1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Organ

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ORGAN, in music, the name (from Gr. ὄργανον, Lat. organum, instrument) given to the well-known wind-instrument. The notes of the organ are produced by pipes, which are blown by air under pressure, technically called wind.

Britannica Organ Soundboard Grooves.png
Fig. 1. — A portion of the Table with the open grooves seen from above.

Pipes differ from one another in two principal ways — (1) in pitch, (2) in quality of tone, (1) Consider first a series of pipes producing notes of similar quality, but differing in pitch. Such a series is called a stop. Each stop of the organ is in effect a musical instrument in itself. (2) The pipes of different stops differ, musically speaking, in their quality of tone, as well as sometimes in their pitch. Physically, they differ in shape and general arrangement. The sounding of the pipes is determined by the use of keys, some of which are played by the hands, some by the feet. A complete stop possesses a pipe for every key of some one row of manuals or pedals. If one stop alone is caused to sound, the effect is that of performance on a single instrument. There are such things as incomplete stops, which do not extend over a whole row of keys; and also there are stops which have more than one pipe to each key. Every stop is provided with mechanism by means of which the wind can be cut off from its pipes, so that they cannot sound even when the keys are pressed. This mechanism is made to terminate in a handle, which is commonly spoken of as the stop. When the handle is pushed in, the stop does not sound; when the handle is pulled out, the stop sounds if the keys are pressed. An organ may contain from one to four manuals or keyboards and one set of pedals. There are exceptional instruments having five manuals, and also some having two sets of pedals. The usual compass of the manuals approximates to five octaves, from C to c'''' inclusive. The compass of the pedal is two and a half octaves, from C to f'. This represents the pitch in which the notes of the pedal are written; but the pedal generally possesses stops sounding one octave lower than the written note, and in some cases stops sounding two octaves below the written note. Each manual or pedal has as a rule one soundboard, on which all its pipes are placed. Underneath the soundboard is the windchest, by which the wind is conveyed from the bellows, through the soundboard to the pipes. The windchest contains the mechanism of valves by which the keys control the admission of wind to the soundboard. The soundboard contains the grooves which receive the wind from the valves, and the slides by which the handles of the stops control the transmission of the wind through the soundboard to the pipes of the different stops.

The grooves of the soundboard are spaces left between wooden bars glued on to the table of the soundboard. There is usually one groove for every key. The grooves of the bass notes, which have to supply wind for large pipes, are broader than those of the treble. The bass bars are also thicker than those of the treble, that they may the better support the great weight which rests on the bass portion of the soundboard. The table forms the top of the grooves. The grooves are generally closed below with leather, except the opening left in each, which is closed by the key-valve or pallet.


Britannica Organ Groove Section - First View.png   Britannica Organ Groove Section - Second View.png
Fig. 2. — A section of a groove, with the table, windchest and pallet.   Fig. 3. — A section at right angles to fig. 2.

The sliders are connected with the draw-stops or stop-handles, which are covered in with stout upper boards, on which the pipes stand. The stop-handles are pulled out, and holes are then bored straight down through the upper boards, sliders and table to admit the wind from the grooves to the pipes. When the sliders are shifted by pushing in the handles, the holes no longer correspond, and the pipes are silenced.

Britannica Organ Table from Above.png
Fig. 4. — A portion of the table as it appears from above, with the places for the sliders of the stops; the small circles show the holes for the wind.

Pipes are divided first into flue-pipes and reed-pipes. Flue-pipes are blown by a wind mouthpiece characteristic of the organ, while in reed-pipes the wind acts on a metal tongue vibrating on a reed, and the motion of the tongue determines the speech of the pipe.

Pipes are made either of wood or of metal. Wood flue-pipes are generally of the form of a rectangular parallelepiped, metal flue-pipes of a cylindrical shape. Reed-pipes are conical or pyramidal, and widen towards the top. Some flue-pipes are made with stopped ends; these as a rule sound a note about an octave lower than the corresponding open pipes of the same length. Such are the stopped diapason, bourdon, and stopped flute.

Britannica Organ Four Types of Organ Pipes.png
Fig. 5. — a, An open diapason; b, a stopped diapason; c, an oboe; and d, a trumpet — c and d being forms of reed-pipes.

The general elementary theory of the resonance of a pipe is tolerably simple. The effective length of the pipe is determined by measuring from the upper lip to the open end in open pipes, and from the upper lip to the stopper and back again in stopped pipes. To this is added an allowance for the effect of each opening, since the condition of perfect freedom from constraint does not subsist at the opening itself. The corrected length is traversed twice (backwards and forwards) by sound, in the time of one vibration of the resultant note. This describes in a rough and general manner the way in which any disturbance gives rise to the note of the pipe; but the theory of the mouth-pieces is a much more difficult matter, into which we cannot here enter.

Britannica Organ Mouthpieces Detail.png
Fig. 6. — Mouthpieces in somewhat greater detail.

In reed-pipes which are simply conical the resonance of the body is nearly the same as that of an open pipe of the same length. Where the form is irregular no simple rule can be given. But the resonance of the body of the pipe is generally the same as the note produced. The tongue of a reed-pipe alternately opens and closes the aperture of the reed. In this way it admits pulses of wind to the body of the pipe; these, if they recur at the proper intervals, maintain its vibration, which takes place when the note produced corresponds to the resonance of the pipe. The reed itself has its vibrating length determined by a wire which presses against it. The free end of this wire is touched with the tuning tool until a satisfactory note is produced.

The pitch of the different stops is commonly denoted by the conventional approximate length of the pipe sounded by C, the lowest key of the manual. Even in incomplete stops which have no bass, the length of the pipe which C would have if the stop were extended down serves to indicate the pitch.

The conventional length of the C-pipe for stops having the normal pitch of the keys is 8 ft.; a pipe having twice this length sounds the octave below, a pipe having half that length the octave above, and so on. Thus stops which sound the octave below the normal pitch of the keys are spoken of as 16-foot stops. Even where the pipes are stopped so that the actual length is only 8 ft., they are spoken of as having “16-ft. tone.” Similarly 32-ft. stops sound two octaves below the normal pitch of the keys. But if these notes are produced by stopped pipes, whose actual length is only 16ft., they are spoken of as having “32-ft. tone.” Sixteen-foot and 32-ft. stops are specially characteristic of the pedal, where the names also signify the length of the open pipe which would sound the note actually produced by the lowest C. Of stops higher than the normal pitch of the keys, the octave is denoted by 4 ft. if made with open pipes, 4-ft. tone if stopped; the twelfth is commonly spoken of as 2⅔, the fifteenth or double octave as 2 ft. Higher-sounding stops are occasionally used, but these generally form part of “mixtures,” and the foot-lengths of the separate ranks are not usually given.

The true or accurate lengths of the pipes vary within considerable limits. The base of the scales (dimensions) varies according to the standard of pitch, and the voicing and the complicated natural laws of pipes produce other deviations from simple relations, so that the conventional dimensions can only be regarded as a simple means of classifying the stops according to their pitch-relations. For this purpose they are essential; they are continually appealed to in discussion and description; and they are almost invariably marked on the stop-handles in all countries, so that a moderate knowledge of foreign nomenclatures, combined with the habit of seizing the meaning of the figures such as 16, 8, 4, on the stop-handles, will frequently suffice as a key to the complexities of a foreign organ.

Each of the manuals, or rows of keys, of an organ constitutes a separate organ, which is more or less complete in itself. The names of the different manuals or organs are great organ, swell organ, choir organ and solo organ. The fifth manual, where it occurs, is the echo organ. The above is the usual order in point of development and frequency of occurrence, although the solo is sometimes preferred to the choir organ. The great organ is in a certain sense the principal department of the organ. It may be regarded as formed by a completely developed series of those fundamental stops which constitute the solid basis of the tone of the instrument. If an instrument be constructed with only a single manual this necessarily assumes, in general, the characteristics of a great organ. The great organ is called “grande orgue” in French, and first manual or “haupt-werk” in German.

It is proposed to describe the principal organ-stops under the heads of the manuals to which they belong. The enumeration will not be exhaustive, but will include all the usual types.

The great organ begins generally with stops of 16 ft. in large instruments. In some cases a 32-foot sounding stop is introduced, Great organ. but this cannot be said to be a proper characteristic of the great organ. The foundation tone is of 8 ft.; the stops of higher pitch serve to add brilliancy; those of 16 ft., which sound the octave below the normal pitch, serve to add gravity and weight to the tone. Sixteen-foot stops are commonly spoken of as “doubles,” their conventional length being twice that of stops of normal pitch.

The 16-ft. stops are the 16 double open diapason, and the 16 bourdon or double stopped diapason, to which, in very large instruments, there may be added a 16 double trumpet. The double open diapason on the great organ consists usually of metal pipes, having moderate “scale,” or transverse dimensions. These are of the same general character as the pipes of the ordinary open diapason, though they are made somewhat less powerful. In the better instruments of the second class as to size this stop alone would probably be regarded as representing suitably and sufficiently the class of doubles on the great organ. It gives great body to the general tone, and appears decidedly preferable to the bourdon, which frequently takes its place.

The 16 bourdon, when used on the great organ, is made of rather small scale and light tone. It gives great body to a large great organ and affords interesting combinations with other stops, such as the 4-ft. flute. It is used either alone in smaller organs of the second class, or in addition to a double open in larger instruments.

The 16 double trumpet is a trumpet (large reed stop) sounding the octave below the normal pitch. It is used generally in instruments of the largest size, but is somewhat more common in Germany. It is useful in giving a massive character to the tone of the full great organ, which is apt to become disagreeable on account of the great development of stops of a piercing character. If, however, the double trumpet is rough in tone, it is apt to communicate to the whole a corresponding impression.

We now proceed to the 8-ft. stops (the reeds come at the end according to ordinary usage). An ordinary great organ may contain Great organ 8 feet. 8 stopped diapason, 8 open diapason (one or more), 8 gamba and 8 hohlflöte. The 8 stopped diapason on the great organ is usually of moderate scale, and some considerable fulness of tone. Few stops admit of more variety and individuality in their quality of tone than the stopped diapason; but too frequently the great organ stopped diapason fails to attract attention on its merits, being regarded simply as an inconsiderable portion of the foundation tone.

If there is any one stop which in itself represents the organ as a whole it is the open diapason. The pipes of this stop are the typical metal pipes which have always been characteristic of the appearance of the organ. A single open diapason stop is capable of being used as an organ of sufficient power for many purposes, though of course without variety. The pipes of this stop are called “principal” in German, this appellation apparently corresponding to the fact that they are the true and original organ-pipes. The English appellation of “diapason” has been taken to mean that these are the normal pipes which run through the whole compass. This, however, does not appear to be the actual derivation of the term; originally it is technically applied to the organ-builder's rule, which gives the dimensions of pipes; and it appears that the application to the stop followed on this meaning.

