Organ architecture

| DMT Årgang 46 (1971) nr. 04 - side 117-130

Artiklen er indscannet fra det trykte magasin; der tages forbehold for fejl

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Poul-Gerhard Andersen


It was a new development of tonal architecture that caused the outward architecture of the organ - the organ front - to acquire new life too.

Speaking of organ-architecture nowadays, we mean somewhat more than the architecture of the organ-front. The twentieth century development of the tonal character of the organ caused a corresponding development of its visual architecture. Thus the architecture for the eye and for the ear meet and unite in the organ.

The North German "Orgelbewegung" (literally "organ movement" in the sense of an artistic trend) at the beginning of the twenties of this century made the Danish organ builders, too, enter the stage with the orchestra-imitating organ type, and, as in Germany, the Baroque organ first and foremost inspired the new development. Consequently it might be assumed that a style-copy was aimed at, but as the following account will explain, the development has nothing to do with archaic trends or "museum pieces". The purpose has been to develop the natural possibilities of the organ. That is what the Baroque has first and foremost taught us.

And we had much to learn. During the process of our work we discovered how poor our knowledge had been. For several generations the natural possibilities of the organ had been neglected, and wrong methods of working had impoverished organbuilding. But we also realized that the Baroque organs could never be copied. We were able to study their technique, but if we did not understand in each individual case how to collate the possibilities, we had not grasped the essence of the Baroque.

The work of improving pipe-scales and voicing-technique of mutations very soon made us understand the importance of the "Tonkanzellenlade" - the old slider windchest - with regard to attack and voicing and especially to the cohesion of the individual stops. Moreover, the tonal development had created a requirement for the blending of the stops, and thus it was natural for stops sounding together to "draw breath" from the same pallet and the same groove. Partitions between the stops as in other windchest systems would be unnatural. With the constructive employment of mu-
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(cont. from p. 117)
tations and with a more intimate co-operation of the stops on the same windchest (or "Werk", as we call it) the idea of tonal construction and tonal architecture again arose, and then began the task of varying the tonal construction of each Werk and of arranging each Werk as a member of a greater entirety.

As this went on it appeared to us that tonal scheme, scales and voicing were not the only tonal means. Modern acoustic research had taught us several things about space-acoustics and acoustics on the whole, and the new technique of measuring the echo of a room in different frequency-spheres helped us ni arranging the tonal balance of an organ to make it accord with the tonal balance of the room in question. We learned the importance of placing the individual windchests appropriately in proportion to the room and in relation to each other. We learned to balance the sound and to emphasize the character of the Werk by resonance-boxes shaped like organ cases - sometimes even to remedy weak points of the acoustics by means of the resonance-boxes.

As mentioned before, the North European Baroque organ had been the first inspiration of this development, but it was not the only one. The Spanish Baroque with its brilliant reeds and soft-singing flues (labials) must be mentioned next, as well as the French organs from the Baroque to Cavaille-Coll - in short, all of the European organbuilding until the period of decadence has been our inspiration and is the basis on which we try to build.

And we need all that we have learnt. Here in Scandinavia the tasks of a organbuilder are so multifarious, because the dimensions of our churches range from cathedrals to very small chapels. Particularly we have many small churches with difficult and unflattering acoustics, and if we are to serve all these buildings and provide an indixidual and adapted solution for each, we have to master a flexible and rich tonal technique. Solving such different problems is good training, especially as it compels the organbuilder into a method of working that means a breakaway from the modern tendencies of specialization. We have to leave the former way of proceeding with one specialist making the tonal scheme, another one the scales, a third one the voicing, a fourth one the arrangement and construction of the organ, a fifth one the front of the organ, and so on. Our experience is that the artistic synthesis fails to appear when an organ is thus added up by specialists. As a rule specialists know too little about each other, and particularly to those building organs it is important "to know something of everything and everything of something." Of course an organ cannot be built by one man, but the master organbuilder must be able to plan the specification and the scales of the pipes to draw the layout, design the front, and finally to voice and tune his organ. In addition, he must be able to direct his collaborators and to co-operate with them, so that everythings works like the stops in a well-built and a well-voiced organ, that is, as an artistic synthesis. In this way, too, we have learnt that the quality of the detail depends on its ability for coordination. This co-ordination involves acceptance of certain laws - and vice versa. An organ built constructively with slider-windchests and tracker action, has its severe lawfulness - a regularity that does not restrain, but on the contrary is guiding and inspiring. We who have gradually worked ourselves into this regularity again have met with it in a particular way, because we have had the opportunity of somparing. We have often seen completely chaotic arrangement of Werks resulting from "freedom" provided by the electric and pneumatic systems. And even when the architect had an absolutely free hand for designing the front, as the organ front had gradually become a hiding facade of the requisite dimensions, this did surely not contribute to the better appearance of the organ. In comparison with the Gothic and Baroque fronts, these facades have at least proved to us the worth of discipline and the effectiveness of co-operation.

