Organ Institute Quarterly
Winter 1954 Issue
by Lawrence I. Phelps
LAWRENCE I. PHELPS
A FEW years ago there was a tendency to call all old organs or any organ with mixtures “baroque,” and all other organs were called “romantic.” Such loose terminology is regrettable not only because modern organs bear but slight resemblance to their antecedents of the “baroque” period (the last half of the seventeenth and the first half of the eighteenth centuries), but also because the romantic period (the nineteenth century) produced many excellent organs that had little in common with the ill-advised concoctions built during the time to which this inaccurate classification has been most widely applied.
Even when the terms “baroque” and “romantic” are used with full understanding of their significance in musical history it should not be supposed that they can indicate the character of an organ in more than a general way. Throughout the long history of our instrument no period has ever seen anything approaching uniformity, but on the contrary there has been much variation both from country to country and from one generation to another. There are obvious differences in the work of modern American builders, and contemporary organ development in European countries is not exactly similar to our own. While there may be somewhat wider than usual divergence of thought and practice today because of our recent and rather sudden emergence from the decadant period, individual judgement and taste have always demanded considerable latitude, and each suceeding generation has put into practice at least a partially new set of ideas. Every important organ builder adapted the procedures of his predecessors to his own concepts and ideals. The particular musical, mechanical, and structural virtues that seemed most important to each were naturally influenced by prevailing limitations of human knowledge and skill. To some extent, also, they reflected the objectives and purposes of contemporary musicians, although it is clear that the instruments influenced the musicians as well. New ideas and practices appeared quite regularly although many were short-lived.
The decadant period (the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) was one of tangential experimentation and great excesses characterized by the most radical departures from established practices and an almost complete disregard for tradition. In recent years, however, modern organ builders have returned to some of the practices and tonal features of earlier days. These are by no means all adaptations from the Baroque period. In order to fully understand and appraise these modern developments it may be valuable to recognize their origins.
Shortly after World War I, organ building in Germany was penetrated by a rejuvenating spirit that originated with Albert Schweitzer. It began as a reform movement and was inspired by Schweitzer's great love for the music of J. S. Bach. He was convinced that the post-Romantic influences, which had turned the organ into an artificial orchestra, had robbed the instrument of its former glory and integrity and made it an ineffective medium for the proper revelation of the eternal beauty of Bach's organ works. Writing shortly after 1900, Schweitzer scorned the crescendoism and orchestralism of the post-Romantic instrument. It was characterized by an abundance of stops at sharply contrasted dynamic levels; a lack of well developed secondary manual divisions; a coarse, clumsy, and poorly developed Pedal division; an orchestral rather than truly organ-like disposition; an absence, or suppressed development, of upper work; a hardness of tone and an overbearing power of ensemble. He looked upon the problem as one having to do primarily with tone color; “.... we have lost the old tone of the organ that Bach wrote for; and, since the tone is the chief thing, it must be said that the modern organ (1900) is not so suitable for Bach as is generally supposed .... As regards the choice of tone colours, it need only be said that these are sufficiently Bachian when they suit the character of the work.” However, true to his strong and honest romantic nature, Schweitzer did not consider it necessary to look any further into antiquity than to the works of the great late Baroque German organ builder, Gottfried Silbermann, for an ideal solution to the problem. In fact, he spoke with considerable enthusiasm for the low pressure instruments of the middle 1800's, which were more or less reminiscent of Silbermann in pipe treatment if not in disposition. “What a joy it is, for example, to play Bach on the beautiful Walcker organs built between about 1860 and 1875.” (The old Boston Music Hall organ was one of these.)
Schweitzer was among the first to advocate architectural reform with regard to the proper placement of the organ. With a view towards giving it a better place from which to speak, he strongly advocated the return of the organ to its traditional perch on the west gallery. He encouraged the return to mechanical key action. He never mentioned the Baroque, and although he urged reestablishment of the integrity of each separate manual division, he did not advocate anything resembling the “Werk” principle which was one of the most distinguishing features of the instrument prior to the later development of Silbermann's pre-romantic innovations. Instead, he recommended a “trinitarian” principle, according to which the whole instrument was planned as one ensemble, although divided into separate and fairly complete units. This concept may have been in Silbermann's mind when he abandoned the Ruckpositiv position, in order to include the whole instrument behind one front.
The essence of the Baroque was the more or less free relationship between the stops of the same family, each one being contrived separately as an independent entity. This tradition was inherited from the Renaissance. The voicing treatment and the influence of key chambers in the slider chest contributed much to the blend in these ensembles.
Gottfried Silbermann strove for a cohesive tonal mass through careful tonal design instead of depending upon favorable environment and coincidental circumstances. In this respect, his work foreshadowed the best elements of Romantic organ building.
After 1906 the German organ movement gained in momentum along the general Schweitzerian lines, but it was interrupted by World War I. However, about 1926 things took a turn in a more revolutionary direction. In that year an instrument conceived by Praetorius in 1618 and built by Walcker in 1921 became the star of the now famous Freiberg Organ Conference. Germany's organ “great” were present in force at this conference, among them the reformed Karl Straube and at least two of his great pupils, the late Fritz Heitmann and Gunther Ramin.
It was at this conference that the decisive impetus was given to the organ movement in Germany. This led to a general resurgence of interest in the organ and organ reform throughout most of Europe and the United States. After much discussion and investigation, Arp Schnitger became the heralded model and hero of the movement.