The scales, character and voicing of the open diapason vary with fashion, and are different in different countries. We may distinguish three principal types. The old English diapasons of the days before the introduction of pedal organs into England were characterized by a rich sweet tone, and were not very powerful. They were generally voiced on a light wind, having a pressure equivalent to that of a column of water of from 2 to 2½ in. The scale was in some cases very large, as in Green's two open diapasons in the old organ at St George's, Windsor; in these the wind was light, and the tone very soft. In other cases the scale was smaller and the voicing bolder, as in Father Smith's original diapasons in St Paul's Cathedral. But on the whole the old English diapasons presented a lovely quality of tone. English travellers of those days, accustomed to these diapasons, usually found foreign organs harsh, noisy and uninteresting. And there are many still in England who, while recognizing the necessity of a firmer diapason tone in view of the introduction of the heavy pedal bass, and the corresponding strengthening of the upper departments of the organ tone, lament the disappearance of the old diapason tone. However, it is possible with care to obtain diapasons presenting the sweet characteristics of the old English tone, combined with sufficient fulness and power to form a sound general foundation. And there can be no doubt that this should be one of the chief points to be kept in view in organ design.

The German diapason was of an entirely different character from the English. The heavy bass of the pedals has been an essential characteristic of the German organ for at least two or three centuries, or, as it is said, for four. The development of the piercing stops of high pitch was equally general. Thus foundation work of comparatively great power was required to maintain the balance of tone; the ordinary German diapason was very loud, and we may almost say coarse, in its tone when compared with the old English diapason. The German stop was voiced as a rule on from 3½ to 4 in. of wind, not quite twice the pressure used in England.

The French diapason is a modern variety. It may be described as presenting rather the characteristics of a loud gamba than of a diapason. In other words the tone tends towards a certain quality which may be described as “nasal” or metallic, or as approaching to that of a string instrument of rather coarse character. Some modern English builders appear to aim at the same model, and not without success.

The tone of a diapason must be strong enough to assert itself It is the foundation of the whole organ tone. It is the voicer's business to satisfy this condition in conjunction with the requirement that the tone shall be full and of agreeable quality.

The 8 spitzflöte may be regarded as a variety of open diapason. The pipes taper slightly towards the top, and the quality is slightly stringy. This stop was much used at one time in place of a second open diapason. But it appears better that, where two open diapasons are desirable, they should both be of full diapason quality, though possibly of different strengths and dimensions. The admixture of stringy qualities of tone with the diapasons is always to be deprecated.

The 8 gamba was originally an imitation of the viola da gamba, a sort of violoncello. When made of a light quality of tone it is a pleasing stop; but its use in the great organ instead of a second open diapason is greatly to be deprecated for the reasons just stated.

The 8 hohlflöte is an open flute, usually of wood, and of small scale. If made to a moderate scale and fully voiced it possesses a full pleasant tone, which is a useful support to the foundation tone of the great organ. The 8 clarabella differs from the hohlflöte in being usually of rather large scale, and having the open pipes only in the treble. In old organs a separate bass was generally provided; now it is more usual to supply the stop with a stopped bass.

The 4-ft. stops of the great organ comprise the 4 principal and the 4 flute. The 4 principal is the octave of the open diapason, generally Great organ 4 feet. of somewhat reduced scale and light but bright quality of tone. The use of the word “principal” in connexion with this stop is purely English, and is said to be connected with the use made of it as the standard of tuning for the whole organ. The Germans and French both designate this stop as “octave.”

Of the 4 flute there are several varieties — open, stopped, wood, metal and harmonic. The harmonic flute has open metal pipes of double the conventional length, which speak their octave. This is determined partly by the voicing, partly by making a small hole about the middle of the length, which determines the motion as that of the two separate lengths between which the hole lies. Harmonic flutes have a sweet but full and powerful tone. Other flutes are generally rather light, except the waldflöte, which is a powerful stop of a somewhat hooting quality.

The great organ flute is frequently used to give brilliancy to light combinations. Thus it may be used with the stopped diapason alone, or with the 16 bourdon alone, or with any of these and either or both of the open diapasons.

The ordinary use of the 4-ft. stops is to add a degree of loudness to the diapasons. This is accompanied with a certain measure of keenness, which may become disagreeable if the 4-ft. tone is disproportionately strong. The ordinary practice is to use the 4-ft. tone very freely.

The 2⅔ twelfth stop sounds fiddle g on the C key. It is composed Great organ stops of high pitch of diapason pipes, rather small and gently voiced. Its use is said to be to thicken the tone, which it certainly does. But how far the particular effect produced is desirable is another question. It is generally necessary that this stop should be accompanied by the fifteenth or other octave sounding stop of higher pitch.

The 2 fifteenth, or superoctave, of the great organ consists of diapason pipes sounding notes two octaves above the normal pitch of the keys. The 2 piccolo is a fluty stop of less power, having the same pitch. The 2-ft. tone is commonly used as giving a degree of loudness to the great organ beyond that obtainable with the 4-ft. tone.

The modern great organ fifteenth is generally a very powerful stop, and requires great caution in its use in organs of moderate size, or in limited spaces. The old English high pitched stops had little power, and their brilliancy was capable of pleasing without offence. The modern great organ up to fifteenth can only be heard with comfort in very large spaces. Under such suitable circumstances the fifteenth is capable of giving to the whole tone a ringing or silvery character, which lends itself specially to contrast with the tone of reeds. This peculiar keen tone requires for its full development the mixtures.

Mixture, sesquialtera, furniture, cymbal, scharf, cornet, are various names applied to a description of stop which possesses several ranks or several pipes to each note. The pipes of each note sound a chord which is generally composed of concordant notes of the harmonic series whose fundamental is the proper note of the key. Modern mixtures generally consist of fifths and octaves. Their composition is not the same throughout the whole range of the keyboard. A three-rank mixture may consist of the following (the numbers signify intervals, reckoned along the scale) —

C—c (tenor) 15—19—22 
c# to top 8—12—15.

For a somewhat larger full mixture this may be modified as follows —

C—c' (middle) 15—19—22 
c'# to top 1—8—12—15.

A sharp mixture suitable for a large instrument may be as follows —

Five Ranks.
C—c' 15—19—22—26—29 
c'#—f' 8—12—15—19—22 
g''—c''' 1—8—12—15—19 
c''' to top 1—5—8—12—15.

The last two compositions are given by Hopkins in his great treatise on the organ.

The early mixtures generally included the tierce (17th, or two octaves and a third). The German practice was to unite this with a twelfth, carrying the combination 12-17 throughout the keyboard under the name of sesquialtera. The combination is not now usually provided. The old English sesquialtera was ordinarily simply a form of mixture, as was the furniture. The mounted cornet consisted usually of five ranks —

1—8—12—15—17.

It extended from middle c upwards. The pipes were raised on a small soundboard of their own. The stop was used for giving out a melody. It is now obsolete.

The question of the employment and composition of mixtures is of the greatest importance with respect to the good effect of the full organ proper, i.e. without reeds. With reference to the whole question of keen-toned stops it may be laid down that their free employment in the great organ does not produce a good effect unless the organ is situated in a very large space. If this is the case, properly proportioned mixtures are capable of giving to the tone of the full diapason work a character which is brilliant without being overpowering. The contrast between this class of tone and that afforded by the reeds is one of the most charming and legitimate effects within the range of the instrument.

We now pass to the reeds. The 16-ft. trumpet has been already alluded to, and there remain 8 trumpet and 4 clarion or octave Great organ reeds. trumpet. These are both stops of great power. The best trumpets possess also richness and smoothness of tone. Stops of this class can be used with the diapasons only, producing what may be described as a rich-toned blare of moderate strength. The more usual employment of the reeds is in connexion with the entire great organ, the whole forming the ordinary fortissimo of the instrument.

The second department of the English organ is the swell organ. The whole of the swell pipes are enclosed in a box, faced on one or Swell organ. more sides with a set of balanced shutters. When these are closed the tone is almost completely muffled. When the shutters are opened, by means of a pedal usually, the sound bursts out. In order that the use of the swell may be effective, it is necessary that the shutters should close tightly, and that there should be a sufficient volume of tone to produce an effect when they are opened. The swell is of entirely English origin; it has been introduced in Germany to a very small extent, but more widely in France. It is usually called “recitatif” on the Continent. The chief characteristic of the swell is the rich and powerful volume of reed-tone of a peculiar character which it contains. But other stops are also of importance. We consider them in order. The 16 bourdon, small scale, is very commonly used in swells. It assists in giving body to the tone. It occupies, however, a large space within the swell box; and where the choice between it and a i6-ft. reed has to be made there can be no doubt that the reed should be preferred, as it contributes so much more to the development of the characteristic swell tone. The 16 contra fagotto is the usual name of this stop. It imparts great richness to the tone of the other swell reeds.

The 8-ft. diapason work is principally valuable for the soft effects obtained from it. The diapasons are voiced less loudly than for the great organ; and with the shutters closed they sound very soft. The dulciana is the softest stop generally available; and either this or some similar stop is introduced into the swell for the purpose of obtaining effects of the most extreme softness. Space within the swell box has generally to be economized. The complete bass of the open diapason or dulciana requires an 8-ft. swell box, whereas even a 16-ft. reed can be bent round so as to go within a smaller box if necessary. The open diapason and the dulciana are therefore often cut short at tenor c, and completed, if desired, with stopped pipes. The 4 principal and the 4 flute stops are similar to the corresponding stops in the great organ, but are somewhat lighter in tone.

The 2 fifteenth and mixtures are much more pleasing in the swell than in the great organ. The shutters tone them down, so that they cannot easily become offensive. Added to the reeds, they give a peculiar brilliancy to the full swell. But perhaps their most pleasing use is when all the diapason work of the swell is used alone, and as a contrast to the reeds.

The usual reeds are as follows, besides the doubles already mentioned: 8 oboe, 8 cornopean, 8 trumpet and 4 clarion (octave trumpet). The oboe (hautboy) is a conventional imitation of the orchestral instrument. It is a stop of delicate tone, and perhaps is at its best in solo passages, softly accompanied on another manual. The cornopean has a powerful horn-like tone. It is the stop which, more than any other, gives to the English swell its peculiar character. The trumpet is used in addition to the cornopean in large instruments. The clarion serves to add brightness and point to the whole. The vox humana is also frequently placed on the swell.

Choir organ. The third department is the choir organ. The 8-ft. choir work may contain 8 stopped diapason, 8 open diapason, organ. 8 gamba, 8 keraulophon and 8 hohlflöte.

As a rule no open diapason is provided for choir organs, unless they are larger than usual; but a small open is most useful as a means of obtaining a better balance than usual against the other manuals. The stopped diapason is generally made to contrast in some way with that on the great organ. The hohlflöte, or its representative, is generally a lighter stop than what would be put on the great organ. The gamba is better placed in the choir organ than in the great or the swell. Such stops as the gamba and the keraulophon are frequently placed in the swell with the idea of adding to the reediness of the tone. But this is fallacious. Their tone is not strong enough to assert itself through the shutters, and their peculiar character is therefore lost. On the choir organ, on the other hand, the sort of strength required is just about what they possess, and they show to advantage. The keraulophon is a stop invented by Gray and Davison, and has been widely adopted for many years. It has a hole made in each pipe near the top, and gives a peculiar tone very well described by its name (horn-flute). Though not very like the gamba, its tone is so far of the same type of quality that the two stops would hardly be used together. It is generally the case that similar stops of exceptional characters do not combine well, whereas stops of opposed qualities do combine well. Thus a gamba and a keraulophon would not combine well, whereas either of them forms an excellent combination with a stopped diapason or a hohlflöte.

