prefer tracker action because of a feel and a control of the pipe valve operation.

A later development was the tubular-pneumatic action which uses changes of pressure within lead tubing to affect pneumatics to produce valve action. This allowed a lighter touch, and more flexibility in the location of the console, within a 50-foot (15-m) limit. This type of construction was used in the late 1800s to early 1900s, and has had only rare application since the 1920s.[17]

The most recent development is the electric action which uses electrical current to control the key and/or stop mechanisms. electricity may operate the action indirectly through air pressure valves (pneumatics), in which case the action is electro-pneumatic. When electricity operates the action directly without the assistance of pneumatics, it is commonly referred to as direct electric action.[18] The key action is independent of the stop action, allowing an organ to feature a mechanical key action along with an electric stop action.

When electrical wiring alone is used to connect the console to the windchest, electric actions allow the console to be separated at any distance from the rest of the organ, and to be movable.[19] Electric stop actions can be controlled at the console by stop knobs, or by tilting tablets or rocker tabs which sit on a hinge, and activate or deactivate an electrical circuit, depending on the direction in which they are pressed.[20]

Wind system

The wind system comprises the parts that produce, store, and deliver wind to the pipes. Pipe organ wind pressures are on the order of 0.1 psi (0.69 kPa). Organ builders often measure organ wind using a U-tube manometer containing water, so commonly give its magnitude as the difference in water levels in the two legs of the manometer, rather than in units of pressure. The difference in water level is proportional to the difference in pressure between the wind being measured and the atmosphere.[21] The 0.10 psi above would register as 2-3/4 inches of water (70 mmAq). An Italian organ from the Renaissance period may be on only 2.2 inches (56 mm),[22] while solo stops in some large twentieth-century organs require 100 inches (2,500 mm).[23]

Playing the organ before electricity required at least one person to operate the bellows. When signaled by the organist, a calcant would operate a set of bellows, supplying the organ with air.[24] Because calcants were expensive, organists would usually practice on other instruments such as the clavichord or harpsichord.[25] By the mid nineteenth century bellows were also being operated by steam engines or gasoline engines. Starting in the 1860s bellows were gradually replaced by wind turbines which were later directly connected to electrical motors.[26] This made it possible for organists to practice regularly on the organ. Most organs, both new and historic, have electric blowers, although others can still be operated manually.[27] The wind supplied is stored in one or more regulators to maintain a constant pressure in the windchests until the action allows it to flow into the pipes.[28]


Each stop usually controls one rank of pipes, although mixtures and undulating stops (such as the Voix céleste) control multiple ranks.[29] The name of the stop reflects not only the stop's timbre and construction, but also the style of the organ in which it resides. For example, the names on an organ built in the north German Baroque style generally will be derived from the German language, while the names of similar stops on an organ in the French Romantic style will usually be French. Most countries tend to use only their own languages for stop nomenclature. English-speaking nations as well as Japan are more receptive to foreign nomenclature. Stop names are not standardized: two otherwise identical stops from different organs may have different names.[30]

File:Weingarten Basilika Gabler-Orgel Register
Stop knobs of the Baroque organ in Weingarten, Germany

To facilitate a large range of timbres, organ stops exist at different pitch levels. A stop that sounds at unison pitch when a key is depressed is referred to as being at 8′ (pronounced "eight-foot") pitch. This refers to the length of the lowest-sounding pipe in that rank, which is approximately eight feet. For the same reason, a stop that sounds an octave higher is at 4′ pitch, and one that sounds two octaves higher is at 2′ pitch. Likewise, a stop that sounds an octave lower than unison pitch is at 16′ pitch, and one that sounds two octaves lower is at 32′ pitch.[29] Stops of different pitch levels are designed to be played simultaneously.

The label on a stop knob or rocker tab indicates the stop’s name and its pitch in feet. Stops that control multiple ranks display a Roman numeral indicating the number of ranks present, instead of its pitch.[31] Thus, a stop labelled "Open Diapason 8′ " is a single-rank diapason stop sounding at 8′ pitch. A stop labelled "Mixture V" is a five-rank mixture.

Sometimes, a single rank of pipes may be able to be controlled by several stops, allowing the rank to be played at multiple pitches or on multiple manuals. Such a rank is said to be unified or borrowed. For example, an 8′ Diapason rank may also be made available as a 4′ Octave. When both of these stops are selected and a key (for example, c′)[32] is pressed, two pipes of the same rank will sound: the pipe normally corresponding to the key played (c′), and the pipe one octave above that (c′′). Because the 8′ rank does not have enough pipes to sound the top octave of the keyboard at 4′ pitch, it is common for an extra octave of pipes used only for the borrowed 4′ stop to be added. In this case, the full rank of pipes (now an extended rank) is one octave longer than the keyboard.

Special unpitched stops also appear in many organs. The Zimbelstern, the Nightingale (which admits wind into a pipe submerged in a small pool of water, creating the sound of a bird warbling),[33] and the effet d'orage ("thunder effect", a device that sounds the lowest bass pipes simultaneously) are common. Standard orchestral percussion instruments such as the drum, chimes, celesta, and harp have also been imitated in organ building.[34]


[[File:|thumb|right|250px|The five-manual, 522-stop detached console at the United States Naval Academy Chapel crafted by R. A. Colby, Inc. of Johnson City, Tenessee[35]]]

The controls available to the organist, including the keyboards, couplers, expression pedals, stops, and registration aids are accessed from the console.[36] The console is either built into the organ case or detached from it.


Keyboards played by the hands are known as manuals (from the Latin manus, meaning "hand"). The keyboard played by the feet is a pedalboard. Every organ has at least one manual (most have two or more), and most have a pedalboard. Each keyboard is named for a particular division of the organ (a group of ranks) and generally controls only the stops from that division. The range of the keyboards has varied widely across time and between countries. Most current specifications call for two or more manuals with sixty-one notes (five octaves, from C to c″″) and a pedalboard with thirty or thirty-two notes (two and a half octaves, from C to f′ or g′).[32][37]


A coupler allows the stops of one division to be played from the keyboard of another division. For example, a coupler labelled "Swell to Great" allows the stops drawn in the Swell division to be played on the Great manual. This coupler is a unison coupler, because it causes the pipes of the Swell division to sound at the same pitch as the keys played on the Great manual. Coupling allows stops from different divisions to be combined to create various tonal effects. It also allows every stop of the organ to be played simultaneously from one manual.[38]

Octave couplers, which add the pipes an octave above (super-octave) or below (sub-octave) each note that is played, may operate on one division only (for example, the Swell super octave, which adds the octave above what is being played on the Swell to itself), or act as a coupler to another keyboard (for example, the Swell super-octave to Great, which adds to the Great manual the ranks of the Swell division an octave above what is being played).[38]

In addition, larger organs may use unison off couplers, which prevent the stops pulled in a particular division from sounding at their normal pitch. These can be used in combination with octave couplers to create innovative aural effects, and can also be used to rearrange the order of the manuals to make specific pieces easier to play.[38]

Enclosure and expression pedals

File:Salemer Münster Orgel Spieltisch und
The console of the organ in Salem Minster in Salem, Germany.[39] The expression pedal is visible directly above the pedalboard.

