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(Greek organon, "an instrument")

A musical instrument which consists of one or several sets of pipes, each pipe giving only one tone, and which is blown and played by mechanical means.

Origin and development

As far as the sounding material is concerned, the organ has its prototype in the syrinx, or Pan's pipe, a little instrument consisting of several pipes of differing length tied together in a row. The application of the mechanism is credited to Ctesibius, a mechanician who lived in Alexandria about 300 B.C. According to descriptions by Vitruvius (who is now generally believed to have written about A.D. 60) and Heron (somewhat later than Vitruvius), the organ of Ctesibius was an instrument of such perfection as was not attained again until the eighteenth century. The blowing apparatus designed by Ctesibius consisted of two parts, just as in the modern organ; the first serving to compress the air (the "feeders"); the second, to store the compressed air, the "wind", and keep it at a uniform pressure (the "reservoir"). For the first purpose Ctesibius used air-pumps fitted with handles for convenient working. The second, the most interesting part of his invention, was constructed as follows: a bell-shaped vessel was placed in a bronze basin, mouth downwards, supported a couple of inches above the bottom of the basin by a few blocks. Into the basin water was then poured until it rose some distance above the mouth of the bell. Tubes connecting with the air-pumps, as well as others connecting with the pipes of the organ, were fitted into the top of the bell. When, therefore, the air-pumps were worked, the air inside the bell was compressed and pushed out some of the water below. The level of the water consequently rose and kept the air inside compressed. Any wind taken from the bell to supply the pipes would naturally have a tendency to raise the level of the water in the bell and to lower that outside. But if the supply from the air-pumps was kept slightly in excess of the demand by the pipes, so that some of the air would always escape through the water in bubbles, a very even pressure would be maintained. This is what was actually done, and the bubbling of the water, sometimes described as "boiling", was always prominent in the accounts given of the instrument.

Over the basin there was placed a flat box containing a number of channels corresponding to the number of rows of pipes. Vitruvius speaks of organs having four, six, or eight rows of pipes, with as many channels. Each channel was supplied with wind from the bell by a connecting tube, a cock being inserted in each tube to cut off the wind at will. Over the box containing the channels an upper-board was placed, on the lower side of which small grooves were cut transversely to the channels, in the grooves close-fitting "sliders" were inserted, which could be moved in and out. At the intersections of channels and grooves, holes were cut vertically through the upper board and, correspondingly, through the top covering of the channels. The pipes, then, stood over the holes of the upper-board, each row, representing a scale-like progression, standing over its own channel, and all the pipes belonging to the same key, standing over the same groove. The sliders also were perforated, their holes corresponding to those in the upper board and the roof of the channels. When, therefore, the slider was so placed that its holes were in line with the lower and upper holes, the wind could pass through the three holes into the pipe above; but if the slider was drawn out a little, its solid portions would cut off the connexion between the holes in the roof of the channels and those in the upper-board, and no wind could pass. There was thus a double control of the pipes. By means of the cocks, wind could he admitted to any one of the channels, and thus supply all the pipes standing over that channel, but only those pipes would get the wind whose slide was in the proper position. Again, by means of the slide, wind could be admitted to all the pipes standing in a transverse row, but only those pipes would be blown to whose channels wind had been admitted by the cocks. This double control is still a leading principle in modern organ-building, and a row of pipes, differing in pitch, but having the same quality of tone, is called a stop, because its wind supply can be stopped by one action. It is not quite certain what the stops in the ancient organ meant. It is very unlikely that different stops produced different qualities of tone, as in the modern organ. Most probably they represented different "modes". For the convenient management of the slides each was provided with an angular lever, so that on pressing down one arm of the lever, the slide was pushed in; the lever being released, the slide was pulled out again by a spring.