The 4 principal is sometimes very useful. A light combination on the choir, with excess of 4-ft. tone, may often be advantageously contrasted with the more full and solid tone of the great diapasons, or with other attainable effects. The 4 flute is constantly used. The 2 piccolo is frequently found on the choir organ, but is not particularly useful.

In organs which have no solo manual there is usually a clarionet (cremona, cromorne or krummhorn, in old organs sometimes corno di bassetto) on the choir, and often an orchestral oboe (real imitation of the instrument). These are reed-stops. The dulciana and another soft stop, the salicional, salcional or salicet (of similar strength, but slightly more pungent quality), are often placed on the choir. They are, however, hardly strong enough to be of much use there, and in the swell they are useful for effects of extreme softness. In very large instruments a fifteenth and a mixture are sometimes placed on the choir, which in this case has a complete series of diapason work. If the fifteenth and the mixtures are light enough the result is a sort of imitation of the tone of the old English organ. It also forms a useful echo to the great organ, i.e. a passage played on the great may be repeated on the similar but fainter tone of the choir with the effect of an echo. In instruments of the largest size the choir is sometimes provided with a very small bourdon of 16-ft. tone, which helps to give to the tone the character of that of a small full organ without reeds.

The solo organ is comparatively modern, at all events in its present usual form. A fourth manual was not unknown in old Solo organ. German organs; but the contents of all four resembled each other in a general sort of way, and there was nothing like the English swell or the modern solo. The solo appears to have arisen with Cavaillé-Coll in France, and Hill in England, as a vehicle for the powerful reed-stops on heavy wind introduced by these builders. Thus the French term for the solo is “clavier des bombardes”: and in the earlier English solos the “tuba mirabilis” was usually prominent. A solo organ may suitably contain any of the following stops: 8 tromba (a powerful reed on heavy wind), 8 harmonic flute (powerful tone and heavy wind), 8 clarionet and 8 orchestral oboe (real imitations of the instruments) and 8 vox humana (conventional imitation of the human voice). The last three stops are reeds. They may be with advantage enclosed in a swell box, having a separate pedal. In very large instruments a complete series of both diapason and reed stops is occasionally placed on the solo. But there does not seem to be much advantage in this arrangement.

We now come to the pedal. This forms the general bass to the whole organ. Thirty-two foot stops only occur in the largest Pedal organ. instruments; they are as follows: 32 open diapason (wood or metal), 32-ft. tone bourdon and 32 contra trombone, posaune, bombarde, sackbut (reed). The 32-ft. open diapason, whether wood or metal, is usually made of large scale, and produces true musical notes throughout. Its musical effect in the lower part of its range is, however, questionable, so far as this depends on the possibility of recognizing the pitch of the notes. It adds great richness to the general effect, particularly in large spaces. The 32-ft. tone bourdon is not usually a successful stop. It rarely produces its true note in the lower part of its range. The 32-ft. reed on the pedal has long been a characteristic of the largest instruments. With the old type of reed it was rarely pleasant to hear. The manufacture has been greatly improved, and these large reeds are now made to produce a fairly smooth effect. Deep reed notes, when rich and good, undoubtedly form one of the principal elements in giving the impression of power produced by large organs. From this point of view they are of great importance. Nevertheless the effect of large pedal reeds is generally more satisfactory to the performer than to the listener.

The 16-ft. pitch may be regarded as the normal pitch of the pedal; the principal stops are as follows: 16 open diapason (wood or metal), l6-ft. tone bourdon, 16 violone (imitation of double bass) and 16 trombone or posaune (reed). The 16-ft. open diapason on the pedal assumes different forms according to circumstances. As a rule the character is sufficiently indicated by the stop being of wood or metal. The wooden open is generally of very large scale, and produces a ponderous tone of great power and fulness, which is only suitable for the accompaniment of the full organ, or of very powerful manual combinations. Such a stop is, as a rule, unsuitable in organs of moderate size, unless supplemented by lighter 16s for ordinary purposes. The metal open is of considerably smaller scale (in fact all metal pipes are effectively of much smaller scale than wooden pipes of similar diameter). The metal gives a clear tone, lighter than that of large wooden pipes, and pleasanter for ordinary purposes. The metal open combines advantageously with a bourdon. In the largest organs both wood and metal open l6s may be suitably provided. Where metal pipes are made a feature in the organ-case, both the double open diapason in the great organ and the metal 16 of the pedal may be properly made of good metal (polished tin or spotted metal), and worked in to the design of the organ-case.[1] The same applies to the 32-ft. metal opens of the largest instruments. This saves space in the interior, and gives the large pipes room to speak, which is apt to be wanting when they are placed inside. The 16-ft. tone bourdon on the pedal may be made of any scale according to circumstances. If it is the chief bass of the organ it is made very large and with great volume of tone. Such stops are unsuitable for soft purposes, and a soft 16, usually a violone, is required in addition. If the loud department of the 16 tone is otherwise provided for the bourdon may be made of moderate strength. It may also be made very soft, like a manual bourdon. These three different strengths ought always to be provided for in an instrument of a complete character. The violone is also made of all three strengths. In a few cases it furnishes the principal bass; frequently it furnishes the moderate element; and it is often applied to obtain a very soft 16-ft. tone. The 16-ft. reed is very common. The observations made as to the effect of 32-ft. reeds are applicable also in this case.

The 8-ft. department of the pedal is only less important than the 16, because it is possible to replace it to a certain extent by coupling or attaching the manuals to the pedals. The usual 8-ft. pedal-stops are as follows: 8 principal bass (metal or wood), 8 bass flute (stopped), 8 violoncello (imitation of the instrument) and 8 trumpet. The remarks made above as to the scale of open l6s apply with little change to the pedal principal. Only, since the manuals are generally coupled, it is perhaps best to provide the large scale wood-stop, which presents the powerful class of tone in which the manual diapasons are deficient. The bass flute is almost a necessity in combination with the light 16-ft. tone. A composition ought to be provided by which the pedal can be reduced to these two elements by a single movement. The violoncello is sometimes used instead of the bass flute for the last-named purpose, for which, however, it is not so suitable. It is a favourite stop for some solo purposes, but is not of much general utility. The 8-ft. trumpet serves to give clearness and point to the tone of the 16-ft. reed.

In the short preface to Mendelssohn's Organ Sonatas it is stated that everywhere, even in pianissimo, it is intended that the 16-ft. tone of the pedal should be accompanied by 8-ft. tone. For the purpose of realizing this as a general direction the soft 16-ft. and 8-ft. stops are required; large instruments are, however, occasionally found which possess nothing of the kind.

The following stops of higher pitch are occasionally found on the pedal: 5⅓ twelfth bass, 4 fifteenth bass, mixture and 4 clarion. These serve to make the pedal tone practically independent of coupling to the manual, which is a matter of great importance, especially in the performance of certain compositions of Bach and other writers, who appear to have been independent of couplers.

In some instruments two sets of pedals are provided, which may be described as great and choir pedals. The great pedal is in the Second pedal. usual position; the choir pedal is in front of the other, and sloping. It is so placed that the feet rest on it naturally when stretched out in front of the performer. There is a choir pedal of this kind in the organ in the minster at Ulm, built by Walcker of Ludwigsburg. It is a very large instrument, having 100 sounding stops. It has no compositions, which indeed are but little known in Germany; and without some arrangement such as this a soft pedal would hardly be obtainable. There are a few other instruments which have choir pedals, but they have not been introduced into England.

In organs which have a single manual the characteristics of the great and choir organs are usually united. In organs which have Arrangement of manuals. two manuals the lower usually represents the united great and choir, the upper is the swell. In organs which have three manuals the lower is usually the choir, but sometimes combines choir and solo, the middle is the great, and the top is the swell. In organs which have four manuals the order is solo, swell, great, choir, the solo being at the top and the choir at the bottom.

Compositions are mechanical contrivances for moving the stop-handles in groups at a time. The ordinary form consists of pedals, Compositions. which project from the front just above the pedal keys. The arrangements are various. We may refer to the arrangement in the organ at Windsor, given later on. A species of composition was introduced by Willis some years ago, and has been adopted in many large English instruments, which acts by means of a series of brass disks placed just under the front of the keys of each manual, within reach of the thumb. These act by means of pneumatic levers. A slight pressure on one of the disks sets the machine attached to it in action, and the required change in the stops is made without any exertion on the part of the performer.


Britannica Organ Square and Trackerwork.png   Britannica Organ Sticker.png
Fig. 7. — A, square, B, tracker; C, metal square.   Fig. 8. — A and B as in fig. 7; C, sticker.


Britannica Organ Backfall.png
Fig. 9. — Backfall.


Britannica Organ Fan Frame.png
Fig. 10. — Fan Frame.


The connexion between the keys and their pallets is made by various mechanisms, some of which are very ancient. In square General mechanism. and trackerwork (fig. 7) the old squares were made of wood. They resemble in function the squares used for taking bell-wires round a corner. The trackers are slight strips of wood, having screwed wires whipped on to their ends, which hold by leather buttons. The trackers play the part of the bell-wires. Where pressure has to be transmitted instead of a pull, thin but broad slips of wood are used, having pins stuck into their ends to keep them in their places. These are stickers (fig. 8). Backfalls (fig. 9) are narrow wooden levers turning on pins which pass through their centres. The fan frame (fig. 10) is a set of backfalls having one set of ends close together, usually corresponding to the keys; the other ends are spread widely apart. The roller board (fig. 11) is a more general mode of shifting the movements sideways. The roller is a slip of wood, or a bit of metal tube, which turns on two pins inserted into its ends. It has two arms projecting at right angles to its length. One of these receives the pull at one point, the other gives it off at another. In case a pull has to be transmitted to more than one quarter, a roller will sometimes have more than two arms. The name of couplers (fig. 12) is given to the mechanical stop by which the keys of one manual are made to take down those of another, or those of the pedal to take down those of the manuals. Some old forms of the mechanism could not be put on while any of the keys were depressed; others had a tendency to throw the fingers off the keys. These forms have been entirely superseded. That now used consists of a series of backfalls centred on a movable support. The one set of ends is connected with the moving keys; the other set of ends is pierced by the wires of the trackers or stickers from the keys to be moved. In the one position of the support these ends play freely over the wires; in the other they are brought up against the buttons of the trackers or against the stickers to be moved. The usual couplers are — each of the manuals to the pedal, swell to great, swell to great octave, swell to great sub-octave, swell to choir, choir to great sub-octave, and solo to great. The swell octave and sub-octave couplers are sometimes placed on the swell itself. The objection to this is, that if they are used when the swell is coupled to the great organ, as is very commonly the case, the octaves are reached through two couplers. And, as couplers are not generally screwed up quite tight, the octaves are often not sufficiently put down to sound in tune. The choir to great sub-octave coupler was used chiefly as a substitute for a double on the great organ. It is common in organs of the transition period, but is not a good arrangement.