Enclosure refers to a system that allows for the control of volume without requiring the addition or subtraction of stops. In a two-manual organ with Great and Swell divisions, the Swell will be enclosed. In larger organs, parts or all of the Choir and Solo divisions may also be enclosed.[40] The pipes of an enclosed division are placed in a chamber generally called the swell box. At least one side of the box is constructed from horizontal or vertical palettes known as louvres or swell shades, which operate in a similar way to Venetian blinds; their position can be adjusted from the console. When the louvres are open, more sound is heard than when they are closed.[40]

The most common method of controlling the louvres is the balanced swell pedal. This device is usually placed above the centre of the pedalboard and is configured to rotate away from the organist from a near-vertical position (in which the shades are closed) to a near-horizontal position (in which the shades are open).[41] An organ may also have a similar-looking crescendo pedal, found alongside any expression pedals. Pressing the crescendo pedal forward cumulatively activates the stops of the organ, starting with the softest and ending with the loudest; pressing it backwards reverses this process.[42]

Combination action

Organ stops can be combined in countless permutations, resulting in a great variety of sounds. A combination action can be used to switch instantly from one combination of stops (called a registration) to another. Combination actions feature small buttons called pistons that can be pressed by the organist, generally located beneath the keys of each manual (thumb pistons) or above the pedalboard (toe pistons).[43] The pistons may be divisional (affecting only a single division) or general (affecting all the divisions), and are either preset by the organ builder or can be altered by the organist. Modern combination actions operate via computer memory, and can store several channels of registrations.[44]


File:Orgel der Severikirche in
The organ of the Severikirche in Erfurt, Germany, features a highly decorative case with ornate carvings and cherubs.

The pipes, action, and wind system are contained in a case, the design of which also may incorporate the console. The case blends the organ's sound and aids in projecting it into the room.[45] The case often is designed to complement the building's architectural style and it may contain ornamental carvings and other decorations. The visible portion of the case, called the façade, will most often contain pipes, which may be either playable or dummy pipes solely for decoration. The façade pipes may be plain, burnished, gilded, or painted.[46]

Organ cases occasionally feature a few ranks of pipes protruding horizontally from the case in the manner of a row of trumpets. These are referred to as pipes en chamade and are particularly common in organs of the Iberian peninsula and large twentieth-century instruments.[47]

Many organs, particularly those built in the early twentieth century, are contained in one or more rooms called organ chambers. Because sound does not project from a chamber into the room as clearly as from a freestanding organ case, enchambered organs may sound muffled and distant.[48]

History and development


[[File:|thumb|ipright|right|A painting of Saint Cecilia playing a portative. Her left hand can be seen operating the bellows.[49]]]

The organ is one of the oldest instruments still used in European classical music. Its earliest predecessors were built in Ancient Greece in the third century BC.[3] The word organ is derived from the Latin organum, an instrument similar to a portative organ used in ancient Roman circus games. Organum is derived in turn from the Greek όργανον (organon),[50] a generic term for an instrument or a tool.[51]

The Greek engineer Ctesibius of Alexandria is credited with inventing the organ in the third century BC. He devised an instrument called the hydraulis, which delivered a wind supply maintained through water pressure to a set of pipes.[52] The hydraulis was played in the arenas of the Roman Empire. The pumps and water regulators of the hydraulis were replaced by an inflated leather bag in the second century AD,[52] and true bellows began to appear in the sixth or seventh century AD.[3]

Portable organs (the portative and the positive organ) were invented in the Middle Ages. Towards the middle of the thirteenth century, the portatives represented in the miniatures of illuminated manuscripts appear to have real keyboards with balanced keys, as in the Cantigas de Santa Maria.[53] Its portability made the portative useful for the accompaniment of both sacred and secular music in a variety of settings.

Large organs such as the one installed in 1361 in Halberstadt, Germany,[54] the first documented permanent organ installation, likely prompted Guillaume de Machaut to describe the organ as "the king of instruments", a characterization still frequently applied.[55] The Halberstadt organ was the first instrument to use a chromatic key layout across its three manuals and pedalboard, although the keys were wider than on modern instruments.[56] It had twenty bellows operated by ten men, and the wind pressure was so high that the player had to use the full power of his arm to hold down a key.[54]

Until the mid-fifteenth century, organs had no stop controls. Each manual controlled ranks at multiple pitches, known as the Blockwerk.[57] Around 1450, controls were designed that allowed the ranks of the Blockwerk to be played individually. These devices were the forerunners of modern stop actions.[58] The higher-pitched ranks of the Blockwerk remained grouped together under a single stop control; these stops developed into mixtures.[59]

Renaissance and Baroque periods

During the Renaissance and Baroque periods, the organ's tonal colors became more varied. Organ builders fashioned stops that imitated various instruments, such as the krumhorn and the viola da gamba. The Baroque period is often thought of as organ building's "golden age," as virtually every important refinement was brought to a culminating art.[60] Builders such as Arp Schnitger, Jasper Johannsen, Zacharias Hildebrandt and Gottfried Silbermann constructed instruments that were in themselves artistic masterpieces, displaying both exquisite craftsmanship and beautiful sound. These organs featured well-balanced mechanical key actions, giving the organist precise control over the pipe speech. Schnitger's organs featured particularly distinctive reed timbres and large Pedal and Rückpositiv divisions.[60]

Different national styles of organ building began to develop, often due to changing political climates.[62] In the Netherlands, the organ became a large instrument with several divisions, doubled ranks, and mounted cornets. The organs of northern Germany also had more divisions, and independent pedal divisions became increasingly common.[62] The divisions of the organ became visibly discernible from the case design. Twentieth-century musicologists labelled this the Werkprinzip.[63]

