ORGAN (See Music and Musical Instruments: Pipe)

Traditionally known as “the King of Instruments,” the organ today stands as a remarkable example of artistry and craftmanship. The early Christians associated it with their Roman persecutors; it is in fact probable that Nero's famous performance during the burning of Rome was actually on a water-organ rather than the proverbial fiddle. By the Middle Ages, however, organs were evidently in regular use in churches, a detail we know from pictures and manuscripts of the time. Since then it has been the instrument par excellence of the church and for the praise and adoration of Almighty God. One reason for this is the enduring quality of organ tone. On any other instrument the tone is born, fades away, and dies. But organ sound endures as long as the power is there; the subtle suggestion of a timeless eternity is felt. Another reason is the ensemble effect of the organ: the many voices and colors of the organ give a full, rich sound impossible of achievement in any other way. This has always been so with the pipe organ; now at last it is beginning to be true also of the best of the electronic organs. No longer need the latter be considered a poor substitute for pipes; it has now, in at least a few fine examples, graduated to the position of being a musical instrument worthy of acceptance on its own terms.

The literature of the organ spans many centuries. The clean, bright sound of a well-voiced Diapason or Principal Chorus is ideal for the performance of contrapuntal music. The rich, more romantic sound of the massed strings gives life to music of the Romantic Era. The many varieties of flute, and the solo and chorus reed stops, enrich the tonal palette of the instrument. In considering specific repertoire for the instrument, the name of J.S. Bach* naturally comes first to mind. But there were towering giants both before and after this great man. Pachelbel, Buxtehude,* Sweelinck,* and many others are among the predecessors of Bach whose music is heard frequently today. Since Bach, the list is long and constantly growing. Franck, Mendelssohn,* Liszt,* Schumann, and Reger are a few of the names of great stature that come to mind.

Today composers are writing music of the future for the organ as well as writing in the older forms and styles. How enduring the “music of the future” will be remains to be seen-certainly it is in a language foreign to many music-lovers. Yet without this experimentation in new forms and styles the art of music would stagnate; all of us must be grateful to the pioneers.

One criticism frequently directed at the organ is that it is by definition a mechanical instrument. Because of this, some maintain it is impossible to project any very deep sense of emotion through organ music. This is quite untrue. Although the performer is not as close to his tone as is, for example, the violinist, the truly artistic organist who masters the technical demands of his instrument can transcend these difficulties and project not only the spirit of the music but, if he possesses the Holy Spirit, also the Spirit of God. This is essentially the aim of all Christian music: to be a vehicle for the Holy Spirit. The organ, because of its traditional affiliation with the church and more especially because of its tonal qualities, is ideally suited to this noble purpose.

See also

  • [[Music

  • Music; Musical Instruments