Britannica Organ Roller Board.png
Fig. 11. — Roller Board.


Britannica Organ Coupler.png
Fig. 12. — Coupler.

The pneumatic lever (fig. 13) consists of a small power bellows attached to each key, so that the depression of the key admits high-pressure wind to the power bellows. The power bellows then performs the work of opening the valves, &c. In large organs the work to be done would be beyond the reach of the most powerful finger without this device. Similar devices are sometimes applied to the compositions and other mechanical arrangements.


Britannica Organ Pneumatic Lever.png
Fig. 13. — Pneumatic Lever.


Pneumatic transmission, with many other mechanical devices, was invented by Willis. It consists of a divided pneumatic action. The pneumatic wind, instead of being at once admitted to the power bellows, is made to traverse a length of tubing, at the farther end of which it reaches the work to be done. This principle admits of application to divided organs, the pneumatic transmission passing under the floor, as in the organ at St Paul's Cathedral.

Ventils are valves which control the wind-supply of the different groups of stops. They were much recommended at one time as a substitute for compositions. The practical difference is that compositions shift the stop-handles, so that one can always see what there is on the organ; ventils leave the stop handles unmoved, so that the player is liable to be deceived. Other inconveniences might be mentioned, but it is enough to say that practical opinion appears decidedly to condemn the use of ventils.

The original pedal boards of Germany were flat and of very large scale. The early practice in England was to make them very small, Arrangements about the performer. as well as of short compass. Of late the compass C — f', thirty notes, has been universally adopted with scales varying from 2¼ to 2½ in. from centre to centre of the naturals; 2¾ in. is the scale now recommended. A large number of organs have been provided with concave radiating pedal boards. The objections to this arrangement are mainly two: They present different scales at different distances from the front; and, except just in front, they become so narrow that the smallest foot can hardly put down the pedals singly. This renders difficult the old Bach style of playing, the essence of which consists in putting the feet over each other freely, so as to use the alternate method as much as possible; and this requires that the back of the pedal board shall be as available as the front.

The diversities of the arrangements of different organs present a great difficulty. The best players take a certain time to master the arrangements of a strange instrument. With a view to the introduction of uniformity a conference on the subject was arranged by the College of Organists in London, and a series of resolutions and a series of recommendations were published which deserve attention (1881), though they have now been withdrawn. We may mention that the parallel concave form was recommended for the pedal board, and 2⅜ in. for the scale. The positions of the stops of the various organs were to be as follows: —


Left.   Right.
Swell.   Solo.
Pedal.   Great.
Couplers.   Choir.


The order of compositions, &c., from piano to forte was to be in all cases from left to right. The groups of compositions were to be in the order from left to right — pedal, swell, couplers, great.


Britannica Organ Manual and Pedal Relative Position.png
Fig. 14. — Relative Position of Manual and Pedal.


Two other points of detail may be alluded to. One is the position of the pedal board with reference to the keys. The height from the middle of the pedals to the great organ keys, it is agreed, should be 32 in. But as to the forward position there is a difference. The resolutions said that “a plumb-line dropped from the front of the great organ sharp keys falls 2 in. nearer the player than the front of the centre short key of the pedal board.” The old arrangement gave usually 1½ in. for this distance. But it is thought that the change has not gone far enough, and 4 in. has been found preferable. There is scarcely any single arrangement which is so important for the comfort of the player as having sufficient space in this direction (fig. 14). The second matter is the provision of some other means of acting on the swell than by the swell pedal. The use of the swell pedal is inconsistent with the proper use of both feet on the pedal keys; and there is no doubt that incorrect habits in this respect are commonly the result of the English use of the swell pedal. In fact, players sometimes keep one foot on the swell pedal all the time, so that proper pedal playing is impossible. Arrangements have been devised by means of which a movable back to the seat can be made the means of acting on the swell. The first “recommendation” of the College of Organists illustrated the requirement; it was, that “the consideration of organ-builders be directed to the widely-expressed desire for some means of operating on the swell in addition to the ordinary swell pedal.” G. Cooper had a movable back to the seat of the organ at St Sepulchre's, London. The swell was opened by leaning back, so that it could only be used when the swell was coupled to the great. The writer has had an organ for more than twenty years in which the movable back is provided with a strap passing over one shoulder and buckling in front. It opens the swell when the player leans forward. It is most valuable, particularly in such things as accompanying the service. The emphasis required is obtained when wanted without taking the feet from their other duties. Young people pick it up easily; older people have difficulty.

As an example of an organ of a complete but not enormously large character, we give the details of the organ at St George's Chapel, Windsor, which was rebuilt by Messrs Gray and Davidson, according to Sir Walter Parratt's designs, in the year 1883.


Four manuals, C to a''', 58
notes. Pedal, C to f', 30 notes.
Great Organ (3½-in. wind).
Double open diapason 16
Large open diapason 8
Open diapason 8
Stopped diapason 8
Clarabella 8
Principal 4
Harmonic flute 4
Twelfth 2⅔
Fifteenth 2
Sesquialtera[2] III ranks
Harmonic piccolo 2
Posaune 8
Clarion 4
Swell Organ (3-in. wind).
Lieblich bourdon 16
Open diapason 8
Stopped diapason 8
Dulciana 8
Vox coelestis[2] 8
Principal 4
Octave dulciana 4
Fifteenth 2
Mixture[2] III ranks
Contra fagotto 16
Cornopean 8
Oboe 8
Vox humana 8
Clarion 4
 
Choir Organ (2¾-in. wind).
Dulciana 8
Keraulophon 8
Stopped diapason 8
Viol d'orchestre 8
Flute 4
Piccolo 2
Corno di bassetto (reed) 8
Solo Organ (6-in. wind).
Harmonic flute 8
Orchestral oboe 8
Tromba 8
Pedal Organ (4-in. wind).
Open diapason (wood) 16
Violone (metal) 16
Bourdon (wood) 16
Wood flute 8
Trombone (wood tubes) 16
Couplers.
Solo to great. Swell to pedal.
Swell to great. Great to pedal.
Solo to pedal. Choir to pedal.
Pneumatic action to great
organ and its couplers.
The arrangement of the stops
and compositions is as follows: —
Left. Over the keys. Right.
Solo. Couplers. Swell.
Choir. Tremulant. Great.
Pedal. (Knob below swell keys.)

Composition Pedals.

Britannica Organ Composition Pedals.png

One swell pedal controls two sides of the swell box. The other controls the box in which the orchestral oboe is placed. The vox humana is in a box which is always shut, inside the swell box.


History of the Modern Organ.


The history of the ancient organ is dealt with in a separate section below. The first keyboard is said to have been introduced into the organ in the cathedral at Magdeburg about the close of the 11th century. There were sixteen keys; and a drawing exists in a work of the 17th century[3] which purports to represent them. They are said to have been an ell long and 3 in. broad. The drawing represents a complete octave with naturals and short keys (semitones), arranged in the same relative positions as in the modern keyboard. In early organs with keyboards the keys are said to have required blows of the fist to put them down. In these cases probably sounding the notes of the plain song was all that could be accomplished.

As to the precise time and conditions under which the keyboard assumed its present form we know nothing. It is commonly said that the change to narrow keys took place in the course of the 14th century, and the semitones were introduced about the same time.

Many examples of organ keyboards still exist, both in England and on the Continent, which have black naturals and white short keys (semitones). The organ in the church at Heiligenblut in Tirol had in 1870 two manuals, one having black naturals and white semitones, the other white naturals and black semitones. In this organ the stops were acted on by iron levers which moved right and left. It had a beautiful tone; it possessed a reservoir bellows of great capacity, and was altogether a remarkable instrument. Harpsichords with black keyboards also exist.

The mode of blowing practised about the time of the introduction of the first keyboard appears to have been that which Bellows. ultimately developed into the method still generally used in Germany. There were a great many separate bellows, each like a magnified kitchen-bellows, but provided with a valve, so that the wind could not return into the bellows. One man had charge of two of these. Each foot was attached to one bellows, and the blower held on by a bar above. It was possible, by raising each of the two bellows in turn and then resting his weight upon it, to produce a constant supply of wind with the pressure due to his weight. A great many such bellows were provided, and it seems that each pair required one man; so that great numbers of blowers were employed. A slight modification is enough to change this method into the German one. Instead of fastening the feet to the bellows and pulling them up, the blower treads on a lever which raises the bellows. The bellows being loaded then supplies the wind of itself. The bellows thus used have diagonal hinges, and various expedients are employed to make them furnish steady wind. But the English system of horizontal reservoirs and feeders appears far superior.

The invention of the pedal may be set down to the 15th century. About that time the organ assumed on the Continent of Europe Pedal. the general form which it has retained till lately, more especially in Germany. This may be described generally as having a compass of about four octaves in the manuals and of two octaves in the pedal, with occasionally extra notes at the top in both, and frequently “short octaves” at the bottom. German short octaves are as follows. The manual and pedal appear to terminate on E instead of C. Then the E key sounds C, F=F, F#=D, G=G, G#=E, and the rest as usual. There were often three, sometimes four, manuals in large organs. The character of all these was in general much the same, but they were more softly voiced in succession, the softest manual being sometimes spoken of as an echo organ. There are one or two examples of the echo as a fourth or fifth manual in England at the present time, in organs which have been designed more or less under German inspiration. The old echo was long ago superseded by the swell in England.

A few ancient cases survive in a more or less altered condition. Cases. Of these the following are worthy of mention, as bearing on the question of date.


Sion (Switzerland). Gothic. A small instrument 1390
Amiens. Originally Gothic. Large, with l6-ft. pipes 1429
Perpignan. Gothic. Large, with 32-ft. pipes 1490
Lübeck. One of the finest Gothic organs in Europe. 32s. 1504
(or, according to Hopkins, 1518).


In all these the cases are sufficiently preserved to make it almost certain that pipes of the same lengths were originally employed. The actual pipes are generally modern. Shortly after this date we find Renaissance cases. At La Ferté Bernard (dep. Sarthe) part of the substructure is Gothic, and is known to be of date 1501; the organ above is Renaissance, and is known to be of date 1536. At St Maurice, Angers, an organ was built in 1511, with Renaissance case, two towers of 32-ft. pipes, 48 stops and a separate pedal. An account of the instrument in a procès verbal of 1533 furnishes good evidence. In the 16th century, therefore, the organ had attained great completeness, and the independent pedal was general on the Continent.