In France, as in Italy and Spain, organs were primarily designed to play alternatim verses rather than accompany congregational singing. The French Classical Organ, became remarkably consistent throughout France over the course of the Baroque era, more so than any other style of organ building in history, and standardized registrations developed.[64][65] It was elaborately described by Dom Bédos de Celles in his treatise L'art du facteur d'orgues (The Art of Organ Building).[66]

In England, existing pipe organs were destroyed during the English Reformation of the sixteenth century and the Commonwealth period. It was not until the Restoration that organ builders (particularly Renatus Harris and "Father" Bernard Smith) brought new organ-building ideas from continental Europe. English organs evolved from small one- or two-manual instruments into three or more divisions disposed in the French manner with grander reeds and mixtures.[67] The Echo division began to be enclosed in the early eighteenth century, and in 1712 Abraham Jordan claimed his "swelling organ" at St Magnus-the-Martyr to be a new invention.[64] The swell box and the independent pedal division appeared in English organs beginning in the eighteenth century.[67][68]

Romantic period

[[File:|thumb|right|The English Romantic organ at the Parish Church of Saint Mary the Virgin in Ewell, Surrey]]

During the Romantic period, the organ became more symphonic, capable of creating a gradual crescendo. New technologies and the work of organ builders such as Aristide Cavaillé-Coll and Henry Willis made it possible to build larger organs with more stops, more variation in sound and timbre, and more divisions.[67] Enclosed divisions became common, and registration aids were developed to make it easier for the organist to manage the great number of stops. The desire for louder, grander organs required that the stops be voiced on a higher wind pressure than before. As a result, a greater force was required to overcome the wind pressure and depress the keys. To solve this problem, Cavaillé-Coll configured the English "Barker lever" to assist in operating the key action.[69]

Organ builders began to lean towards specifications with fewer mixtures and high-pitched stops. They preferred to use more 8′ and 16′ stops in their specifications and wider pipe scales.[70] These practices created a warmer, richer sound than was common in the eighteenth century. Organs began to be built in concert halls (such as the organ at the Palais du Trocadéro in Paris), and composers such as Camille Saint-Saëns and Gustav Mahler used the organ in their orchestral works.

Modern development

The development of pneumatic and electro-pneumatic key actions in the late nineteenth century made it possible to locate the console independently of the pipes, greatly expanding the possibilities in organ design. Electric stop actions were also developed, which allowed sophisticated combination actions to be created.[71]

In the mid-twentieth century, organ builders began to build historically-inspired instruments modelled on Baroque organs. They returned to building mechanical key actions, voicing with lower wind pressures and thinner pipe scales, and designing specifications with more mixture stops.[72] This became known as the Organ reform movement.

In the late twentieth century, organ builders began to incorporate digital components into their key, stop, and combination actions. Besides making these mechanisms simpler and more reliable, this also makes it possible to record and play back an organist’s performance via the MIDI protocol.[73] In addition, some organ builders have incorporated digital stops into their pipe organs.[74]

The electronic organ developed throughout the twentieth century. Some pipe organs were replaced by digital organs because of their lower purchase price, smaller physical size, and minimal maintenance requirements. In the early 1970s, Rodgers Instruments pioneered the hybrid organ, an electronic instrument that incorporates real pipes; other builders such as Allen Organs and Johannus Orgelbouw have since built hybrid organs.


The development of organ repertoire has progressed along with that of the organ itself, leading to distinctive national styles of composition. Because organs are commonly found in churches and synagogues, the organ repertoire includes a large amount of sacred music, which is accompanimental (choral anthems, congregational hymns, liturgical elements, etc.) as well as solo in nature (chorale preludes, hymn versets designed for alternatim use, etc.). The organ's secular repertoire includes preludes, fugues, sonatas, organ symphonies, suites, and transcriptions of orchestral works.

File:Johann Sebastian
The organ music of Johann Sebastian Bach forms an important part of the instrument's repertoire.[75]

Although most countries whose music falls into the Western tradition have contributed to the organ repertoire, France and Germany in particular have produced exceptionally large amounts of organ music. There is also an extensive repertoire from the Netherlands, England, and the United States.

Before the Baroque era, keyboard music generally was not written for one instrument or another, but rather was written to be played on any keyboard instrument. For this reason, much of the organ's repertoire through the Renaissance period is the same as that of the harpsichord. Pre-Renaissance keyboard music is found in compiled manuscripts that may include compositions from a variety of regions. The oldest of these sources is the Robertsbridge Codex, dating from about 1360.[76] The Buxheimer Orgelbuch, which dates from about 1470 and was compiled in Germany, includes intabulations of vocal music by the English composer John Dunstaple.[77] The earliest Italian organ music is found in the Faenza Codex, dating from 1420.[78]

In the Renaissance period, Netherlandish composers such as Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck composed both fantasias and psalm settings. Sweelinck in particular developed a rich collection of keyboard figuration that influenced subsequent composers.[79] The Italian composer Claudio Merulo wrote in the typical Italian genres of the toccata, the canzona, and the ricercar.[80] In Spain, the works of Antonio de Cabezón began the most prolific period of Spanish organ composition,[81] which culminated with Juan Cabanilles.

Early Baroque organ music in Germany was highly contrapuntal. Sacred organ music was based on chorales: composers such as Samuel Scheidt and Heinrich Scheidemann wrote chorale preludes, chorale fantasias, and chorale motets.[81] Towards the end of the Baroque era, the chorale prelude and the partita became mixed, forming the chorale partita.[82] This genre was developed by Georg Böhm, Johann Pachelbel, and Dieterich Buxtehude. The primary type of free-form piece in this period was the praeludium, as exemplified in the works of Matthias Weckmann, Nicolaus Bruhns, Böhm, and Buxtehude.[83] The organ music of Johann Sebastian Bach fused characteristics of every national tradition and historical style in his large-scale preludes and fugues and chorale-based works.[84] Towards the end of the Baroque era, George Frideric Handel composed the first organ concertos.[85]

File:Cesar Franck At
César Franck at the console of the organ at Saint Clotilde, Paris[86]

In France, organ music developed during the Baroque era through the music of Jean Titelouze, François Couperin, and Nicolas de Grigny.[87] Because the French organ of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries was very standardized, a conventional set of registrations developed for its repertoire. The music of French composers (and Italian composers such as Girolamo Frescobaldi) was written for use during the Mass. Very little secular organ music was composed in France and Italy during the Baroque period; the written repertoire is almost exclusively intended for liturgical use.[88] In England, composers such as John Blow and John Stanley wrote multi-sectional free works for liturgical use called voluntaries through the nineteenth century.[89][90]