The movement was divided almost from the outset into two camps. One, the strong Baroque revivalists, declared that henceforth organ building should be reduced to the antiquarian activity of slavishly restoring and reproducing the work of the great Baroque masters of the Schnitger school. The other more rationally inclined group, which might more accurately be called a neo-Baroque group, accepted Schnitger as a general guide to proper disposition, scaling, and voicing techniques, but realistically faced the fact that what was needed was an instrument to meet satisfactorily “.... the task which it has to accomplish above all else, in the religious life of the people of the present day.” This latter group advocated a careful study and appraisal of every feature and detail that was to be accepted into the modern organ, so that those ideas which were only of antiquarian interest would not be imposed upon modern thought and practice. “Actually nothing would be more foolish than for one to escape the decision demanded by today, by turning back the wheel of history for several centuries ....” (Dr. Mahrenholz, 1932)
The movement had for its platform the following main points:
- The reestablishment of the principles, scaling methods, and voicing techniques practiced by the best of the Baroque builders, which meant:
a. Avoidance of the romantic tendency toward a closely knit flue ensemble or “chorus” as first developed by Silbermann, and the discontinuance of the “regular” scaling methods associated with such chorus development.
b. Development of the ensemble in the rather loosely integrated fashion characteristic of the Schnitger school.
c. Exploitation of the so-called irregular scaling practices of the baroque period in order to establish a balance within each manual division which would be more musically functional than that usually provided by romantic, ensemble-conscious, regular scaling methods. The purpose was to establish a more singing treble, with better balance between the various areas of the keyboard as is required for ideal polyphony, and to establish greater contrast between the narrow and wide stops, principals and flutes.
d. The return to the nickless, more or less “open” toe hole, low-mouth and low wind pressure voicing practices of the Schnitger school, in order to maintain the brilliance of tone and vitality of speech which were considered essential elements of “musicality” in baroque instruments.
- The reestablishment of the concepts of tonal design practiced by Schnitger and his most successful pupils, which included:
a. The return to the “Werk” principle concept of stop disposition (Hauptwerk, Oberwerk, Ruckwerk, et cetera), in which the organ was not thought of as a single instrument so much, but was regarded more as a collection of separate organs, each complete in itself, placed together in one structure and more or less sharply contrasting in color, intensity, attitude, and function. This contrast was not essentially one of quantity of sound but rather one of quality of tone and of pitch basis. The Pedal was to regain its place of equal importance with the manual divisions.
b. The abolition of the coupler theory. Only unison couplers were to be included. The main manual division was to be sufficient for most full playing requirements. The few couplers were to be used sparingly.
c. Elimination of unification. Certain judicious borrowing to the Pedal, however, was to be permitted.
d. Choosing stops for the disposition in accordance with the Schnitger philosophy and practice.
- Reestablishing the architectural advantages enjoyed by the baroque builders, including the free standing positions provided by architects of that period, and the artistic integration of the organ into the overall scheme as a legitimate and welcome constituent of church furnishings. The west end gallery was advocated as the best position, although any elevated and free position sharing a ceiling common to the main edifice was welcomed.
- The development of the structure of the organ and its exterior appearance in a manner that functionally reflects the “Werk” principle, as did the earlier instruments. This meant:
a. Ideal placement of the manual divisions one above the other rather than side by side.
b. The reintroduction of the Rückwerk idea whenever possible. Sometimes a division other than the Positiv was used in this position, the Great or Pedal, for instance.
- The use of key-chamber chests, especially the slider chest, wherever possible, as these were found to be more compatible with the type of unforced voicing which was the goal.
- The return to mechanical key action wherever possible, as this provided a device through which the player could exercise more direct control over the speech and tone of the pipes.
In the United States the organ reform that started in the early thirties has developed and progressed more or less independently of the European movement. However, certain architectural and dispositional idiosyncrasies of the European movement have had considerable influence on the work of Walter Holtkamp, and Schweitzer's influence has been much stronger in our reform than many of us suspect. We are still too sound-conscious, too color-conscious; and it is not yet well understood just what constitutes musicality in the organ. The decadent state of organs against which Schweitzer rebelled so strongly in the first years of this century existed in this country also, and continued well into the thirties, but here there was a difference. We had very few good examples to turn to for guidance in the needed reform. If more of the best work from the previous century had been preserved, we might have been spared the delusion that tonal reforms consisting merely of “classic style” stoplists and brighter-toned pipes would lead us immediately to an ideal instrument. I have seen enough of our own nineteenth-century instruments to believe that if the best of them had been better known and properly regarded, some of the developments of the last twenty years might have been quite different. To be sure, few of these had much of a Pedal Organ, but many of them had beautifully developed upperwork and were voiced by artists who had learned their craft in Europe or as apprentices to Europeans in this country, and these instruments could have taught us some valuable lessons. Unfortunately, however, the ravaging effects of central heating, the impatience of a flourishing prosperity, and the greedy and unscrupulous sales technique of a rapidly expanding industry took a tremendous toll and robbed us of the heritage and basis for judgment which we sorely needed.