This organ, called hydraulus, or organum hydraulicum, from the water used in the blowing apparatus, enjoyed great popularity. Writers like Cicero are loud in its praise. Even emperors took pride in playing it. It was used to heighten the pleasures of banquets and was associated particularly with the theatre and the circus. Numerous representations, particularly on coins called contorniates, also testify to its general repute. At an early period we meet organs in which the air pumps were replaced by bellows. Whether in these organs the water apparatus was dispensed with, is not quite certain. It would be strange, however, if this important means of regulating the wind pressure had been discontinued while the hydraulus was still in vogue. About the sixth century organ-building seems to have gone down in Western Europe, while it was continued in the Eastern Empire. It was a great event when, in 757, the Emperor Constantine V Copronymus made a present of an organ to King Pepin. In 826 a Venetian priest named Georgius erected an organ at Aachen, possibly following the directions left by Vitruvius. Shortly afterwards organ-building seems to have flourished in Germany, for we are told (Baluze "Misc.", V, 480) that Pope John VIII (872-80) asked Anno, Bishop of Freising, to send him a good organ and an organist. By this time the hydraulic apparatus for equalizing the wind-pressure had certainly been abandoned, presumably because in northern climates the water might freeze in winter time. The wind, therefore, was supplied to the pipes directly from the bellows. To get anything like a regular flow of wind, it was necessary to have a number of bellows worked by several men. Thus, an organ in Winchester cathedral, built in 951, and containing 400 pipes, had twenty-six bellows, which it took seventy men to blow. These seventy men evidently worked in relays. In all probability one man would work one bellows, but the work was so exhausting that each man could continue only for a short time. The bellows were pressed down either by means of a handle or by the blower standing on them. It seems that the device of weighting the bellows — so that the blower had merely to raise the upper board and leave the weights to press it down again — was discovered only in the beginning of the sixteenth century.

Another point in which the medieval organ was inferior to the hydraulus, was the absence of stops. There were, indeed, several rows of pipes, but they could not be stopped. All the pipes belonging to one key sounded always together, when that key was depressed. Thus the Winchester organ had ten pipes to each key. What the difference between these various pipes was, we do not know; but it appears that at an early date pipes were introduced to re-enforce the overtones of the principal tone, giving the octave, twelfth, and their duplicates in still higher octaves. Then, to counterbalance these high-pitched pipes, others were added giving the lower octave, and even the second lower octave. In the absence of a stop action, variety of tone quality was of course unattainable, except by having different organs to play alternately. Even the Winchester organ had two key-boards, representing practically two organs (some authorities think there were three). From a contemporary description we learn that there were two organists (or three according to some), each managing his own "alphabet". The term alphabet is explained by the fact that the alphabetical name of the note was attached to each slide. The modern name key refers to the same fact, though, according to Zarlino ("Istitutioni armoniche", 1558), in a roundabout manner: he says that the letters of the alphabet placed at the beginning of the Guidonian staff (see NEUM) were called keys (claves, clefs) because they unlocked the secrets of the staff, and that, hence, the same name was applied to the levers of instruments like the organ inscribed with the same alphabetical letters.

While, in the Winchester organ, the two key-boards belonged to one organ, we know that there used to be also entirely separate organs in the same building. The smallest of these were called "portatives", because they could be carried about. These were known in France in the tenth century (Viollet-le-Duc, "Instruments de musique", p. 298). A larger kind was called "positive", because it was stationary, but it, again, seems to have been distinguished from a still larger instrument known simply as the organ. Later on, when in reality several organs were combined in the same instrument, one of the softer divisions was called "positive". This name is still retained on the Continent, while in English-speaking countries it has been changed to "choir organ". There was still another instrument of the organ kind called a "regal". Its peculiarity was that, instead of pipes, it had reeds, fastened at one end and free to vibrate at the other. It was therefore the precursor of our modern harmonium. In the fourteenth century organs were constructed with different key-boards placed one above the other, each controlling its own division of the organ. Soon afterwards couplers were designed, that is, mechanical appliances by which a key depressed in one key-board (or manual) would simultaneously pull down a corresponding key in another. The invention of a special key-board to be played by the feet, and hence called "pedals", is also placed in the fourteenth century. Sometimes the pedal keys merely pulled down manual keys by means of a chord; sometimes they were provided with their own rows of pipes, as in some fourteenth-century Swedish organs described by C. F. Hennerberg in a paper read at the International Musical Congress at Vienna, in 1909 ("Bericht", 91 sqq., Vienna and Leipzig, 1909).

