Organ landscapes

About the selection of instruments


This presentation contains short portraits of over 150 organs from the 17th and 18th centuries. The choice of instruments and musical examples was not determined by any claim to completeness, but a desire to introduce the history of the ideas that shaped the essence of the complex technical and poetic masterpieces. In the organ, statics, precision mechanics and the control circuit of the wind currents become pure sound, intended for purpose in the Baroque, where music expresses the glory of the knowledge of God or is equated with the word of the Annunciation.

Organ landscapes


Already in the 15th and 16th centuries distinct organ building traditions developed in different regions. Features like technical equipments, the preferences for certain organ stops, the design and placement of the organ cases, etc. took different ways. These organ landscapes sometimes are characterized rather according to topographical regions or traditions rooted in church history than according to political borders. The Reformation created its own liturgies, in which the participation of the organ is regulated separately; subsequently, for example, the organs in the Reformed Netherlands, in Anglican England, in Lutheran northern Germany or in Catholic southern Europe fulfilled very different liturgical functions and were made to meet differing specific requirements. Within respective confessions there are noticeable differences, too. In the northern Alpine and pre-Alpine regions, for example the old dioceses of Constance, Chur, Brixen and Augsburg form a relatively uniform organ landscape within today’s Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy (extended Lake Constance area including Old Tyrol), which differs significantly from the eastern neighbouring region of the dioceses of Freising, Passau, Salzburg or within Old Austria.


However, privileges for individual organ builders, such as Gottfried Silbermann's privilege for the Electorate of Saxony or the privilege for Heinrich Gottlieb Trost in Saxony-Gotha-Altenburg secured exclusive rights for new organ buildings in "their" territory, so their respective personal styles soon became widespread. Such developments promoted the emergence of important organ building dynasties such as the Egedacher family in Passau and Salzburg, the Silbermann family in Saxony and Alsace, and the Schnitger family along the North Sea coast. In addition, some outstanding, often particularly creative organ builders, such as Joseph Gabler, achieved already sometimes Europe-wide fame.


Particular organs, which in some cases were also able to unite and merge very different organ building traditions, aroused attention in expert circles already in the 18th century. Eugen Casparini (1623-1706) from Sorau (today Żary) in Silesia, worked mainly in Upper Italy (above all Venice and Padua), but was contracted to build an organ in Görlitz in 1697 (called "Sonnen-Orgel," sun organ, due to its decoration in the front) which represented an extraordinary synthesis of Italian and South German organ tradition and had a lasting influence on organ building throughout Old Austria (which at that time included Silesia). Karl Joseph Riepp created a comparable synthesis of French and southern German organ design ideas for his two choir organs for Ottobeuren.


It may also be mentioned that organs became "travel destinations" already in the 18th century, which should and did attract a better-off and art-loving audience as well as professional musicians alike! Famous organs such as those of the Augsburg Barfüßerkirche by Johann Andreas Stein were subsequently copied completely or in parts to create similar attractions - this too is a factor which could shape individual organ landscapes, but could also radiate to distant areas.


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