Much confusion has accompanied the progress of the last twenty years. The label “Baroque” has been persistently and most inappropriately attached to the work of contemporary builders. The Baroque was not an era of exposed and naked pipe work, as some seem to have supposed, for no period in history ever lavished such effort on the construction of organ enclosures - and enclosures they were - for the various divisions were almost invariably contained in boxes open only on the front, which front was covered by an elaborate wooden frame, highly carved and decorated, which held all of the largest bass pipes as well as many of the smaller ones. The term “Baroque,” as applied to organ building, should never have been thought to imply overbearing brilliance, stridence or power - nor on the other hand does it mean petite, delicate, fragile or quaint. The baroque builders did things in the grand manner and any instrument worthy of being called an organ performed its duty with authority and dignity, though with appropriate restraint. It should be remembered, however, that the period knew the art of building well-developed Kleinorgels and Positivs, and the irresistible charm of these intimate and enticing diminutives has fallaciously persuaded many an investigating American, and not a few curious Europeans, that they were the baroque ideal. Harpsichord enthusiasts have been most prone to this delusion.
Unfortunate as the confusion surrounding the term “Baroque” has been, its significance is dwarfed by the catastrophe which has befallen the once meaningful word “Romantic” because of the indifferent inaccuracy of the American organ world. Application of the word “Romantic” to the degenerate instruments of the first thirty years of our own century rendered the word useless and degraded its meaning at a time when an understanding of the essence of high Romanticism would have been invaluable. The reforms which have been in process for the past twenty years have in fact been a sort of neo-Romantic movement drawing their inspiration from the greatest organ building of the inspired romantics, Father Willis, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, and Edmund Schulze, tempered by lessons learned from the great romantic prophet of the late baroque, Gottfried Silbermann.
It must be remembered that one of the great features of Romanticism in music is that of sound for sound's sake, or one might almost say music for sound's sake. This tendency is seen not only in the augmentation and elaboration of the orchestra and the rapid gain in popularity of the pianoforte, but also in the use of richer and more colorful harmonic textures and the development of the crescendo as an expressive device par excellence. The inspired created great music amid great cascades of sound. The less inspired created great sound only and it has taken the judgment of decades to separate the chaff of mere sound from the wheat of great music, that great romantic music which today constitutes well over three-fourths of our concert repertoire. The Romantic era was above all else a sound-conscious era.
The organs built during the Romantic period certainly reflected the spirit of the time. Great as the best work of this era was and inspired as the great masters of the art certainly were, all was not as pure as one can now wish it might have been. Lurking in the background at first and then coming more into prominence, was a strong tendency towards the “foundationalism”, or excessive foundational tone, which later, entirely out of control, became the main feature of the organ in its most decadent state. Although this was a period of remarkable development in reed tone and a generally brighter and more flamboyant ensemble seemed to be the goal, one could find, even in the best examples, a certain emphasis on too thick fundamental tone. This was the time when the colorful Harmonic Flute blossomed into maturity after having been a plaything for centuries. Yet at the same time there appeared a breed of hooty, colorless flutes and diapasons which were to become the backbone of “the organ of the twentieth century.” The fascination for the newly liberated, high wind pressure chorus reeds seemed to foster an indifference toward the flue chorus and a loss of aesthetic perspective. Upperwork began to be neglected and gradually disappeared. Flue tone became increasingly foundational. Although reeds were at first the crowning glory of these organs even they eventually succumbed so that it finally became difficult to tell whether one was listening to a Diapason, a Gross Flute, or a Tuba. Under a resurgence of orchestral influence the imitative string stops, which in the best romantic instruments still made broad and noble sounds, became thinner and keener until they were completely unassimilable.
The orchestral imitation in the work of the best romantic builders was characterized by the same restraint which, in this respect, marked the work of most of the notable builders of history. In fact the Renaissance builders (1400 through early 1600's) showed more genuine enthusiasm for the accurate imitation of the sounds of orchestral instruments than was displayed in the middle of the 19th century. The Renaissance organ exhibited as a chief feature a large collection of various imitative stops. One finds many accounts in the literature of the time - Praetorius and Schlick - of the close resemblance of organ stops to their prototype, either in form, in principle, or in sound. However, the structure and tone of these early prototypes was quite different from our modern instruments and more susceptible to faithful imitation in the organ. Many of these imitative stops were in use through the Baroque period - the accent on reed tone lessened somewhat and imitative flutes, and such, were given more attention - until Gottfried Silbermann virtually eliminated them in order to create a more effective ensemble out of more purely “organ” tones of a more closely related character. It is interesting to note, that, while this Silbermann ideal was strongly evident over 100 years later in the work of Edmund Schulze, Joseph Gabler, a distinguished contemporary of Silbermann, continued the chain of orchestralism which one could probably trace right up to the time of the Schweitzer rebellion.
In 1925 the low estate of tonal development in the American organ was recognized only by a few, but from the time G. Donald Harrison arrived in America things started brightening up. His first reforms were along more or less conventional English lines. Better metal went into the Diapasons, and their thick, muddy tone was replaced by a warmer purr. Reeds were greatly improved. There was considerable discussion about perfection of “build up” and ensemble and about tradition in tonal design. Willis, Schulze, and Cavaillé-Coll were cited as models. The Willis influence appeared early. The Schulze influence was evident in some attempts at 2/7 mouth diapasons and in a bold treatment of chorus mixtures. The 2/7 mouth was soon abandoned, but Schulze's influence could still be seen in the mixture work, as in the idea of the Full Mixture, for example, and in the use of regular halving ratios for all chorus work. The predominant importance of the ensemble, a concept to which Schulze had made substantial contributions, was emphasized. The influence of Cavaillé-Coll appeared in the form of a straight “French” shallot, and hybrid versions of the characteristic French reeds were developed. At first these were used with great timidity and only to supplement the usual complement of English reeds, as at Harvard University's Memorial Church.
