organ

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

organ

organ, a musical wind instrument in which sound is produced by one or more sets of pipes controlled by a keyboard, each pipe producing only one pitch by means of a mechanically produced or electrically controlled wind supply.

Early Organs

Ktesibios of Alexandria, in the 3d cent. BC, invented the hydraulis, in which water pressure was used to stabilize the wind supply. The pipes were arranged in rows upon the wind chest and the air was permitted to enter any pipe at will by means of wooden sliders. The hydraulis was the prevailing organ for several centuries and reappeared at intervals throughout the Middle Ages.

Evidence of the first purely pneumatic organ is found on an obelisk erected at Byzantium before AD 393. Byzantium became the center of organ building in the Middle Ages, and in 757 Constantine V presented a Byzantine organ to Pepin the Short. This is the earliest positive evidence of the appearance of the organ in Western Europe. By the 10th cent., however, organ building had made considerable progress in Germany and England. The organ built c.950 in Winchester Cathedral is said to have had 400 pipes and 26 bellows and required two players and 70 men to operate the bellows.

The keyboard, or manual, was a creation of the 13th cent., making possible the performance of more complex music. The earliest extant music written specifically for organ, dating from the early 14th cent., gives evidence that by then the manuals of the organ had full chromatic scales, at least in the middle registers. Organs in the Middle Ages already had several ranks of pipes, each key causing a number of pipes to sound simultaneously. All were diapasons, or principals, the pipes of timbre characteristic only of the organ, and the various pipes controlled by one key were tuned to the fundamental and several harmonics of a given tone.

The Development of the Modern Organ

The 15th cent. saw considerable development of the organ, particularly in Germany and Flanders. It became possible to sound single pipes from a rank through the use of stops. Mutation and mixture stops that produce several harmonics of the unison pitch came to be used in combination with the unison to vary tone color. Solo stops imitative of other instruments, mainly flute and reed pipes, were added, and the pedal became standard. Until the 19th cent., Italy and England preferred an organ with no pedals.

It was the Flemish and German builders who developed the organ of distinctive and contrasting timbres, and the peak in organ building was reached in the German organ of the baroque, as described by Michael Praetorius in his Syntagma musicum (1618). The greatest organ builder, perhaps of all time, was Gottfried Silbermann (1683–1753) of Dresden. His organs produced a light, transparent tone, ideal for the performance of the great baroque polyphonic music. After this period the art of organ building degenerated, and the organ lost its place in the center of musical life.

The 19th-century desire for a highly expressive organ led to the obscuring of diapason tone by the large number of stops imitative of orchestral tone and to the common employment of the swell and the crescendo pedal. The swell involves enclosing one or more divisions of the organ in a wooden box on one side of which are shutters opened or closed by means of a swell pedal; the crescendo pedal, when gradually opened or closed, adds or takes off stops one by one.

The early 20th cent. saw the electrification of the mechanical parts of the organ, fulfilling the trend toward monstrous size and overwhelming power. In America, this large "king of instruments" became a feature of municipal auditoriums, movie palaces, churches, department stores, schools, and many other institutions. The master architect of these colossal orchestral organs was Ernest M. Skinner. In the early 20th cent., however, Albert Schweitzer was active in the preservation and restoration of many fine old organs, and there was a movement back to the ideals of Silbermann. In the United States, Walter Holtkamp, beginning in 1932, and G. Donald Harrison, in 1935, became the leading figures in this movement. Harrison designed many organs suitable for the performance of music of all periods. In the United States much of the repertoire was performed by the two leading organists of the era, E. Power Biggs and Virgil Fox. By the beginning of the 21st cent., European and American organ builders continued to concentrate on early principles for the construction of their instruments.

Music for the Organ

The organ repertory is vast and varied. The great organ masterpieces of the 17th and 18th cent. include works by John Bull, Handel, Jan Sweelinck, Girolamo Frescobaldi, and Dietrich Buxtehude. In the compositions of J. S. Bach the capabilities of the organ found their most magnificent expression.

Bibliography

See H. Gleason, Methods of Organ Playing (5th ed. 1962); C. F. Williams, The Story of the Organ (1903, repr. 1972); W. L. Sumner, The Organ (rev ed. 1973); P. Williams and B. Owens, The Organ (1988); C. R. Whitney, All the Stops: The Glorious Pipe Organ and Its American Masters (2003).

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

organ
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.