It is a sign of our growing appreciation for people and composers as individuals that we now regard Buxtehude as himself, and not as a mere “forerunner of Bach”. It is also testimony to the wonderful adventurousness of this composer’s invention. I can’t help thinking he must often have been in trouble for his wayward harmonies and also his melodies. When you think that Bach (having just listened to Buxtehude) was reprimanded for putting off the Arnstadt congregation with his playing of the chorales, would the same not also to have been the case in Lübeck?

Although Buxtehude was so innovative in his compositional manner, the way one is supposed to perform his praeludia is (in one aspect, at least) quite old-fashioned. The fugal sections are (according to Harald Vogel and others) to be played on “consort registrations” – that is, consorts of flutes (recorders), crumhorns or trumpets. Consort organs are rare, one of the finest recently restored being the Stellwagen organ at Stralsund. Perhaps the Compenius organ (1610)– an extreme example - in the Frederiksborg Castle (Denmark) is even more famous.
This Stellwagen instrument, with its spectacular case, is a masterpiece of the period a generation prior to Arp Schnitger. Here you can see at once why such an instrument is termed “consort organ”. Just glancing at the Hauptwerk (“werck”) you can see at once a wonderful consort of flutes – the pipes dating all the way back to 1659. In the Oberpositiv there are immediate possibilities for the use of both reeds and flutes. While here one would be listening to crumhorns, in the Rückpositiff, it would be regals. The pedals have 14 stops, including all you could require to balance whatever manual combination.

There are recommendations as to how to register such an organ in Praetorius’ Syntagma Musicum, Vol. II (in which Compenius almost certainly collaborated). He writes of mixing the consorts, such as playing the Super Gedackt 2’ with a Rankett or Sordun of 16’ pitch! This mixing may often be achieved using two manuals simultaneously.

Like all North-German organ builders, Schnitger retained the late-renaissance and early baroque sounds. His instruments contain many stops imitating insttruments such as the Blockflöte, Dulzian, Cornet, Trumpet, etc. Interestingly there are no “loud” or “quiet” registers (as in, say Central Germany). Everything is created to combine, though always with the minimum number of stops. Mean-tone temperament is also essential to the blend of these instruments, and it gives such a wonderful restfulness as you land on certain chords and cadences.

With the increasing importance of congregational singing in the Lutheran church, Schnitger had to concentrate on developing the mixture plenum. However, this was probably never used in complex polyphony, even though we seem to employ it without much thought in the larger works of J.S. Bach!

Does anyone know of other consort organs?

Best wishes,

Roger.