Re-Creating Vanished Organs
by Colin Pykett
"There is something irreversible about acquiring knowledge; and the simulation of the search for it differs in a most profound way from the reality"
J Robert Oppenheimer
Posted: June 2005
Last revised: 25 August 2021
Copyright © C E Pykett
Abstract Manufacturers of digital organs base their tonal effects on electronic copies of real organ pipe sounds. In this way it is possible to make a complete electronic copy of a particular instrument if desired, and some custom built digital organs are occasionally ordered by customers who want this. The method is also widely used by amateur organ enthusiasts.
It is possible in principle to take this approach a step further to re-create the sounds of organs which no longer exist, or which have been so altered that their original sounds have been lost. Moreover, the flexibility of a digital approach means that several instruments could be readily simulated at the one console. Although the results could only ever be an approximation to the real thing, it is interesting to consider using this technique for educational purposes as well as for its own sake. Sitting at a console which one moment would "sound like" a Silbermann organ, say, and the next one by Hope-Jones could be much more interesting for students than any amount of lectures. In the former case they would be able to discover for themselves why mixtures and mutations were more sensible in the days when unequal temperaments were the norm. In the latter they could experiment with H-J's ideas to augment incomplete choruses both with multiple couplers and his characteristic Quintadenas. The approach seems no more academically disreputable than the speculative attempts to re-create the past which are accepted in other fields, such as experimental archaeology.
However, achieving reasonable success means that one has to go much further than simply making digital copies of existing organs. For example, while the copyist approach will reproduce an existing mixture stop, it will do nothing to explain why the mixture is constructed in the way it is. Therefore a valid attempt to reproduce the mixture work on a long-vanished 18th century organ means that one has to develop an independent understanding of these issues, and then simulate carefully the mixtures rank by rank when building up a digital version of these old instruments.
This article first outlines a digital organ system which can be configured easily to represent virtually any organ, indeed the configuration process is so simple that many players would be able to select the sounds they need from a library merely by creating the appropriate text file which the system then reads and interprets. It then goes on to describe the results of investigating various European schools of organ building in this manner from the late 17th century to the mid-20th, which surprised me more than I had anticipated in terms of the richness of the experience which was achieved. Sound clips are included.
(click on the titles below to access the desired section)
An article elsewhere on this website discusses how digital organs can be constructed around commercial hardware which is available off the shelf . Using this approach I have “built” a number of instruments, the latest of which were experiments in re-creating a number of pipe organ simulations which can all be played from the same console. The idea is not of course new in itself because any electronic organ can be made to imitate any pipe instrument in principle, but in this case there are some novel aspects. One is that most of the simulated organs either no longer exist, or they have been so altered that much of their original characters can only be the subjects of speculation today. This might seem to present an immediate difficulty because it is obviously impossible to use the usual “copyist” approach, in which the sounds of the digital simulation are derived from recordings of the real thing. Copying every note of every stop in a pipe organ can be a worthy attribute when it is possible, though it is not a substitute for an independent understanding of how to voice a digital instrument. In particular, it should be noted that copying the sound of each note of a mixture is not the same thing as copying each of its individual pipes. Mixtures are sometimes misunderstood within the electronic organ community. Therefore it is worth stating some of the guidelines I regard as particularly important when simulating a specific pipe organ:
1. The stop list of the organ to be simulated, including all of its couplers, must be known. Although this might seem to be a statement of the blindingly obvious, it is much more difficult than it sounds. Later on I shall show that even professional sources were uncertain of the specification of an instrument built in 1962 and which still exists!
2. The compositions of the mixtures must be known in terms of the pitches at which the ranks commence and the notes at which they break across the keyboard. If the number of ranks varies across the compass this must be established also.
3. The tone qualities of the mixtures and mutations must be broadly known in terms of whether they were of principal or flute tone.
4. By and large, regulation is more important than an exact simulation of tone quality. By this is meant the way the subjective loudness of each stop varies across the compass, and how it stands in relation to the loudness of other registers. Thus it must be possible to establish a regulation strategy for each instrument to be simulated, based if necessary on an understanding of the most likely pipe scales, wind pressures and regulation techniques used by a particular builder.
Although many other factors are relevant, I have proved to my own satisfaction over some 25 years of study that it is possible to come to a reasonable electronic approximation of the sounds of the major choruses of a pipe organ if the questions posed above can be answered. Since even answering this limited set of questions verges on the impossible for many old instruments, it is prudent not to be over-ambitious by including too many others. Although answers to virtually any question are readily available from many enthusiastic sources, as can be seen from the over-confidence of some who participate in the restoration of old pipe organs, it is vital to distinguish between fact and speculation if the result is to have any meaning for electronic ones as well.
The converse to the statement above also applies: if honest answers to questions as basic as those just posed cannot be obtained, then it is virtually impossible to arrive at a sensible simulation of a vanished organ. This also applies to restorations using pipes, though obviously some organ builders do not allow such matters to cramp their style.
Restorations or reconstructions of old organs can never be proved to recapture the sounds of the original instruments whether using pipes or electronics, but it is particularly true for the latter type. Nobody with any discernment and honesty can seriously argue that electronic sound is indistinguishable from the real thing. However this does not mean that one cannot learn anything at all by using digital techniques to examine various schools of organ building, and it has some decided incidental advantages. If several such organs can be simulated at the one console it avoids the considerable time and expense involved in travelling to try out the actual instruments, assuming they still exist. And if they do not exist it is about the only way that one can draw any conclusions about them at all, other than through philosophy alone. (Philosophy is that method of research preferred by those who have little interest in experiments).
Even when the target organs do exist another factor often has relevance, which is the increasing difficulty of gaining access to them. This is particularly true for the older historic instruments. Unfortunately it is precisely the growth of digital copyists over the last twenty years or so which has made this problem worse, because churches have woken up to the fact that the electronic organ brigade can make a lot of money out of copying the sounds of their organs and they are now understandably reluctant to have any more of it. Therefore re-creating an approximation to these instruments without the need to make digital copies of them assumes more importance today than in the recent past.
In this article we shall take a journey backwards in time, pausing as we pass by several organs which represent various schools of organ building. Sound clips of the digital reconstructions of these organs are also included, but for the reasons just rehearsed no unreasonable claims are made for the veracity or fidelity of the simulations.
But first a note about the organ system used to host these experiments. It is played from the two manual and pedal console illustrated below, which is an improved version of the original experimental console in that it now incorporates a capture combination system with multiple memories. The stop keys are magnetically operated by separate pistons for each department, and there is also a set of general pistons.
Current experimental Prog Organ console with new capture combination system in a corner of my studio ....
.... and the main loudspeaker array on the opposite wall ...
... with an 18 inch speaker using the 'infinite baffle' of the ceiling for 16 foot stops and below.
Closer view of keys and stop panel. The thumbwheel switch below the stop keys is the piston memory selector.
The instrument uses the sound generation techniques described in . Some further examples of the sounds produced by the system, besides those included here, can also be auditioned from that article. A notable feature as far as this article is concerned is the simple way the system is configured to simulate a particular organ. Once the sounds have been finalised and stored in the computer, it is only necessary to create an ordinary text file using a word processor which the control program then reads and interprets. An extract from the configuration file describing one of the organs discussed later is shown in Appendix 1. Among other things, the file associates each physical stop tab on the console with the digital information inside the computer representing the sound of that stop. Therefore any tab can be used for any or all of the simulated organs, although the stop it represents is not fixed but defined by the user’s configuration file in each case. In one case it could be a speaking stop, in another a coupler and in yet another, a tremulant. One of the tabs even acted as Hope-Jones’s Stop Switch, as we shall see later.
However this unlimited flexibility has a practical downside. A somewhat knotty problem encountered with a console which has to represent more than one instrument is how to label the stops in a relatively simple manner. This is one of those sorts of puzzle which have any number of potential solutions, ranging from the cheap and cheerful to the ultimate in electronic display sophistry. In this case I chose the simple route, using labels printed by a computer mounted on wood strips which are hung on small brass pegs. The stop tabs themselves are blank. The method is illustrated below. By this means it is quick and simple to re-configure the console when it is necessary to simulate a different organ. To switch from one organ to another it is only necessary to click on the name of the configuration file for the desired organ on the computer monitor, having first set up the stop names at the console in the manner shown.
Illustrating how the stop tabs were labelled
Each note of every stop can be simulated individually and independently, corresponding to the separate pipes of a real organ. This also applies to the separate simulated pipes of each rank of a mixture, a very different matter to merely copying the composite sound of each note as is usually done. Simulating the mixtures carefully is particularly important. There are six sound channels available each with its own multiple-unit loudspeaker system, and stops can be routed to any channel or combination of channels. The system is flexible enough to simulate the spatial variation across a rank of organ pipes by “panning” each note on the keyboard in a different way between two loudspeakers. Thus the C and C# sides of an organ can be simulated as a stereophonic sound image which varies across the keyboard, as can more esoteric effects such as the pronounced spread of sound from an en chamade trumpet stop.
