The Baroque loved mysteries, things that did not reveal themselves or seemed to be different from what they were. The "Theatrum mundi" consisted essentially of the art of dramatic performance, and hardly any object of sacred architecture invited itself more to it than the organ, which almost demanded to receive a worthy correspondence to its almost supernatural sound effect even in its external form. In hardly any other period of time organ façades were designed in more manifold ways than in the 17th and 18th centuries. In some regions, uniformity was loved, such as in centralistic France,, while in others an individual and sometimes downright fantastic diversity was admired, as in the Catholic south of the German-speaking world, where hardly two organs resembled each other.
The creative play with the external form of the organ could go to a point where an organ could no longer be recognized as such – it was no coincidence that there were even organ designs completely without externally visible pipes at this time, which, however, could not convince – at least for larger instruments. But as a rule – if there was any rule at all in this context of imaginative and unique mysteries – the main element of capricious design was to give the organ a form that was not generally expected of it. What was to be expected was a more or less rectangular case with towering pipes, spread over an odd number of pipe fields and towers. The first – and not particularly spectacular, but still surprisingly rare – way of variation was a design with an even number of pipe fields. (Fig. 1)
Choir organs offered a particularly popular field of
experimentation – they were usually comparatively small instruments, but their
installation within choir stalls and in relative proximity to an altar involved a
certain challenge. They had to be placed not to impair
the view of the altar and the room for the praying convent members. One
possible solution was the construction of organs with "horizontal",
i.e. more or less horizontally accommodated pipes; these organs therefore often did
not have a façade with visible pipes. (Fig. 2 and 3)
Another solution was the Austrian type
of the "pulpit organ", as a symmetrical counterpart to the pulpit and
a very original design with spiritual symbolism. (Fig. 4)
In some cases, attempts were made to make the choir organs disappear by inserting them into the wall. Occasionally, only a flat pipe field in the wall reveals their location. But even such caseless façades are still extremely tastefully designed, although often almost invisible from the nave itself.
A comparison in size between the choir organs of two of the most important monasteries in the Alpine and Pre-Alpine region shows very opposing solutions to the problem. The choir organ of the Cistercian monastery Stams is almost a miracle of compactness: in the middle of the choir stalls and partially integrated into them, it offers space for twelve registers in a housing that occupies only about six square meters and barely rises above one and a half meters. On the other hand, the choir organs of the Benedictine Abbey of Ottobeuren exceed all standards. On their own galleries above the choir stalls, two organ works are installed symmetrically to each other, which surpass some comparable main organs in size.
In some areas it was customary to immortalize the founder or founders of the organ or even the ruling authorities on the organ in some way. Usually this was done in the form of a simple inscription, but in some cases the organ itself was designed into a monument. One of the most famous examples was the organ of S. Maria del Populo in Rome, designed by Gianlorenzo Bernini. Its "case" has the shape of an oak, coat of arms of the client Pope Alexander VII with the organ pipes growing out.
In Austria, it was quite common practice to attach the
double-headed eagle at some point; but perhaps most prominent on the former
organ of Landeshut (today Kamienna Góra) in Silesia, where the parapet positive
had the shape of the double-headed eagle. In Prussia, too, the eagle adorned
many an organ case.
All these examples illustrate the enormous imagination and creative diversity of an entire age. But they also reveal how much an organ was and should be not only an audible, but also a visible work of art, to the astonishment and delight of the viewer.
© Greifenberger Institut für Musikinstrumentenkunde | firstname.lastname@example.org