We cannot follow the history of German organs through the intervening centuries; but we propose to give the items of one German organ. of the principal organs of the Silbermanns, the great builders of the 18th century — namely, that standing in the Royal Catholic Church, Dresden. Without being an enormously large instrument it is complete in its way, and gives a very good idea of the German organ The account is taken from Hopkins. The date is 1754.[4]


      Great.
Principal 16 | Octave 2
Bourdon 16  tone | Tertia 1 3/5
Principal 8 | Mixtur IV  ranks
Viola da Gamba 8 | Cymbel III
Rohrflöte 8  tone | Cornet V
Octave 4 | Fagott 16
Spitzflöte 4 | Trumpet 8
Quinta 2⅔ | Clarin 4
      Echo.
Quintaton 16  tone | Octave 2
Principal 8 | Tertia 1 3/5
Gedackt 8  tone | Flageolet 1
Unda Maris 8  tone | Mixtur IV  ranks
Octave 4 | Echo V
Rohrflöte 4  tone | Vox humana 8  tone
Nassat 2⅔ |
      Choir.
Gedackt 8  tone | Quinta 1⅓
Principal 4 | Sifflöte 1
Rohrflöte 4  tone | Mixtur III  ranks
Nassat 2⅔ | Sesquialtera II
Octave 2 | Chalumeaux 8  tone
      Pedal.
Untersatz 32  tone | Mixtur IV  ranks
Principal 16 | Pausan(trombone) 16
Octave-bass 8 | Trompette 8
Octave 4 | Clarin 4
      Accessories.
Echo to great. | Tremulant echo.
Great to pedal. | Tremulant great.
      Compass.
Manuals—C to d''' in alt. | Pedal—C1 to tenor c.


The chief difference between English organs and those of the Continent was that until the 19th century the pedal was absolutely English organs. unknown in England. The heavy bass given by the pedal being absent, a lighter style of voicing was adopted, and the manuals were usually continued down below the 8-ft. C so as to obtain additional bass by playing octaves with the hands. Thus the old organ (date 1697) of Father Smith in St Paul's Cathedral had manuals descending to the 16-ft. C (C1), with two open diapasons throughout. Green's old organ at St George's, Windsor, had manuals descending to the 12-ft. F, also two open diapasons throughout, no F#. But the more usual practice was to make the manual descend to the 10⅔ G, leaving out the G#. At the Revolution most of the organs in England had been destroyed. Shortly afterwards Bernard Smith, a German, commonly called Father Smith, and Thomas and René Harris, Frenchmen, were largely employed in building organs, which were wanted everywhere. Father Smith perhaps had the greatest reputation of any builder of the old time, and his work has lasted wonderfully. There is a list in Rimbault of forty-five organs built for churches by him. The list of René Harris is scarcely less extensive.

The most important step in the development of the old English organ was the invention of the swell. This was first introduced into an organ built by two Jordans, father and son, for St Magnus's church near London Bridge, in 1712.

Burney writes (1771): —

“It is very extraordinary that the swell, which has been introduced into the English organ more than fifty years, and which is so capable of expression and of pleasing effects that it may be well said to be the greatest and most important improvement that was ever made in any keyed instrument, should be utterly unknown in Italy; and, now I am on this subject, I must observe that most of the organs I have met with on the Continent seem to be inferior to ours by Father Smith, Byfield or Snetzler, in everything but size! As the churches there are very often immense, so are the organs; the tone is indeed somewhat softened and refined by space and distance; but, when heard near, it is intolerably coarse and noisy; and, though the number of stops in these large instruments is very great, they afford but little variety, being for the most part duplicates in unisons and octaves to each other, such as the great and small 12ths, flutes and 15ths; hence in our organs, not only the touch and tone, but the imitative stops, are greatly superior to those of any other organs I have met with.”

(As to these opinions, compare what is said on great organ open diapasons above.)

In the course of the 18th century most of the old echoes were altered into swells, and the swell came into almost universal use in England. The development of the swell is inseparably associated with the peculiar quality of English swell reeds. These must have originated during the development of the swell. We hear of a “good reed voicer” named Hancock, who worked with Cranz, changing echoes into swells. However it originated, the English reed is beautiful when properly made. The original swells were usually short in compass downwards, frequently extending only to fiddle g. It is only lately that the value of the bass of the swell has been properly appreciated. Short-compass swells may be said to have now disappeared.

The organ in St Stephen's, Coleman Street, was probably nearly Avery's old English organ. in its original condition at the date when it was described by Hopkins. It was built by Avery in 1775. At all events the following arrangements might very well have been the original ones. The pedal clavier without pipes is no doubt a subsequent addition, and is omitted.


Great.
Open diapason. | Sesquialtera — III ranks.
Stopped diapason. | Mixture — II ranks.
Principal. | Trumpet.
Twelfth. | Clarion.
Fifteenth. | Cornet to middle c — V ranks.
Choir.
Stopped diapason. | Fifteenth.
Principal. | Cremona to tenor c.
Flute. |
Swell.
Open diapason. | Cornet — III ranks.
Stopped diapason. | Trumpet.
Principal. | Hautboy.
Compass.
Great and choir — G1 to e''', no G1#. | Swell — fiddle g to e'''.


This gives an excellent idea of the old English organ. There are several different accounts of the introduction of pedals into England. It took place certainly before the end of the 18th century, but only in a few instances; and for long after Pedals in England. the usual arrangement was simply to provide a pedal clavier, usually from F1 or G1 to tenor c or d, which took down the notes of the great organ. Unison diapason pipes (12-ft.) were occasionally used. In one or two cases, as in the transition states of the old organ at St George's, Windsor, a 24-ft. open diapason was employed as well as the unison stop. But a more usual arrangement, of a most objectionable character, was to combine the G1c pedal-board with a single octave of so-called pedal-pipes, extending from the 16-ft. to the 8-ft. C; so that, instead of a uniform progression in ascending the scale, there was always a break or repetition in passing C.

About the middle of the 19th century it began to be generally admitted that the German arrangement of the pedal was the better, and the practice gradually became general of providing a complete pedal-board of 2½ octaves (C—f'), with at least one stop of 16-ft. tone throughout, even on the smallest organs that pretended to be of any real use. The study of the classical works of Bach and Mendelssohn went hand in hand with this change; for that study was impossible without the change, and yet the desire for the study was one of the principal motives for it. In the meantime Bishop, an English builder, had invented composition pedals, which so greatly facilitate dealing with groups of stops. About the same time (1850) the mechanics of the organ were advanced by the general introduction of the pneumatic lever into large instruments; the whole mechanism of the organ was revolutionized by Willis's improvements; and the organ-builders of England, having obtained from the Continent the fundamental ideas necessary for completeness, advanced to a point at which they appear to have been decidedly ahead.

In the early part of the last quarter of the 19th century, the future of the English organ appeared to be one of great Present day organs. promise. Much confidence was felt in the brilliant combinations of Willis's mechanism. The employment of electricity had reached a certain stage, and the necessary fundamental mechanism, under the name of the electro-pneumatic lever, was to be obtained in a practical form. Several new devices were in the air, by means of which the control of the various valves was accomplished by the action of wind, traversing channels, with complete abolition of trackers, and even of stop slides; and Willis's classical mechanisms, including these for acting on stop slides pneumatically without direct mechanical connexion between slide and handle, were almost universally adopted in large organs. The delicate device of pneumatic lever on pneumatic lever, by which alone the small electromagnetic impulses available could be made to do heavy work, had obtained recognition. If there was an occasional failure, it was thought to be no more than might be expected with work of a novel and delicate character. And it was confidently expected that these devices would, in time, with the improvements associated with practical use, come to be reliable. This expectation has not been realized. The objections to the modern pneumatic, and still more to the electropneumatic machinery, are of two kinds — noise and inefficiency.

Noise in the Key Action. — We take as the standard of comparison the old tracker organ, without pneumatics. There was always a certain amount of noise. Now, even in the best instruments of Willis himself during his lifetime, and still more in the best instruments of the present day, the noise of the key action is judged to be as bad as in the old tracker organ. The pneumatics have to be driven by a powerful wind; the consequence is they get home with a knock.

Noise in the Stop Action. — If in a large instrument with pneumatic drawstop action one of the compositions which affects several stops is put in action, the movement of the stops is followed by a blow like a hammer, which is caused by the pneumatics getting home under the powerful force employed. This is much worse than anything there was in the old organ.

Inefficiency in the Key Action; Delay and Cyphering. — This chiefly shows itself in delay, both at the depressing and at the recovery of the key. Some of the causes are the size of the pneumatic bellows, which takes time to fill and time to empty; and, very often, defective regulation of the valves. The regulation of the valves is an art in itself, and it is often the case that the performance in this respect can be greatly improved by going over the regulation. The test is the possibility of executing shakes and repetitions. It is quite common to find mechanism by the first organ-builders of the day on which shakes or repetitions cannot be executed.

Pneumatic transmission is also specially liable to cause delay. In divided organs the swell is usually on the far side from the keys, and the pneumatic transmission tubes pass it under the floor. The swell touch is then considerably worse than the great. In all cases there must be some delay on account of the time the pulse takes to traverse the transmission tube with the velocity of sound. And if a pneumatic bellows has to be filled at the far end the delay will be more. Some of the delay experienced in large buildings may be due to the time taken in supplying the energy necessary for setting up and maintaining the vibrations of the air in the building. This should, however, have been the same with the old tracker action; and the opinion of old players is unanimous that they never experienced anything of the kind. The shake and repetition are the only real tests so far as the action is concerned.

Inefficiency in the key action also takes the form of “cyphering,” i.e. a note sticks down. With the old tracker organ this could generally be cured without much difficulty by working on the action, and with the separate pneumatic lever something could be done. But the modern types of elaborated action are entirely enclosed in wind-chest and sound-board. It was always foreseen that these types would be dangerous, unless they could be made quite perfect, and they have not been made perfect. When a note sticks, there is no way of curing it except to get at the inside of the wind-chest, or to remove all the pipes belonging to the note. A case happened recently where, during a performance on an organ by a first-rate modern builder, two cypherings took place. To cure the first all the pipes belonging to the note were removed. In the second the last three pages of a Bach fugue were played with a note cyphering all the time; and such cases are of frequent occurrence.

Inefficiency in the Stop Action. — In this case the power provided is insufficient to move the stop slide. As there is no direct connexion between slide and handle, nothing can be done but to get inside the organ and move the slide by hand. A case has recently occurred where an organ by a first-rate builder, in constant use, and perfectly cared for, got one of the slides stuck while in use. The organ was locked, so nothing could be done. The same happened to another slide a couple of days later. It is also an everyday experience that the pneumatic compositions are insufficient to move the stops; sometimes they move the stops about halfway, when a sort of wail is heard.

One practical result is — where an organ is not too large to be dealt with by the old mechanical methods, there is much to be said for adhering to them.

It seems worth while to mention two suggestions by which these imperfections in large organs might be reduced to a minimum.

For blowing, motors for stop action, &c., the writer would suggest the employment of the Armstrong hydraulic accumulator system, at a pressure of say 600 lb on the square inch. The pumping of the system would be done by external power (electricity, gas, oil or steam), quite away from the building containing the organ. The blowing would be done by the hydraulic system at a point near the organ. The small hydraulic motors attached to the stop slides, swell, &c., might have almost infinite power and be perfectly noiseless. The key-work should be pneumatic and should use Willis's floating lever. The swell pedal should be hydraulic, with the floating lever, as also the action of the back of the seat if employed for opening the swell.