Six loudspeaker channels are generally adequate for simulating relatively small organs in small or medium sized rooms. They create a genuinely multiphonic sound field, much more realistic than listening to an organ recorded merely in stereo on even the best CD and with the best of hi-fi systems. Just as with a CD, an unfortunate downside is that when making recordings of the system the result has to be mixed down in some way to ordinary stereo, meaning that much of the spatial realism is lost. This has to be borne in mind when listening to the sound clips of the organs to be described.
Registration combinations can be set up and captured for any of the simulated organs and brought into use via thumb pistons. The combinations for all the simulations are retained, and those last set for a particular organ are automatically available when it is next called up.
Because the system is programmable to represent any desired instrument, it is called Prog Organ.
In response to requests, this section has been added to explain how the sample set for each simulated organ was developed without resorting to the usual procedure of recording all the pipes of the instrument. In some ways the process is not unlike that used by pipe organ builders when they attempt to re-create the style of a deceased craftsman and the sound of his organs, and in particular one cannot just use ‘a method’ in either case. There is no one method which is of universal applicability, so one has to proceed using a mix of techniques depending on the circumstances. I use some or all of the following approaches:
1. If high quality sound samples are available then, of course, they can be used directly provided one remains aware that capturing the sounds of a current instrument is not necessarily the same thing as attempting to re-create how it might have sounded when it was first built a long time ago. The only samples used in this study related to the organ at St George’s, Dunster because here it would be permissible to re-create a recent instrument which still exists and which has not been meddled with. Unfortunately though, the Dunster sample set was incomplete and of indifferent quality, thus the following steps also had to be invoked even in this case.
2. Low quality samples such as those from the Dunster instrument cannot be used directly in a digital organ, but they can still provide much useful information. For example, a spectrum analysis will generally yield sufficient material from which high quality synthetic samples can be generated using off-line additive synthesis. These waveforms can then be inserted into a sound sampler of the type used here. However the spectrum analyser one uses must have the sophistication to enable attack/decay transients and various types of noise to be analysed, and to the best of my knowledge no satisfactory product can be obtained commercially. Therefore I spent some years honing a bespoke software package which eventually satisfied my requirements. I have since proved countless times that it is possible to use unpromising raw material to synthesise high fidelity waveforms which are excellent substitutes for the real thing. Some of the issues involved are described in an article elsewhere on this website . Another article describes the approach in detail 
3. In the absence of any samples at all, off-line physical modelling of organ pipes can be used to generate high quality synthetic waveforms if sufficient knowledge exists of the pipe dimensions, the wind pressure, the type of soundboard, the valve, etc. However the models used must first be validated using pipes from which real sound samples exist before one can be confident of extrapolating them for use in other cases. Like additive synthesis, physical modelling is a mathematical tool which can readily generate a range of more or less attractive organesque sounds, but that of itself does not guarantee they will bear much resemblance to the sounds which are actually sought. This can only be achieved by validating the models against samples of real pipe sounds. Another article on the site explains physical modelling at a generic level .
Using this approach, algorithms have been developed which can generate a complete set of wave files for simulating a particular stop (one waveform per note across the keyboard compass) by specifying the characteristics of only a single pipe sound. Other information is also required, such as the dimensions of the archetype pipe, the note (pitch) it represents and the diameter-halving interval of the pipe scale across the rank (e.g. every 16th note), However this latter parameter can be varied across the compass to simulate non-uniform pipe scales. Tuning and temperament data can also be input to the model. The results usually require detailed tweaking on a note by note basis, but this is no different to the tonal finishing applied to a rank of real pipes.
4. In all cases regulation of the sample set is vitally important no matter how it is derived, and one must understand what the term itself means and how to regulate an organ in the first place. Regulation is discussed in my article at reference . One must also understand how a particular organ builder might have regulated his instruments, and as an example I undertook a detailed study of how Gottfried Silbermann probably regulated his fluework .
None of the above can be completed satisfactorily without having built up the necessary experience, and I have been doing so now for over thirty years as described in . However I do not make exaggerated claims for the results you can hear in this article. All I can say is that on the whole the outcome satisfies me, imperfect though it might be, and that it would have been a lot worse had I not amassed the said experience to start with. Electronic sound production at the level we are discussing here lies at the boundary between science, engineering and art, and in this respect it is little different to voicing a pipe organ. In both cases the two essential ingredients are understanding allied to experience, and even for digital organs one cannot dispense with either if the result is to be credible.
Some of the organs to be described hail from the 17th and 18th centuries when equal temperament probably did not exist widely. However there is abundant evidence from that period of the hunger for temperaments which would allow music to be played in all keys, of which Bach’s “48” is one of the best-known examples. In this study I used this as an excuse to side-step the temperament problem by tuning all the organs to equal temperament. This is not because of any lack of understanding; indeed I have studied the subject for some time, and only last year had an article published on one which I invented . However, to introduce so controversial a subject as temperament here would without doubt divert attention from the main thrusts of the article. An advantage of digital organs is that they can be tuned readily to any temperament, thereby leaving it up to those who disagree with my approach to adopt one which gives them greater satisfaction.
Much the same remarks apply to the tuning standard adopted. Here I have used A = 440 Hz except when there was strong evidence for a different one, and in these cases it is mentioned in the appropriate section.
Examples in mp3 format of each simulated organ are included for download, and a few remarks are necessary about how they were recorded and how best to listen to them.
In aural terms you can visualise a pair of microphones as having been placed reasonably close to the pipes of a pipe organ, with the ambience of the building captured solely by them and not from additional microphones placed elsewhere. In other words, the ambience is "dry" rather than "wet" and adjusted to approximate the ambience of the original buildings. Do not expect the 10 seconds worth of St Paul's cathedral type of reverberation washing around your ears which manufacturers impose so often on their audio samples - they do this to hide the details of the noises their organs make, and it is unnatural to the point of being ridiculous. What you hear here is the sound of accurately-simulated pipes in a realistic acoustic.
The best reproduction will be obtained in a normal listening position with a pair of high quality hi-fi speakers, fed by an appropriate stereo amplifier. I use KEF Reference 104 aB speakers for mastering. Alternatively, good stereo headphones can be used (e.g. Sennheiser HD 650). With anything much less than either of these options you will simply be listening to the inadequacies of your system, and these will make it difficult to form judgements about the organs themselves. A good computer sound card (e.g. the Audigy range, X-fi, etc) is also essential - onboard sound chips are not as good.
All the clips were recorded in real time in a single take by real players at a real console, warts and all, not merely invented by somebody pratting around off line with a MIDI sequencer as is so often done. The warts make effective watermarks!
We now come to the meat of this article, a discussion of several organs simulated by this organ system. But in an article dealing with vanished organs, why start with a recent one which still exists? The answer is that it was during an attempt to simulate this relatively recent instrument at Dunster, a delightful village at the north east corner of Exmoor, that I encountered several problems which first led me to think about doing the same thing for some older ones, thus leading eventually to the work described in this article.
St George's, Dunster - casework
St George's, Dunster - console detail
The organ was built by Hill, Norman and Beard in 1962 (and rebuilt in 2010), most of it in an elevated case in the north aisle with two 8 foot fronts in curiously disparate styles facing east and west, though there is also an ugly pile (the only word for it) of mechanism and sundry pedal pipes dumped unscreened on the floor beyond it. There is almost no egress into the body of the church for the sound from the east case. The organ is played electrically from a detached stop key console.
Although the Dunster organ is relatively recent it was surprising how many versions exist of its stop list! For example, at the time of writing, entry N05562 in the National Pipe Organ Register (NPOR) contained some errors in the stop names, some omissions, and it included a 3 rank Cornet on the swell which is not present . Fortunately I had first visited this organ about 1980 and so was able to distinguish between fact and fiction fairly readily. My notes and recollection of the correct disposition were confirmed by correspondence with Philip Wells. Note that these criticisms are not intended unkindly; the NPOR acknowledges that some of its data may be unreliable and always undertakes to correct it in such cases. I have included the example to demonstrate how difficult it is to establish even the most basic information about organs, particularly those which no longer exist or which have been altered. It is especially important not to rely entirely on secondary sources for one’s information.
The stop list of the Dunster organ is at Table 1. It is a good example of the one-organ-will-do-for-everything type of instrument that was so common in the brashness of the mid-20th century. Note the traditional British great organ diapason chorus, but with the addition of a splashy French style Trompette (en chamade, of course). The swell is quite different, having echoes of a Baroque flue chorus built on a 4 foot Principal. However it still had to have its Celeste and its sub and supers as well. There is also an attempt to make it serve as a Positiv division with a collection of mutations based on a curious mix of flute and principal tonalities. And, naturally, there had to be the quite exceptionally useless Swell Unison Off which was a de rigeur feature of virtually every organ at this time, and of many since. There is quite a lot of extension, borrowing and duplication, and all of it was simulated exactly.
