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A chance comment in a recent post on this site has prompted me to read extensively on this topic in recent days. I come at it not only as an organist, but also as a Germanist. Having read through various threads on this forum, notably the one in 2007 regarding the immediate postwar period  in northern Germany, as well as some of the extensive literature available, I am struck by the fact that the origins of the movement seem to lie, not in the initiatives of organ builders in Germany, but rather in the general artistic and cultural movements at the end of the 19th century, which then influenced organists, writers and even theologians. It seems to me that the Orgelbewegung was actually quite a multi-faceted affair, with major disagreements between its leading protagonists. I’m thinking here, among others, of Albert Schweitzer, Christhard Mahrenholz and that extraordinary genius (novelist, playwright, organist, composer, publisher and organ builder) Hans Henny Jahnn. There were strong ideological currents too: rather as the Green movement had its strong proponents in the NSDAP, but also its antithesis in left-wing circles, so the Orgelbewegung too was seen by National Socialist ideologues as reflecting values at the heart of German culture (information that has come to light since 2000 regarding the celebrated musicologist H.H. Eggebrecht is highly disturbing), whilst Jahnn was a pacifist and animal rights supporter who was denounced and persecuted by the Nazis and went into exile. 

My point in all this is that the history of the Orgelbewegung may have been somewhat misrepresented, if not misunderstood. Organ builders surely picked up the new trends and commissions which were driven by cultural, artistic and ideological movements, rather than taking the initiiative themselves. So before organists and others today talk about the Orgelbewegung, they perhaps first need to undertake an extensive exploration of just what this movement (or movements) really was (were) before referring to such and such an instrument as representative of that movement. Unfortunately I am not convinced that anyone has yet undertaken a really comprehensive study of the movement. The oft quoted paper by Lawrence Phelps, for example, does not seem to mention Jahnn at all. It seems that studies of various aspects of the movement are scattered in books, articles and theses across the academic world, but that no-one has yet attempted a major thorough-going account. If anyone knows of one I should be most grateful if they would let me know!

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Very interesting! Not wishing to divert the discussion before it’s started but is there any common ground between the Orgelbewegung and the pioneers of other “early instruments” and attempts to rediscover lost performance styles, including Arnold Dolmetsch and Francis Galpin? And in turn do those pioneers connect with the pre-Raphaelites and the Arts And Crafts movement?

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I certainly think there are parallels between what was happening in Germany in the 19th century and in other countries. Just as the Pre-Raphaelites and devotees of Arts and Crafts in Britain looked back to the Middle Ages, so artists in Germany, notably the Nazarene movement (the subject of part of George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch) also looked back to that time. It should be remembered that the ‘rediscovery’ of Bach, starting with Forkel at the beginning of the 19th century, coincided with the occupation of Germany. As the 19th century progressed, Bach became more and more identified in (especially Protestant) Germany with national pride in ‘German’ values of workmanship, piety and devotion to spiritual and Christian values, untainted by Romantic excess, although Romanticism was of course, the context in which he was first ‘discovered’. Catholic areas of Germany saw the rise of Caecilianism, once again starting as a kind of Romantic devotion to music of the past, this time to the pure and uncluttered polyphony of Palestrina. Wagner himself was a devotee.

The 19th century also saw the subject of musicology become established in German universities, a science (Musikwissenschaft) that could take its place alongside other respectable subjects. Thus began the publication of the music of old masters such as Samuel Scheidt, Schütz, Praetorius, etc. In 1891 the monumental series Denkmäler deutscher Tonkunst began to be published. Once scholars and musicians came face to face with editions unencumbered by added editorial markings, the questions were obviously posed: how was this music performed, on what kind of instruments and how did it sound?

Side by side with these developments, idealistic youth movements were springing up in Germany. The most important of these was the ‘Wandervogel’, founded by a teacher at a grammar school in the Berlin suburb of Steglitz in 1896. The movement emphasised rambling in the countryside, back-to-nature living, self-responsibilty and the spirit of adventure. The Wandervogel and its counterpart, the Jugendmusikbewegung, also ‘rediscovered’ the German Folk Song, at the same time as Cecil Sharp and Vaughan Williams were collecting English folk songs . The movement also contributed to the revival of the recorder, since it was easy to carry on rambles.