It seems that stops were not reinvented until the fifteenth century. The form then used for a stop action was that of a "spring-box". About the fourteenth century, it appears, the slider for the key action had been discontinued, and channels (grooves) had been used, as in the ancient hydraulus, but running transversely, each under a row of pipes belonging to the same key. Into these grooves wind was admitted through a slit covered by a valve (pallet), the valve being pulled down and opened by the key action, and closed again by a spring. Such an arrangement is found in some remnants of the fourteenth century Swedish organs (see Hennerberg, l. c.). In these grooves, then, about the fifteenth century, secondary spring valves were inserted, one under each hole leading to a pipe. From each of these secondary valves a string led to one of a number of rods running longitudinally under the sound-board, one for each set of pipes corresponding to a stop. By depressing this rod, all the secondary valves belonging to the corresponding stop would be opened, and wind could enter the pipes as soon as it was admitted into the grooves by the key action. Later on it was found more convenient to push these valves down than to pull them. Little rods were made to pass through the top of the sound-board and to rest on the front end of the valves. These rods could be depressed, so as to open the valves, by the, stop-rod running over the sound-board. From these secondary valves the whole arrangement received the name spring-box.

The spring-box solved the problem in principle, but had the drawback of necessitating frequent repairs. Hence, from the sixteenth century onwards, organ-builders began to use sliders for the stop action. Thus the double control of the pipes by means of channel and slide was again used as in the hydraulus, but with exchanged functions, the channel now serving for the key action and the slider for the stop action. In modern times some builders have returned to the ancient method of using the channel longitudinally, for the stops (Kegellade and similar contrivances; pneumatic sound-boards). Mention should also be made of attempts to do away with the channels altogether, to have all the pipes supplied directly from a universal wind-chest and to bring about the double control of key and stop action by the mechanism alone. Each pipe hole is then provided with a special valve, and key and stop mechanism are so arranged that only their combined action will open the valve. Shortly after the stop-action had been reinvented, builders began to design varieties of stops. The earlier pipes had been all of our open diapason kind, which in principle is the same as the toy-whistle. These were now made in different "scales" (scale being the ratio of diameter to length). Also, the form of a cone, upright or inverted, replaced the cylindrical form. Stopped pipes — that is, pipes closed at the top — were added, and reeds — pipes with a "beating" reed and a body like the "flue" pipes — were introduced. Thus, by the sixteenth century all the main types now used had been invented.

The keys in the early medieval organs were not, it seems, levers, as in the ancient organ and modern instruments, but simply the projecting ends of the slides, being, presumably, furnished with some simple device making it convenient for the fingers to push in or pull out the slides. The invention of key-levers is generally placed in the twelfth century. These were for a long time placed exactly opposite their sliders. When, therefore, larger pipes began to be placed on the soundboard, the distances between the centres of the keys had to be widened. Thus we are told that organs had keys from three to five inches wide. This inconvenience was overcome by the invention of the rollerboard, which is placed in the fourteenth century. The rollers are rods placed longitudinally under the soundboard and pivoted. From each two short arms project horizontally, one being placed over a key, the other under the corresponding slider or valve. Thus the length of the key-board became independent of the length of the sound-board. Consequently we learn that in the fifteenth century the keys were so reduced in size that a hand could span the interval of a fifth, and in the beginning of the sixteenth the keyboard had about the size it has at present.