Table 1. St George's, Dunster (Hill, Norman & Beard 1962)
I considered this organ worth simulating because it is redolent of the type built widely in Britain half a century ago, a school which reached its apogee at London’s Royal Festival Hall and at St Albans. “How Bach would have loved an organ like this” we were often told as students (though fortunately my first teacher was more enlightened). I had dim aural memories from Dunster that, although splendid in some respects, it somehow just did not coalesce into anything of substance. I felt it was neither fish nor fowl, and I wanted to simulate it to see if this judgement could be confirmed a quarter of a century on. And to counter all this politically-correct disparagement as well as to show that I was hoping to be proved wrong, let me admit now that I would have given my eye teeth to have had an organ like this in any of the churches I have played in. Thus I simulated it because I also wanted it in my studio as well.
This is the only organ discussed in this article from which I had some recorded sound samples to guide the simulation. They are not very good ones because of the technical limitations of the day, so they could not be used directly in a digital simulation. Nor was there anything like a complete set, as not all the stops had been recorded. Nevertheless, it was something to go on. I must acknowledge the part played by the late Rev Eric Pratt who recorded the samples back in 1981 and kindly made them available.
I have to say that when playing the simulation I was rather disappointed to find that my earlier impressions of the real thing were confirmed. Although the range and variety of the flue choruses on the great organ is attractive and useful, with the splendid Quintaten also made available on the pedals, the Trompette is of little use in my view other than for piping wedding couples into church (once you have got over your initial excitement). It is a reed with little or no chorus value particularly if used with its octave coupler, and its tonality has little synergy with the rest of the division.
However the swell organ is the least satisfactory to my mind. To get anything out of it at all one has to forget anything to do with Willis-type full swells, because the 1 foot mixture is too high pitched and the 16 foot reed too close-toned to imitate such effects satisfactorily. The mixture composition admittedly does fit in with the idea of a thin chorus based on a 4 foot principal, but that’s about all. And the mutation work is decidedly incomplete with the omission of a nazard at 2 2/3 foot pitch, thereby considerably limiting the opportunities for synthetic tone building. You cannot make an eclectic instrument merely by including a sprinkling of stops from various schools of organ building. The approach can only work where each school is complete and fully represented, and this is impossible with a swell organ of only twelve stops.
Bearing in mind these remarks, I find organs of this type are at their most attractive for playing better quality Romantic works because they offer so many opportunities for quiet colouration, such as in the following examples from A Little Organ Book compiled in memory of Sir Hubert Parry:
A Memorial Piece (Parry) - 1.80 MB/1m 59s
Andante in G (Charles Macpherson) - 2.9 MB/3m 10s
Arioso (Bach) - 3.14 MB/3m 26s
Ave Verum (Mozart) - 2.27 MB/2m 29s
Bist du bei mir (Stölzel) - 2.2 MB/2m 24s
Puer natus in Bethlehem - BWV 603 (J S Bach) 928 kB/1m 2s
or this extremely chromatic piece by Josef Rheinberger with its equally emphatic terrace dynamics (not a hairpin in sight!):
Monologue XI in F sharp major (Rheinberger) - 3.7 MB/4m 2s
And of course, we mustn't leave before hearing the Trompette en Chamade:
Trumpet Voluntary (Prince of Denmark's March) (Jeremiah Clarke) - 2.96 MB/3m 14s
Nor should we forget weddings or Valentine's Day:
Salut d'Amour (Elgar arr. Grey) - 2.71 MB/2m 57s
And wouldn't it be an experience to play this at St Peter's, Rome, as the Pope and his entourage were entering:
Entrée Pontificale (Enrico Bossi) - 3.82 MB/4m 10s
Perhaps one of the best known of Stanford's organ compositions:
Postlude on a theme of Orlando Gibbons (Song 22) (C V Stanford) - 3.24 MB/3m 32s
By playing the simulated organ people can assess its suitability for rendering various types of music, and whether they agree with my conclusions. The difficulties encountered in simulating an instrument which still existed at the time led me to ponder whether the approach might have value for those which do not. Foremost among the difficulties was the limited sample set and the consequential need to construct the sound of each stop largely using the guidelines mentioned in the introduction. Because I considered that the digital reconstruction retained much of the flavour of the original instrument, I decided to apply the same procedure to the other organs which form the remainder of this article.
It may not be generally known that Robert Hope-Jones built a number of very small but nonetheless interesting church organs in Britain before he left for the USA, and that at Pilton was one. A comparable but even smaller one still exists at Llanrhaeadr in Wales , that one being closer to its original condition than at Pilton. I chose to simulate the original Pilton instrument digitally because of the additional challenges involved, and because the instrument itself is of somewhat greater versatility than its Welsh counterpart. Another reason for focusing on this instrument is that the church recently (2007) faced closure owing to the dangerous state of its fabric . More recently it was reported in 2012 that the organ was no longer in use . In today's circumstances a redundant organ is lucky if it appears on ebay before ending its days in landfill, and preserving an echo of it in some way, even if only as a digital simulation, therefore seems apposite.
St Mary's, Pilton - the Hope-Jones console
Pilton sits near to the diametrically opposite corner of Exmoor to Dunster, and an article elsewhere on this website describes the organ at St Mary's in detail , showing how it has become almost unrecognisable over the course of a century. The usual problem of deciding exactly what the original stop list was also existed here, and I have adopted the specification printed in Musical Opinion in 1898 shortly after the organ had been inaugurated (Table 2). There have been many interventions since, though regrettably no information was forthcoming from the firm (Hele) which has been responsible for some of them. Others have been the work of amateurs and are completely undocumented. However when I played the organ in 1992 it was reasonably clear which of the stops still contained Hope-Jones’s pipework. Apart from its diaphone, the pedal organ is derived from the great Rohr Gedackt unit.
Table 2. St Mary's, Pilton (Hope-Jones 1898)
Originally this interesting and historic little instrument was played remotely from a moveable detached console situated in the chancel of the church. It was hand blown, though it must have sorely tried the organ blower with its wind pressure of 6 inches and its preponderance of generously scaled unison stops! The electric action, including the combination system with its motorised tilting tablets, was powered by rechargeable accumulators and both these and the means of blowing were not displaced by mains power until the 1920’s. Until then, somebody had the job of trotting down to the local garage to recharge the batteries most weeks (I know this to be the case). If the original pipework which remains is anything to go by, the organ was capable of immense power for its small size, with extremely loud diapasons on both manuals and an overwhelming diaphone on the pedals. Therefore it would have been a most effective hymn machine for the large congregations of its day. Yet there was also a wealth of quieter effects available, multiplied by the large number of couplers (note especially the octave coupler on the great). In playing any Hope-Jones organ you have to take full advantage of these. Its main shortcoming to my mind was the lack of anything really quiet though, and I just ached for a gentle stopped diapason!
The organ was simulated digitally without the benefit of any sound samples from the original pipes, and an extract from the configuration file is at Appendix 1. Hope-Jones’s Stop Switch was also included in the simulation, one of the original features of the instrument which has long vanished. The Stop Switch was an ingenious registration aid which enabled a new combination to be set up on the stop tablets while still playing on the old one. The new combination then came into effect when the Stop Switch was operated. I have long wanted to assess for myself how useful this actually was in practice.
Although I would say this wouldn’t I, I was extremely (indeed, surprisingly) gratified at how this simulation of a much-altered organ turned out, especially as no actual samples were used. It completely accords with my memories of the real instrument from many years ago in terms of its tonal and dynamic extremes and the aural weariness induced after a spell of playing it. It is difficult to make a recording which gives a suitable impression of full organ, particularly the overwhelming thunder of the pedal organ and the profundity of the two coupled diapasons in the lower reaches of the keyboard. One contemporary listener to a Hope-Jones organ remarked on the “full organ quite without brightness ... the dull cloying tone is rather wearying” . Just so.
However the following clips illustrate just some of the tonal variety available, including the exceptionally keen Viol d’Orchestre, the smooth Cornopean and the Diapason Phonon. With hindsight it is not difficult to detect in this small church organ of 1898 the roots of the 'Hope-Jones Unit Orchestra' of c. 1910 which led to the Wurlitzer theatre organ:
Demonstration of the stops - 4.20 MB/4m 35s
Cantilène Religieuse (Dubois) - 2.58 MB/2m 49s
Although at first I had decided that it was impossible to play Bach on this organ in any sense beyond that of pressing the notes, I have been forced to revise this opinion having investigated in detail the tonal possibilities offered by the Quintadena. The clip below demonstrates how it sounds on its own, and it can be compared with the same piece recorded using 4 and 1 1/3 foot stops on the simulated Schnitger instrument at Cappel (below). These are essentially the same pitches which one can hear in the sound of the Quintadena alone. Another article on this site describes the Quintadena investigation in detail .
Vom Himmel hoch BWV 606 (J S Bach) - 706 kB/45s
And what of the Stop Switch? Although fascinated with it at first, I rapidly found it could cause confusion, just as with any blind combination aid. The main problem is you tend to forget whether it is on or off, though perhaps with more practice you could get used to it. However, in a small organ which had several ordinary combination pedals, I suspect most organists regarded it as little more than a curiosity after a while. At Pilton the tab now controls a tremulant (not on the original organ), and at Llanrhaeadr it now brings on full organ. However the organists at Worcester cathedral must have found it useful because it was retained by Harrison’s when they rebuilt its famous Hope-Jones organ in 1925.