All this was happening while Arnold Dolmetsch was pursuing his studies and researches into old instruments. It is interesting to compare the English and German versions of the article on the recorder. The English version gives far more information on its revival in Germany (although I cannot, of course, vouch for its accuracy)! “Among the earliest ensembles to begin use of recorders in the 20th century was the Bogenhausen Artists' Band which from 1890–1939 used antique recorders and other instruments to play music of all ages, including arrangements of classical and romantic music. Nonetheless, the recorder was considered primarily an instrument of historical interest. The eventual success of the recorder in the modern era is often attributed to Arnold Dolmetsch. While he was responsible for broadening interest in the United Kingdom beyond the small group of early music specialists, Dolmetsch was not solely responsible for the recorder's broader revival. On the continent his efforts were preceded by those of musicians at the Brussels Conservatoire (where Dolmetsch received his training), and by the German Bogenhauser Künstlerkapelle. Also in Germany, the work of Willibald Gurlitt, Werner Danckerts and Gustav Scheck proceeded quite independently of the Dolmetsches.”

The Bärenreiter Encyclopedia states: “The instrument maker Peter Harlan (1898–1966), the “father of the recorder”, played a major role in the recorder renaissance. Harlan, himself a former member of the Wandervogel, saw the perfect means to realize the ideal of a return to nature and truth in the instruments of the sixteenth century, particularly with regard to recorders, fiddles, gambas and clavichords. In the mid-1920s Bärenreiter, probably through an introduction by Willibald Gurlitt, made contact with Harlan. In the following years he produced the range of Bärenreiter recorders of different sizes which sold for about 4 Reichsmarks in his workshop.”

Which brings us neatly back to the Orgelbewegung. For it was Gurlitt who, in 1921, as one of the early proponents of the Orgelbewegung, had the groundbreaking 'Praetorius organ' built in the Institute of Music in Freiburg im Breisgau by Oscar Walcker, based on 1619 designs by Praetorius.



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The issues raised here are important in a more general sense, and to my mind they can be summarised as the need to relate the subject of interest to the politics and socio-economics of its era, together with other major events at the time.  Otherwise we get that distorted perspective of history which is so often presented in terms of nothing but monarchs, dates and battlefields.  I find it unfortunate that historians themselves frequently encourage this - we all know of eminent academics lecturing us endlessly on television while striding pompously about on some undistinguished patch of grass which once had to do with some skirmish or other.  Sitting through an hour of this sort of thing frequently tells us little of the real story behind events.  It's not much different to a historian telling us that Marconi invented radio.  Well, he didn't, in fact the very phrase is meaningless.  No single person 'invented' it, and that is true for much else as well.

Closer to home as far as this forum is concerned is the history of tuning and temperament.  Some of what one comes across in recent literature is quite wrong (aside from arithmetical errors, which is another and altogether regrettable aspect).  Andreas Werckmeister, for example, had a career shaped by the consequences of the Thirty Years' War when he was young.  Were it not for this he would quite possibly have done something completely different.  As it was, he was largely self-taught in some aspects of what he wrote about because he missed out on the chance to study more formally, and as a result was unaware of the parallel work of important contemporaries elsewhere in Europe (and they of he).  This is not to underrate what he achieved, but his work does need to be read against this backdrop.  It is particularly important not to presume that he and others at that time had our understanding of things like frequency, beats and harmonics for example, topics which are second nature to us but which were only hazily understood by Werckmeister and others - which is no criticism of course.  And the appalling difficulties of doing arithmetic in those days is often ignored by today's authors with a calculator handily stuffed in a back pocket.  Yet another issue is the dichotomy between the philosophical and empirical approaches to acquiring knowledge which exercised a controlling influence until the 19th century.   Ignoring such matters renders some modern work on temperament anachronistic and of limited value.

