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Thread: A question or two about the organ.

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    Default A question or two about the organ.

    I suppose today the air for the pipe organ is supplied by some sort of electro-mechanic pump? How was it in the olden days like in the time of Johann Sebastian Bach? Did they have some sort of a chain gang in the basement of the church walking around in circles churning a giant mill or how else did they supply the air?

    and how do you classify the organ. Is it a keyboard instrument? if so that doesn't make any sense because its air being piped into the pipes sort of something like a flute so shouldn't it be a woodwind?

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Believe in Bach's day the air pressure came from bellows pumped up and down by local boys. There was an organ operated by water power (like a mill) in ancient Rome. Maybe others since, because it makes a lot of sense.

    I've always seen the organ as a keyboard instrument; it's included in what Bach meant when he wrote "clavier." Calling it a woodwind would be something like calling a piano a stringed instrument because the sound is made by strings.
    Last edited by KenOC; Dec-14-2012 at 22:54.


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    Senior Member Lunasong's Avatar
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    from Wiki:
    Playing the organ before electricity required at least one person to operate the bellows. When signaled by the organist, a calcant would operate a set of bellows, supplying the organ with air. Because calcants were expensive, organists would usually practice on other instruments such as the clavichord or harpsichord. By the mid-19th century bellows were also being operated by water engine, steam engines or gasoline engines. Starting in the 1860s bellows were gradually replaced by wind turbines which were later directly connected to electrical motors. This made it possible for organists to practice regularly on the organ. Most organs, both new and historic, have electric blowers, although others can still be operated manually. The wind supplied is stored in one or more regulators to maintain a constant pressure in the windchests until the action allows it to flow into the pipes.
    "To be a musician is a curse. To NOT be one is even worse." Jack Daney

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    Senior Member PetrB's Avatar
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    The organ is a keyboard operated wind instrument, you are correct, and it is an oddity in that regard: its relatives, harmonium, accordions with keyboards, fall in the same slot.

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    These are very good answers. If you have access to recordings such as The Golden Age of the Organ (where E. Power Biggs plays North German and Dutch organs of Bach's time and earlier), you will notice that some of those organs were quite large. Those might require the services of more than one person to pump. Naturally, this meant that the wind supply had to be used very efficiently, and the German organ builders used many ranks of Mixtures, thus building the ensemble vertically, to fill large buildings with sound. The French organ builders of the same period used several ranks of brilliantly voiced Trompettes (Trumpets that landed in France) in addition to mixtures to fill large spaces without using too much wind. Once electric (or before that water powered blowers) became available, higher wind pressure and the use of more unison tone, thus adding a horizontal element to the ensemble, became possible. Unfortunately, this was taken too far resulting in many organs in the 1920s and 1930s which had far too much unison tone and not enough upper pitches to balance; as a result, many of those organs are described as sounding "tubby." Builders today seem to have found a middle ground, resulting in a good balance between warmth and brightness. Long may this happy medium continue.

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