German Organ Music, Vol. 1
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GERMAN ORGAN MUSIC VOLUME 1
Organ music of the German-speaking countries is vast and varied, and morethan anywhere else in Europe, it reached considerable complexity by the early15th century. This repertory reflects the complex development of large, fixedorgans, about which few generalizations can be made, as well as the more uniformevolution of smaller forms of organs. Among these was the portative, a smallportable organ blown by a pair of bellows operated by one of the player's hands.
Capable of performing only one part, this was a "monophonic"instrument used mainly in ensembles with other instruments and singers in theperformance of polyphonic music. Somewhat larger and more or less stationary wasthe positive. It employed bellows that were operated by a second person,enabling the organist to use both hands so that several notes might be playedsimultaneously on a chromatic keyboard. Both these smaller types of organemployed flue pipes, while reed pipes were used in a third type, the regal.
(There are many depictions of these small organs; a famous one can be found onthe altar painting by Jan van Eyck at St. Bavo in Ghent). Towards the end of theMiddle Ages, many tonal and mechanical features of the smaller organs wereincorporated into the resources of the full-sized church Orgelwerk. This was adecisive step towards the modern organ: the organ came to be regarded as acomposite of several instruments of various capabilities and functions, itsresources controlled from several different keyboards. By the end of thefifteenth century, the organ had attained a form that does not differprincipally from the instrument as it is today. Organ building in Germanycontinued much in the style of this instrument, eventually embodying theWerkprinzip concept in which an organ could be altered or enlarged simply byadding new divisions. Thus the famous Totentanz organ of L??beck (destroyed in1942) expressed, in its four divisions, the distinctive attributes of fourseparate periods: the Great organ, the late fifteenth century; the Choir organ,the mid-sixteenth century; the Brustwerk, the early seventeenth century, andlastly, completed in the mid-eighteenth century, was the towering Pedalorgan.
This accumulative approach is quite typical of all the extant old northernEuropean organs. They are composites, constantly rebuilt, often altered incompass, and none of them remotely resembles its original state.
In 1490, Adam von Fulda, a monk from the heart of Germany, wrote that wind-produced music spoke to the human character, while violins merely arousedpassion. As humanism developed in southern Europe, the violin became thefavourite instrument there, because of its ability to express intimate emotions,but with its majestic sonorities and great volume of tone, the organ aroused amood of devotion; its personal characteristics erased, it freed the listenerfrom subjective intrusions into contemplation of the divine; its solemnity wasthought to convey a spiritual mood with more dignity than the passionate andsensuous violin. In Northern countries, where the Reformation did not make aclear break with medieval transcendentalism, the cultural environment preservedmuch of the tradition of past centuries. Eminently suited for religious worship,this vox dei ex machina developed at an unrelenting pace everywhere north of theAlps, from the French border in the West to Russia and the frontiers of OrthodoxChristianity in the East. From the simple liturgical "mixture" organwith its favourable balance of partial tones that sounded all al once, the organbuilders passed on to sonorous solo stops -that is, rows of pipes, each rowimitating the timbre of a particular wind instrument, though the contrastingneutral ground colour of the diapasons was seldom abandoned. With the pedalkeyboard commanding an independent division of stops with very wide range, theorgan eventually matured into the powerful instruments of the Baroque, whilstsuch growth was stunted in Spain, England, and Southern France. In Italy,particularly, where the violin became the favourite instrument, its developmenttook on a different character.
We know a great deal about German organ building, design and performance.
There exists a profusion of technical and didactic works from theearly-fifteenth century onwards, and many composers were also experts in organconstruction. The second volume of Michael Praetorius' work on music (Syntagmamusicum), called De organographia, of 1618-1620, gives us detailed informationabout the instruments of his day, with a very thorough treatment of the organ.
It attests to the prominent position given the organ in the performance ofpolyphonic music which reached a highpoint in Germany in Praelorius' lifetime.
From the time when Praelorius' discourse appeared, until after the lime of J.
S. Bach, German organs underwent many transformations and were substantiallyimproved; equalizing double bellows, a wind gauge controlling the wind pressure,and bowed pipes like the gamba were introduced. Among the most important namesin German organ building were members of the Scherer and Schnitger families inthe northern region, and, in the south, the Silbermann family of Alsace whoseorgans were esteemed by J. S. Bach. The art of organ building was never staticand the old organs of Hamburg, L??neburg and L??beck - that served Scheidemann,Bohm, and Buxtehude, respectively - were repaired, modified, and augmented manytimes. The organ at B??ren an der Aare in Kanton Bern, Switzerland, heard inthis recording, is an excellent example of how an instrument was constantlyrefined. Originally built in 1770 by Johann Conrad Speisegger in a beautifulrococo case by Samuel Niklaus Diwy, it was rebuilt and enlarged in 1862 byWeber, in 1907 by Goll, and in 1930 by Schafer. In 1970 Metzler rebuilt itagain to include a new R??ckpositiv division in the style of Silbermann.
The invention of pedals by the late fourteenth century is indicative of thespecial consideration that composers gave to the lower range of music in playinginner tenor or cantus firmus lines, in taking over one of the voice parts andtherewith enhancing the contrapuntal possibilities. Double pedaling became acommon practice -even music in four parts was possible with the use of the heelsand arch of the foot.
It was in keeping with the growing importance of temperament (the wilfulalteration of the musical scale so that a player could transpose into moreremote keys without the necessity of retuning his instrument) that methods weredevised to construct keyboards with two separate keys, respectively sounding Aflat and G sharp. Although the beginnings of mean-tone temperament had beenachieved in the thir1eenth century and afforded a bearable solution to the"out-of-tuneness" of harmonic orientation inherent in the "blackkeys", this was a limited solution produced by shortening the fifths.
However, it imparted a most agreeable, pure character to the music as long asthe modulations were confined, and was used, side-by-side with many otherunequal temperaments, well into the nineteenth century.
The slow evolution toward the total integration of the black keys thesemitones - into a system of tuning keyboard instruments so that a player couldproper I y transpose into all distant keys did not occur before the earlyeighteenth century. The Saxon organist, Andreas Werckmeister (1645-1706), didnot invent equal temperament, but his pamphlet, published in 1691, demonstrateda tuning method that had a profound practical effect on many composers,including Bach. Johann Kaspar Ferdinand Fischer, Kapellmeister at the Badencourt, wrote his cyclical work under the title