The number of keys in the early organs was small: only about one or two octaves of natural keys with at most the addition of b flat, Slowly the number of keys was increased, and in the fourteenth century we hear of key-boards having thirty-one keys. In the same century chromatic notes other than b flat began to be added. Then the question of tuning became troublesome. Various systems were devised, and it was not till the eighteenth century, through the powerful influence of J. S. Bach, that equal temperament was adopted. This consists in tuning in fifths and octaves, making each fifth slightly flat so that the 12th fifth will give a perfect octave. About the beginning of the sixteenth century the lower limit of the key-boards began to be fixed on the Continent at C, the c that lies below the lowest tone of the average bass voice and requires an open pipe of about 8 feet in length. In England organ key-boards were generally carried down to the G or F below that C, and only about the middle of the nineteenth century the continental usage prevailed also here. The total compass of the manuals now varies from four and a half to five octaves, that of the pedals from two octaves and three notes to two octaves and six notes (C — d' of C — f'). In 1712 it occurred to a London organ-builder named Jordan to place one manual department of the organ in a box fitted with shutters which could be opened or closed by a foot-worked lever, a kind of crescendo and decrescendo being thus obtained. This device, which received the name of swell, soon became popular in England, while in Germany it found favour only quite recently.

As we have seen, all through the Middle Ages the blowing apparatus consisted of bellows which delivered the wind directly to the sound-board. It was only in the eighteenth century that two sets of bellows were employed, one to supply the wind, the other to store it and keep it at even pressure. Thus, after an interval of about a thousand years, the blowing apparatus regained the perfection it had possessed in the hydraulus during the preceding thousand years. In 1762 a clock-maker named Cummings invented a square, weighted bellows, serving as a reservoir, and supplied by other bellows called "feeders". The feeders are generally worked by levers operated either by hand or foot, In quite recent times machinery has been applied to supersede the human blower, hydraulic, or gas, or oil engines, or electromotors being used. The difficulty of regulating the supply is easily overcome in the case of hydraulic engines, which can be made to go slowly or fast as required. But it is serious in the case of the other engines. Gas and oil engines must always go at the same speed, and even with electromotors a control of their speed is awkward. Hence, nowadays, bellows serving as feeders are frequently superseded by centrifugal fans, which can go at their full speed without delivering wind. It is sufficient, therefore, to fit an automatic valve to the reservoir, which will close when the reservoir is full. There is this drawback in the fans: that to produce a pressure as required in modern organs, they must go at a high speed which is apt to produce a disturbing noise. To obviate this difficulty several fans are arranged in series, the first raising the wind only to a slight pressure and so delivering it to a second fan, which delivers it at an increased pressure to the next, and so on, until the requisite pressure is attained by a practically noiseless process.

A genuine revolution in the building of organs was brought about by the invention of the pneumatic lever. Up to the twelfth century, it appears, the "touch" (or key-resistance) was light, so that the organs could be played with the fingers (see an article by Schubiger in "Monatshefte für Musikgeschichte", I, No. 9). Later on, possibly with the change to the groove and pallet system, it became heavy, so that the keys had to be pushed down by the fists. With improvement in the mechanism a lighter touch was secured again, so that playing with the fingers became possible after the fifteenth century. Still, a difficulty was always felt. In large organs the valve which admits the wind to the key channels (the pallet) must be of considerable size, if all the pipes are to get sufficient wind. Consequently, the wind-pressure which has to be overcome in opening the valve becomes so great that it taxes the power of the organist's fingers unduly. This difficulty is increased when couplers are used, as the finger then has to open two or more valves at the same time. To overcome this difficulty, Barker, an Englishman, in 1832, thought of using the power of the wind itself as an intermediate agent, and he induced the French organ-builder Cavaillé-Coll to adopt his idea in an organ erected in 1841. The device consists in this: that the key, by opening a small valve, admits the wind into a bellows which acts as motor and pulls down the pallet. Once this appliance was thoroughly appreciated, the way was opened to dispense altogether with the mechanism that connects the key with the pallet (or the draw-stop knob with the slider), and to put in its stead tubular-pneumatic or electro-pneumatic action. In the former the key opens a very small valve which admits the wind into a tube of small diameter; the wind, travelling through the tube in the form of a compression wave, opens, at the far end, another small valve controlling the motor bellows that opens the pallet. In the electro-pneumatic action the key makes an electric contact, causing the electric current to energize, at the organ end, an electro-magnet which, by its armature, causes a flow of wind and thus operates on a pneumatic lever.