The effect of the floating lever is that the movement of the work corresponds exactly with the movement of the part connected with key or pedal. The connexion with the key would have a regulation so that the lever would begin to move a little later than the key, the regulation being adjusted by trial so as to give shakes and repetitions.

The principle of the floating lever is the same as that of the steam steering gear in ships. The control of the power is attached to the floating centre. It is always such that the movement of the work brings back the floating centre into its standard position, and it acts like a fixed centre with added power.

As to the general arrangement of the instrument, it is desired to make two protests. Firstly, the organ chamber is a monstrosity. Shutting up the organ in a confined space is simply throwing money away. An organ of a quarter the size would do the work better if not shut up in an organ chamber. Secondly, it has become customary to separate the different parts of an organ, putting the pipes of the pedal, great and swell perhaps in different places at a distance from one another, and the soft choir organ, which should be close to the singers, perhaps, as in one actual case, in a remote position where it cannot be heard at all and is useless for accompaniment. The parts of an organ so dispersed will not give a tone which blends into a whole. The practice is undesirable. The divided organ with pneumatic or electric transmission is to be avoided for all reasons.


General Remarks on Organ Treatment


The organ probably presents more difficulties then any other instrument in the way of a sound elementary mastery. A person of ordinary capacity may work at it for years before being able to play passages of moderate difficulty with confidence and correctness. The special difficulty appears to be chiefly mental, and arises from the number of things that have to be thought of simultaneously. It does not lie in the execution — at least not chiefly; for to play a hymn-tune correctly, the bass being taken with the pedals, the tenor with the left hand, and the two upper parts with the right, is a matter in which there is no execution required; but it is of great difficulty to an inexperienced player. Other distributions of parts — such as bass with pedals, treble with right hand on a solo stop (e.g. clarinet), two inner parts with a soft open diapason, or something of the kind — are of much greater difficulty in the first instance. Another distribution is bass with pedals, melody with reed or solo combination in the tenor with left hand (an octave below its true pitch), inner parts with right hand on a soft open diapason, or something that balances. This is of far greater difficulty, as it requires rearrangement of parts to avoid those faults of inversion the avoidance of which is known as double counterpoint. All this can be practised with common hymn-tunes; but the performer who can do these things with ease is in some respects an advanced player.

There is a natural gift, which may be called the polyphonic ear-brain. It is possessed by (roughly) about one in fifty of musical students, by students of the organ in much the largest proportion, and probably by a much smaller proportion of the unsifted population. For the polyphonic ear-brain these difficulties have no existence, or take little trouble to surmount. It consists of the power of hearing the notes of a combination simultaneously, each being heard as an ordinary person hears a single note. When a composition is played or sung in parts, each part is heard as a separate tune; and the effect is realized in a manner quite different from the single melody with accompaniment, which is all that an ordinary person usually hears. This is in many but not all cases associated with the rare power of remembering permanently the actual pitch of notes heard.

The observations made in the 9th edition of this Encyclopaedia on “Balance of tone” do not now call for the stress there laid on them, as there is an improvement in this respect. But it is still desirable to insist on the importance of balance in the performance of organ trios such as the organ sonatas of Bach. In these compositions there are generally three notes sounding, which may be regarded as belonging to three different voices, of nearly equal strength but different mean pitch, and, if possible, different quality; of these one is appropriated by each hand and one by the pedal. They are written in three lines, and are intended to be played on two manuals and the pedal.

The fugues of Bach are the classical organ music par excellence. As to these nothing has come down to us as to the composer's intentions, except that he generally played the fugues on the full organ with doubles. It does not seem clear that this was the case with the preludes; and, any way, the modern organ, with its facilities for managing the stops, appears to countenance a different treatment: The effect of doubles when a subject or tune is given out in solo on a manual is very bad. The doubles may be drawn with advantage when the parts are moving in massive chords. The usual practice is perhaps to employ various manual effects of a light character until the pedal enters, and then to produce full organ in its various modifications, but always to aim at variety of tone. If a prelude begins with heavy chords and pedal, then produce full organ at once. If it then passes to lighter matter, reduce to some extent. Some begin a fugue on the stopped diapason of the great organ, add more as the parts enter, and continue working up throughout. But perhaps it is the better practice to throw in loud organ during the pedal parts, and soften between times.

One of the greatest requisites in organ-playing is dignity of treatment. This is continually competing with clearness. The chief mode of keeping the different parts distinct, where that is necessary, is by using reeds of a pronounced character. These reeds sometimes verge on the comic, and anything more than the most sparing and careful employment of them is undesirable.[5] Expression is not possible unless the stops are enclosed in a swell box — a most desirable arrangement. In all cases hurry is to be avoided. A calm steadiness, a minute finish of all the phrasing, forms most of the difference between first- and second-rate players.

With reference to the general treatment of modern music we quote the preface to Mendelssohn's Organ Sonatas: “In these sonatas very much depends on the correct choice of the stops; but, since every organ with which I am acquainted requires in this respect special treatment, the stops of given names not producing the same effect in different instruments, I have only indicated certain limits, without specifying the names of the stops. By fortissimo I mean the full organ; by pianissimo usually one soft 8-foot stop alone; by forte, full organ without some of the most powerful stops; by piano, several soft 8-foot stops together; and so on. In the pedal I wish everywhere, even in pianissimo, 8-foot and 16-foot (tone) together, except where the contrary is expressly indicated, as in the sixth sonata [this refers to a passage where an 8-foot pedal is used without 16]. It is therefore left to the player to combine the stops suitably for the different pieces, but particularly to see that, in the simultaneous use of two manuals, the one keyboard is distinguished from the other by its quality, without forming a glaring contrast.”

Importance is attached to the above directions as to single stops. The habit of mixing up two or more stops unnecessarily results in the loss of the characteristic qualities of tone which reach their highest value in single stops.

A habit is prevalent of using couplers in excess. One hears the swell coupled to the great during an entire service. The characteristics of the two manuals, which, separated, lend themselves to such charming contrasts, are lost in the mixture, just as the characteristics of single stops are lost when employed in groups. It is common to see an English organist keep the right foot on the swell pedal and hop about with the left on the pedals. This cannot be called pedal-playing. Both feet should be used, except where the swell pedal is actually required. It is a common habit to hold a note down when it should be repeated. It should be struck again when indicated. The repetition is a relief to the ear.

The older organists commonly filled up their chords, striking pretty nearly every concordant note within reach. The effect of this was in many cases to destroy effects of parts, or effects of restraint leading to contrasts intended by the composer. There is a well-known case of a climax about a line before the end of Bach's “Passacaglia.” Here there is a pause on a chord of four notes; one low in the bass (pedal); two forming a major third in the middle; and one high in the treble. Some players fill in every concordant note within the reach of both hands. Others consider the effect of Bach's four notes superior. The writer thinks that the average listener prefers the full chord, and the polyphonic hearer the thin arrangement of parts. Of course the parts are lost if thick chords are used. Restraint in the use of the pedal is also sometimes intended to lead up to a contrast which is lost if the pedal is introduced too soon.

Contrast and variety are essential elements in organ effects. A suitable phrase repeated on solo stops of different characters; a see-saw in a series of rhythmical chords between two manuals of different characters — contrasts generally — are charming when suitably employed. Phrasing we cannot describe here. It is just as important in the organ as in any solo instrument, or in song.

There has been a tendency to attempt too much in the imitation of orchestral instruments. While such stops as good flutes and good imitations of wind instruments have their value, the imitation of stringed instruments and of the orchestra in general is undesirable. The organ's own proper tones are unequalled, and it is a pity to make it a mere caricature of the orchestra.

The writer has had the opportunity of inspecting two of the installations known by the name of R. Hope-Jones; both under the care of an able enthusiast in the matter, Mr Collinson, of Edinburgh. The Hope-Jones system consists of two parts: a mechanism, and a system of pipe-work. These must be considered separately. The mechanism is entirely electric. One example consisted of an application of this mechanism to a fine organ by Willis. The conditions were as favourable as possible, with temperature regulation and constant use. Yet even in this case the contacts failed occasionally. The difficulty about repetition appeared to have been entirely got over, the performance being satisfactory when the contact was in good order. These contacts appear to be the weak part of the system. All the mechanism, couplers and all, is worked by means of these contacts. With the care which is taken no difficulty is found in getting the arrangement to work in the case of the Willis instrument. The system is very complicated, with double touch couplers throughout, by means of which a solo can be effected on one manual by varying the pressure. The study of the double touch appears very difficult. Stop handles are done away with. They are replaced by rockers, the faces of which are about the size of small railway tickets. The appearance is as if the surface where the stop handles would be was plastered over with these rockers. They turn on a horizontal axis through the middle, and a touch of the finger at top or bottom opens or closes the stop. The other instrument was Hope-Jones thoughout, pipes and mechanism. The curator was the same as in the case of the Willis instrument. But, the hall being little used, there was no temperature regulation, and very little use. The state of the mechanism was inferior, the contacts failing freely. It could not be regarded as an admissible mechanism from the writer's point of view. As to the pipe-work, the effect was remarkable; but it could not be regarded as genuine organ work, as the player admitted. Our requirement in the matter of action is a perfectly unfailing connexion between key and pipe. And in this respect we adhere to a preference for the old tracker action, where possible. Anything that leaves a possibility of failure in the connexion we regard as inadmissible.

The writer desires to acknowledge his obligations to Sir Walter Parratt for much assistance in the preparation of this article.

(R. H. M. B.)

History of the Ancient Organ[edit]

History of the Ancient Organ.


The earliest authentic records of the organ itself do not extend beyond the second century B.C., but the evolution of the instrument from the Syrinx or Pan-pipe goes back to a remote period. The hydraulic and pneumatic organs of the ancients were practically the same instrument, differing only in the method adopted for the compression of the wind supply; in the former this was effected by the weight of water, and in the latter by the more primitive expedient of working the bellows by hand or foot. What is known, therefore, of the evolution of the organ before hydraulic power was applied to it is common to both hydraulic and pneumatic organs. The organ of the ancients was a simple contrivance, consisting, in order of evolution, of three essential parts: (1) a sequence of pipes graduated in length and made of reed, wood or bronze; (2) a contrivance for compressing the wind and for supplying it to the pipes in order to make them speak, the ends of such pipes as were required to be silent being at first stopped by the fingers; and (3) a system for enabling the performer to store the wind and to control the distribution of the supply separately to the several pipes at will. The pipes of the syrinx were the prototypes of No. 1; the bellows and the bag-pipe — which was but the application of the former to the reed — foreshadowed No. 2. The third part of the organ was composed of contrivances and common objects used by carpenters, such as boxes having sliding lids running in grooves, levers, &c.