In the meantime interest in the works of the masters of the Golden Age, Bach and his predecessors, had been growing. Many of the things Schweitzer had said about the unorgan-like tone in vogue at the time of writing his monumental “J. S. Bach,” had taken root in the thinking of some Americans. Karl Straube's editions of the old masters were becoming well-known in circles which were to exert considerable influence in the coming reform. The news that the great romanticist, Straube, had forsaken his earlier excesses in applying romantic expression to the interpretation of baroque works in favor of a purer style, and that he was, in fact, a leader in the new German reforms, gave much for fertile minds to consider. In Cleveland, where the German movement had been followed with interest, an unenclosed Positiv with slider chests and quasi-Baroque disposition and voicing was successfully completed for the Art Museum. This taught valuable lessons, justified further development along this line, and provided the necessary impetus to launch the creative orginality of Walter Holtkamp in a pioneering career.
G. Donald Harrison continued to develop his own modifications of English characteristics. The organ for Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, was planned with a wind pressure of 3 3/4" for the Great. This was the first significant instrument to have a major division speaking on a pressure below 4", although the Harvard Great had its basses on 3 3/4". This Great chorus showed the Schulze influence in that the main Great mixture was about the same scale, ratio, and strength as the Second Diapason. The full battery of English reeds was on 7" wind pressure, as was the entire Swell. In many respects this organ is probably English organ building at its best and most musical, possibly surpassing in good taste many examples in England, but it marked the end of such frankly English organ building in the United States.
Beginning with the organ for Groton school, the era of “Clarified Ensemble” began. Several of our organ enthusiasts who had been in Europe were loudly singing the praises of old German builders, especially Gottfried Silbermann. Most of these gentlemen were by no means the radicals or purists some of their colleagues considered them to be, nor were they of the “grass is always greener” variety. They were simply sincere men who were honestly interested in the future of the organ in America. The German organs sounded better to them, especially for the playing of Bach, and they said so. What appealed to them most was the transparent way in which counterpoint could be heard with the full ensemble drawn. The two middle voices could always be followed easily, the treble sang with a full, clear tone, and the Pedal possessed satisfactory definition, but was never obstrusive. The phenomena of hundreds of lightly voiced pipes speaking on wind pressures of less than 3 3/4" working together to produce an ensemble which fills the edifice with a blaze of magnificent sound, never blatant nor overbearing, was in itself so fascinating that they longed to hear it more often. However, it appears to me that it was the clear, brilliant sound of the early German instruments, rather than the contrapuntal clarity which they produced, that made the more lasting impression upon these crusaders and fired their enthusiasm for championing this cause at home. The course of events during the era of the clarified ensemble seems to support this view.
It is not surprising that Silbermann organs were chosen as the ideal instead of the work of the true baroque builders and the Schnitger school. With the exception of certain isolated branches of the Schnitger school, nearly all the worthwhile organ building of the past 200 years has utilized, to some extent, principles which first appeared in an organized, systematic form in Silbermann's work, principles which were followed to their logical conclusions by Schulze. First among these features was the closely integrated flue chorus. Although Silbermann did not use the regular scaling system as we know it today, he did use the same graduation scale for all the ranks in a single chorus. From 8' C up to 6" C (the top note of his 8' Principal) the scale diminished very rapidly, much faster than halving on the 17th pipe, and from 6" C to 3/4" C the progression was very slow, much slower than halving on the 19th pipe. The octave of pipes between 1' C and 6" C always had a ratio halving on about the 17th pipe, but the increase in diameter below this octave was very rapid and the decrease above it was very slow. Here were the beginnings of the parallel scaling techniques that were to become a distinguishing feature of Schulze's work. Silbermann, however, compromised the parallelism by using different diameter scales, slightly smaller, for quints, tierces, and mixtures, but the degree and relationship of the parallelism remained the same throughout the chorus. Schulze, on the other hand, used a ratio halving on about the 17th pipe for principals, quints, and mixtures alike, and gave every pipe in his chorus which had the same pitch the same diameter also (and toe hole area as well). Schulze's system produced a chorus which was only suitable for the production of great masses of glorious sound. His rapidly diminishing treble, together with the parallelism which made the lower end of the upper work (especially the quints) very strong, and the awkward octave jumps at the mixture breaks, all detracted greatly from the clarity and balance in contrapuntal playing. Silbermann's system produced a certain balance which made it musically effective in polyphony although full clarity, which must be understood to be a function of balance within the individual division, was probably not achieved until the highest rank of upper work was drawn. This fact very likely lead to the unfortunate impression that mixtures should be used as ensemble clarifiers rather than ensemble intensifiers, which latter seems to be a better concept.
Other factors which may have contributed to this preference for Silbermann's ideas, in contrast to those of his accomplished predecessors and contemporaries, were:
His consistent use of a high tin content in all his open pipes, which, quite apart from any consideration of the effect on tone, arouses an immediate sense of quality.
The presence of numerous separate mutations which appealed to a taste for subtlety more than the compound mutation effects, such as sesquialteras.
The stoplists of these organs did not present obstacles to quick acquaintance as did those of most of the high baroque builders.