With these inventions all the restrictions in organ-building, as to number of stops, pressure of wind, distances etc., were removed. Also means of control could easily be multiplied. Couplers were increased in number, and besides those connecting a key of one manual with the corresponding key of another, octave and sub-octave couplers were added, both on the same manual and between different manuals. In the matter of a stop-control, combination pedals — that is foot-worked levers drawing a whole set of stops at a time — had been in use before the pneumatic lever. They were now often replaced by small pistons placed conveniently for the hands. These pistons are sometimes so designed as not to interfere with the arrangement of stops worked by hand; sometimes they are made "adjustable" — that is, so contrived as to draw any combination of stops which the player may previously arrange. Attempts have also been made to have individual stops playable from several manuals. This is a great advantage, but, on the other hand, it implies inaccessible mechanism. Casson's "Octave-duplication" avoids this objection, while, by making a whole manual playable in octave pitch, it considerably increases the variety of tone obtainable from a given number of stops.

A special difficulty in organ-playing is the manipulation of the pedal stops. On the manuals quick changes of strength and quality can be obtained by passing from one key-board to another. But, as only one pedal key-board is feasible, similar changes on the pedals can only be made by change of stops. Hence special facilities are here particularly desirable. Casson's invention, in 1889, of "pedal helps" — little levers, or pistons, one for each manual, which make the pedal stops adjust themselves automatically to all changes of stops on the corresponding manual — is the most satisfactory solution of this difficulty.

Famous organ builders

Ctesibius, the inventor of the hydraulus, and the Venetian Georgius, who built the first organ north of the Alps, have already been mentioned, It is interesting to find a pope among the organ-builders of history: Sylvester II (999-1003), who seems to have built a hydraulic organ (Pretorius, "Syntagma Musicum", II, 92). We may also record here the first instructions on organ-building since the time of Vitruvius and Heron, contained in a work, "Diversarum artium schedula", by Theophilus, a monk, who seems to have written before 1100 (Degering, "Die Orgel", p. 65). After this names are scarce until the thirteenth century. Then we hear in Germany of a large organ in Cologne cathedral, built, probably, by one Johann, while the builders of famous organs in Erfurt Cathedral (1225) and in St. Peter's near Erfurt (1226) are not known. A Master Guncelin of Frankfort built a large organ for Strasburg cathedral in 1292, and a Master Raspo, also of Frankfort, probably built one for Basle cathedral in 1303. The famous organ at Halberstadt, with four keyboards, was built between 1359 and 1361 by Nicholas Faber, a priest. Of the fifteenth century we will mention only Steffan of Breslau, who built a new organ for Erfurt cathedral in 1483. In the sixteenth century Gregorius Vogel was famous for the beauty and variety of tone of his stops. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Silbermann family were renowned. The first of them to take up organ-building was Andreas Silbermann (1678-1733); his brother Gottfried (1683-1753), the most famous organ-builder in the family, was also one of the first to build pianofortes. Three sons of Andreas continued the work of their father and uncle: Johann Andreas (1712-83), Johann Daniel (1717-1766), and Johann Heinrich (1727-1799), the last two building mainly pianofortes. In a third generation we meet Johann Josias (died 1786), a son of Johann Andreas, and Johann Friedrich (1762-1817), a son of Johann Heinrich. In the nineteenth century we may mention Moser, who, about 1830, built a large organ for Freiburg in Switzerland, where they imitate thunderstorms; Schulze of Paulinzelle, Ladegast of Weissenfels Walcker of Ludwigsburg, Mauracher of Gras, Sauer of Frankfoft-on-the-Oder, Weigle of Stuttgart, Stahlhuth of Aachen.