It seems probable that the syrinx was recognized by the ancients as the basis of the organ. Hero of Alexandria, in his description of the hydraulic organ, calls it a syrinx. Philo of Alexandria (c. 200 B.C.), mentioning the invention of the hydraulis(us) by Ctesibius, says, “the kind of syrinx played by hand which we call hydraulis.” The fact that the syrinx was an assemblage of independent stopped pipes, which in their original condition could not be mechanically blown, since the movable lip of the player used to direct the air stream against the sharp edge of the open end of the pipe was a necessity, is no bar to the suggested derivation. Wind projected into a pipe can produce no musical sound unless the wind be first compressed and the even flow of the stream be interrupted and converted into a series of pulses. In order to produce these pulses in an organ-pipe, it is necessary to make use of some such contrivance as a reed, flute or whistle mouthpiece (q.v.).

In the earliest organs there is no doubt that the pipes consisted of lengths of the large reed known as κάλαμος used for the syrinx, but converted into open flue-pipes. Instead of cutting off the reed immediately under the knot, as for syrinx pipes, a little extra length was left and shaped to a point to form a foot or mouthpiece, which was placed over the aperture in the wind-chest, so that it caused the stream of air to split in two as it was driven through the hole into the pipe by the action of the bellows. A narrow fissure was made through the knot near the front of the pipe, and above it a horizontal slit was cut in the reed, the two edges being bevelled inwards. When the wind was pumped into the chest it found an outlet through one of the holes in the lid, and the current, being divided by the foot of the pipe, became compressed and was forced through the fissure in the knot. It then ascended the pipe in an even stream, as yet silent, until thrown into commotion by another obstacle, the upper sharp edge or lip of the notch, which produced the regular flutterings or pulses requisite for the emission of a note. The very simplicity of this process disposes of any difficulty in accepting the syrinx as an important factor in the evolution of the organ. The conversion of a syrinx pipe is, in fact, a simpler and more natural expedient than the more elaborate construction of a wooden flue-pipe.

In order to convert the syrinx into a mechanically played instrument, the addition of the actuating principle of the bag-pipe was necessary. It is probable that in the earliest attempts the leather bag was actually retained and that the supply of wind was still furnished by the mouth through an insufflation pipe. Such an instrument is described and illustrated by Father Athanasius Kircher,[6] but his drawing should be accepted with reserve, as it was probably only an effort of the imagination to illustrate the text. In the instrument, which he calls the Magraketha or Mashrokitha of the Chaldees, the bag is described as being inside the wind-chest, the insufflation pipe being carried through a hole in the side of the box. Little wooden sliders manipulated by the fingers formed a primitive means of controlling the escape of the wind through any given pipe.

Britannica Organ Khotan Organ Player.png
From Marc Aurel Stein. Ancient Khotan, by permission of the Clarendon Press.
Fig. 1.

We have two pottery figures of musicians playing on primitive organs in the next stage of development, namely with bellows, and a description in the Talmud. The quotation as given by Blasius Ugolinus states that the instrument known as the Magrepha d'Aruchin[7] “consisted, as the Schilte Haggiborim teaches, of several rows of pipes and was blown by bellows. It had, besides, holes and small sliders answering to each pipe, which were set in motion by the pressure of the organist; the vent-holes being open, a wonderful variety of sounds was produced.” The spurious letter of St Jerome to Dardanus might also be consulted in this connexion. At Tarsus in Asia Minor pottery and coins dating from c. 200 B.C. were excavated by W. Burckhardt Barker,[8] and amongst them is the fragment of a figure of a musician playing upon an instrument fastened to his breast, and having seven pipes set in a rectangular wind-chest, in the centre of which appear to be two bellows of unequal sizes. Unfortunately both drawing and description are somewhat vague: nevertheless, there is no room for doubt that this was an organ, perhaps without sliders or keys, the pipes being stopped at the open end, nearest the player's mouth, by the fingers, supposing that there was only one bellows. Another piece of pottery from Tarsus, discovered in 1852, during excavations carried out at Kusick-Kolah by M. M. Mazvillier and V. Langlois,[9] and preserved in the Louvre, shows the back of an organ having fifteen pipes. Two models of organs of more recent date recall the construction of that found by Mr Barker. One found in Chinese Turkestan on the site of ancient Khotan[10] (fig. 1) represents a musician holding the instrument to his breast; both hands seem to be pressing what might be bellows; and there are seven pipes below the bellows. The other instrument (fig. 2) is of Roman origin, and forms part of the decoration on a medallion on a yellow pottery vase, which was excavated at Orange (Dauphiné, France), and is now preserved in the collection of M. Emilien Dumas de Sommières. The subject represented in the medallion is an amphitheatre, and in the centre a pneumatic organ with bellows is plainly visible (fig. 2).

Britannica Organ Roman Pneumatic.png
From Orange.
Fig. 2. — Roman Pneumatic Organ.

This brings us to a point in the history of the organ when the existence of the hydraulic organ can no longer be ignored. Some writers consider that the invention of the hydraulis in the 2nd century B.C. by Ctesibius[11] of Alexandria constitutes the invention of the organ, and that the pneumatic organ followed as an improvement or variety. Such an assertion would seem to be untenable in the face of what has been said above. It is most improbable that a man busy with the theory and practice of hydraulics would invent a highly complex musical instrument in which essential parts lying outside his realm, such as the flue-pipes, the balanced keyboard, the arrangements within the wind-chest for the distribution of the wind, are all in a highly developed state; it would be a case for which no parallel exists in the history of musical instruments, all of which have evolved slowly and surely through the ages. On the other hand, given a pneumatic organ an which the primitive unweighted bellows worked unsatisfactorily, an engineer would be prompt to see an opportunity for the advantageous application of his art.

There are two detailed and duly accredited descriptions of the hydraulis extant, both of which presuppose the existence of a pneumatic organ. One is in Greek by Hero of Alexandria,[12] said to be a pupil of Ctesibius,[13] and the other in Latin by Vitruvius (De Arch. lib. x. cap. ii.). In both accounts reference is made to drawings now lost. Mr Woodcraft states that in each MS. the diagrams are said to have been copied faithfully, and that on consulting four MSS. and three early printed editions[14] he found that the mechanical parts in all agree essentially, and that it is only the case of the organ and the arrangement of the pipes which vary according to the fancy of the artist.

The principle of the hydraulis, which remained a complete mystery until recently, is now well understood. Representations of Roman hydraulic organs abound, but they were not always identified as such.[15] As the front of the organ (the performer sat or stood at the back) was invariably represented, there had been no indication of the manner in which the pipes were made to sound. A clue was furnished by a little baked clay model of an hydraulus, and parts of the performer, excavated in 1885 on the ruins of Carthage and now preserved in the Musée Lavigerie, attached to the cathedral of S. Louis of Carthage. This little clay model, measuring 7 1/16 in. by 2¾ in. (figs. 3 and 4), modelled by Possessoris, a potter working at the beginning of the 2nd century A.D., whose name appears on the front, below the ends of the sliders, is so accurately designed that it tallies in every point with the description of the instrument by Hero and Vitruvius. The number and relative sizes of the three rows of pipes, gauged by the remains of the organist, give the requisite compass for the production of the six Greek scales in use at that date.[16] A working reproduction based on the proportions of the remains of the organist, but at half scale for the sake of portability (the real organ must have measured 10 ft. in height by 4½ ft. in width), was successfully carried out by the Rev. F. W. Galpin in 1900-1901 by the help of photographs[17] and of the text of Vitruvius.


Britannica Organ Pottery Hydraulus Front.png Britannica Organ Pottery Hydraulus Back.png
Fig. 3. — Pottery Model of the Hydraulus — Carthage, c. A.D. 150. Fig. 4.
Carthage, c. A.D. 150.


The principle of the hydraulus is simple. An inverted funnel, or bell of metal, standing on short feet and immersed in water within the altar-like receptacle forming the base or pedestal, communicates by means of a pipe, with the wind-chest, placed above it. When the air is pumped into the funnel by the alternate action of two pumps, one on each side of the organ, constructed bucket within bucket and fitted with valves, the water retreating before the compressed air, rises in the receptacle and by its weight holds the air in a state of compression in the funnel, whence it travels through the pipe into the wind-chest. The rest of the process is common also to the pneumatic organ. As there are two pumps worked alternately, these conditions remain unchanged, until by pressure on a key working a slider under the apertures leading to the pipes, the compressed air is afforded an exit through the latter, thus producing the desired note.[18] It will be seen, therefore, that water acts on the air as a compressor exactly in the same manner as lead weights are used on the wind reservoir of modern pneumatic organs. The discovery of the Carthage model was of the greatest importance to the history of the keyboard (q.v.), for it proved beyond a doubt the use at the beginning of our era of balanced keys (seen in front of the organist) on the principle described by Vitruvius. What appears to be a second keyboard with smaller keys on the side of the hydraulus labelled Possessoris (fig. 4) is simply the ends of the sliders, which are pushed out or drawn in by the action of the keys.

Britannica Organ St Paul extra muros.png
From the Church of St Paul extra muros, Rome, 4th or 5th cent. A.D.
Fig. 5.

The principle of the hydraulus made it possible to construct large organs of powerful tone more suitable for use in the arena than the small pneumatic instruments, but the hydraulic organ never entirely supplanted the pneumatic, which was probably not so imperfect at the beginning of our era as has been thought, since it outlived the former and seems to have differed from it only in the matter of pressure. The hydraulus, on the other hand, must have had many drawbacks, that of causing damp in the instrument being of a serious nature; it was also unwieldy and difficult to carry about.

Of the pneumatic organ in portable and portative form, traces have been found during the palmy days of the Roman empire, and the art of organ-building, of which the organ in fig. 5 is an example, never seems to have quite died out during the decline of classic Rome and the dawn of Western civilization. This illustration is derived from a 4th- or 5th-century slab in the church of St Paul extra muros at Rome. It is evident that the hydraulic organ was widely known and used in the East during the early centuries of our era, but it never won a footing in the West, although a few solitary specimens found their way into the palaces of kings and princes. On account of its association with the theatre, gladiatorial combats and pagan amusements of corrupt Rome, it was placed under a ban by the Church. The ignorance and misinformation displayed on the subject by writers and miniaturists of the early and late middle ages leave no room for doubt that the instrument itself was unknown to them except from hearsay.

Venice seems to have been famed for its organ-builders during the 9th century, for Louis le Débonnaire (778-840) sent there, it is recorded, for a certain monk, Georgius Benevento,[19] to construct an hydraulic organ for his palace at Aix-la-Chapelle.

No progress in the art of organ-building is recorded until the use of organs in the churches had long been established. The recognition of the value of the organ in Christian worship proved an incentive which led to the rapid development of the instrument.

In France and Germany the Romans must have used organs and have introduced them to the conquered tribes as they did in Spain, but the art of making them was soon lost after Roman influence and civilization were withdrawn. Pippin, when he wished to introduce the Roman ritual into the churches of France, felt the need of an organ and applied to the Byzantine emperor, Constantine Copronymus, to send him one, which arrived by special embassy in 757 and was placed in the church of St Corneille at Compiègne; the arrival of this organ was obviously considered a great event; it is mentioned by all the chroniclers of his reign. Charlemagne received a similar present from the emperor of the East in 812, of which a description has been preserved.[20] The bellows were of hide, the pipes of bronze; its tone was as loud as thunder and as sweet as that of lyre and psaltery. This organ must have had registers like those of the hydraulus of Vitruvius and the portative from Pompeii. In 826 we hear that his son Louis le Débonnaire obtained a pneumatic organ for the church at Aix-la-Chapelle, not to be confounded with the hydraulus installed in his palace.