Organ music was seldom written in the Classical era, as composers preferred the piano with its ability to create dynamics.[91] In Germany, the sonatas of Felix Mendelssohn (published 1845) marked the beginning of a renewed interest in composing for the organ. The French organist-composers César Franck and Charles-Marie Widor led organ music into the symphonic realm.[91] The development of symphonic organ music continued with Louis Vierne and Charles Tournemire. Widor and Vierne wrote large-scale, multi-movement works called organ symphonies that exploited the full possibilities of the symphonic organ.[92] Max Reger and Sigfrid Karg-Elert's symphonic works made use of the abilities of the large Romantic organs being built in Germany at the time.[91]

File:Pipe Organ of San Carlos
The pipe organ in the Main Chapel of San Carlos Seminary, Makati City, Philippines exhibits a modern façade.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, organ builders began to build instruments in concert halls and other large secular venues, allowing the organ to be used as part of an orchestra, as in Saint-Saëns' Symphony No. 3.[91] Frequently the organ is given a soloistic part, such as in Joseph Jongen's Symphonie Concertante for Organ & Orchestra, and Francis Poulenc's Concerto for Organ, Strings and Tympani. Other composers who have used the organ prominently in orchestral music include Gustav Holst, Richard Strauss, Ottorino Respighi, Gustav Mahler, Anton Bruckner, and Ralph Vaughan Williams.[93] Because these concert hall instruments could approximate the sounds of symphony orchestras, transcriptions of orchestral works found a place in the organ repertoire.[94] As silent films became popular, theatre organs were installed in theatres to provide accompaniment for the films.[91]

In the twentieth century symphonic repertoire, both sacred and secular,[95] continued to progress through the music of Marcel Dupré, Maurice Duruflé, and Herbert Howells.[91] Other composers, such as Olivier Messiaen, Jehan Alain, Jean Langlais, and Petr Eben, wrote post-tonal organ music.[91] Messiaen's music in particular redefined many of the traditional notions of organ registration and technique.[96]

See also

Pipe organ portal


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  46. ^ Kassel, 146.
  47. ^ Bicknell "The organ case", 66–67.
  48. ^ Wicks "Organ Chamber".
  49. ^ Painting by Meister des Bartholomäus-Altars, 1501.
  50. ^ Harper, Douglas (2001). Organ. Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved on 2008-02-10.
  51. ^ Liddell, Henry George & Scott, Robert (1940). Organon. A Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0198642261. Perseus. Retrieved on 2008-02-09.
  52. ^ a b Randel "Hydraulis", 385.
  53. ^ Riaño, J. F. (1887). Critical and Bibliographical Notes on Early Spanish Music (PDF). London: Quaritch, 119–127. ISBN 0-306-70193-6.
  54. ^ a b Kennedy, Michael (Ed.) (2002). "Organ". In The Oxford Dictionary of Music, p. 644. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  55. ^ Sumner "The Organ", 39.
  56. ^ Keyboard instrument (2008). In Encyclopædia Britannica Online (subscription required, though relevant reference is viewable in concise article). Retrieved on 2008-01-26.
  57. ^ Douglass, 10–12.
  58. ^ Thistlethwaite, 5.
  59. ^ Phelps, Lawrence (1973). "A brief look at the French Classical organ, its origins and German counterpart". Steve Thomas. Retrieved on 2007-05-07.
  60. ^ a b Webber, 222.
  61. ^ Organ by Hermean Raphaelis, 1554. Copenhagen Portal: Roskilde Cathedral. GBM MARKETING ApS. Retrieved on 2008-05-13.
  62. ^ a b Randel "Organ", 585.
  63. ^ Bicknell "The organ case", 66–71.
  64. ^ a b Thistlethwaite, 12.
  65. ^ Douglass, 3.
  66. ^ (French) Bédos de Celles, Dom François (1766). Extraits de l'Art du facteur d'orgues. Ferguson (Tr.) (1977). Retrieved on 2007-05-07.
  67. ^ a b c Randel "Organ", 586–587.
  68. ^ McCrea, 279–280.
  69. ^ Randel "Organ", 586.
  70. ^ "The decline of mixtures," in George Laing Miller (1913), The Recent Revolution in Organ Building. Retrieved on 2009-07-07.
  71. ^ Thistlethwaite, 14–15.
  72. ^ Bicknell "Organ building today", 82ff.
  73. ^ Retrieved on 2009-07-07.
  74. ^ Phoenix Organs Southeast. Retrieved on 2009-07-07.
  75. ^ Portrait by Elias Gottlob Haussmann, c.1748
  76. ^ Caldwell, John (2007). "Sources of keyboard music to 1660, §2: Individual sources". In L. Macy (Ed.), Grove Music Online (subscription required). Retrieved on 2008-05-07.
  77. ^ Cox, 190.
  78. ^ Stembridge, 148.
  79. ^ Webber, 224.
  80. ^ Stembridge, 160.
  81. ^ a b Caldwell, John (2007). "Keyboard music, §I: Keyboard music to c1750". In L. Macy (Ed.), Grove Music Online (subscription required). Retrieved on 2008-05-08.
  82. ^ McLean, Hugh J. (2007). "Böhm, Georg". In L. Macy (Ed.), Grove Music Online (subscription required). Retrieved on 2008-05-08.
  83. ^ Ledbetter, David (2007). "Prelude". In L. Macy (Ed.), Grove Music Online (subscription required). Retrieved on 2008-05-08.
  84. ^ Yearsley, David (1999). "The organ music of J. S. Bach". In Nicholas Thistlethwaite & Geoffrey Webber (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to the Organ, p. 236. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  85. ^ Lang, Paul Henry (1971). "Michael Haydn: Duo Concertante for viola and organ. Joseph Haydn: Organ Concerto in C major". The Musical Quarterly 57 (1). Retrieved on 2007-07-10.
  86. ^ Portrait by Jeanne Rongier, 1888.
  87. ^ Higginbottom, 177, 189.
  88. ^ Higginbottom, 178–181.
  89. ^ Cox, 198.
  90. ^ McCrea, 279.
  91. ^ a b c d e f g Owen, Barbara (2007). "Keyboard music, §II: Organ music from c1750". In L. Macy (Ed.), Grove Music Online (subscription required). Retrieved on 2008-05-08.
  92. ^ Brooks, Gerard (1999). "French and Belgian organ music after 1800". In Nicholas Thistlethwaite & Geoffrey Webber (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to the Organ, pp. 274–275. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  93. ^ Barone, Michael (2004). "Pipe organs are popping up in concert halls nationwide. Now—what to play on them?". Symphony magazine, Nov–Dec 2004. Retrieved on 2007-05-07.
  94. ^ Lozenz, James Edward (2006). "Organ Transcriptions and the Late Romantic Period". In An Organ Transcription of the Messe in C, op. 169 by Josef Gabriel Rheinberger (PDF). Florida State University College of Music. Retrieved on 2007-06-19.
  95. ^ Glück, Sebastian Matthäus (2003). "Literature-based reed assignment in organ design". PIPORG-L. Retrieved on 2007-06-19.
  96. ^ Galuska, Andrew R. (2001). "Messiaen's organ registration". Moore's School of Music: University of Houston. Retrieved on 2007-06-19.