But let us study a typical example of the Baroque -the organ front in the cathedral of Haderslev which has recently been reconstructed and built up in its original form. The old organ case has been divided into two manual departments - Hauptwerk and Rückpositiv -and Pedal. You can see these distinctly outlined in the case; the Hauptwerk at the top in the centre, below this the Rückpositiv, and on both sides the isolated Pedal sections. The pipes in the front of the Hauptwerk are the Principal 8' of this Werk, in the Rückpositiv Principal 4' and in the Pedaltowers Principal 16'.

Behind the front pipes, the remaining pipes of the Werk have been arranged parallel to them and in the same order, and all stops are tightly surrounded by the organ case, of which the sides and the ceiling follow the organ front, the rear of the organ case standing immediately behind the hindmost stop. The arrangement is a contrast to the romantic French ideal, according to which you must be able to "walk around each pipe". The pipes are standing closely on a surprisingly small area for the sake of - and as an expression of - the intimate collaboration of the stops.

The front and the organ case of the Rückpositiv have been constructed in a similar way. But here a Principal 4' appears in the front, and a different succession of notes has also been chosen. The front pipes of the Pedal belong to its Principal 16', but the treble pipes of this stop could not be accomodated in the front, and so they have been placed immediately behind the front pipes.

This whole construction is part of a great system, a geometric system assigning each detail its proper place and size and making the organ and the church a whole. It appears from the drawing how the inward measurements of the church are defined by three squares above each other, and how the organ is inscribed in the central one of these squares and still follows a further division of this square. You can see, too, that the limits of the galleries and the bottom-line form a bigger square, and that the bottom of the lower gallery bisects the lower square.

But you cannot immediately see from the drawing that the rectangle circumscribing the two galleries is proportioned according to the "sectio aurea", or that a reduction of the shorter side of this rectangle (the vertical one) reduced in the same proportion, will produce half the breadth of the organ (and of the nave) = 1/2 L = AB = DE = AD which besides will make the breadth and height of the Hauptwerk. And we may continue. Reducing the breadth of the Hauptwerk in the proportion of the sectio aurea will produce the breadth of the Rückpositiv, and if we continue this way, we get the distance between the outer fields of the Rückpositiv, then the breadth of the centre tower of the Hauptwerk and finally the breadth of the centre tower of the Rückpositiv.

Thus we have a geometric progression of seven terms, beginning with the breadth of the galleries and decreasing according to the sectio aurea. These are the main features, but a closer examination of the geometric scheme will show many other interesting facts. That would, however, lie beyond the scope of this article.

It is worth observing that the base at the front of the Hauptwerk is narrower than the upper part. This has not been derived from the Gothic altar-pieces, which many people think, but is due to the practical fact that the tracker action placed in the base does not require more room in the breadth.

It is easily seen that this narrow base creates a lovely lightness and slenderness corresponding well with the tonal aspect that we know as the Baroque. And on closer inspection we will find many things that can be explained from quite practical circumstances of the construction of the organ and from a profound experience of the tonal system of the organ. It is not possible to distinguish between these two factors and to decide what derives from what. The old organ-builders do not seem to have known it either, but they knew in their own way how to treat things naturally, how to live in their work and quite instinctively and spontaneously do the right thing - to achieve the natural synthesis. The laws of the organ were in their blood, but there was a deep feeling of gratitude, too, to the Creator of the rich possibilities of these laws - as we can read it in Prætorius: "Syntagma musicum", p. 117-118:

[original text]

I do not think it can be said in better words. And yet you feel that words are insufficient. You begin to understand why ornaments are to be found on the old organs - these ornaments that oversophisticated people nowadays cannot appreciate, but consider childish and superflous. They ought to remember that the "functional" Gregorian church singing had its ornaments, too, - the "melisma", the spontaneous, wordless song of jubilation, which in fact has the same origin and meaning as the ornaments of an organ front. Let St. Augustine explain it. He says: " - unto whom should we shout with joy except to God whose nature cannot be expressed. For if you have no words for it, and yet you cannot be silent, what else remains but shouting with joy, so that your heart rejoices and your immense jubilation is not severed and measured in syllables."The old organbuilders have shown us that the inexpressible can be said with an organ. An organ can be a "Te Deum«. It did not just by chance become the instrument of the church.

During our work with the new organs we sometimes ask ourselves if we can actually create something new and vital by dissecting and performing a post-mortem on old organs. Maybe we should rather forget about the old organs and try to build up something entirely new. Is it possible to transfer the Baroque methods of working to our time? We are so accustomed to managing with our brain what can be managed - and to dropping the rest.

The fact is that our enthusiasm about the organ and its possibilities is the real motive power behind our work, and because of that our brain and knowledge can never be the primary power - be it modern or not. We must use our brain and knowledge to carry out our tonal ideal - not to construct a tonal ideal.

P.S. This article was written for 'The Organ Club Handbook", London, 1951; i.e. 20 years ago. In all essentials it could have been written 300 years ago if the subject had not then been considered so obvious that it was not worth the trouble to write about it. It could not, however, have been written 50 or 100 years ago, but it will probably be read with much more appreciation today than 20 years ago, especially by the youngest generation. Poul-Gerhard Andersen