The voicing technique used in these pipes, which included judicious nicking and toe hole regulation, produced a tone with greater refinement than the rougher speech of the Baroque.
The smaller gap between the wide and narrow (flute and principal) stops would naturally appeal to tbe logical mind that was unacquainted with the earlier tradition.
It was undoubtedly assumed that because Bach and Silbermann were contemporaries who knew each other that Silbermann's work had been influenced by Bach, or, that Bach, after playing on the Silbermann organ in Dresden late in 1736, was lastingly inspired by this instrument. (Bach's contribution to Silbermann's progress is reported to have been in the field of pianoforte construction, not in organ building, and Silbermann is known to have refused to adopt equal temperament in spite of Bach's advocacy of it.)
Also, the baroque concept of an organ as a set of separate and sharply contrasting divisions, each containing individually conceived stops divided into two or more contrasting and not very well integrated families was probably interpreted as a sign of primeval development.
The absence of substantial chorus reeds in Silbermann's instruments no doubt inspired the reedless Greats of the “clarified” instruments of G. Donald Harrison, Groton being the first of the distinguished examples. This left the way clear for exploitation of the flue chorus to a hitherto undreamed of extent. The Great of this instrument has three mixtures totaling eleven ranks. The Cymbel III, a chorus quint mixture, is the crowning glory, as with Silbermann - a quite unbaroque idea. The scaling of this chorus was based on normal halving ratios, but a slower ratio was used for the upper work than for the 8' and 4' stops. The upper work was based on a smaller scale than the Principal, producing a scale relation between ranks not unlike Silbermann's; however, this upper work was proportionately much larger in the lower two octaves. The voicing of the pipes was rather like Silbermann's; the pressure was 3", the mouths were cut lower than any used before, lighter metal (spotted) was used, and a real attempt to produce a “silvery” ensemble was made with considerable success. The Swell was equipped with a full complement of the newly refined French type reeds. The Choir was an enclosed accompanimental division without mutations. The stoplist for the unenclosed Positiv was patterned somewhat after the Silbermann Brustwerk, and in this, its initial appearance in a new instrument of major proportions, it actually had a Brustwerk-like placement. 2 1/2" wind pressure was used for the first time. The scales for this division were nearly the same as had been previously used for Choir mutations, and although this Positiv was quite successful and had considerable charm, it seemed necessary to work out a new scaling system for these stops. This was done and the next Positiv, at the Church of the Advent, Boston, contained new scales which were not unlike those recommended by Dom Bedos.
The organ built for the Church of the Advent was truly a masterpiece in every phase of its construction and it was the first completely successful attempt at utilizing a low wind pressure throughout. The Great was on 3", the Swell and Choir on 3 3/4", the Positiv on 2 1/2", the Pedal on 4". In disposition it followed the new principles of clarity demonstrated at Groton, but the voicing was even more silvery, the mouth heights being very low, and the mixtures were made of tin to encourage this tendency. The new scales for the Positiv justified themselves and it was certain that this innovation was here to stay. The value of the independent pedal was established beyond dispute.
Although this instrument was only the second instrument built in the new style, it marked the high point in the brief period of clarity. It also marked the high point of the Silbermann influence in American organ building.
In referring to the influence of Silbermann it must not be supposed that these new instruments were attempts to duplicate Silbermann's work or that they entirely realized the Silbermann ideal. However, these instruments were conscious attempts to attain a tone from the individual pipe which might be likened to the “ideal” tone, in quest of which Casparini and Andreas Silbermann had devoted their earnest efforts, a tone which we assume was successfully acheived by Gottfried Silbermann. Recognizing the limits of language in describing tonal color we call it simply “silvery.” These instruments were attempts to attain clear polyphony through scaling methods which roughly approximated those used by Silbermann. In the omission of reeds from the chief manual division these instruments followed a tendency foreshadowed by Silbermann, who used these sparingly. But this omission lent strength to a very un-Silbermann-like practice: the subjugation of the integrity and independence of the individual manual ensemble to a place in an overall scheme which had for its ideal one grand, climactic tutti, consisting of all the influential stops of each manual division coupled together and played from one keyboard. This has been called the “one manual doctrine” for it reduces the organ to virtually a one manual instrument.
The organ at the Church of the Advent still showed considerable Schulze influence in the relatively loud strength of the quint ranks throughout and of all the upper work ranks in the tenor and the bass registers. However, this instrument had the clearest ensemble which had yet been heard in America. Contrapuntal music played on it could be heard better than on other instruments. The eloquence of the flue chorus was equaled by the beauty of its many other tonal features. The suavity of its wonderful strings and the expressive quality of its flutes contributed to make it a rare and distinctive combination of the very best romantic elements. The one essentially romantic element which this instrument did not contain was the effect of an overwhelming climax. Because of the restraint with which the whole instrument had been developed it was considered by some critics to be too mild in its total effect.
For a period of some two years other instruments were built displaying a similar reserve, but few of them reflected the same devotion to a musical ideal. For the most part, they were marked by a tendency toward amplification of sound rather than improvements leading to a more balanced and comprehensible projection of musical ideas. For example, the French reeds in the Swell of the good organ at St. Mark's, Philadelphia, were placed on 5" wind pressure and a battery of English reeds on 7" pressure was placed in the Choir expression chamber.