In England we hear in the fourteenth century of John the Organer and of Walter the Organer, who was also a clock-maker. From the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the names of a large number of organ-builders are transmitted to us, showing organ-building was in a flourishing condition, but the Puritans destroyed most organs, and organ-builders almost disappeared. When organ-building was taken up again, in 1660, there was a scarcity of competent builders, and Bernard Schmidt, with his two nephews Gerard and Bernard, came over from Germany. Bernard the elder was commonly known as Father Smith, to distinguish him from his nephew. At the same time John Harris, a son of Thomas Harris of Salisbury, who had been working in France, returned to England. His son, Renatus, became the principal rival of Father Smith. In the following century another German, John Snetzler (1710-c. 1800) settled in England and became famous for the quality of his organ pipes. His business eventually became that of W. Hill and Son, London. In the nineteenth century the most prominent builder was Henry Willis (1821-1901), who designed several ingenious forms of pneumatic actions and brought the intonations of reeds to great perfection. Mention should also be made of R. Hope-Jones of Birkenhead, whose electro-pneumatic action marked a great step forward.

In Italy the Antegnati family were prominent during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Bartolomeo Antegnati built an organ in 1486 for Brescia cathedral, where he was organist. He had three sons: Giovan Francesco, Giov. Giacomo, and Giov. Battista. Francesco is also known as a maker of harpsichords. G. Giacomo was the organist of Milan cathedral and built for Brescia cathedral a choir organ which was famous in its time. Graziado, a son of G. Battista, built a new large organ for Brescia in 1580. His son Costanzo (born 1557) was an organist and a composer of renown. In the preface to a collection of ricercari (1608) he gives a list of 135 organs built by members of his family (cf. Damiano Muoni, "Elgi Antegnati", Milan, 1883). Vincenzo Columbi built a fine organ for St. John Lateran in 1549. In France we hear of an organ in the Abbey of Fécamp in the twelfth century. In the eighteenth century a well-known organ-builder was Joh. Nicolaus le Ferre, who, in 1761, built an organ of 51 stops in Paris. More famous is Don Bedos de Celles (1714-97), who also wrote an important book, "L'art du facteur d'orgues" (Paris, 1766-78). In the nineteenth century a renowned firm was that of Daublaine & Co., founded 1838; in 1845 it became Ducrocquet & Co. and sent an organ to the London Exhibition of 1851; in 1855 it changed its name again to Merkhin, Schütze & Co. and erected some of the earliest electro-pneumatic organs. The most famous builder of modern times, however, was Aristide Cavaillé-Col (1811-99), a descendant of an old organ-building family, mentioned above in connexion with Barker's invention of the pneumatic lever; he was also highly esteemed for the intonation of his reeds.

In America the first organ erected was imported from Europe in 1713 for Queen's Chapel, Boston. It was followed by several others, likewise imported. In 1745 Edward Broomfield of Boston built the first organ in America. More famous was W. M. Goodrich, who began business in the same city in 1800. The best known of American organ builders is Hilborne L. Roosevelt of New York, who, with his son Frank, effected many bold improvements in organ building. In 1894 John Turnell Austin patented his "universal airchest", an air-chest large enough to admit a man for repairs and containing all the mechanism, as well as the magazine for storing the wind and keeping it at equal pressure (Mathews, "A Handbook of the Organ").