  • Ahrens, Christian (2006). In Bush, Douglas & Kassel, Richard (Eds.), The Organ: an Encyclopedia, pp. 399–499. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-94174-1
  • Bicknell, Stephen (1999). "Organ building today". In Thistlethwaite, Nicholas & Webber, Geoffrey (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to the Organ, pp. 82–92. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-57584-2
  • Bicknell, Stephen (1999). "Organ construction". In Thistlethwaite, Nicholas & Webber, Geoffrey (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to the Organ, pp. 18–30. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-57584-2
  • Bicknell, Stephen (1999). "The organ case". In Thistlethwaite, Nicholas & Webber, Geoffrey (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to the Organ, pp. 55–81. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-57584-2
  • Cox, Geoffrey (1999). "English organ music to c1700". In Thistlethwaite, Nicholas & Webber, Geoffrey (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to the Organ, pp. 109–203. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-57584-2
  • Dalton, James (1999). "Iberian organ music before 1700". In Thistlethwaite, Nicholas & Webber, Geoffrey (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to the Organ, pp. 165–175. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-57584-2
  • Douglass, Fenner (1995). The Language of the Classical French Organ. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-06426-1
  • Gleason, Harold (1988). Method of Organ Playing (7th ed.). Edited by Catherine Crozier Gleason. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-579459-5
  • Higginbottom, Edward (1999). "The French classical organ school". In Thistlethwaite, Nicholas & Webber, Geoffrey (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to the Organ, pp. 176–189. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-57584-2
  • Kassel, Richard (2006). Display pipes. In Bush, Douglas & Kassel, Richard (Eds.), The Organ: an Encyclopedia, pp. 145–146. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-94174-1
  • Kassel, Richard (2006). Sound effects. In Bush, Douglas & Kassel, Richard (Eds.), The Organ: an Encyclopedia, pp. 526–527. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-94174-1
  • McCrea, Andrew (1999). "British organ music after 1800". In Thistlethwaite, Nicholas & Webber, Geoffrey (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to the Organ, pp. 279–298. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-57584-2
  • Randel, Don Michael (Ed.) (1986). The New Harvard Dictionary of Music. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-61525-5
  • Sefl, Alfred (2006). Blower. In Bush, Douglas & Kassel, Richard (Eds.), The Organ: an Encyclopedia, pp. 70–71. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-94174-1
  • Stembridge, Christopher (1999). Italian organ music to Frescobaldi. In Thistlethwaite, Nicholas & Webber, Geoffrey (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to the Organ, pp. 148–163. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-57584-2
  • Sumner, William Leslie (1973). The Organ: Its Evolution, Principles of Construction and Use. London: Macdonald. ISBN 356-04162-X
  • Thistlethwaite, Nicholas (1999). "Origins and development of the organ". In Thistlethwaite, Nicholas & Webber, Geoffrey (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to the Organ, pp. 1–17. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-57584-2
  • Webber, Geoffrey (1999). "The north German organ school". In Thistlethwaite, Nicholas & Webber, Geoffrey (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to the Organ, pp. 219–235. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-57584-2
  • Wicks Organ Company (2005). Glossary of Organ Terms. Retrieved on 2007-05-23.

Further reading

  • Bédos de Celles, Dom François (1768). L'art du facteur d'orgues. Charles Ferguson (Trans.) (1977). The Organ-Builder. Raleigh, NC: Sunbury Press.
  • Bush, Douglas and Kassel, Richard (Ed.) (2006). The Organ: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0415941747
  • Klotz, Hans (1969). The Organ Handbook. St. Louis: Concordia. ISBN 978-0570013068
  • Ochse, Orpha (1975). The History of the Organ in the United States. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Soderlund, Sandra (1994). A Guide to the Pipe Organ for Composers and Others. Colfax, North Carolina: Wayne Leupold Editions. No ISBN.
  • Sumner, William L. (1973). The Organ: Its evolution, principles of construction and use (4th ed.). London: MacDonald. No ISBN.
  • Williams, Peter (1966). The European Organ, 1458–1850. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-32083-6
  • Williams, Peter (1980). A New History of the Organ from the Greeks to the Present Day. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0253157041

External links

Online Radio Stations


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

organ of the Mormon Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, UT




pipe + organ


Wikipedia has an article on:


pipe organ

pipe organs

pipe organ (plural pipe organs)

  1. The largest of all musical instruments, played from an organ console which produces its sound by sending air through whistles and/or reeds called organ pipes, by direct mechanical action, or modernly, electrically.


Simple English

, Germany]]

The pipe organ is a keyboard instrument in which the sound is made by air blowing through pipes. A person who plays the organ is called an organist. The organist plays the instrument using both the hands and the feet. The hands play the keyboards (called manuals), while the feet play pedals which also make notes.

Organs have been made for many centuries. They are usually found in places for Christian worship such as churches and cathedrals, although they may also be found in places like town halls and concert halls or even large private houses. Very small organs can be called “chamber organs”. Organs in large churches, cathedrals or halls are very large instruments indeed, and are built especially for the building they are in. They are called “pipe organs” to distinguish them from modern “electronic organs”.

No two organs are ever quite the same, and they vary greatly from one country to another and one historical period to another. The information here is about organs from Europe, Britain and America.


How an organ works

A description of the organ

]] , England. The organ was built by Harrison and Harrison in 1912.]]

In a pipe organ, the musical notes are made by blowing air through pipes. Every organ must have pipes, something to blow the air and a way of controlling which pipes are played.