What can be learnt from having simulated this organ? An awful lot in my opinion, mainly because hardly any organists today have come within a hundred miles of a Hope-Jones instrument, yet that does not prevent some of them voicing forcible opinions about their perceived shortcomings. His small organs are particularly interesting because they demonstrate, presumably, which stops Hope-Jones thought were the most important, and it is therefore surprising that they have been all but ignored by Hope-Jones scholars in favour of his more spectacular works. The organ at Pilton would have been a serviceable and generally useful church organ, besides being capable of rendering much of the preferred musical pap of the day during recitals and voluntaries. Although none of these conclusions is new or surprising, it seems to me that it would be reasonable to allow students to develop their own views of Hope-Jones by first hand experience, rather than by expecting them to absorb conventional wisdom merely through pedagogy. A digital simulation would enable them to do this.
Aristide Cavaillé-Coll installed a small two manual organ in this Church of Scotland edifice when it was called Bellahouston - it is now Ibrox Parish Church. Its French heritage probably became progressively less distinct as a result of the various interventions which began long ago, although the recent and last-known instrument probably retained some if not most of the original pipework according to Kerr Jamieson who has kindly given me the benefit of his research relating to this organ. Given its uncertain provenance (even the relatively recent 1985 rebuild was by an unknown hand according to the National Pipe Organ Register ) plus the fact the church is now (2010) using an Allen digital with the pipe organ apparently being scrapped as I write, this really is a vanished organ to all intents and purposes, unlike the two previous ones.
Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. Nemo me impune lacessit! 
The organ was probably an example of the Model Organ No. 9 described later by Cavaillé-Coll in his pamphlet of 1889 entitled 'Orgues de Tous Modèles' which was prepared for the Paris World Fair of that year, though Mr Jamieson suggests it might have been installed at Bellahouston in a modified Model 18 case. Several Model 9's were built, although they seemed to vary somewhat in detail which makes it all the more difficult to be certain of the original stop list of the Bellahouston instrument. It is said  that there were no pedal stops at Bellahouston, only couplers to the manual(s). This is at odds with some other Model 9 organs which had both couplers and several pedal stops duplexed from the manuals, and it seems almost inconceivable that there would have been a full-compass 16 foot Bourdon on the Grand Orgue without it also being made available on the pedals. There is also uncertainty about whether there was a Plein Jeu mixture on the Récit at Bellahouston as there was on some other Model 9's. Consequently I have addressed both uncertainties by simply including them in this simulation, as in Table 3 below. Rather naughtily though, Cavaillé-Coll had the habit of giving quite different names to his duplexed stops to hide their derivations, but I have not done this here.
Table 3. Bellahouston Parish Church (Cavaillé-Coll, 1874)
Comparing this stop list with that of the Hope-Jones organ in Table 2 reveals several similarities - the predilection for 16 foot tone in full organ achieved by the inclusion of a 16 foot manual flute and suboctave couplers from the other manual in both cases, borrowed pedal stops, and a decidedly octopodian character with a wide range of well differentiated tones.
Some notes about the simulation follow, in no particular order. I modelled the tremulant characteristics on one at St Sernin, Toulouse, and a smidgeon of action noise was also included. The composition and tone of the rather fluty Plein Jeu was modelled on the strange mixtures sometimes used by Cavaillé-Coll (this one has only two ranks, at intervals of 15 and 22, until the middle of the second octave when the quint ranks appear. It then breaks twice more in rapid succession by treble C before continuing to the top of the compass as 220.127.116.11). The Basson-Hautbois is actually two stops in one: harmonium-like, it changes suddenly at middle C from a rounded and fruity bassoon tone to a thinner and quieter oboe inclining to orchestral character.
The Trompette Harmonique would have largely maintained its fire and power in the treble through the use of double length resonators in the original pipe organ, and attention was paid to this in the simulation. Double length pipes were also used in the Flûte Harmonique, though the harmonic structure of Cavaillé-Coll's stops was quite different to the gentle, rounded bloom we expect from stops of this name in a British organ. Typically his flutes had a retinue of 8 harmonics or more at middle C, unlike the much smaller numbers emitted by the pipes of other builders .
The Montre and Prestant were given the somewhat hard tone which Cavaillé-Coll derived by adjusting the levels of harmonics around the 7th using carefully constructed slots in the pipes. This was a unique feature requiring considerable skill and experience, and it probably died with him. Attempts were made to reproduce the ability of these stops to sing and blend with others at unison pitch (thereby giving the Jeux de Fonds), rather than drowning them as a British open diapason will often do.
The simulation was tuned in equal temperament to the French Diapason Normale pitch (A = 435 Hz), about one third of a semitone flat from today's standard pitch.
In this small organ Cavaillé-Coll is telling us quite plainly how to get the "Cavaillé-Coll sound" which French organist-composers came to expect in the 19th century. Apart from its individual registers, the Récit offers the following tonal possibilities:
1. String célestes with a hungry dessicated tone and slow speech.
2. "Fonds de 8 Hautbois" consisting of the 8 foot flute plus the Basson-Hautbois and maybe the Viole as well.
3. "Fonds de 8 Hautbois & Trompette" - as in 2 but with the Trompette added.
And the Grand Orgue offers:
1. "Fonds" consisting of either or both the Montre and Flûte.
2. "Fonds et Anches de 8 & 16" - Bourdon, Montre and Flûte plus the Récit reeds at 16 and 8 foot pitches via coupling.
3. "Jeux de Fonds et Jeux d'Anches" - full G.O. and full Récit with all couplers.
Even in this baby organ there was therefore pretty much everything one needed to render most French organ music of the day. It should be remembered that changes of dynamic were made according to a few fairly fixed patterns, largely enforced by the nature of the Cavaillé-Coll console. Couplers and stop combinations were changed by hitch-down pedals rather than by stop knobs and thumb pistons, and this is of considerable importance. Therefore a proper simulation of a Cavaillé-Coll organ should also simulate the console itself - which I have not done. Besides encouraging composers to think in terms of a relatively limited range of terraced crescendi and diminuendi, it was also possible for them to achieve effects impossible on any other type of instrument without employing an assistant. For example, the sforzando effects in Guilmant's 1ère Sonate can only be obtained by a single executant if playing at an unaltered Cavaillé-Coll console, and Guilmant states explicitly how they were to be rendered . Hope-Jones's sforzando pedal in his larger instruments would have assisted the rendering of similar effects.
Baby though it was, this organ would have been quite capable of tackling some fairly large scale works:
Choral No. 1 in E (extract - Franck) - 5.9MB/6m 31s
The simulation is also just the thing for these::
Élévation ou Communion (Saint-Saëns) - 4.01 MB/4m 23s
Prière à Notre Dame (Boellmann) - 3.22 MB/3m 31s
The sound is perhaps somewhat opaque for Bach, but it's interesting to try it all the same:
Lob sei dem allmächtigen Gott. BWV 602. (J S Bach) - 1.1 MB/1m 10s
It is only by studying in detail how a builder designs his organs that one is able to arrive at a proper understanding of his tonal strategy, and having done this merely for an electronic simulation is far better than not having done it at all. One is thereby enabled to perceive, however dimly, the acoustic image of the tonal architecture that was rooted in his head and how he achieved it. The marriage between Cavaillé-Coll's organs and the limited Romantic confines of contemporary French organ music is a key factor to be understood, unique in all organ music. In fact, the straitjacket his instruments imposed on the most eminent organist-composers of his day reinforced those limits and prevented them expanding very much. The rather grim photograph above does tend to confirm the iron rod he wielded in all aspects of design - this stern patriarch of the French organ was quite happy to accommodate any requirements provided they fell within his dictum of "you can have whatever you like as long as it's what I always provide". Rather like Henry Ford and his cars .
It is unfortunate that many scholars and commentators appear to have lost their critical faculties when confronted by Cavaillé-Coll, whereas they demonstrate no such constraints when considering Hope-Jones whose work they routinely dismiss out of hand. In fact the parallels between the two of them are many and close if one is more objective. The opaque, overwhelming tone-mass of full organ in both cases is not all that different for obvious reasons, and the wearisome mediocrity of much 19th century French organ music encouraged by the Cavaillé-Coll instruments does not rise above the shed loads of "Novello's Original Compositions" which would have been staple fodder for those of Hope-Jones. On neither type of organ can one give a sensible rendering of Bach's works. One of the few major differences between them was that Cavaillé-Coll understood and respected the pre-Revolutionary school of French organ building far better than did Hope-Jones in the case of the history of the British organ, though as his career progressed its imprint became increasingly faint. It is also the case that his unison stops blended more satisfactorily among themselves than did those of Hope-Jones, indeed many such combinations were of unsurpassed beauty. Although both builders developed the Romantic-Symphonic organ in their respective countries to a point beyond which it was not possible to proceed, it is interesting that today their tonal ideas are less roundly derided than formerly, and although a total return to their values is inconceivable some elements are making a tentative reappearance.
I wonder what the good citizens of Glasgow thought of their French organ 130 years ago, and in particular how would it have coped with the no-nonsense Protestant worship of the Kirk as opposed to the more mystical liturgy of the Roman Catholic church? Today we would regard it as a treasure - did they?