Early in this period the now world famous organ at Busch-Reisinger Museum in Cambridge was built as an experiment in baroque ensemble. The appellation “Baroque” applied to this instrument assured some success for it in its academic surroundings, but quite aside from this favorable circumstance, it was, and still is, one of the most thoroughly satisfying collections of twenty-five stops that is likely to be found anywhere, when used for the purpose for which it was intended - the performance of the early and the modern literature. Although the wind pressure was 2 1/2" throughout and 1/5 to 1/6 mouth heights were used for most of the stops, the voicing was not strictly baroque and the wind chests were of conventional modern design. The ensemble was so well integrated that almost any combination of two stops could be used with satisfaction, which is not always characteristic of the baroque.
The lessons learned here were added to some of those learned at the Church of the Advent and several quasi-baroque instruments were built. A notable example is at Columbia University, an instrument which has three unenclosed manual divisions. These instruments were marked by a substantial reduction of 8' tone. However, this reduction was not invariably accompanied by a proportionate reduction in the strength of the lower and middle registers of upper work. In some cases the mixtures were made higher in pitch than before, which, because of their considerable strength, was sometimes detrimental to the best musical results. Instead of being merely a little prominent for ideal balance in polyphonic playing, some ranks of upper work now stood out separately. At least, it sounded so to me. They did not always blend. Some of the high pitched pipes seemed to assert themselves too strongly. Left hand parts became too prominent and the habit of coupling the Swell or Positiv mixtures to the Pedal, which soon developed, caused some strange things to happen! Left hand notes, particularly downward leaps, seemed to jump out, and sometimes the Pedal line chirped well above the manual treble. Some students who have grown up with these organs now seem to confuse brilliance for clarity and some have no patience with a Pedal that takes its rightful place below the tenor!
The concept of clarity which developed at this time was different from that which had been set forth at the beginning of the movement. The early tendencies seemed to suggest that the purpose of the movement was to approach all problems from a musical point of view. It was agreed that the tubby and windy flutes which had formerly been used as chorus work had to be abandoned for a richer, clearer, and more aesthetic tone, and that all scaling should be such as to encourage the proper balance and relationship between the various ranges of the keyboard, so that counterpoint could be heard and not merely seen. The English style instruments which were the first fruit of that reform realized this goal to a certain extent. The first of the new “clarified” instruments were even more successful. Unfortunately, either the musical principles were not well enough understood, or listening was not sufficiently analytical, because the movement toward a musically functional organ seemed to be sidetracked.
In early twentieth century instruments thick, muddy texture made it impossible to hear the inner voices in polyphonic music. The tenor voice of fugues was especially obscure. Because of Schweitzer's comments on the playing of Bach, the practice of soloing the entrances of subjects and answers and other such devices for projecting and clarifying musical ideas that were in common practice, were now considered too orchestral to be legitimate. The new instruments made the tenor voice stand out quite well enough! The middle voices could be heard easily. The newly discovered tenor part became such a preoccupation that some perspective was lost. Some of the organs over-emphasized the tenor to the detriment of the upper voices and good balance. Some innovations were produced which might have led to a solution of this musical puzzle, but, for some reason, their increased musical potential was not fully realized. For example:
A new scale was developed for the 8' Principal which started rather small in the bass and continued regularly for three octaves, but beginning at 1' C the scale increased rapidly so that in the highest two octaves the scale increased six semi-tones. This was a step in the right direction, a radical one in fact, but the balancing effect of this scale for the Principal was neutralized by its use in a parallel manner, note for note, for upper work and mixtures. Instead of producing a normal musical balance with an increasing and full treble this method produced an equalizing effect by using proportionally larger scales for the high pitched ranks at the lower end of the keyboard, at the point where the 8' rank was weakest. The highest pitched rank of the mixture, which of course was always in the lower portion of the keyboard, had the largest scale of all. The result was that as upper work was added the effect was almost as though all the voices of the fugue were transposed so as to occupy the same pitch range.
The reform itself seemed to get out of hand. Organs became brighter and louder, more brilliance seemed to stimulate a desire for even more brilliance. In the early days of the movement many organists who played on the old style organs obtained a clearer sound by omitting most of the 8' stops, especially the diapasons, from all combinations. The reform gave us new diapasons with an adequate harmonic development. In some instances these did not enjoy much more acceptance than their muddy predecessors. Then, even brighter diapasons, which were now usually called “principals” to indicate their reformed character appeared, and these, too, were neglected. The mixtures were not so neglected, however. The practice of using mixtures in combinations which do not include the Principal is one which claims considerable prestige from the popularity which it enjoyed among organists of the baroque period. It should be remembered, however, that the delicate high pitched mixtures of that time were very different from many of the large scaled modern neo-romantic chorus mixtures. Such charming and desirable effects as 8' Gedeckt or 8' Rohrflöte and Mixtur (or Scharff), or the upper principal and mixtures supported only by secondary 8' stops, are not always musically possible on modern instruments. In most modern divisions which contain an 8' Principal, the mixtures have usually been balanced with the Principal in the voicing and tonal finishing. Some of the registrational mannerisms which have developed find justification and authenticity in the traditional usage of the Golden Age, and are certainly not out of place in the playing of the older literature if they produce a good musical result on the instrument at hand. But the blind use of traditional stop combinations without a careful appraisal by the ear of how they work together musically in each case, has defeated the good musical intentions of many a learned and well-meaning performer. On some modern organs it seems to me that in many polyphonic passages the balance of parts is better if the Principal is drawn and the mixtures are shut off. The sound is not so bright but it is more musical. The voices are heard in better perspective. “But the sound of mixtures is more exciting,” appeared to be the motto of the day, so, off with the principals and on with the mixtures! “Mixtures are the organ,” someone has said. This is true to a greater extent than is generally realized, but the mixtures and upper-work must never shift the balance of the parts. They should simply carry the same, clear, well balanced picture on to higher and richer levels of intensity. To do this the mixtures, and all other compound stops, must be as well blended and balanced within themselves as any other single stop. I have never seen a mixture that could impart well balanced polyphonic clarity to a combination of stops unless this clarity was to some extent already present in each stop. However, at one stage in our musical development clarity seemed to mean clear sound without sufficient deference to musical considerations.
