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Thread: The Ideal Organ?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2014

    The Ideal Organ?

    A question which scarcely raises its head in connection with any other instrument is, ‘What is the connection between the instrument and the music?’ Even where historic instruments are concerned, a violin remains a violin, an oboe remains an oboe. Though the difference in sound and playing technique may be considerable whether you are thinking “Baroque” or “Romantic”, no one thinks about any lack of connection between the instrument and its music.

    With the organ, we often have an amazing gulf between instrument and music. We don’t even know which organ(s) to choose for J.S. Bach! At least we know which instruments were played by Buxtehude and Messiaen, and we know quite a lot about what instrument Couperin had in mind, even though in his case almost every original has been irretrievably altered.

    There was a time when some people thought you could have a universal instrument. But now everyone appears to be more specialized, and the famous recitalists are known for their Franck/Widor/Vierne playing, or their German pre-Classical (or whatever the term is this month), but not for playing the gamut of the repertoire.

    For me the ideal is the right instrument for the right music. In these days of continual travel, it is fun to plan a trip to France and think of what you will play there, to go to different parts of Germany and discover the differences between north, central and southern instruments and their music. It is a thrill to hear music that once seemed rather ordinary come to life once you touch the keys of the right instrument.

    As organists we are allowed to be adventurous in a way other players may not always be. Our world is far from people’s notion about “increasing grief at funerals”. It is a developing world, with a stream of wonderful new restorations, new ideas about what and how to preserve our history. It is also an endangered profession, with the decline in churches’ congregations and therefore money to pay for organists and their instruments. It is also somewhat threatened by the advance in electronic organs with their astonishing realism, but also enhanced because people hear such exciting sounds and want to listen!

  2. #2
    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Tucson, Arizona
    You bring up a good number of excellent points and I appreciate everything you stated in your posting.

    There are those of us organists who are limited in scope for an adequate instrument. In my church position (which is the ONLY Lutheran church in the region with a pipe organ - the rest have 'toasters' or no organ at all) I have a II/9 Möller from 1979. It is extant with only two voicing changes in the 32 years I have been playing it; at one point we increased the wind pressure an eighth of an inch; another was adjusting the reeds for more 'bite' in tonal quality.

    Although very limited in size, I have been able to perform a very wide range of repertoire on it ... Chorale No 3 in A Minor (Franck), Sonata I (Mendelssohn), Suite Gothique (Boellmann) and other major works. Just because I do not have a 32' pedal stop doesn't necessarily mean that I won't play a piece that requires its use.

    Some of us have to cope with what we have available. The largest pipe organ in our region is a III/64 Aeolian Skinner in an Episcopal parish, so huge organs do not abound in my area.

    I've had the rare opportunity to have played the Mormon Tabernacle Organ in 1971, and the organ at St. Peter's (The Vatican) in Rome in 1992, and more recently in 2010 a splendid Frobenius II/25 in the village (Lutheran) church of Jørlunde, Denmark, where I played a concert - the first American to present a concert on that instrument.

    Our church Möller needs a complete rebuild ... although pipe leathers last over 70 years (especially here in the southwestern desert), our instrument has been subjected to a couple of monstrous rain storms where water entered the building and flowed into the chests. We had to replace the leathers on 5 pouch rails a couple years back on the Great chest ... the bottom of the Swell chest is not accessible (thanks to the installer) without completely removing it, so we have no way of knowing its condition.

    We are also considering additions to this organ ... increasing it to a III/25 ... relocating the pipe divisions from the "closet" where they now reside out into the open part of the sanctuary. This comes at a price ... $100k at the minimum ... for a church with a declining membership of 12% over the past year. All the area churches are being hit, attendance wise, much in the same manner. What saves our church is that it has been 100% debt free since the mid 80's and we own all the property and the buildings outright. Other Lutheran parishes are not so lucky ... many have million dollar debts on building additions made 10 years ago.

    We do have to perform the 100% rebuild ... within the next 3 to 5 years at the outside ... the internal workings of the organ are crumbling, the leathers are disintegrating and some notes will either refuse to play or may cipher without the repair being done. I have one note on the 8' reed that delays sounding for 1 second when the key is depressed ... Eb 3, smack dab in the middle of the keyboard no less ... so I avoid pieces in Eb major with a reed solo.