Gottfried Silbermann built a number of similar two manual village organs in this area of Germany not far from Dresden. To assume here that the Fraureuth one is a “vanished organ” might evoke surprise or disagreement, because it still exists in (it is claimed) its original state. If by “original state” is meant an organ which is just as the builder left it and which still sounds today just as it did then, then I find it difficult to believe. After two and a half centuries of cone tuning, to say nothing of the almost perpetual state of warfare and oppression which the rulers of Europe (including Britain) have inflicted on their long-suffering populations, can it really be that the maintenance and preservation of a bunch of little organs remained at the top of the list of priorities over that period? Is it also really credible that the succession of organ builders who have variously intervened in the affairs of these instruments were never tempted to indulge in a bit of tweaking to suit the fashions of the day? That has never, ever, happened anywhere else, so why here? So an organ from the 1740’s still in its original state? Come off it!
Some writers now maintain that the half century of the Cold War was actually a good thing from the point of view of these instruments because it prevented anything major being done to them . Even if one accepts the curious argument that deliberate neglect is advantageous (something which does not pertain in other aspects of life), that still does not account for what might have happened during the largely undocumented two hundred years prior to 1945. To my mind the sound and the appearance of these organs today is just a bit too chocolate-boxy to be true, especially given the frantic attempts to attract tourists (including organ tourists) to the area. Just take a look at the Internet to see what I mean. (A more detailed account of the sorts of things that have in reality happened to these village organs is appended at ).
Dorfkirche, Fraureuth (courtesy www.baroque-music-club.com)
Having said all this, the extant Fraureuth instrument and similar ones are intrinsically very beautiful in their own right. They have been widely recorded and are justly well known, as the picture above demonstrates. But how, therefore, should one approach a digital simulation? One could use the usual copyist approach and thereby create a replica of today’s instrument, neglecting the qualms rehearsed above. In fact I rejected this and chose not to use a single sound sample. I tried to re-create the instrument in the same way as for that at Pilton, using only my knowledge of what the organ builder would most likely have done.
Again, for an organ which exists and is said to be in its original state, it is strange that several significantly different versions of its original stop list are to be found. That in Table 4 is believed to be correct apart from some probable minor differences in stop names and modified footages (e.g. 3 may have been used originally instead of 22/3 ). The mixture compositions of the simulation were based on standard G Silbermann practice; one is probably entitled to say they were “standard” because the evidence suggests he was an early advocate of the concept of a factory organ in the sense of introducing a measure of uniformity to keep costs down without compromising on quality. The Fraureuth organ showed later central German and French influences more than those Bach played 30 or 40 years earlier, and they probably had a more dynamically equalised palette of different tone colours both horizontally and vertically. Nevertheless Williams and Owen have remarked on the “strong” principals of Silbermann organs , and the instruments were almost certainly not insipid in character in other respects. The Fraureuth one would also have had something of the classical French flavour about it, given the tierce presence on both manuals and the dark mixtures, including a Cornet, some of which start to reinforce the unisons as low as middle C. No doubt Gottfried absorbed these aspects from his brother Andreas who worked across the border in France and Switzerland, as well as from his own early experiences in France.
Table 4. Dorfkirche, Fraureuth (G Silbermann, 1742)
The pedal organ can hardly be said to be independent. All it can do is provide a bass to the manuals unless one is playing exclusively on the Oberwerk and coupling the Hauptwerk stops down to the pedals. However the (metal?) Subbass and the Posaune would likely have been incisive and prompt without being overwhelming. And the absence of any manual reed is countered to some extent by the glorious solo possibilities on both keyboards given the plentiful supply of mutations.
manual coupler couples the pedals through to the Oberwerk when it is
drawn. (It is unclear to me whether this would have been the case in the
original instrument because Silbermann might have used a ventil coupler to the
Hauptwerk chest, rather than a mechanical one working on the key action).
The pitch of the simulation is about one semitone sharp to today's standard pitch, similar to the organs in nearby villages such as Helbigsdorf and Reinhardtsgrimma but unlike that at Fraureuth which appears to be tuned to A = 440 Hz. The simulation was deliberately tuned to equal temperament even though Silbermann probably used sixth comma mean tone tuning or something close to it. This is because much of Bach would otherwise be unplayable. The pipe organ at Fraureuth is also tuned to, or close to, equal temperament. Thus the differences in tuning and temperament are yet other indications that the Fraureuth organ is not "untouched".
Because of the possibility of classical French influences, I suspect the current pipe organ at Fraureuth might not be quite as gutsy as it was originally – it sounds rather too well regulated and even. Listening to today’s echoes of Andreas’s work at places such as Ebersmünster, there is an exciting rawness about the sounds. Thus, for example, it is possible that brother Gottfried’s pedal reeds did not actually purr quietly away, evenly from note to note, as they do in his restored village organs today. I have introduced a more characterful stop, like a low pressure 18th century French trumpet, which is splashier and varies in character from note to note. After a number of years Gottfried’s reeds may well have metamorphosed into this form as they settled down, and it is just as effective. Pursuing this theme further, I have also carried out a detailed study of Silbermann's fluework, of which some of the results are now available in another article on this website . It also included detailed attention to unsteady winding, wind noise, action noise and mixture compositions.
You can hear the slightly unsteady sounds of the stops in the following clips. Note the deliberate absence of strong attack transients - the evidence I have suggests that Silbermann did not make his pipes chiff and spit excessively as did so many later builders of the mid-20th century during the Baroque revival :
Silbermann's famous 'silvery sounds' are evident in this extract as well as other tonal possibilities offered by an organ with a Silbermann stop list:
Extracts from Pastorale in F. BWV 590. (Bach) - 4 MB/4m 35s (about 1 minute from each movement)
And some old favourites:
Prelude in E minor. BWV 533. (Bach) - 2.2 MB/2m 24s
'Great' Fantasia in G minor. BWV 542a. (Bach) - 4.47 MB/4m 53 s
Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier. BWV 731. (Bach) - 2.06 MB/2m 15s
'Short' Prelude no. IV in F. BWV 556a. (Bach) - 1.33 MB/ 1m 27s
In Dulci Jubilo - BWV 729 (J S Bach) - 2.27 MB/2m 29s
From the Orgelbüchlein:
Jesu, meine Freude - BWV 610 (J S Bach) - 2.52 MB/2m 45s
I found this organ attractive and beautiful even though it was but a mere digital simulation, and any merit it may have reflects solely the genius of Silbermann. The things one accepts about Silbermann’s organs seem to be there – an astonishing range of effects, from any number of quiet synthetic solos through to unexpectedly majestic full choruses. The choice of stops in his organs was clearly very carefully judged, together with the way his mixture work was constructed. I can still hardly believe it is possible to recapture echoes of this electronically, merely by trying to understand and follow some of his basic design ideas. Just as with the Hope-Jones organ at Pilton, it was a welcome though unexpected outcome, but for rather different reasons in the two cases. However we can never really know how closely this simulation (nor the pipe organ at Fraureuth for that matter) approaches what the original organ would have sounded like, and in the speculation lies the fun of it all.
(Also see this YouTube video for a demonstration of the stops on the simulated instrument)
J S Bach was appointed organist here at the age of eighteen in the year J F Wender’s new organ had been inspected and approved by the youngster himself. Details of the instrument have been the subject of widespread conjecture and misunderstanding ever since, which is surprising given that Wender’s contract of 1699 survives together with the original console. Even the name given to the church by sundry authors varies for no good reason. It was called the Neue Kirche because its predecessor, Bonifaciuskirche or St Boniface, had been destroyed by fire in 1581, though today it is generally called the Bachkirche for obvious reasons.
Neue Kirche, Arnstadt - original console
The organ survived into the mid-19th century when it was partly rebuilt by one who was not only apparently incompetent but also dishonest - he did a runner with the money leaving the job unfinished. After further tribulations it was incorporated into a much larger Romantic instrument with tubular pneumatic action by Steinmeyer. More recently Hoffmann has reconstructed the organ, resurrecting it as closely as possible to its original state according to Wender’s original contract document and meticulous measurements made of the old console. This organ was inaugurated in 2000.
Establishing the definitive stop list of this organ was not too difficult, given the existence of the Wender contract, data from Hoffmann’s reconstruction and the preservation of the original console, so it is worth pointing out that most extant sources contain significant errors. The actual stop list is at Table 5. Note the presence of five unison stops on the Oberwerk besides the Trompet, a Quinta of 6 (i.e. 5 1/3 ) foot pitch, a single 4 foot stop and then nothing between it and the mixtures. The Brustwerk is conceived similarly, though an octave higher. This difference is also reflected in the mixture compositions on the two manuals. The pedal organ has nothing between the 8 foot Principal and the 2 foot Cornet, a trumpet-toned reed.
