Pipe Organ

   Principal instrument of many Christian traditions. How an instrument associated with outdoor political and secular festivals of ancient Rome became the sole instrument allowed inside Christian churches by the 13th century remains mysterious, as does its liturgical function in the Middle Ages. Traditions associating organs with St. Cecilia date from the fifth century; the 15th-century historian Platina credits Pope Vitalian (ruled 657–672) with introducing it into the church; Patristic commentaries on the psalms may have promoted it (Psalm 150, Vulgate: laudate eum in chordis et organo. In any case, its privileged position in the Church encouraged a technical evolution that made it the most sophisticated of all machines by the 18th century and simultaneously cultivated the richest by far of all sacred instrumental repertories in the West. The organ has three essential components: pipes, which sit upon a container of pressurized air ("windchest," supplied by a bellows), which is connected to a lever system or keyboard. The organ produces tones when the player depresses a key on the keyboard, which then opens one (or more) valve at the bass of a pipe(s), allowing the pressurized air to vibrate the column of air within the pipe(s). The number and arrangement of these components in each organ is unique. Organ building recognizes the particular needs of each church as well as national traditions and terminologies that have developed through history.
   Most pipe organs found in churches today comprise three or four quite separate sets of pipes, windchests, and keyboards. Each of these {}divisions may be played alone or in combination with the others. The keyboards (manuals) are terraced together to allow simultaneous playing of the divisions, but the division pipes themselves may be separated widely in the church. (One division is played by the feet on a pedalboard below the manuals.) The English-language names for divisions are: great, the main division that characterizes the entire organ; positive or choir, containing lighter sounding (flute) pipes; {}swell, enclosed within a shuttercase that opens and closes during playing to regulate volume; and pedal, which has the largest pipes and therefore lowest pitches, the bass section of the organ. Each division normally contains several (or many) ranks, sets of similarly constructed and therefore similarly sounding pipes. Ranks have one pipe for each key on that division’s keyboard. The player activates a rank by pulling a stop near the manuals. The player may pull any combination of stops (registration) in the division, thus allowing a great variety of timbre from each division. Couplers combine ranks from separate divisions onto a single keyboard, creating even greater timbral possibilities.
   Each rank’s timbre is determined by the construction of its pipes. The two basic types are open cylinders (flues) and pipes fitted with flappers (reeds). Timbre may be further controlled by the pipe’s diameter to length ratio (scale), its material (type of metal, or wood), and by tapering or closing the pipe.
   Each pipe’s pitch is determined by its length. The pitch range of a whole rank or stop is indicated by the length of its longest pipe. The standard is 8_ ("eight foot"), the approximate length of the pipe producing C2. All 8_ stops produce their notes at concert pitch; 4_ stops sound one octave higher, 2_ two octaves, etc.; 16_ stops sound one octave lower, 32_ two octaves. Mutation stops, used to affect the timbre of other stops, include non-octave partials: a 2 2/3_ stop sounds one octave and a perfect fifth above concert pitch.
   Evidence for instruments combining pipes, windchests, and keyboards dates from the third century B. C. One type, the hydraulis, controlled wind pressure with a reservoir of water. Greeks, Romans, and then Byzantines used organs entirely for secular political events or festivals and as a symbol of power. In 757, the Byzantines sent Pepin of the Franks a gift of such an instrument, and Charlemagne possibly also received one in 812. A Venetian priest named Georgius constructed a hydraulis at Aachen, the imperial court, in 826. Tenthcentury records show that monasteries at Malmsbury, Ramsey, and Winchester (England) had organs. The Diversarum Artium Schedule of one monk Theophilus (fl. 1110–1140) describes some technical features but nothing about liturgical use. Two important later documents tell more about construction: a treatise of Henri Arnaut de Zwolle, written in Dijon between 1436 and 1454, a detailed description of several contemporary organs, and Arnolt Schlick’s Spiegel {}der Orgelmacher und Organisten (The Mirror of Organmakers and Organists, Mainz, 1511), a manual of construction.
   The 16th century saw many new kinds of stops, flutes and reeds being especially important, as well as steady growth in the technology and organization of divisional organs. From this enormous potential for different timbres developed national preferences and types. English organs, for example, had no pedal division until the 19th century, so even George Frideric Handel’s concertos could have no pedal part. The late 17th and 18th centuries represent the golden age of organ music and organ building; the technical achievements of Gottfried Silberman, Arp Schnitger, Christian Müller, and many others remain marvelous today. The 19th century saw the repertory of music become more international, owing especially to the revival of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music, and the instruments lost something of their national character as they were modified to play it.
   At the same time technical advances made organs ever larger. The French builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (1811–1899), known as the creator of the French Romantic organ, perfected pneumatic levers by 1841 and made possible gradual changes of dynamics without arbitrary changes in timbre by placing the most fundamental pipes in all the divisions and controlling swell boxes with pedals. Experiments with electric action occurred as early as 1826, and the electro-pneumatic action, by which the keyboard activates pipes by completing an electric circuit, was patented in 1868. In the 20th century, other devices became powered by electricity: swell shutters, bellows, couplers, etc. Players at keyboards could be far removed from pipes; while practical in large churches, such devices also removed the subtler aspects of sound production from the player’s control. In 1921, Oscar Walcker and Wilibald Gurlitt built the Praetorius-Orgel in Freiburg, Germany according to a description of Michael Praetorius, a landmark in the movement to restore some of the building techniques and aesthetic principles of the golden age. Since then, many old organs have been restored, and historical research has motivated the new construction of historic national types of organ.
   The privileged position of the pipe organ as the instrument exclusively, if at times tacitly, approved for liturgical use since the Middle Ages has over the centuries built up cultural associations between its characteristic sound and liturgy and thus accorded the organ a robust connotation of the sacred. The practice in recent centuries of permitting other instruments, even supplanting it entirely by the piano, guitar, or other ensembles in modern times, has perhaps weakened this connotation somewhat. Yet the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (1963) singled out "the pipe organ . . . to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which . . . powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God." (120)
   The vast pipe organ repertory grew out of the essential association responsible for this sacred semantic, that is, with liturgical singing. The most obviously liturgical pieces are those in which the organ supports or accompanies liturgical vocal music. A second class of composition uses the organ as a substitute for singing that still ties the instrument intimately to liturgy. In a third class, the organ supplements liturgical singing, at first as an appendage to liturgy, as in a chorale prelude, and then apart from it, eventually spawning organ compositions that are not explicitly liturgical, such as fugues, and finally to ones not sacred, such as sonatas.
   The 11th-century terms for an early polyphonic composition, organum (pl. organa), and particularly the term for the added voice, {}vox organalis, suggest, but by no means prove, the participation of the pipe organ in medieval liturgical music, since the Latin organum has many meanings. In later polyphony and motets, it is not hard to imagine the organ sustaining the chant melody (cantus firmus) in long notes beneath a sung florid countermelody, or at least supporting the singer(s) assigned to the cantus firmus, but there is no documentary proof of this. Also possible are the doublings of vocal lines in Renaissance polyphony and the ex tempore harmonization of chant. The Baroque sacred vocal repertory of sacred concertos, sacred symphonies, grand motets, anthems, cantatas, and figural masses explicitly demands the organ as the principal supporting instrument, particularly as continuo. The most familiar supporting role of the organ in congregational singing developed sporadically in various Protestant churches. Lutherans at first sang chorales unaccompanied and only gradually introduced harmonized versions played on the organ. The English Puritans and more radical Calvinists tried to ban organs altogether in the 16th century, but polyphonic versions of their simple psalmody appeared in print by the end of that century, probably intended for organ accompaniment, and some form of hymn accompaniment occurs in many Reformed congregations today.
   The Faenza Codex (Italy, c. 1400) contains the earliest alternatim, by which the organ substitutes for a portion of sung liturgical chant a polyphonic version that is not sung, an organ verset. The left hand plays the chant melody as a cantus firmus, while the right accompanies it with a florid discant. This practice of replacing a liturgical text by versets peaked in the French and Italian organ masses of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. It was banned by Pope Pius X in 1903 but persisted in Roman Catholic liturgies, especially in France, until the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
   A simple practical need of establishing the mode and starting pitch for a schola or choir seems to have given rise to a number of introductory organ intonazioni, toccatas, voluntaries, and preludes early in the 16th century. As such extra-liturgical instrumental works became accepted, it was only natural that the symbolic power of a well-known chant, chorale, or hymn would be harnessed in other kinds of organ music played before, after, and during the service: ricercar, chorale prelude, fantasia, etc. By the late 17th century, it is possible that imitative texture, reminiscent of Renaissance motets and masses, alone might justify an abstract fugue in church.
   During the proliferation of these organ genres from the 16th through the 18th centuries, the preferences of nations and even fairly small regions—north Germany, central Germany, south Germany, for example—remained quite distinct, often due to sectarian differences as well as the types of organ available.
   See also Portative; Positive.