The organ in Church service

In the early centuries the objection of the Church to instrumental music applied also to the organ, which is not surprising, if we remember the association of the hydraulus with theatre and circus. According to Platina ("De vitis Pontificum", Cologne, 1593), Pope Vitalian (657-72) introduced the organ into the church service. This, however, is very doubtful. At all events, a strong objection to the organ in church service remained pretty general down to the twelfth century, which may be accounted for partly by the imperfection of tone in organs of that time. But from the twelfth century on, the organ became the privileged church instrument, the majesty and unimpassioned character of its tone making it a particularly suitable means for adding solemnity to Divine worship.

According to the present legislation organ music is allowed on all joyful occasions, both for purely instrumental pieces (voluntaries) and as accompaniment. The organ alone may even take the place of the voices in alternate verses at Mass or in the Office, provided the text so treated be recited by someone in an audible voice while the organ is played. Only the Credo is excepted from this treatment, and in any case the first verse of each chant and all the verses at which any liturgical action takes place — such as the "Te ergo quæsumus", the "Tantum ergo", the "Gloria Patri" — should be sung.

With some exceptions, the organ is not to be played during Advent and Lent. It may be played on the Third Sunday in Advent (Gaudete) and the Fourth in Lent (Lætare) at Mass and Vespers, on Holy Thursday at the Gloria, and on Holy Saturday at and, according to general usage, after the Gloria. Moreover, it may be played, even in Advent and Lent, on solemn feasts of the saints and on the occasion of any joyful celebration — as e.g. the Communion of children [S. R. C., 11 May, 1878, 3448 (5728)]. Moreover, by a kind of indult, it would seem, the organ is admitted, even in Lent and Advent, to support the singing of the choir, but in this case it must cease with the singing. This permission, however, does not extend to the last three days of Holy Week (S. R. C., 20 March, 1903, 4009). At Offices of the Dead organ music is excluded; at a Requiem Mass, however, it may be used for the accompaniment of the choir, as above.

It is appropriate to play the organ at the beginning and end of Mass, especially when a bishop solemnly enters or leaves the church. If the organ is played during the Elevation, it should be in softer tones; but it would seem that absolute silence is most fitting for this august moment. The same may be said about the act of Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament. It should be observed that the legislation of the Church concerns itself only with liturgical services. It takes no account of such things as singing at low Mass or popular devotions. But it is fitting, of course, to observe on such occasions the directions given for liturgical services.


In ancient times and in the early Middle Ages organ-playing was, of course, confined to rendering a melody on the organ. But it is not improbable that the earliest attempts at polyphonic music, from about the ninth century on, were made with the organ, seeing that these attempts received the name of organum. From the thirteenth century some compositions have come down to us under that name without any text, and probably intended for the organ. In the fourteenth century we hear of a celebrated organ-player, the blind musician Francesco Landino of Florence, and in the fifteenth of another Florentine player, Squarcialupi. At this time Konrad Paumann flourished in Germany, some of whose organ compositions are extant, showing the feature which distinguishes organ, like all instrumental music, from vocal music, namely the diminution or figuration, ornamentation, of the melodies. With Paumann this figuration is as yet confined to the melody proper, the top part. With Claudio Merulo (1533-1604) we find the figuration extended to the accompanying parts also. More mature work was produced by Giovanni Gabrieli (1557-1612) in his "Canzone e Sonate" (1597 and 1615). Further development of a true instrumental style was brought about by Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654). Then follow a series of illustrious composers for the organ, of whom we may mention Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1644), Johann Jacob Froberger (died 1667), Dietrich Buxtehude (died 1707), and Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), at whose hands organ composition reached its highest point.