Yet Williams and Owen  gave both manuals a 2 foot stop and called the Oberwerk the Hauptwerk. They gave the pedal a non-existent Violon but omitted the Cornet, they were unclear about the couplers, they wondered whether an 8 foot Höhl Flute appeared on the Brustwerk and whether the Quintadena was at 16 foot pitch. Sumner  and Schweitzer , probably following Spitta, both put a 4 foot flute on the pedal. Roberts has pointed to similar shortcomings in some of the American literature . Some authors have even included more stops than could have been accommodated on the console jambs! This gross error cannot be overlooked easily because the oft-pictured original console still exists in the Arnstadt Bach museum and has therefore always been available for study. And so the list goes on, but enough has been said here to show how serious are the problems of relying on secondary sources of information.
Table 5. Neue Kirche, Arnstadt (Wender, 1703)
If we put aside for a moment the proper reverence associated with the great man and examine the organ independently, does not the stop list contain some apparent peculiarities? It has been pointed out already that the Oberwerk is virtually an octopod apart from the redemption of its mixtures. The Quinta at 5 1/3 foot is properly part of a 16 foot chorus, yet there is no 16 foot stop. Does this mean that a synthetic 16 foot effect was intended, derived as an acoustic bass in conjunction with the 8 foot stops? Some authors maintain this was the case because the height above the organ was insufficient to accommodate pipes of the necessary length, though with two pedal stops at this pitch this theory seems implausible. Then the tonal variety of the three 4 foot stops on the Brustwerk is limited, and so it is perhaps surprising that the not-very-different Nachthorn did not form part of the original contract but was added later. Such a disposition might be regarded as wasteful and extravagant today in such a small organ, especially as there are two Cymbalsterne as well. And what function does the 2 foot trumpet on the pedals perform? It can have little to do with the 4 foot pedal solos which we associate with some of Bach’s works, unless the pedal part can be played an octave lower. Thus In Dulci Jubilo in the Orgelbüchlein could not have been played with a 4 foot reed solo on this organ, for example. Even if the solo part could have been so transposed, the fact there was only a single C# key in the middle of the pedalboard adds further difficulties. My conjecture is that an important function of this reed was to perform much as a mixture would, adding definition and brilliance as a helper to the uncertain and variable tone of the low pressure16 foot Posaune.
So does the Arnstadt organ call into question some of the beliefs we might hold about Bach’s registration? As well as the oddities mentioned above, there is little opportunity for synthetic tone building using individual mutations, the lone twelfth on the Brustwerk being just about all there is. There is certainly nothing comparable to the splendours of the Fraureuth organ in this regard. On the other hand there is a manual chorus reed which can also be used in a solo role, which the Silbermann organ did not have. Sumner  said that Silbermann’s organs were far from ideal for rendering the works of Bach. It seems to me that either the same can be said about the Arnstadt organ, or we need to radically revise our ideas about how Bach actually registered, given that we have one of his instruments whose disposition is definitive. Did Bach actually like the instrument? The literature is full of effusions about how closely associated Bach and Wender were, yet on the other hand we have C P E Bach’s sad remark that his late father never presided at a first-rate organ during his entire life. It is a most intriguing situation.
In simulating this organ no recorded samples were used. The new Hoffman instrument uses about 25% of the original pipes but, as with Silbermann’s organs, it stretches credulity to believe that they sound today exactly as they did then given their chequered history over the last 300 years. (What Steinmeyer might have done to them does not bear thinking about). Therefore I built the digital simulation from independent information, as with the Fraureuth organ and for the same reasons. I did not want merely to emulate Hoffmann’s reconstruction, splendid though it is. Although both of the manual departments have several flue stops of the same pitch, their tonalities would not have exhibited the pronounced differences which we would expect today. Thus the Viol di Gamba would likely have inclined towards today’s Geigen Diapason or a mild Gamba tone rather than a Viol d’Orchestre. The Trompet, working at low pressure, would have had a free tone which varied markedly across the compass, rather than being even, loud and rounded. The two Cymbalsterne were added subsequently (Dec 07) to the simulation and they can be heard in the the clip by Gastoldi below. The pedals couple through to the Brustwerk when the manual coupler is drawn, and the pitch is about a semitone sharp to today's standard pitch.
In such a relatively large church, the curious stop list of this organ seems yet again inappropriate. The many stops which were duplicated at the same pitch would have added little to the tutti, indeed they could not have been so employed because of the unacceptable demand that would have been thrown onto the manually-provided wind supply. Therefore full organ would have depended on little more than the mixtures for loudness. For such reasons I cannot believe Wender would have got away with a wind pressure much below 75 mm (3 inches) and it was probably greater. He must have had to voice the instrument pretty fiercely in other ways, and at close quarters it could well have sounded overwhelming and coarse with so much power being coaxed from so few pipes. Accordingly, I followed these considerations when developing the simulation.
Prelude in E flat. BWV 552a. (St Anne) (extract - Bach) - 2.11 MB/2m 18s
Yet the many unison stops must also have endowed the organ with many beautiful quiet combinations:
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme. BWV 645. (extract - Bach) - 1.97 MB/2m 9s
Meine Seele erhebt den Herren. BWV 648. (extract - Bach) - 1.29 MB/1m 24s
Or this one, in which the left hand uses the 5 1/3 foot Quinta to achieve an attractive purr while the pedal Cornet takes the chorale melody (this is one of the cases where it is possible to play an octave lower to get a 4 foot pedal reed):
Wo soll ich fliehen hin. BWV 646. (extract - Bach) - 630 KB/40s
Each cymbalstern consisted of a set of tuned gongs behind the pipe façade, struck by hammers as the corresponding star rotated. They can be heard in the following clip:
In dir ist Freude (Gastoldi) - 943kb/59s
From the Orgelbüchlein:
Christum wir sollen loben schon. BWV 611. (J S Bach) - 2.13 MB/2m 19s
have pondered how the Arnstadt simulation differs subjectively from that at
Fraureuth, the main problem being a suitable choice of adjectives. The Fraureuth one is somehow more welcoming whereas Arnstadt
is slightly intimidating. The
latter has a raw power which excites more than it caresses.
They are very different instruments, and they call for quite distinct
approaches to registering the music. When playing the instrument the
remarks above, mainly concerning the under-developed chorus work, confront one
forcefully. You can either use the wide range of individual stops, or a
restricted range of combinations such as 8' + 4', or add the mixtures. In
other words, the organ is either quiet, mezzo-forte, or it becomes suddenly very
loud. There are virtually no tonal options between the quietness and the
loudness. It is a most curious experience and it makes one long for clues
as to how Bach would have treated the instrument. Looking to so-called
experts to provide the clues seems pretty fruitless, in view of their
inexplicable (should one say inexcusable?) uncertainties over such basic details
as what the original stop list was. It
is also incomprehensible and rather sad that so few recordings appear to have
been issued on what is by any standards an important and historical
instrument. The present organist, Gottfried Preller, has recorded an
impeccably excellent CD of J S Bach's compositions, but this is difficult to obtain other than when visiting the
church itself or through the organ builders who reconstructed the
instrument. However it is worth persevering, if only to hear him rendering
all six Schübler chorale preludes delightfully interspersed among some of the
more spectacular works. Just as delightfully, the disc begins and ends
with the calcant bell to the poor organ blower suffocating in the roof
space, though I have my doubts as to
whether the organ was actually blown by muscle power when recording this CD! For those who have yet to visit the church itself,
it is still profoundly moving to hear Bach played on
this CD in the self-same building which once reverberated to the sounds of
the youthful Master himself. A DVD is also available from the Organ Historical Society in
the USA but of course, being in the NTSC format, this is unplayable on many
European systems. I therefore find my simulation of this organ all the
more valuable despite its undoubted shortcomings. It is instructive to use
it for endless experiments in registration on an organ with such a singular stop
list, if nothing else. The
organ in the monastery chapel of St John in Hamburg was rebuilt in about 1680 by
Arp Schnitger using some pipework from earlier instruments reputedly going back
as far as the previous century. In
1816 the organ was moved to St Peter-und-Paul-Kirche in Cappel, about 100
km west of Hamburg, where it stands in the gallery
in two cases housing the Hauptwerk/Pedal and Rückpositiv divisions.
Around 1950 this was one of the organs used by Helmut Walcha for his famous Deutsche Grammophon Archiv recordings of Bach's organ works .
The Arp Schnitger Organ now at St Peter-und-Paul-Kirche, Cappel
(formerly in the Johannisklosters, Hamburg)
I have pondered how the Arnstadt simulation differs subjectively from that at Fraureuth, the main problem being a suitable choice of adjectives. The Fraureuth one is somehow more welcoming whereas Arnstadt is slightly intimidating. The latter has a raw power which excites more than it caresses. They are very different instruments, and they call for quite distinct approaches to registering the music. When playing the instrument the remarks above, mainly concerning the under-developed chorus work, confront one forcefully. You can either use the wide range of individual stops, or a restricted range of combinations such as 8' + 4', or add the mixtures. In other words, the organ is either quiet, mezzo-forte, or it becomes suddenly very loud. There are virtually no tonal options between the quietness and the loudness. It is a most curious experience and it makes one long for clues as to how Bach would have treated the instrument. Looking to so-called experts to provide the clues seems pretty fruitless, in view of their inexplicable (should one say inexcusable?) uncertainties over such basic details as what the original stop list was.
