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PIpe Organ Magazine

Welcome to Orgel Magazine, the number 1 online resource on pipe organ. My name is Jurgen King and I’m a pianist from Dallas. My dad was an organ builder and in honor of him I thought I would setup this website where I will talk about the pipe organ. Growing up I would help my dad from time to time in the shop, but to tell you the truth I was always more interested in playing than I did building the thing. Nowadays I like to travel and take pictures of pipe organ across the US. I also plan on purchasing a small portable indoor drone to use it for up close photos of the organ. Not sure if you’re aware of this, but a huge chunk of the organ is actually up in the air, difficult to reach for detailed photography. Hopefully my new gear will help me get around this problem.

As I already mentioned, I’m a pianist by trade, close to retiring actually. Even though I grew up around pipe organs, I ended up behind playing a piano for most of my life. Isn’t that something. With piano I had more opportunities, so I opted to study it, instead of pipe organ. Building also wasn’t my cup of tea. I didn’t take up after my dad it seems. Currently I live in Dallas, but we’re originally from Austin. That’s where the company my dad worked for was located.

Largest organ in the world - Wanamaker Organ

Have a look at the video of the organ above. It’s the worlds largest organ, the Wanamaker Organ, with close to 29000 pipes. This organ stretches across several floors actually, and the best part of it is that the face of the organ, the part that you can see at the center of the Macy’s department store where the organ is located in Philadelphia, isn’t actually there for outputting sound. That’s just for show, the pipes that are doing the actual talking are placed alongside the building walls, together with all the other machinery used by the organ. The console is also something out of this world, with 6 keyboards and numerous banks of voices. This type of behemoths is what I need better recording equipment, and is the reason why I’m always shopping for better cameras, camera drones, etc. My dream is to one day visit Philadelphia and actually try to play this organ. To bad that they are located on the other side of the country, heh.

Pipe organ history

Beginnings

This might be surprising to some, but pipe organ actually owe their beginnings to Ancient Greece. Oldest pipe organ ever recovered hail from 1st century BC, and can currently be viewed in Museum of Dion, Greece. First organ ever built were the work of a Greek engineer Ctesibius of Alexandria. They were called Hydraulis and used water pressure to maintain a wind supply into the pipes. Check them out on the photo to the right.

You can see on this picture that there are a lot of similarities between this ancient organ predecessor and the organs of today. There are of course no photo made with HD camera drones of those first pipe organs, but we can see from this highly preserved Hydraulis on the picture to the right just who exactly we have to be thankful for the pipe organs that we so know and love today.

In 2nd century AD, pumps and water regulators were replaced with a leather bag, and it wasn’t until 7th centry AD that we began seeing actual bellows being used. Mentions of organs (urghun) were discovered in the texts of Persian geographers. They were a widespread and popular instrument in the Persian empire. Organ that we know today, with great leaden pipes, was first introduced to the west by Byzantine emperor Constantine V as a gift to Pepin the Short.

Pipe organs were further made popular in Europe by son of Pepin the Short, Charlemagne. He requested another organ for his chapel in Aachen which was established in 812. That act cemented pipe organ as the de-facto musical instrument in the Western culture for years to come.

Middle ages to modern times

Most notable development of the middle ages when it come to pipe organ were small portable organ, which can be held and played with two hands. Example of one can be seen on the image to the right. During this period the largest pipe organ installation was made in Germany, Halberstadt. They were built in 1361, and had 20 bellows pushing air into the pipes. These pipe organs are still known today as the “king of instruments”. Mid-15th century marked the introduction of stop controls. A huge step in shaping the modern pipe organ.

During the renaissance pipe organ became a more developed instrument, with a more varied tonal selection. This is in part due to the each country developing their own pipe organ styles and ideas. In the north, countries like Netherlands and Germany had organs that were large instruments with several divisions, multiple ranks and mounted cornets. Further south, countries like Spain, Italy and Portugal made their organs smaller, and use them mostly to play alternatim verses instead of using them to accompany congregational singing.

Modern times

Modern pipe organ development began with the dawn of electricity in the late 19th century. That is when development of pneumatic and electro-pneumatic key actions took full swing and made it possible to locate the console independently of the pipes. In mid-20th century an initiative called the “Organ reform movement” which started going back to mechanical key actions and they also started imitating baroque style when building the organ facades. In the later half of the 20th centry something called the hybrid organs became popular and were being built by masters such as Allen ORgans and Johannus Orgelbouw. We’ll feature and talk in more depth about them here on the website soon enough.

Pipe organ music

What’s the purpose of building an instrument if there are no good compositions to play on it. Luckily there has been numerous composers who have written music for the organ over the years, making the repertoire of organ music quite vast. Perhaps the most famous composer who played a key role in making of pipe organ music is Johann Sebastian Bach. He’s not the only one, as there have actually been hundreds of composers from all over the world who made music for the organ.

At the very beginnings, organ music mostly consisted of so called sacred music. Reason for this being that organs were mostly installed and used in churches. Consequently music written for pipe organs during this period revolved mostly around choral anthems, congregational hymns and other liturgical elements.

Music written specifically for organ started appear during the baroque era. Before that organ had to share music with other keyboard instruments. Since baroque most of the musical compositions that were made for the organ came from France or Germany, with some small contributions from Netherlands, England, Italy, Spain and United States later on. Most notable names include Samuel Scheidt, Heinrich Scheidemann, Georg Bohm, Matthias Weckmann, Nicolaus Bruhns and of course Johann Sebastian Bach for Germany. In france we have Jean Titelouze, Francois Couperin and Nicolas de Grigny.

As time went on, organ music moved away from religious influences and more secular pieces like entire symphonies, preludes, fugues, sonatas and even transcriptions of orchestral works were made. Contemporary artists like Herbert Howells, Marcel Dupre and Maurice Durufle have continues making both religious (sacrad) and secular organ music.

Favorite pipe organs

Cathedral of St. Stephen, Passau

Cathedral of St.Stephen in Passau, Germany has Europes largest pipe organ. It was made by master Steinmeyer in 1928, and it measures a rather impressive 5 manual, 333 ranks and close to 18000 pipes. These are the 4th largest pipe organ in the world.

Milan Cathedral, Milan, Italy

For my second choice we’re staying in Europe, just moving a bit further south, to Milan, Italy. Milan Cathedral houses the second largest organ in Europe, made by master Tamburini in 1937, just before the war. The organ has 5 manuals, 255 ranks and 15350 pipes. The large Milan Cathedral makes the organ sound amazing, especially when its empty.

Cadet Chapel, U.S. Military Academy

The largest pipe organ in the world I have already mentioned up top, so my last pick here will be the second largest pipe organ. It is again located in the US, Cadet Chapel, U.S. Military Academy, West Point, NY. The organ has 4 manuals, 380 ranks and 23,236 pipes. Check it out in action in the video to the right. Sounds amazing doesn’t it. I hope you liked my picks here. Stay tuned for new posts where I’ll talk about lesser known, but still amazing looking organs.