The History of the Organ - Part 2
Anecdotes and stories about the queen of instruments
The organ comes into the Occident
In the year 757 the Byzantine emperor Constantine V (718 - 775) gave to the Frankish king Pippin (Pepin the Short 714 - 768) a pipe organ as present. That way the instrument came again into the West, after it felt into oblivion during the Germanic migrations, being scorned as a component of the pagan Roman culture. How it came to this gift, which finally set at the beginning of European organ history, sounds like a crime thriller, but represents in fact a true chapter of early medieval history and testified in all chronicles.
In Constantinople there was a theological controversy about whether pictures in the religious life should have place or whether they are to be rejected as idols ("You shall not make yourself a carved image"). Perhaps the simple meaning of "not to make an image" is that we should not try to put God in a pigeonhole? At that time people loved icons anyhow and refused 726 in street battles the imperial iconoclasm. "Men are created after the picture and image of God, therefore in the art of making pictures lies something divine, "argued for instance the church father Theodoros of Studios.
While the East mused about such questions, the West had to withstand the destruction by intruders: The Langobards, a vagabond people, who had conquered Ravenna in 751, threatened Rome. Pope Zacharias (741 - 752) looked for assistance with the Franks and crowned its prince, Pippin the Short, to the king. Such an honor had not happened to any of the Meroving rulers yet, and Pippin thanked it generously. He sent immediately troops to Italy, saved Rome and conquered Ravenna back. But instead of giving Ravenna and the duchy of Rome back to their original owner, the State of east Rome with his emperor Constantine V, he gave it to the Pope. That way Pope Stefan II became the first papal land owner; the Papal States were established.
It is interesting that the east Roman (Byzantine) emperor Constantine did not react power-politically or personally insulted. Instead of showing his superior militarily power, he asked now for assistance from Pepin. Between 756 and 769 he sent a legation of three envoys to Aachen, which should win Pepins support for his view of the picture controversy. Constantine was "Iconoclast ", i.e. he was against the admiration of pictures, and together with the people's piety for the icons also the philosophers and the theologians were his opponents. The support by Pepin seems to have been that important to him, that he equipped his envoys with splendid gifts, those of 757 with a pipe organ.
Industrial espionage at the imperial court?
The famous St. Gallen monk Notker the Stammerer (840 - 912) was not active only as musician and religious poet, but also left behind historical works: Around 881 "The continuation of the Frankish king-chronicle of the Erchanbert" was written and between 883 and 887 the "Gesta Karoli Magni", a portrayal of the acts of the Frank king Charlemagne (Charles the Great 724 - 814). About the year 812 he reports, that a legation came from Constantinople to the court of Aachen. In order to offer real imperial reference to the Frankish king, who had been crowned in the year of 800 "Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation" by the Pope, the Byzantine envoys brought a tribute, like they were used to, a so called "acclamation" and had for this purpose a pipe organ with them. It is said that the craftsmen of Charlemagne secretly tried to copy the organ in order to reproduce it after the departure of the envoys. Whether they succeeded, is not known. Valuable however are the details to us, as described by Notker the Stammerer. Referring to him it was an instrument with several bellows of strong leather, metallic wind chest, whistles of copper or bronze and three different stops.
Organs with bellows, like the ones used by smiths, had been developed already in the antiquity and gradually got accepted against the louder sounding, but heavy and difficult to transport water organ. The name "Hydraulos", "Hydraulis" or "Hydraula", which is "water aulos" was strictly speaking only true for the ancient arena and palace organ, but was transferred to the smaller bellows organ too. Sidonius Apollinaris (430 - 479), the later bishop von Clermont, wrote in the year 454 in a letter of an "organa hydraulica". The text unfortunately gives no evidence whether he thought of a genuine water organ or a bellows organ.
The west Roman senator and historian Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus (approx. 490 - 580) knew only the bellows organ. Speaking of an organ he called it "organa" and mentioned expressly the wind of the bellows ("flatus follium"). In a medieval book illumination the term "organa", which also means "music instruments" in general, is interpreted as pipe organ: In Babylon the captive children of God for mourning hung their instruments (probably harps) to (willow) trees, regarding to psalm 137. The Latin Bible text says "organa" and the artist is was the most natural thing in the world to draw a pipe organ, which is hung into the willows.
The beginnings of the German building of organs
Louis the Pious, the third son of Charlemagne, happened to hear in the year 826, a priest named George could build organs. He put him immediately in his service and placed money and material in rich measure at his disposal. That priest came from Venice, that commercial center, having the most brisk trading between East and West. So it can be assumed that this George learned his handicraft in Constantinople, particularly because he promised to build the instrument "according to kind of the Greeks"(organum more Graecorum).