It is also incomprehensible and rather sad that so few recordings appear to have been issued on what is by any standards an important and historical instrument. The present organist, Gottfried Preller, has recorded an impeccably excellent CD of J S Bach's compositions, but this is difficult to obtain other than when visiting the church itself or through the organ builders who reconstructed the instrument. However it is worth persevering, if only to hear him rendering all six Schübler chorale preludes delightfully interspersed among some of the more spectacular works. Just as delightfully, the disc begins and ends with the calcant bell to the poor organ blower suffocating in the roof space, though I have my doubts as to whether the organ was actually blown by muscle power when recording this CD! For those who have yet to visit the church itself, it is still profoundly moving to hear Bach played on this CD in the self-same building which once reverberated to the sounds of the youthful Master himself. A DVD is also available from the Organ Historical Society in the USA but of course, being in the NTSC format, this is unplayable on many European systems. I therefore find my simulation of this organ all the more valuable despite its undoubted shortcomings. It is instructive to use it for endless experiments in registration on an organ with such a singular stop list, if nothing else.
The organ in the monastery chapel of St John in Hamburg was rebuilt in about 1680 by Arp Schnitger using some pipework from earlier instruments reputedly going back as far as the previous century. In 1816 the organ was moved to St Peter-und-Paul-Kirche in Cappel, about 100 km west of Hamburg, where it stands in the gallery in two cases housing the Hauptwerk/Pedal and Rückpositiv divisions. Around 1950 this was one of the organs used by Helmut Walcha for his famous Deutsche Grammophon Archiv recordings of Bach's organ works .
The Arp Schnitger Organ now at St Peter-und-Paul-Kirche, Cappel
(formerly in the Johannisklosters, Hamburg)
With such old instruments it is impossible to be sure of almost anything relating to their original condition, and with this one it is only necessary to say that by the mid-20th century it was speaking more or less in equal temperament! Since then it has suffered major damage and it underwent a rebuild in the 1970's which unfortunately included some tonal alterations. Nor is it possible to draw many conclusions about Schnitger’s scaling and voicing practices because in this and other of his instruments they seem to be all over the place, perhaps because of the use of so much old pipework in this case. Nevertheless, like the Fraureuth and Arnstadt organs, it is an attractive candidate for a digital simulation and for similar reasons – its two manuals and pedals with the luxury of 30 speaking stops enable all of the contemporary repertoire and much beyond to be rendered, yet it was not too ambitious an undertaking. I have used the stop list of the organ as it was c. 1950 (Table 6):
6. Johannisklosters, Hamburg, now at Cappel (Arp Schnitger, 1680)
As with the other instruments described in this article (apart from that at Dunster), no sound samples from the surviving pipe organ were used in the simulation as it was not the intention simply to re-create the existing instrument. Issues of regulation and balance were paramount, and I feel that Schnitger’s organs are best regarded essentially as chamber instruments, even the largest ones. You can listen to any of them to realise that nothing overwhelms anything else, that stops are of broadly comparable mezzo-forte power, and that regulation and blend are at least as important as the timbres of the individual stops. For example, on the original organ it was probably possible to balance a solo played on the mild Hauptwerk Trompet in the church (though maybe not at the console) using only a couple of Rückpositiv flutes as an accompaniment. At the same time the sound of these organs could not have been too retiring, because the effect of a 6 rank sharp mixture and a thin 16 foot fagotto in the Rückpositiv would have been pretty spiky and buzzy by any standards.
Each rank of every mixture was simulated and adjusted separately, rather than simulating them with a composite sound in the same way as any other stop, as is usually done in digital organs. The mixtures were assigned to dedicated synthesisers in the computer so that sufficient polyphony was available to cope with the large number of ranks, and these synths had their own loudspeaker channels to reduce the intermodulation distortion which would have occurred if combining the mixture sounds electronically with those from the other stops.
The simulation was tuned to equal temperament because using Schnitger's original mean tone tuning would have meant that much of Bach could not be played on it otherwise. Its pitch is about a semitone higher than today’s standard pitch.
The tremulant acts on all the stops, including those at 16 foot on the pedals. No pedal couplers have been included because these did not exist on the original instrument.
All organs are based on their Principals, and those of Schnitger are particularly difficult to get right in a simulation. They vanished, never to return, after Silbermann initiated the development of brighter and more powerful stops some 50 years later, a trend that continued into the 20th century across all of Europe. Schnitger's Principals, on the other hand, sound quite fluty by modern standards and they have a beautiful transparent cantabile tone little stronger than the flutes themselves. I cannot think he would have done other than underblow his pipes to achieve these effects, and therefore chiff, scratchiness and windiness would not have been too obtrusive in their speech.
Some idea of the range of tonal possibilities of a Schnitger organ can be obtained from these extracts from Sweelinck's famous variations, which have been registered following the suggestions of Straube and Ramin. Comparing these simulated sounds with those of Silbermann's Fraureuth organ above when rendering Bach's Pastorale shows how wide was the gap between them tonally, even though it was a mere 50 years or so in time. Note that the organ at Cappel is actually far too large for the small building it is in, and therefore the following audio clips have been recorded with an ambience on the dry side to reflect this.
Mein junges Leben hat ein End. (extracts - Sweelinck) - 3.8 MB/4m 9s (about 1/2 minute from each movement)
The somewhat later music of Buxtehude and his contemporaries is of course also well matched to a Schnitger organ. Do not play this too loud - remember the whole thing was probably working on less than 3 inches of wind when newly built!
Prelude in D major. BuxWV139. (Buxtehude) – 4.57 MB/4m 59s
This simulation has been carefully optimised since it was first developed in 2006, and it now approaches closely the sound of the organ used by Helmut Walcha for his Cappel recordings c. 1950 , sounds which have subsequently changed as a result of the major work done on the pipe organ since then.
From the Orgelbüchlein by J S Bach:
Vom Himmel hoch, da komm' ich her. BWV 606 - 828 kB/53s
Heut' triumphiret Gottes Sohn. BWV 630 - 1.47 MB/1m 36s
Komm, Gott, Schöpfer, heiliger Geist. BWV 631 - 882 KB/56s
Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier. BWV 633 - 1.68 MB/1m 50s
This attempts to demonstrate the purity of Schnitger's beautiful unforced Principals, showing that one can also play Romantic music on his organs!:
Adagio from Sonata no. 1 (Mendelssohn) - 1.64 MB/1m 47s
And some further miscellaneous items:
Adagio in C (William Russell) - 1.98 MB/2m 9s
Adeste Fideles (hymn tune) (attrib. J F Wade) - 883 KB/56s
Canzona in D minor. BWV 588. (extract - Bach) - 2.92 MB/3m 11s
The simulation is quite satisfying to play, if only because it is pleasing to have a mid-17th century Baroque organ available with a typical disposition of the time and whose tonal characteristics are approximately correct.
In spite of their differences, it is easy to trace the path followed in organ design between this instrument and those of Gottfried Silbermann half a century later, which makes Wender’s organ at Arnstadt look rather strange, an intermediate outlier in evolutionary terms. It is little more than a hotch-potch of unison voices with an overlay of mixtures, unlike the magnificent chorus work in the organs of Schnitger and Silbermann.
Selfishly, I love having all these organs under my roof, and simulating them is one of the most interesting things I have ever done. Looking outwards, if I was a music student I would like to be able to go into a practice room and try them all as part of a piece of coursework. If I was a music professor, I would be thankful that all my students could get some slight inkling of what the various schools of organ building can offer without having to take those who could afford it on a trip round Europe (even though that would be by far the best approach).
I have been asked which simulated organ I like best. To my mind the question has little meaning, as it rather depends on the music one wishes to play. With the Cappel, Arnstadt and Fraureuth simulations available it is unsatisfying to play Bach on any other, nor does Franck sound as good on anything but the little Cavaillé-Coll. The HNB organ at Dunster is good for the Anglo-American Romantic repertoire and 20th century music, little of which can be sensibly performed on any of the others except maybe the Hope-Jones instrument. These are only my personal opinions and endless experiment is possible, but the result confirms quite strongly the widely quoted view that playing music on the instruments that were around at the time is invariably the best option. It is satisfying that one can arrive at this position merely by playing a range of simulated organs in one's house. It is an interesting 21st century phenomenon that you now not only have to decide what music to play when you get up in the morning, but what instrument to play it on.
Given this conclusion, one does not stop here. Yet to be tried are simulated organs from the French classical period and Italian ones on which one can play Frescobaldi. I am not particularly interested in old English organs of the 18th century, agreeing with Arthur Wills that they were “a relatively minor, though charming, backwater”  compared to the splendours of other schools of organ building.
Interesting though it has been, all the sounds produced in this study were nevertheless electronic in origin. Electronic organs are not pipe organs and they can only approximate to them. This does not mean one cannot derive pleasure from playing them, but the degree of pleasure depends largely on the player and it will always remain resolutely zero for a few. Although I am not one of those, I do experience limits to the amount of pleasure and value that electronics provides. Therefore the value of the work described here is also constrained within those same limits. However, the fact that a number of fine players have now beaten a path to my door and expressed satisfaction with what they found suggests that there is measurable value nevertheless.