The Second World War interrupted the course of events. The resumption of organ building after the war found the reform element more or less dormant. This gave the industry a chance to catch up. Whereas previously the only reform other than the independent pioneering by Harrison and Holtkamp was the noteworthy, though somewhat conventionally English, work of Richard Whitelegg, the reform now took on more of the aspects of a general movement. Mr. Harrison's work became the model, through emulation if not through proclamation. Stoplists appeared throughout the country which bore recognizable resemblance to his. Although dispositional reforms were quite general and significant tonal improvements were to be found everywhere, the voicing techniques which produce tone of real character and the placement practices which assure real success were not sufficiently understood. This resulted in some instruments which, though close copies of very successful work, turned out to be rather disappointing.
Most of the organs built after the war were loud; wind pressures on the average were higher, 4" throughout being common even in small organs. Walter Holtkamp's work, which until 1942 had been quite moderate with regard to tonal strength, was now more aggressive. His earlier work was characterized by a bright, clear, free, almost thin sound produced by a very light-handed voicing technique. This method always provided instruments adequate for their particular function, although it could seldom be said that their sound filled the room to overflowing. In the finishing of these instruments the general effect was stressed more than detailed refinement and they were always more successful in the actual playing of music than they were at meeting the exacting requirements of the “connoisseur” who insisted upon individual examination of every pipe. This was particularly true of the rough, loose, bright reeds that gave the ensemble a quaint, fresh, freedom and reediness without the blurring effect that is usual with reeds of the more fashionable variety. Mr. Holtkamp's credo has always included the philosophy that the general manner in which the stops are balanced within themselves is more essential to an organ's capacity for music than the relative strength of entire stops, the evenness of strength and speech characteristics within a stop, or the dispositional aspects of tonal design. The freedom gained through this understanding released him from the inhibitions which have bound more conservative thought and has made his efforts toward neo-Baroque more generally successful than those of others. The distinguished organ at Fairmont Presbyterian Church, Cleveland, and the delightful small one at Our Lady of Angels Church, are two of the most musical instruments to be heard anywhere, even though the latter speaks with somewhat more authority than its size justifies.
The postwar Holtkamp tone is more vigorous and a tendency toward tonal trinitarianism has become more pronounced. In the first organs of this new period, however, some of the “Werk” principle characteristics were still present in the architectural appearance of the organ. In more recent organs these ideas have been put aside for a kind of asymmetric structural functionalism. However, Mr. Holtkamp has clung steadfastly to a doctrine of completely exposed pipework that has long since been abandoned by its European originators and former adherents. It is likely that he will continue in this idiom which has won him world wide attention, for his good architectural sense assures him a position of leadership for some time to come.
Possibly the music of the Golden Age was stressed too heavily. Possibly the intellectuals were more influential than the truly musical, for little was said about a matter which should have been thoroughly discussed. This was the fact that the instruments built prior to the first reform were only suitable for creating sound effects; soft, sweet, sentimental sounds, or roaring, overpowering, roof-raising sounds, but not any kind of real music.
The organs that started the revolution because they were unsatisfactory for Bach were equally inadequate for the French romantic composers. Much of their more eloquent music, which has so often been called insignificant or unorganistic, might not have been abandoned so quickly if our organs could have properly produced the singing treble lines this music so frequently requires. In recent years many enlightening experiences have proved to me that the insignificance lies in our instruments, and that this music is well suited to the right kind of instrument. Our old organs were basically unmusical and were not truly romantic in the best sense, and our newer ones - the clarified ensemble - were not quite right for this music either, as it was conceived for the energetic French instruments of Cavaillé-Coll. Our newest and more robust instruments of the “equalized” type have not proved to be ideal for any music requiring full ensemble.
During the performance of a Bach fugue at an excellent recital on a very new instrument, a friend recently commented to me, “It sounds as though his right hand is playing on the Positiv.” In this instrument the Positiv is a very delicate division. Later in the program, during the Toccata from Widor's Fifth Symphony, the same effect was even more noticeable. The left hand chords were so loud and the right hand flourishes so weak and distant that the piece seemed to be inverted. A later examination of this instrument showed that the mixtures were too loud in the middle and lower registers and the trebles of all the important stops were restrained to the point of being ineffective.
It seems that we have not yet learned that there is more than one kind of mud. The thick, dark mud of the twenties obscured counterpoint and made much good music ineffective. The brilliantly colored hues of our new obscurant accomplishes the same result, but, to be sure, with a more glorious sound. Some of the difficulty has been a strong inhibition resulting from the fear of “screaming” trebles and the problems of maintaining steady speech in large scale treble pipes. Good judgment can solve both these problems, however.