Historical dictionary of sacred music. . 2006.

Look at other dictionaries:

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  • pipe organ — ► NOUN ▪ an organ using pipes instead of or as well as reeds …   English terms dictionary

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  • Pipe organ — This article is about organs that produce sound by driving wind through pipes. For an overview of related instruments, see Organ (music). The pipe organ in Saint Germain l Auxerrois, Paris[1] The pipe organ is a musical instrument …   Wikipedia

  • pipe organ — noun wind instrument whose sound is produced by means of pipes arranged in sets supplied with air from a bellows and controlled from a large complex musical keyboard • Syn: ↑organ • Derivationally related forms: ↑organist (for: ↑organ) •… …   Useful english dictionary

  • pipe organ — pipe′ or gan n. mad organ 1), a) • Etymology: 1880–85, amer …   From formal English to slang

  • pipe organ — organ (def. 1). [1880 85, Amer.] * * * …   Universalium

  • pipe organ — /ˈpaɪp ɔgən/ (say puyp awguhn) noun an organ with pipes, as distinguished from a reed organ. See organ (def. 1) …   Australian English dictionary

  • pipe organ — noun The largest of all musical instruments, played from an organ console which produces its sound by sending air through whistles and/or reeds called organ pipes, by direct mechanical action, or modernly, electrically …   Wiktionary

  • pipe organ — noun Date: 1880 organ 1b(1) …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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