Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Organ: King of Instruments

Sursa Hall Organ, Ball State
The pipe organ has been called "King of Instruments" because of its wide expressive range.  The largest pipes reverberate through the floors of great churches and halls, while the tiniest pipes can be reminiscent of the most delicate nightingale.  Subtle differences in the shape of pipes enable it to imitate many other instruments, especially wind instruments, or create a wide variety of sounds (timbres).
An organ consists of:
  • One or more keyboard for the hands (manuals)
  • A keyboard for the feet (pedals)
  • Many "ranks" of pipes, each consisting of the full scale of pitches in matching timbres.
  • Air flow to the pipes
Organs from the Middle Ages and Renaissance had one manual, one rank of pipes, and hand-operated bellows.  In the Baroque, organs had more than one manual, pedals, and behind the scenes assistants operated bellows to supply air to the pipes. Over time, organs became bigger and grander, with more keyboards, more ranks of pipes, and in the Twentieth Century, electrified air supplies.

Baroque Organ, with Manual Bellows
Organ stops, two pulled out
To select from amongst the many timbres available, near the keyboard the organ-maker put knobs that the organist would pull out to engage a particular rank of pipes.  These were called "stops" (because they stopped the air when pushed in), so to "pull out all the stops" means to use all the pipes of the organ simultaneously, which would be very loud.  Modern organs have levers that are pushed downward rather than stops, but the expression hasn't changed.
Organs have been installed in most churches and Cathedrals of the Christian churhes, but the world's largest operating organ is the famous Wanamaker Organ, in Macy's Department Store (formerly Wanamaker's) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  It has over 28,000 pipes and six manuals.

Manuals and Stops of the Wanamaker Organ

The most famous organist/composers (in historical order) are:
For more information on the organ, search CardCat:
Organ Music  (scores and CDs)
Organ Music -- History and Criticism

or follow the links to these materials in Ball State University Libraries' holdings:
Bach's Organ in Leipzig, St. Thomas Church

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