The West was tremendously proud about this rarity snatched from Constantinople. Ermoldus Nigellus (Ermold the Black), poet and confident of the king Pepin I of Aquitaine, wrote in honors of Louis the Pious: "Also the organ, which was completely unknown in France, on which the proud Greek realm was too much conceited, and for which Constantinople believed to be superior to you, Louis,: Now also the palace of Aachen has it. "And the abbot of Reichenau, Walahfrid Strabo (808 - 849) added: The sweet melody of the organ play also in Aachen now robbed the senses of a woman, so that she finally died of sheer delight! It's no wonder that the first occidental organ builder was a priest. Because only members of the clergy had at that time the necessary technical knowledge, to understand such an complicated apparatus like the organ, and the craft skills, to design for example metal pipes to coordinate their tones in a satisfying manner. That it explains why the pipe organ came into the church and became the generally common instrument for the holy service: The priest George will have passed his skills to pupils, who were priests or monks like he himself. These pupils and their successors felt then the desire to set up their precious instruments in the church and let music sound out in honor of God.
The organ becomes a church instrument
Around the year 1000 nearly all churches with episcopal see had organs. Starting from that 15th century fundamental improvements were realized. Towards the end of the 15th and at the beginning of the 16th century the basic structures formed, as they are valid still today in the building of organs. In the following time clear style criteria were worked out, which were oriented at the respective landscape and their cultural history and musical requirements. Starting from the 19th century the first room-filling organs for cathedrals and concert halls were built, accompanying by technical developments using pneumatics and the electricity. At the beginning of the 20th century happened a recalling of the flowering of the early and high baroque and of the music composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. An important promoter of these ideas was the "physician of Lambarene" Albert Schweitzer. It was tried to integrate baroque elements into the at that time generally usual building method of the Romanesque organ, in order to better interpret polyphonic music. Actually the Romaesque-symphonically organ design the 19th century gets better valued again, which may lead to a reform of the reform.
Although "the queen of the instruments" over the centuries inspired humans with their musical regiment, or perhaps straight therefore, it was a hard time to her to become generally accepted as church instrument: To many of the church fathers the organ was scorned; it was considered as a pagan luxury article and was therefore rejected. The sensuality of its music was suspected; organ music was not spiritual, not pious enough. No Pope, no council decided ever the introduction of the instrument in the service!
The Pope in Regensburg
Pope Benedikt XVI however spoke in Regensburg during the organ inauguration on 13th September 2006 in the old chapel the following words: "In the liturgy constitution of the 2nd Vaticanum (Sacrosanctum Concilium) it is clarified that ecclesiastical singing in connection with the word with is a necessary and integrating component of the solemn liturgy. That means that music and singing are more than only a decoration of the service: They belong to the execution of the liturgy, are even liturgy themselves. Solemn church music with choir, organ, orchestra and people singing therefore is no framework and embellishing addition to liturgy, but an important way of active participation in the holy service.
The pipe organ from time immemorial is called rightfully the queen of the instruments, because assimilates all tones of the creation and brings the abundance of human feeling from the joy to sadness, from praise to mourning into swinging. Moreover, like all good music, it refers to divine lying beyond the human. The variety of their timbres, from the quiet to the overwhelming fortissimo, raises it over all other instruments. It can bring all ranges of the human being to sound. The various possibilities of the organ may remind us somehow on the infinity and glory of God.
In the Psalm 150 horns and flutes, harps and zithers, cymbals and kettle drums are mentioned; all these instruments are to contribute to the praise of the holy Trinity. In an organ the many pipes and the stops must form a unit. If it wedges here or there, a pipe is detuned, then this is audible first perhaps only to a trained ear. If several pipes are no longer correctly be tuned, there are discords, and it becomes intolerable. That is a picture for our community in the church. Like in the organ a destined hand must unite the discords again and again to the right sound, so we must also in the church in the variety of the gifts and the charismas always again by the community of faith the unison in the praise of God and in the brotherly love. The more we let us by the liturgy transform into Christ, the more we will be able, to transform also the world, by radiating the grace, the mercy and humanity of Christ."
Thus the organ received finally nevertheless the papal benedictions!
Friedrich Jakob, "Die Orgel" Verlag Hallwag/Schott
Heinrich Hüschen, "Notker Balbulus"
Wikipedia, the free Internet-encyclopedia