There are several ideas which are prominent in the German organ movement that now claim considerable attention and interest in this country. These include the use of slider chests, nickless pipes, full open toe holes, variable scaling, low wind pressure, the Schnitger concept of disposition, and mechanical action.
The tonal advantages of the slider chest are well recognized and need no further support. However, the interaction of one pipe on another via the key channel, which has been mentioned in these pages, is a controversial point, especially in view of the fact that air at 2" pressure travels at a speed equal to about 1 1/3 miles per minute. Freely voiced pipes on 3" pressure might very well have a pressure at the flue of 2" to 2 3/4", depending on friction loss and the ratio of toe hole area to flue area. Thus the velocity of wind through the flue is considerable. The tone is generated above the flue and it is unlikely that many vibrations travel “up-wind” back through the flue and down into the channel. It is possible that the walls of the pipe and pipe feet conduct some sound into a common area of interaction. If this last is the case, the size of the toe hole would be of little importance in this matter.
Although some organs utilizing what are called unnicked pipes have been built in this country, most of the pipes in these instruments do have some nicking. Nicking should be as light as practical, and absent whenever possible. The practice of overnicking to give the voicer and finisher more latitude has drained the quality out of many organs. The absence of nicks in itself has no virtue if the pipe does not function properly without them.
There is no doubt that the fully opened toe is an ideal to be aimed at, as experience shows that speech and tone are better when the wind pressure in the pipe foot approaches that in the chest. Ideally, strength relationships should be inherent in the scaling and design of the pipe ranks, but a certain margin for adjustment at the toe hole must be maintained if the best musical balance is to be achieved in the finishing process. Both Schnitger and Schulze believed in the open toe, but we are told of countless hours spent in their tonal finishing.
Wind pressure is the voicer's tool; it should be a means to an end and not a handicap to be overcome. With the exception of an occasional use of about 2 1/2" wind pressure for the quietest division there is little evidence to support a notion that the baroque builders commonly used wind pressure much below 3" in full scale instruments. There is much more evidence indicating pressures nearer 3 1/2" as more usual. Some experts quote pressures somewhat lower than these. Pressures of 2" and below (even as low as 1") were common in Kleinorgels and Positivs. Some maintain that “tamperers” have through the years raised the pressures of many of the old masterpieces during renovations or when tuning was changed to equal temperament. However, others of good reputation have more recently asserted that, at least in some cases, the pressures of the masters have been lowered by renovators, and because the original pitch of the old instruments was usually much higher than that in current use this is not unreasonable to suppose. On occaision modern restorers have found that raising the pressure on old organs has corrected, without any pipes overblowing, serious wind inadequacy which cannot be supposed to have been left by the original builder. Experience shows that the tuning in instruments on very low pressure (below 2 1/2") is susceptible to greater variation with each change of temperature; the lower the pressure, the more this effect is noticeable. Instruments on pressures below 2" are extremely vulnerable in this respect. There are many examples, both here and abroad, that have failed because a wind pressure ideal was stubbornly maintained without regard to conditions of installation. Wind pressure must be the servant, not the master.
Variable scaling should not be a goal in itself as it has been in some circles. There are some instances where scales have been copied with touching reverence even though their variability was obviously necessitated by purely physical limitations - the most usual being that of space. These scales were the result of expediency and may not have been considered musically ideal by their originators. Variable scales should be designed only when necessary to achieve musical results under specific conditions. Variable scaling is not such a great cure-all as has been imagined. The art of scaling is not as yet sufficiently understood and the vast potentials of regular and compound scales have not yet been exhausted. An organ's capacity for making music is dependent more directly upon the scaling of the pipe ranks than upon any other feature of design.
The common ground upon which all great music meets has often been unrecognized. Beyond the preliminary considerations of the diverse tone-colors required by good style, there are fundamental principles which universally apply. An ascending, soaring, singing treble is required for every worthwhile musical composition. The French romantics, it is true, require a stronger and usually higher point of climax than that demanded by our earlier heritage, but the best musical effects may be achieved for either school if the expansion continues at a constant rate throughout the upper ranges. The nature of the inner parts tends to make this so. In the classics, where the upper voice lies lower and inner parts are seldom more than two, this thinner texture will be in balance. The more harmonic, thicker texture of the later school will also be in balance, for, when the originators of this organ style require the highest part to sing above the rest, its range is almost invariably higher.
While it is true that the Schnitger conception is the modern German model, it must be remembered that the German organ movement is closely connected with the church movement, having for its purpose improvements in the liturgy and its music. Emphasis has been placed on returning to the rich musical heritage from the baroque composers, as well as upon the use of music of present day church composers. It is a strongly tonal conscious movement, like our own, and it is only natural that it should turn to the Schnitger school since so much of the traditional music was written for that type of instrument. Whereas Schnitger was building for his contemporaries, putting together his loosely conceived disposition with its many special-purpose stops as a means to an end, there has been a strong tendency for modern attempts, both here and abroad, to think of sounds as an end in themselves. It would seem that the sincerity, diligence, and ingenuity which they applied to the problems of their times are the Schnitger and Silbermann characteristics that are more worthy of emulation than the limited concepts and mannerisms of their work. We should gather our resources together and face our task with the true confidence which can be gained only through the inspiration of the great music we are to interpret. If we curb an appetite for sound alone and allow ourselves to be inspired only by true music, our instruments will be as “right” for their purpose as any resurrected from the past.