    Bottom line is that I don't have the luxury of finding the appropriate organ for the music that I wish to play/perform ... I must adapt given the resources that are available most of the time. Moving is out of the question ... I'm now 66 and nearing the end of my playing career, probably another 4 or 5 years at most ... and I'm very comfortable in my present position and compensated very well for what is considered part time employment.

    Kh ♫

    Ps: Welcome to your forum
    Kh ~~.

    Amateur musicians practice until they get it right ...
    fessional musicians practice until they can't get it wrong ...

  3. #3
    Lieutenant Commander, Concertmaster FinnViking's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    A good organ allows a wide repertoire. Everyone knows that Holland for example is full of baroque organs, but the organists play any music on them - and it sounds good. They simply don't have other instruments available. And if they would stick to only music that was composed for those organs, they would bore both themselves and the audience. Majority of the standard repertoire would never be heard. I played a recital in Germany, and the organist, after seeing my program, asked me "do you know that it's a baroque instrument". I replied "Yes, that's why I'll play something else"; I knew that normally only baroque music is palyed and heard there. Organists often seem to think that when the organ is French romantic, only French romantic music can be played there, or only Brahms, Reger and Liszt sound good on a German romantic organ. The old recordings of the old masters (Dupré, Gigout etc.) playing Bach on their contemporary organs has certain charm.
    Of course hearing Bach on a "Bach organ" or Widor in St. Sulpice is great, but as I stated in the beginning, a good organ allows much more.
    Oh and when planning a recital elsewhere, I give only very little attention to the organ I'm going to play; my programs sound good on any organ . Of course I'm interested in the size of the organ and if it has a setzer combination system, but otherwise the style of the organ is irrelevant.
    Last edited by FinnViking; Nov-13-2014 at 08:34.
    Marko Hakanpää, organist of St. Michael's Church, Turku, Finland
    Steam locomotive driver

  4. #4
    Commodore con Forza
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    The late Marie-Claire Alain was notorious for choosing which instruments to play her myriad recordings on. But that was for recording purposes, which puts a little different bearing on the situation. Many organists have to settle for what they have available, and in most cases, that doesn't mean St. Sulpice or Mormon Tabernacle. Or even the newer one in Hinckley's Palace, a.k.a. The Conference Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Sure a long-winded name for a church, or even for a building.

    Happy playing on what you have.
    Last edited by dll927; Dec-30-2014 at 22:04.

  5. #5
    Commander, Assistant Conductor Albert's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Rocky Mountains, Canada
    I have played, in public (!), Virgil Fox's arrangement of Now Thank We All Our God on my 26 stop 2 manual Johannus Opus 10. It was well received. When playing on an instrument that is not at all like the instrument Virgil played, I started on Flutes 8 & 4 coupled to Pedal soft 16 against 8' Trumpet and worked up to full organ. I didn't do anywhere near the number of stop changes VF used, but managed to find 8 changes that kept the sense of his arrangement. It was a fun challenge to reduce "Principal Choruses 16, 8 and 4 on Great, Swell and Choir coupled together" to Flutes 8 and 4, and still end up with something that worked quite well.

  6. #6
    Captain of Water Music pcnd5584's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2009
    For my money, it is an instrument which, in a sense, no longer exists - the organ of Nôtre-Dame-de-Paris, as it was in about 1977. Unfortunately, successive extensive rebuilding (and restoration) have totally changed Cochereau's conception of this instrument. It has recently been left with a new console so intrinsically ugly that, if it were a car, it would be a Citroën 2CV.

    However, if we are to insist that the perfect organ has still to exist, than I should probably go for either the instrument at Chester Cathedral (Hill & Son/R&D, 1910/1969-70. IV/P, 71ss) or that at Coventry Cathedral (H&H, 1962, IV/P, 74ss). Both are superb instruments, yet each has been designed in a slightly different style - and both speak with a distinct and individual voice.
    Last edited by pcnd5584; Jan-01-2015 at 12:02.
    Pierre Cochereau rocked, man.

  7. #7
    Admiral of Fugues Contratrombone64's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Sydney, Australia
    fascinating thread
    I'm not an atheist and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.
    —Albert Einstein.

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