The pipes are made of metal or wood. They are lined up in rows in the "organ case" which can be as big as a room. The metal pipes are round tubes. They can be made of different types of metal, but the most common type is an alloy (or mixture of metals) called "spotted metal" because it has round shiny spots on it. For some reason this alloy makes pipes that sound very good. Very small pipes can sometimes be made of silver, like flutes. Some organs also have some pipes made of brass that sound like trumpets. Most organs have a lot of wooden pipes. The wooden pipes have four flat sides and make a sound different from that of the "spotted metal" pipes. They are not usually seen; they are neatly lined up behind the large metal pipes at the front of the organ which are sometimes painted with colours and patterns. All the pipes have to be made with an end that tapers at the bottom where the air blows in.

Each pipe can play only one note which depends on its size. The small pipes play high notes and the large pipes play low notes. Each pipe has its own special sound which depends on the material it is made from (whether it is wood or brass or spotted metal) and on the shape of the pipe. The pipes are arranged in "ranks" so that all the pipes of the same shape and material can be controlled to play a tune together, without all the others.

To blow air through the organ, there are boxes called "wind chests". When the organist is playing, he/she can see a little gauge that tells whether there is enough air. The wind chests can be kept full in two ways. The old-fashioned way is to have an enormous set of "bellows" (see the picture) which are pumped up and down by a person using a large handle. This sucks in air and fills the wind chest. Pumping the bellows of a large pipe organ is heavy work. For this reason, most organs nowadays have an electric motor and a large fan which fills the wind chest.

The organist uses keyboards like those on a piano to play the organ. A small organ may have just one keyboard, but many organs have two keyboards and a very big one may even have five. Organists do not call them keyboards; they call them "manuals". An organist will talk about "a four-manual organ" (which means it is a large one). The manuals are arranged on the organ "console", and the organist sits on a bench in front of the console to play. Apart from the manuals there are two other important parts of the console. There are a set of long wooden pedals which the organist can play with his/her feet. Each pedal plays a different note.

On either side of the manuals there are rows of "stops" which look like knobs. The stops can be pulled out or pushed in. When a stop is pulled out, it turns on some sets of pipes. The organist can choose whether to play loud pipes or soft pipes, flute-sounding pipes or brassy pipes, sweet pipes or harsh-sounding pipes. As the organist plays, he/she does not just have to think about the right notes. He/she also has to think about the sort of "voice" that the organ should play in. He/she can play different ranks of pipes together by pulling out several stops. Some pipes, usually the biggest decorated pipes at the very front of the organ, are used only for the grandest music. By tradition, these pipes are the symbol of the "Voice of God".

When the organist presses the keys of the organ, the sound comes from the air blowing through the pipes. This is because a valve (an opening with a one-way door) opens up to let the air into the pipe, and closes again when the organist stops pressing that key. This can happen in several ways. Traditional organs have what is called a "tracker action". The trackers are thin wooden rods and wires which move backwards and forwards, opening and shutting all the valves. They are worked by levers under the keyboard. A tracker action organ has to have the console right near the organ, usually under the big front pipes.

A more modern development was to have a "tubular pneumatic" action, in which the console could be away from the organ, but connected to it by tubes through which air could be pushed to open the valves. In the most modern pipe organs, the manual is connected to the organ pipes by electric wires. The power to open and shut the valves is controlled by electro-magnetic switches. The console does not have to be close to the organ. This makes it possible for the organist to sit in a position where he/she has good contact with the people in the church, or with other musicians.

The technical details

has its pipes in three sections. The organ console can be seen to the right side of the gallery below the organ. There are large air pipes going up into the organ from beneath the gallery.]] 

The manuals

A very small organ may only have one manual (keyboard). Most organs have at least two. In English and American Organs the lower manual is the main one and is called the Great. The upper manual is called the Swell because it operates pipes which are inside a “swell box” which has shutters that can be opened or closed. This makes the music get louder or quieter (crescendo or diminuendo). The organist operates the swell box with a pedal which pivots (rocks to and fro). It is in the centre just above the pedal board. On old English organs the swell box is operated by a lever at the side.[1] This is quite difficult to use. Most of these have now been replaced by central swell boxes.

If there is a third manual, it is called the Choir in English-speaking countries. Originally the English called them “chair organs” because they were a separate instrument. The organist had to turn round and face the other way to play it. It is thought that the word "chair" gradually changed to "choir" because it was often used to accompany the choir.[2] In German organs the third manual was called the “Positiv”. The name “Rückpositiv” (“back positive”) was used because the pipes were behind the organist’s back as he/she sat facing the main organ. These started to become popular again with organ builders in the 1950s when it was felt that the Romantic organ was not suitable for old music, and some organ builders started using Baroque principles again so that the music of composers such as Bach could sound like it used to. The Choir manual is nearest to the player, the Great is in the middle and the Swell is farthest away. The Choir or Positiv often contains soft stops which are suitable for accompanying the choir. On French organs from the late 19th century onwards, the three manuals are arranged differently: the Great (“Grande Orgue”) is nearest to the player, the “Positif” is the middle manual and is like a smaller version of the Great, and the Swell (“Recit”) is the top manual. This makes it easy for the organist to build up the music, getting louder gradually, by starting at the top and gradually coming down.

The fourth manual is called the Solo because the stops on this manual are used to play out the tune as a solo. This manual is even farther away from the player than the Swell. Large cathedral organs usually have four manuals. The Solo will probably have a very loud stop indeed called the “Tuba” or “Tuba Mirabilis”.

If there is a fifth manual it may be called the Echo because it has very quiet stops that echo. Alternatively, especially on American organs, it might be a Bombarde. The Bombarde usually contains loud, bold reed stops, including stops called 'Bombarde'. For instance: a State Trumpet or Pontifical Trumpet might be placed on this manual which can be heard above all the other stops playing. The Bombarde is borrowed from French Organs where it is a standard stop on nearly all the manuals and pedals. Having a Bombarde Manual is something of a luxury for an organist. It can be found, for example, on the organ of Westminster Abbey.[3]

It is extremely unusual to have more than five manuals, but in America there are a few very large organs. The Wanamaker organ at Macy's store in Philadelphia has six manuals.[4] The world’s largest organ is in the Atlantic City Convention Hall.[5] It has seven manuals and over 33,000 pipes. However, the largest organ in the world does not work since it would be too expensive to run it.[6]

Using the manuals

Having two or three manuals makes it possible to have quick changes of sound during a piece. The player can also play on two manuals at once: one with the left hand and one with the right. This is particularly useful to make a tune louder than the accompaniment (on a piano this can be done by pressing harder). The manuals can also be coupled together, e.g. pulling out the “Swell to Great” stop will make all the sounds from the Swell come out on the Great as well. On an organ with mechanical action the keys of the Swell will be seen “playing by themselves” like a pianola, but on some older organs it can be hard work for the organist’s fingers when the manuals are coupled as it makes the action very heavy.