The relation of all this to Zimbelstern's posts is to emphasise how important it is to understand events in a broad context, and that can be facilitated by codifying the knowledge at the earliest opportunity.  In other words, write down what might seem today to be humdrum and trivial matters.  The longer we leave it, the harder it becomes for historians to derive an unambiguous picture of what happened.  This is certainly true of tuning and temperament.  Another example is the joy we experience when coming across some scrap of paper which illuminates what some long-departed organ builder was doing 150 years ago and how he was doing it.  So for Zimbelstern to propose doing this for the fairly recent Orgelbewegung is laudable, while the information is still relatively fresh and available.  I regret I can offer no assistance on this specific topic, but I applaud his approach and wish him well with it.

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1 hour ago, Colin Pykett said:

 I regret I can offer no assistance on this specific topic...........

It just so happens Colin that I am presently carefully reading your extremely informative article “The Tonal Structure of Principal Stops”, in order to gain a better understanding of harmonics as they apply to organ pipes. It is significant that Hans Henny Jahnn’s work as a writer thinker and organ builder was for most of his life heavily bound up with his theorising about the ‘harmonic’ structure of the universe. I have yet to digest the enormous amount of material in German that exists concerning Jahnn and his relationship to the Orgelbewegung, but it is appears that theorising about harmonics, both in a practical, acoustic sense and in a philosophical one, strongly influenced his groundbreaking restoration of the Schnitger organ in St Jakobi Hamburg in 1925, a milestone in the movement’s history. The aspect of the Orgelbewegung that all its adherents subscribed to was that on a 19th century Romantic organ (Schweitzer, however, exempted Cavaillé Coll from this criticism) the inner parts of a work by Bach were to all intents and purposes inaudible. The ‘discovery’ that they sounded as clear as a bell on an instrument by Schnitger was therefore a revelation. But you are clearly the expert here in explaining why.



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On 08/08/2019 at 12:03, Zimbelstern said:

... The aspect of the Orgelbewegung that all its adherents subscribed to was that on a 19th century Romantic organ (Schweitzer, however, exempted Cavaillé Coll from this criticism) the inner parts of a work by Bach were to all intents and purposes inaudible. The ‘discovery’ that they sounded as clear as a bell on an instrument by Schnitger was therefore a revelation. But you are clearly the expert here in explaining why.

I'm unsure of the 'expert' bit of what you said!  All I can offer are some perspectives derived from having made various measurements on organ pipe sounds over many years.  Regarding the point you made about the inner parts, this relates to what I (in common with many others I think) call transparency.  I haven't been able to investigate Schnitger's registers yet in the detail I undertook for those of Silbermann, but I suspect the two builders would have produced much the same type of transparency using much the same techniques.  In Silbermann's case I found that he seemed to somewhat throttle back the loudness of his Principals (at least the unison and possibly the 4 foot ones) over the middle two octaves or so of the compass compared with the bass and treble regions above and below that.  This is an aspect mainly of regulation of course, though it might have also involved niceties of timbre to do with the relative strengths of the first (the fundamental) and second harmonics - in which case scaling would also be relevant as well as aspects of voicing practices beyond regulation.  Whether he did it unconsciously or by design, I have no idea.  This isn't really the place to elaborate the matter further but there's an article which might be of interest which describes the work in more detail:


If I am right, these master organ builders of the past must have had the most exquisitely acute hearing coupled with an intuitive understanding of what we would call the physics of music to achieve these results.  Well, that's nothing new of course because we know that they did.  What interests me is to ferret out how they did it, now that we are in possession of greater knowledge and sophisticated analysis techniques to be able to find out more about it.

It's interesting that you referred to Schweitzer's opinion that Cavaillé-Coll's Montres were also transparent, unlike the majority of romantic Principals.  The article above also analyses these two types of stop in the same way as a Silbermann Principal, and the differences emerged starkly - to the extent that it became obvious (at least to my possibly biased judgement) how the differences you alluded to relate to how quite simple parameters of the three types of register vary across the compass.  One of the most important parameters is the acoustic power of the stop, which is an outcome of how the voicer regulates it, thereby shading its loudness across the keyboard.  This might suggest that even unsatisfactory romantic diapasons could become more transparent and thus better-suited to Bach's music merely by re-regulating them to emulate Silbermann?