I am grateful to a number of people who have taken an interest in this work and others who have provided information, opinions and assistance. Particular thanks go to Philip Wells for helping to establish the current specification of the Dunster organ, thereby removing the need for me to make a long journey to confirm it myself. Stephen Roberts of the Western Connecticut State University in Danbury and Gottfried Preller, organist at the Bachkirche in Arnstadt, directed me to sources of detailed information concerning the Wender organ there. Orgelbau Hoffmann, who reconstructed the instrument so meticulously in 2000, provided me with Herr Preller's excellent CD recorded on it. Kerr Jamieson's research relating to the Cavaillé-Coll organ at Bellahouston has also been invaluable. However I must make clear that none of these necessarily endorse in any way the approach, outcomes or conclusions of the work described here, nor did I ask them to. These matters are my responsibility alone. Finally I recall with pleasure the many hours spent discussing and playing organs with the late Rev Eric Pratt in the 1980's, whose sound samples recorded at Dunster were used in this study. Formerly an assistant at Carlisle cathedral, he was an excellent and knowledgeable player and would, I think, have had a lot to say about this article!
Notes and References
1. “Digital electronic organs using off-the-shelf technology”, currently on this website, C E Pykett 2005 (read).
2. See http://www.npor.org.uk/. The statement in the text concerning the inaccuracy of entry N05562 of the NPOR was correct at the time of writing (June 2005).
3. “A Dorset Temperament?”, C E Pykett, Organists’ Review, August 2004, p.230. Also available on this website (read).
4. See http://www.npor.org.uk/ NPOR entry H00091.
5. “The Hope-Jones Organ in Pilton Parish Church”, C E Pykett, Organists’ Review, November 1993 p.318. Also available on this website (read).
11. “A Visit to Arnstadt”, S Roberts, 2003, http://www.albany.edu/piporg-l/FS/sr.html
13. As far as I have been able to ascertain, Silbermann's organ at Fraureuth is now tuned close to today's 'concert pitch' where A = 440 Hz. His similar one at Reinhardtsgrimma is tuned close to the upper bound of so-called Chorton pitch, in which the A above middle C has a fundamental frequency in the range 460 to 465 Hz. This is almost one semitone higher than the Fraureuth instrument. Currently, both organs are also quite obviously tuned in equal temperament or something very close to it. This is incompatible with those authors who doggedly maintain that an "historical Silbermann-like tuning system" was introduced in the recent post-Cold War rebuilds in the late 1990's. In fact Silbermann is widely believed to have disliked equal temperament (what he called 'the sharp tuning' because of its grossly sharpened thirds), preferring instead to use a rather brutal form of mean-tone tuning, old fashioned even by the standards of his day, which would have rendered much music unplayable. One only has to listen to these organs today for a few seconds to realise that this tuning is certainly not in use now.
As an outline of the sort of tempestuous history to which these organs have been subjected one need only look at the Reinhardtsgrimma instrument, for which some milestones are as follows. Built in 1729-31, it was converted to equal temperament in 1852 when it was also revoiced. In 1953 the wind pressure was reduced from Silbermann's usual high value of 94 mm wg to 74, with yet another drastic revoicing of necessity to suit the reduced pressure. In 1997 the pressure was returned to 94 mm, the pipes revoiced yet again, and the tuning allegedly meddled with in some unknown manner as mentioned above (even though it still sounds like ET to me!). This sort of history means that every single original pipe in the organ will have been subjected to numerous interventions. Therefore, anyone who still claims that these organs are 'untouched' can only be living on a different planet to myself. Get real!
14. See http://www.npor.org.uk/ NPOR entry D07034. (Accessed June 2005).
16. "The Tonal Structure of Organ Flutes", C E Pykett 2003. Currently on this website (read).
17. Guilmant wrote "On obtient ces accords détachés en mettent et en retirant l'accouplement ou la pedale (sic) des anches du Solo, ou du clavier Bombarde". Eaglefield Hull, the editor of the Schott edition of this Sonate, commendably retained all Guilmant's registration indications including this instruction, but felt it necessary to point out for Anglo-American organists that "where the coupling is effected by a draw stop, an assistant will be necessary to use the stop as indicated".
21. "Gottfried Silbermann's Fluework", C E Pykett 2008. Currently on this website (read).
22. "Hope-Jones's Quintadenas", C E Pykett, 2009. Currently on this website (read).
23. "Voicing Electronic Organs", C E Pykett, 2003. Currently on this website (read).
24. "Physical Modelling in Digital Organs", C E Pykett, 2009. Currently on this website (read).
25. "Digital Techniques to aid Pipe Organ Voicing and Regulation", C E Pykett, 2007. Currently on this website (read).
26. "The Mysteries of Organ Sounds - a journey", C E Pykett, 2011. Currently on this website (read).
(accessed 12 October 2012).
28. "Creating Sample Sets for Digital Organs from Sparse Data", C E Pykett, 2013. Currently on this website (read).
Appendix 1 - an extract from a configuration file
This Appendix should be read in conjunction with the description of the organ system contained in reference . It shows an extract from the user’s configuration file describing the Great department of the Hope-Jones organ at Pilton, together with the comments incorporated in the file. The files are constructed using a simple word processor such as NotePad. A similar file is created for each organ to be simulated, together with its sample set. The sample sets for all the organs are permanently resident in the computer, enabling the system can be configured quickly for a particular instrument merely by specifying which configuration file is to be used.
department specified in the file begins with a header which tells the system
how many stops, couplers, tremulants, etc are present. It also contains
information enabling the keyboard and stop tabs for that department either to be
scanned using the parallel port of the computer, or to send MIDI messages to
it. Whichever option is used, a complete set of dummy information for the
other (unused) option must be provided to satisfy the syntax of the file.
how many stops, couplers, tremulants, etc are present. It also contains information enabling the keyboard and stop tabs for that department either to be scanned using the parallel port of the computer, or to send MIDI messages to it. Whichever option is used, a complete set of dummy information for the other (unused) option must be provided to satisfy the syntax of the file.
The department header is followed by a list of information for each speaking stop, such as which sample set contains it, its volume, its tremulant depth, etc. Each entry below should be self-explanatory from the associated comments, except for the STOPWEIGHT parameter. This is used by an "economiser" algorithm which switches off stops of lesser importance to an ensemble if the polyphony limit of the system is approached, or it combines them with others. Setting all the stop weights to their maximum value of 127, as here, effectively disables the economiser as all the stops are then judged to be of equal importance. This can only be done if there is sufficient synthesiser polyphony available to support the size of the organ being simulated, otherwise the organist might notice missing notes on occasions.
Then follows a set of information specific to each coupler.
Because all of the sample sets for all of the organs are permanently resident, it follows that any stop from any of them can be called up as desired. This means that a wide variety of organs can be simulated at will, merely by writing the appropriate configuration file.
Dept 1: Great Organ header
// Department name
// ID number
for this dept
for this dept
channel for the keys (1-16)
15 // MIDI channel for
the speaking stops (1-16)
14 // MIDI channel for the couplers (1-16)
13 // MIDI channel for
12 // MIDI channel for the
DEPTMIDICHANSWPEDALS 11 // MIDI channel for the departmental swell pedals (1-16)
// number of keys on the keyboard
// MIDI note
number of bottom note
address in scanner array of bottom note
// address in scanner array of top note
DEPTNUMSPKGSTOPS 4 // number of speaking stops in this dept
number of couplers sourced from this dept
// number of Tremulants
in this dept
in this dept
0 // number of departmental
// number of
departmental toe pistons
0 // number
of departmental reversible pistons
DEPTNUMSWPEDALS 0 // number of departmental swell pedals
// Speaking stops :
STOPNAME Rohr_Gedackt_16 // speaking stop
// speaking stop name
// address of stop tab in scanner array
// address of stop tab in scanner array
// volume setting for this stop
// volume setting for this stop
// synthesiser containing the samples for this stop
// synthesiser containing the samples for this stop
// MIDI Bank in the sample set containing this stop
// MIDI Bank in the sample set containing this stop
// MIDI Preset in the sample set containing this stop
// MIDI Preset in the sample set containing this stop
// MIDI Note Number of the bottom note in this Preset
// MIDI Note Number of the bottom note in this Preset
// Tremulant depth (if applicable)
// Tremulant depth (if applicable)
// weight ("importance") of this stop relative to the others - see
// weight ("importance") of this stop relative to the others - see above
COUPLERNAME Octave // coupler name
// address of stop tab in scanner array
COUPLERDESTINATIONDEPT 1 // ID number of the destination department of this coupler
COUPLEROFFSET 12 // note offset eg 12 for octave couplers, -12 for suboctaves, 0 for unisons
// 0 if Unison Off; else 1
// 1 if inputs from other couplers couple
through this one; else 0
COUPLERONDEPTPISTONS 0 //
1 if coupler is operable via the departmental pistons; else 0
COUPLERONGENPISTONS 1 //
1 if coupler operable via the general pistons; else 0