The pedals

The notes on the pedals are arranged like the notes on a keyboard, but are obviously much bigger. The player needs to learn to play by 'feel', otherwise he will have to spend all his time looking at his feet. He plays each note, either with the toe or the heel and either on the inside of the foot or the outside. The American and British Standard organ contains 30 notes giving a range of nearly 2 ½ octaves (C to F, or sometimes C to G: 32 notes). They are not quite in a straight line but fan out a little to make it easier to play (it is called a "radiating, concave pedalboard"). In German and French organs and organs built before 1920, the pedalboard will be straight without any fan curvature to it. Many organists find that this makes it more difficult to play.[7] Organists need a good pair of shoes: ones which have good narrow heels and preferably pointed toes. The soles need to be fairly slippery, but not too much, so that the player can slide the foot from one pedal to another. Organists usually like to keep a pair of shoes which are worn only for playing the organ so that the soles do not have grit or dirt from the street.

, Germany]]

The stops

The stops on an organ console give different sounds, like the instruments of an orchestra, and have names which tell the organist what kind of sound they will produce. The stops are usually to the left and right of the organist and they are pulled out (“drawstops” or “pulls” because they are “drawn” i.e. pulled). Some organs have “tab stops” or “rocker stops” which are in front of the player and can be rocked forwards and backwards for on/off.

The stops of an organ can be divided into families.

The chorus stops are the foundation stops, the basic ones which are good for building up the big, solid sound. A diapason or principal is a chorus stop.

The flute stops sound like flutes in an orchestra. They are gentler than the diapasons and sound good for very quick and light music.

The reeds are stops like the oboe, clarinet, trumpet, fagotto, trombone. Each pipe has a reed inside. Their sound is very strong and nasal (like speaking through the nose).

The strings are quiet stops which sound like string instruments. These are stops like the violone and gamba.

There is another way of grouping the stops. Each stop will have a number underneath the name. The number may be 16, 8, 4, 2, 1 or even 2 2/3 or 1 3/5. If the number is 8 this is called an “eight foot stop”. This is the normal pitch: the note will sound as it is written, e.g. when playing Middle C the sound will be Middle C. A 4 foot stop will sound an octave higher than written, a 2 foot stop will be two octaves higher. A 16 foot stop will sound an octave lower than an 8 foot stop. 8 foot is therefore the normal pitch, and the others are added to it to make a larger, brighter sound. 16 foot stops are normal in pedal parts.

Mutation stops are stops in which a note does not sound a whole number of octaves above the normal pitch. Examples are the Tierce 1 3/5 (which sounds 2 octaves and a third above) and the Nazard or Twelfth 2 2/3 (one octave and a fifth).

Using the stops

An organist needs to learn which combinations of stops sound good together and how to balance them well. Each organ is different and has its own character.

The combination of stops that an organist chooses for a particular piece of music is called the “registration”. The list of all the stops that a particular organ has is called the “specification”. The specification of an organ shows the names of the stops for each of the manuals and for the pedals, as well as the list of couplers.

Organs also have buttons called “pistons” which help to change the registration in the middle of a piece. There are “toe pistons” operated by the feet, and “thumb pistons” which are placed just below each manual so that they can be pushed by the thumb while the fingers keep playing. Large organs often have “general pistons” which change any combination of stops across the organ. These are often be computerised so that players can set them up differently depending on the music they are going to play. If several players regularly use the instrument they can each have their own personal settings for the pistons which they can lock so that no one else can change them.

The pipes

Each stop controls a row of pipes, called a “rank”. Each rank makes a different sound (one row for the “diapason” sound, another row for the “flute”, another for the “trumpet” and so on). The stops control the air flow through the ranks. Some stops may control more than one rank. For instance, a Mixture stop of three ranks will have 182 pipes (3 ranks of 61 pipes each) and in some organs the Celeste is a 2 rank stop. The celeste pipes are tuned slightly sharper than the rest of the organ so that, when played together with another quiet stop such as the Salicional, there will be a pleasant throbbing beat because two pipes are slightly out of tune with one another. Organ Pipes are normally made of metal or wood. High quality metal organ pipes usually contain 75 percent tin or more, and the rest is lead. The Pipes are placed on windchests inside an "organ case" in a special room called an Organ chamber. A windchest is a box-like device which contains pallets that are opened and closed to admit air to a pipe so that it sounds. The pallets are operated by pull wires and rollers in the case of a tracker instrument but may also be operated by pneumatics or direct electric action using magnets.

There is always air being pumped into the windchest when the organ is switched on. In the days before electricity someone (an organ blower) had to pump the air into the windchest using bellows. This was hard work. Large organs would have needed more than one organ blower to do this job.

The history of the pipe organ

in 1536]]

No other instrument has developed in such a wide variety of ways as the organ. If Bach, who lived in the early 18th century, had gone from his home in Germany to France, he would have found it impossible to play his music properly on French organs. If Couperin, who lived at the same time, had gone from his home in France to Germany, he would not have been able to play his music on the organs that Bach was using. Neither of them could possibly have played on an organ in England at the time. For one thing, English organs in the 18th century still had no pedals. This means that organists need to know a lot about what organs were like in other countries in other centuries in order to know what registrations to use when playing music by composers of the past.

The earliest organs

The earliest organs were water organs invented in Ancient Greece. The Romans used them in circuses and gladiator combats because they were loud.[8] They were still popular in some countries a few hundred years ago, for example, in pleasure gardens.

The organ in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages large organs were built in the huge Gothic cathedrals in Britain. These instruments did not have different stops: all the ranks sounded at once. They were played by a slider mechanism. Only in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries did they start to use a keyboard. The so-called Mixture Organ (or Blockwerk) still sounded several pitches at once. Very small organs called portatives (because they could be carried) were used in processions. Positives were a bit bigger and were used to accompany singing in the church. The Regal was like a portative but it had reeds and no pipes. It could be put on a table.

The organ in the Renaissance (about 1450-1600)

By about 1450, the organs that were being built in Germany and the Netherlands had two or three manuals and pedals. There were stops so that the player could choose which ranks he wanted to sound. The collection of pieces called the Buxheimer Orgelbuch (about 1470), is one of the first collections we have of organ music. French organs, too, were developing. In England, organs were quite small. Composers like John Bull, William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons wrote music for chamber organs. In the Netherlands Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck was a very famous organist and teacher.