Note that these are matters of regulation, or varying the tonal balances only by adjusting the acoustic powers of the pipes.  I have long been of the view that this relatively simple matter is at least as important as adjusting tone quality or worrying about more complicated things like pipe scales, and moreover it can be applied to an unsatisfactory-sounding organ even after it has been built.  Maybe Ralph Downes was one of those who showed the way here in relatively recent times, after he was 'converted' to this view by the well-known voicer Anton Gottfried early in his (Downes's) career.  After watching Gottfried in action Downes wrote that he 'began to learn truths that were so simple that one could wonder why one had not thought of them before'.  Although not really a matter for this particular forum, poor regulation is without doubt one of the reasons why some digital organs are so unsatisfactory.  It is well known that one of their more mysterious defects is why they often sound so awful when many stops are drawn, when the individual registers do not sound too bad in isolation.  Poor regulation is sometimes the cause (though not the only one).  But although regulation sounds a simple matter, it nevertheless requires skill and experience and a highly educated 'ear' to get it right.  It is quite possible that the better builders of yesteryear such as Schnitger and Silbermann knew all this and therefore regulated their organs to optimise their transparency.

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8 hours ago, Colin Pykett said:

If I am right, these master organ builders of the past must have had the most exquisitely acute hearing coupled with an intuitive understanding of what we would call the physics of music to achieve these results.

I don't doubt it, but I wonder whether that was anything to do with all the loud sounds (films, television, heavy traffic, aircraft, pop music, bingo callers!, etc.) to which we are all subjected these days.

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I recall a discussion with a noted music historian, when we considered the music of Bach and the organs of the day. Without the slightest doubt, the organ was the loudest and most spectacular sound ever heard at that time, and the sounds of daily life would be restricted to bird-song, horses, carts, the blacksmith's hammer and the scuffle of people going about their business. Night time would be almost totally silent and unlit.

In our very noisy world, it is not surprising that one of our finest pipe-voicers voiced one notable cathedral instrument during the wee small hours, and even had a sleeping bag on hand inside the organ.

I often wonder if hearing loss and heavy industry didn't play a part in the development of the romantic organ, which seemed to lose clarity decade after decade; culminating in the "rock crushing" sounds often associated with the 1930's, where clarity almost totally disappeared.

I vividly recall a very special moment, after arriving slightly late for an organ-concert at the Martinikerk, Groningen, just as the Bach Gigue Fugue (played at a modest pace) began. I stood at the back of the large church, and in spite of the considerable distance from the instrument, I could hear every inner part as clear as a bell.....a magical moment indeed.

Similarly, I have heard early-music performances of baroque music, with equally splendid clarity and definition.

When it comes to the organ, I can't help but think that an awful lot of so-called "neo-baroque" instruments are crude and clumsy; especially in the typical English parish church, with side aisles and low roof levels; not to mention poor organ positioning and a lack of resonance. There was also the belief that organists wanted "rough" open-foot voicing, which is a description which cannot be levied at the genuine articles on the continent. The baroque masters spent a long time getting things right. The Bavokerk organ took seven years to complete, if I recall correctly.

A major component in the musical success of many genuine period instruments, is not just the pipe-voicing, but the acoustic characteristics of the great European hall-churches. This was the problem with the oddly named "iconic" instrument at the Festival Hall. At the console, even the original manifestation of the instrument was impressive, but walking into the body of the hall as the organ was played, convinced me that a more musical option would have been to install a Wurlitzer theatre-organ. We now know that the building did not comply with the architect's original materials specifications, and the original acoustic was quite horrific as a consequence.

I always smile at John Compton's comment about Downside Abbey, when someone complimented him on the new organ installed by him. He replied, "In this acoustic, even a penny whistle would sound wonderful".

Oddly enough, one of my organ-building heroes is Thomas C Lewis, who admired Schulze above all others (and therefore Silbermann by default). I often wonder why his example wasn't followed and developed into a thoroughly British style, which might have saved us from the rough screech of so many unfortunate "neo-classical" (sic) instruments.



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