After Bach the general development of music, being in the direction of more individual expression and constantly varying emotion, was not favourable to organ composition. Accordingly, none of the best men turned their attention to the organ, Mendelssohn's compositions for the instrument being a notable exception. In modern times a large number of composers have written respectable music for the organ, among whom we may mention the French Guilmant and Widor and the German Rheinberger and Reger. But none of them, with the possible exception of Reger, can be counted as first-class composers. The scarcity of really good modern organ compositions has led organists to the extended use of arrangements. If these arrangements are made with due regard to the nature of the organ, they cannot be altogether objected to. But it is clear that they do not represent the ideal of organ music. As the characteristic beauty of organ tone lies in its even continuation, legato playing must be the normal for the organ even more than for other instruments. While, therefore, staccato playing cannot absolutely be excluded, and an occasional use of it is even desirable for the sake of variety, still the modern tendency to play everything staccato or mezzolegato is open to great objections. The alternation and contrast of tone-colours afforded by the variety of stops and the presence of several manuals is a legitimate and valuable device. But too much variety is inartistic, and, in particular, an excessive use of solo stops is alien to the true organ style.

A word may be added about the local position of the organ in the church. The considerations determining this question are threefold: the proximity of the organ to the singers, the acoustical effect, and the architectural fitness. The combination of these three claims in existing churches frequently causes considerable difficulty. Hence it is desirable that in planning new churches architects should be required to provide ample room for an organ.


There is no good history of the organ. On the ancient organ a good book is DEGERING, Die Orgel (Münster, 1905); cf. MACLEAN, The Principle of the Hydraulic Organ in Quarterly Mag. of the International Musical Society, pt. 2 (Leipzig, 1905), and Schlesinger, Researches into the Origin of the Organs of the Ancients, ibid., pt. 2 (Leipzig, 1901). On the later history, WILLIAMS, The Story of the Organ (London, 1903) is fairly reliable. The historical part of HOPKINS AND RIMBAULT, The Organ, Its history and Construction (London, 1877), though out of date, is still useful. Further works are; RITTER Zur Geschichte des Orgelspiels im 14. bis 18. Jahrhundert (Leipzig, 1884): WANGEMANN, Geschichte der Orgel (Leipzig, 1887); GRÉGOIRE, Histoire de l'orgue (Antwerp, 1865); HINTON, Story of the Electric Organ (London, 1909); BEWERUNGE, Die Röhrenpneumatik in Kirchenmusikalisches Jahrbuch (Ratisbon, 1905); BUHLE., Die musikalischen Instrumente in den Miniaturen des frühen Mittelalters; I. Die Blasinstrumente (Leipzig, 1903); VIOLLET-LE-DUC, Dictionnaire raissonné du mobilier français de l'époque Carolingienne à la Renaissance: II. Instruments de musique (Paris, 1874).
On the construction of the organ the principal works are: AUDSLEY, The Art of Organ-Building (2 vols., 4º, New York and London, 1905); ROBERTSON, A Practical Treatise on Organ-Building (London, 1897); TÖPFER-ALLIHN, Die Theorie und Praxis des Orgelbaues (Weimar, 1888) HILL, Organ Cases and Organs of the Middle Ages and Renaissance (2 vols., folio, London, 1883, 1891); WEDGWOOD, Dictionary of Organ Stops (London, 1905); MATTHEWS, A handbook of the Organ (London, 1897) (treats also of organ-playing); DIENEL, Die moderne Orgel (Berlin, 1891); SCHWEITZER, Deutsche u. französische Orgelbaukunst und Orgel-kunst (Leipzig. 1906); CASSON, The Modern Organ (Denbigh, 1883); IDEM, The Pedal Organ (London, 1905); IDEM, Modern Pneumatic Organ Mechanism (London, 1908); SWANTON, Lecture on Organ Blowing (London, 1905); International Rules for Organ Building, issued by the Third Congress of the International Musical Society (Leipzig, 1909).
The ecclesiastical legislation on organ-playing is contained in the Cæremoniale Episcoporum and in Decrees of the S. Congregation of Rites. The latter, as far as they concern the subject, are conveniently put together in AUER, Die Entscheidungen der h. Riten-Kongregation in Bezug auf Kirchenmusik (Ratisbon and New York, 1901).

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APA citation. Bewerunge, H. (1911). Organ. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Bewerunge, Henry. "Organ." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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