The organ in the Baroque period (about 1600-1750)

The Baroque period was a great period for organ music in Germany. Organs there were built on the Werkprinzip (literally: work principle) which meant that each keyboard with its pipes was built separately, like two or three different organs, although they were played from the same console. Organs like these were built by the famous Arp Schnitger (1648-1719). Many famous German composers wrote organ music, especially Johann Pachelbel (1653-1709) in South Germany and (Dietrich Buxtehude) (1637-1707) in North Germany. The great composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) learnt from these composers and wrote some of the most famous organ music of all times. The great organ builder Gottfried Silbermann (1683-1753) lived during this time and built organs with a very beautiful tone. Instead of a keyboard called a Choir (or Chair Organ) he built an Oberwerk which was above the Hauptwerk (Great).

French organ builders at this time were very interested in colour (meaning: different sounds). Many stops were reeds that had names like Cornet, Tierce and Prestant. When all the stops of the Principal chorus played together it was called the Plein jeux. This was like the medieval Blockwerk. All the reed chorus together was called Grands jeux. This would have sounded very loud and was used for dialogues and fugues. Composers included Nicolas de Grigny (1672-1703), Louis Marchand (1669-1732), Louis Nicolas Clérambault (1676-1749), Louis Claude Daquin (1694-1772) and François Couperin (1683-1733).

In England there was not much interest in developing the organ. It was used for accompanying the choir. There were no pedals. Pieces for organ were called voluntaries. Henry Purcell wrote a few organ pieces.

File:Orgue Callinet église Notre-Dame
French organ built by Callinet (1837) Saint-Etienne, France

The organ in the Classical period: about 1750-1840

Organ composition reached a great peak in the work of J.S.Bach, but then people started to lose interest. Not many developments took place in organ-building during the Classical music period. Although Mozart played the organ and called it the “King of Instruments” he did not often write music for it. Among the organ builders at this time were Joseph and Claude-Ignace Callinet who built the organ at Notre-Dame's (St. Etienne, Loire) in 1837.


The organ in the Romantic period

The organ in 19th century Germany started to be used for imitating the sound of an orchestra. People also started to be interested in playing the music of J.S. Bach. Many Classical organs were re-built and sometimes they lost their original character. Organs in different countries started to sound the same.

Gradually, composers started writing for the organ again. Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) wrote some excellent sonatas and preludes and fugues which were inspired by Bach’s music and made other composers want to write organ music. Robert Schumann (1810-1856) and Franz Liszt (1811-1886) wrote for the organ and later in the century Max Reger (1873-1916) and Sigfrid Karg-Elert (1877-1933).

In France, the organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (1811-1899) was a real genius. His organs had lots of new ideas including the Barker lever (which made it easier to play on coupled manuals) and placing families of stops on to separate chests. Organists could change their registrations quickly, pushing in or pulling out the stops that they needed. Composers included César Franck (1822-1890), Charles-Marie Widor (1845-1937) and Louis Vierne (1870-1937). The last two wrote long works in several movements which they called Symphonies because they were full of colourful sounds like those in a symphony orchestra. There were usually three manuals called Grand, Positif and Récit placed in that order (with Grand nearest to the player). The Grand had warm foundation stops and big reeds (it was like combining the classical plein jeux and grand jeux). The Positif had string stops as well as a solo reed, and the Récit had lighter reeds.

In England, Samuel Wesley (1766-1837) wrote some important organ music inspired by J.S. Bach, and his son Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876) was influenced by Continental Romantic composers such as Mendelssohn. In 1851, the organ builder Henry Willis built a large organ for Crystal Palace Exhibition. It had three manuals and a pedal board. This set the standard in English organ building for the future.

The organ in the Twentieth century

. On this organ, the square wooden pipes have been put at the front.]] During the 20th century organ builders became more and more interested in returning to some of the ideas of the Baroque and Classical periods. Many organs now have electric action,[9] but a good mechanical action has the advantage that the player feels more close to the instrument that he is playing. Some large 20th century organs are able to play many kinds of organ music. Other 20th century organs were built as copies of Baroque or Classical instruments, but this means these instruments are mainly suitable for Baroque or Classical music, and are not well suited for music of the 19th and 20th centuries.

In the 19th century, many organs in England and America were placed in corners of churches where they could not be heard very well. In the 20th century, organ builders thought more about the best position for the organ, so that the sound would fill the main part of the church, thenave. Among the most famous 20th century organ composers are Marcel Dupré (1886-1971, Jehan Alain (1911-1940) and Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) in France, Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) in Germany, and Edward Elgar (1857-1934) and Herbert Howells (1892-1983) in England. The Czech composer Petr Eben (1929-2007) was one of the most important organ composers at the end of the 20th century, writing in an individual style.

The organ as an accompanying instrument

As well as the obvious use of the organ for accompanying church choirs and congregational singing the organ has often been used to accompany instruments. In the Baroque period small organs were used to accompany solo instruments or small groups of instruments or orchestras. This kind of accompaniment was called continuo. Occasionally composers have written organ concertos in which the organ is the solo instrument and the orchestra accompanies. Handel wrote several of these. In modern times Francis Poulenc wrote an organ concerto. There is an important organ solo in Symphony no 3 by Saint-Saëns. Other orchestral works sometimes have organ parts. Organists have often made organ “transcriptions”, i.e. arranged music written for other instruments so that it can be played on the organ.

Related pages


  1. William Leslie Sumner: ”The Organ”, London 1962, p.350
  2. William Leslie Sumner: ”The Organ”, London 1962, p.161
  3. www.
  4. "Friends of the Wanamaker Organ". 2010-07-22. Retrieved 2010-07-26. 
  5. "American Theatre Organ Society". Retrieved 2010-07-26. 
  6. Organ Historical Society Catalog
  7. William Leslie Sumner: ”The Organ”, London 1962, p.352
  8. "About the Ancient Hydraulis". The Archaeology Channel. 2002-03-14. Retrieved 2010-07-26. 
  9. Thistlethwaite, Nicholas (1999) "Origins and development of the organ" in Thistlethwaite, Nicholas and Webber, Geoffrey, (eds.) The Cambridge Companion to the Organ. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


  • “Organ” by Arthur Wills, London 1984 (ISBN 0-356-10512-1)
  • The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians ed. Stanley Sadie, 1980 (ISBN 1-56159-174-2)
  • Summer, William Leslie (1962). The Organ: Its Evolution, Principles of Construction and Use (4th ed.). St. Martin's Press. 

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