The statement that the organ was introduced into the Roman Church by Pope Vitalian at the end of the 7th century, which has been generally accepted, is rejected by Buhle[21] on the ground of insufficient proof. There is abundant evidence to show that the organ had taken its place in the churches in the 10th century, not only in England but in Germany, where the construction by monks had become so general that we find no fewer than three treatises on organ-building[22] written by monks, followed by three more in the 11th century.[23]

Considerable activity was displayed in England in the 10th century in organ-building on a large scale for churches and monasteries, such as the monster organ for Bishop Alphege at Winchester, which had 400 bronze pipes, 26 bellows and 2 manuals of 20 keys, each governing 10 pipes.[24] There is also the elaborate organ presented by St Dunstan to his monastery at Malmesbury.[25]

Earl Elwin gave money “triginta libras” to the monastery at Ramsay for copper pipes for a great pneumatic organ to be played on high days and holidays.[26]


Britannica Organ St Etienne Harding.png
From the Bible of St Etienne Harding at Dijon. 12th cent.
Fig. 6.


The great activity recorded in the 12th and 13th centuries in Germany is probably due to the influence and teaching of Byzantine masters during the 9th century. Pope John VIII. (872-880) applied to Bishop Anno of Freising to send him an organ and an organist.[27] Organs were installed in Cologne (10th century), in Halberstadt, in Erfurt, in Augsburg, Weltenburg (11th century); in Utrecht, Constance, Petershausen (12th century); Petersberg, Cologne Cathedral, 13th century.[28] The rest of the literary and archaeological material — treatises, monuments, miniatures — available during the later middle ages yields very scant authenticated information as to the progressive steps which lie between the 12th-century organ as described by Theophilus and the large church organs of the days of Praetorius[29] (1618).

Britannica Organ 13th Century Key Press.png
Brit. Mus. Cotton MSS. Tiberius A vii. fol. 104b. 14th century.
Fig. 7.

The keyboard is the principal feature concerning which miniatures offer any evidence. Here and there a 13th-century miniature gives a hint of balanced keys on small portative organs which already abound during that and the next century. The Bernese monk in his treatise on the organ to which reference was made in the note above, clearly describes balanced keys, depressa lamina, pressed down, not pulled out, as were those mentioned by Theophilus; his description conforms strictly with that of Hero, which suggests that he was borrowing from classical authorities rather than describing an actual instrument with which he was well acquainted, an expedient to which many medieval writers had recourse. In the 14th-century miniatures, balanced keys are general for the larger portable organs. The adoption of narrower keys in the larger organs may no doubt be traced to the influence of the portatives, in which they in most cases resemble the white keys of the modern pianoforte. There is no miniature on record in which the fist action on the keys is indicated, the performer during the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries being depicted in the act of drawing out the stop-like sliders — as for instance, in the 12th-century manuscript Bible of St Etienne Harding at Dijon[30] (fig. 6), where the organist is playing the notes D and F, the sliders being lettered from C to C. From the 13th century the keys are shown pressed down by means of one finger or of finger and thumb (fig. 7). In the beautiful Spanish MS. said to have been compiled for Alphonso XII. (c. 1237), known as the Cantigas de Santa Maria, a portative is shown having balanced keys, one of which is being lightly pressed by the thumb, the instrument resting on the palm — while the left hand manipulates the bellows.


Organ23.png
Brit. Mus. Add. MS. 27695. 14th century.
Fig. 8.


The keys themselves varied in shape, being either like a T; a wide rectangle, with or without the corners rounded off, or a narrow rectangle. The earliest instance of chromatic keyboard is that of the organ at Halberstadt[31] built in 1361 and restored in 1495. An inscription on the keyboard states that it formed part of the original organ, which had the semitonal arrangement of keys.[32]


Britannica Organ 14th Century Players B.png
Brit. Mus. Add MS. 29902, fol. 6. 14th century.
Fig. 9.


It must not, however, be inferred from these isolated cases that balanced keys were general from the 13th century, nor that the chromatic keys were common in the 14th. The St Cecilia in the altarpiece in Ghent by the brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck (15th cent.) is represented as playing upon an organ with a modern-looking keyboard.

A picture by Fra Angelico (15th cent.) in the National Gallery shows a portative with accidentals. It will probably be found that the earliest development of the organ took place in Germany and in the Netherlands. (K. S.)


  1. Anything down to one-third tin and two-thirds lead is called tin. But “pure tin” should have over 90% of tin. Absolutely pure tin could not be worked. Spotted metal is said to have from one-third to two-thirds tin. Under one-third tin no spots are said to rise, and the mixture has the general characters of lead.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 These are the old mixtures.
  3. Praetorius, Theatrum Instrumentorum.
  4. The writer heard this instrument as a boy, and has a pleasant recollection of the general effect.
  5. As some difficulty has been felt as to what is here meant, an instance is given. The writer has heard a first-rate player emphasize the entrance of a chorale in the pedal (Mendelssohn's 3rd sonata in A) by coupling the choir clarinet to the pedal. The effect was coarse and disagreeable, and would have been ridiculous if it had not been so ugly. It was clear, but not dignified.
  6. See Musurgia, bk. ii. ch. iv. § 3, p. 3.
  7. or Eruchin. Treatise XXXIII. of Babyl. Talmud. See Thesaurus Antiquitatum Sacrarum (Venice, 1744-1769), xxxii. 11 and 21.
  8. See Lares and Penates (London, 1853), p. 260, fig. 69.
  9. See W. Froehner, Monuments antiques du musée de France (Paris, 1873), pl. 32; also Archives des missions scientifiques, iv. 64-67.
  10. See Ancient Khotan, detailed report of archaeological explorations in Chinese Turkestan, carried out by H.M. Indian Government, by Marc. Aurel Stein (Oxford, 1907), plate xliii.
  11. Tertullian (De anima, 14) names Archimedes, which is probably an error. See in this connexion Hermann Degering, who devotes considerable space to the question, Die Orgel, ihre Erfindung und ihre Geschichte (Muenster, 1905).
  12. See The Pneumatics of Hero of Alexandria, translated from the original Greek by Bennett Woodcroft (London, 1851), with diagrams.
  13. Edward Buhle in Die musikalischen Instrumente in den Miniaturen des frühen Mittelalters, pt. i. (Leipzig, 1903), p. 55. Note 1 corrects this as an error, assigning Hero's activity to the beginning of our era, in which case the description by Vitruvius would be the earlier in spite of the fact that the hydraulus, as he describes it, contains an improvement on that of Hero, i.e. registers, and two pumps instead of one, and that he omits to explain the purpose for which water is used. Buhle gives as his authority Diels, “Das phys. System des Strabon,” p. 291, in Berliner Monatsberichte (Feb. 1893).
  14. For an exhaustive and careful compilation of these editions, and of the literature of the hydraulus generally, see Dr Charles Maclean's article, “The Principle of the Hydraulic Organ,” Intern. Mus. Ges. Sbd. vi. 2, pp. 183-237; also John W. Warman, Bibliography of the Organ, who, however, takes the erroneous view that the medieval editions of Vitruvius and Hero may be taken as evidence that the instrument itself was in use until about the middle or end of the 17th century. See Proc. Mus. Assoc. (1903-1904), p. 40.
  15. The present writer was apparently the first in England to draw attention to this identity by introducing the drawing from the Utrecht Psalter and the model of the Carthage Organ, &c. See Music (London, Sept. 1898), p. 438.
  16. See Anonymi scriptio de musica, ed. Bellermann, p. 35.
  17. See “Notes on a Roman Hydraulus,” Reliquary (1904); also the writer's “Researches into the Origin of the Organs of the Ancients” in Intern. Mus. Ges., Sbd. ii. 2, pp. 167-202 (Leipzig, 1901), and Proc. Mus. Assoc. (1903-1904), pp. 54-55.
  18. For a more complete explanation of the action of the hydraulus, with diagrams, see Victor Loret, Revue archéol. (Paris, 1890); W. Chappell, History of Music (London, 1874), pp. 325-361.
  19. “Vita Hludovici Imperatoris,” Mon. Germ. ii. pp. 629-630; see also Buhle, op. cit. p. 58, note 4, where fuller references are given.
  20. Gesta Karoli Monachi Sangallensis, lib. ii. cap. x. p. 751.
  21. Op. cit. p. 61, note 2, where the evidence is carefully sifted.
  22. (1) by Notker of St Gallen (see Hattemer, Denkmäler, Bd. iii. pp. 568 seq.; Hugo Riemann, Studien 2. Gesch. der Notenschrift, pp. 297 seq.; Martin Gerbert, i. pp. 100 seq. (2) By Bernelinius (see Gerbert, i. pp. 318 and 325). The third is an anonymous 9th-century tract, the earliest of all, De mensura fistularum, giving only the proportions of organ pipes. MS. Lat. 12949 fol. 43a. Paris Bibl. Nat. reproduced by Buhle, op. cit. p. 104 (Latin only).
  23. (1) De fistulis organicis, introduced in a MS. copy of Mart. Cap. by a Bernese monk; see A. Schubiger, Musikal. Spicilegien, pp. 82 seq. Reproduced also by Buhle, op. cit. Beilage iv. pp. 114-116, collated with a German translation. (2) Theophilus. De divers. artibus, edited and translated into English by Robert Hendrie (London, 1847); reproduced by Buhle, op. cit. Beilage iii. pp. 105 seq., Latin and German collated, who gives the title as Schedula artium. (3) Tractatus de mensura fistularum, by Bishop Eberhard of Freising. Martin Gerbert, op. cit. ii. pp. 279-281.
  24. See Wolstani, monachi Ventani, De Vita S. Swithuni; Coussemaker, “Essai sur les instruments de musique du moyen-âge,” in Ann. Archéol., iii. pp. 281-282.
  25. William of Malmesbury, Gest. Pontif., lib. v.
  26. Vita S. Oswaldi: see Mabillon Acta S. scl. v. p. 756.
  27. See Baluze, Miscell. v. p. 490.
  28. Buhle (op. cit.) gives a list with quotations from authorities; see pp. 66 and 67.
  29. See Michael Praetorius Syntagma Musicum (Wolfenbüttel, 1618).
  30. See also for other organs with sliders being drawn out, A. Haseloff, Eine Sächsischthüringische Malerschule um die Wende des XIII. Jahrh., pl. xxvi. No. 57, part of Studien zu der Kunstgeschichte; the same is reproduced in Gori's Thesaurus diptychorum, Bd. iii. Tab. 16, where it is falsely ascribed to the 9th century.
  31. Praetorius mentions the Halberstadt and Erfurt organs as having been built 600 years before his time (1618), and still bearing on them the date inscribed. See op. cit. p. 93.
  32. See A. J. Hipkins, History of the Pianoforte (London, 1896).