Welcome to The LDS Organist Blog

The purpose of this blog is to help pianists learn to become true organists. Many individuals believe that if you play the piano you can play the organ, but the instruments differ greatly. While this blog is specifically geared towards members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, much of the information shared can be utilized by all. I hope that the information I share here will help you become an effective organist in your ward, stake, or other congregation.

Feel free to browse and search this blog. It was started in January 2010 and while new posts aren't added very often, this blog contains a wealth of information and is a wonderful resource for all organists. If you're a new reader, you can find the first lesson here: Before We Begin: Acquiring the Essentials. Also, please "like" the corresponding facebook page, which is updated more often. A link is provided on the right sidebar, or you can click here.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Lesson 21: The History of the Organ

Click here for lesson 20: Transcribing Piano Music for the Organ

Now that we've covered a lot of the basics, I thought it was probably time for a bit of a history lesson.

In listening to the Sunday Songs, you might have noticed that pipe organs have distinct sounds, depending on when they were built. While the organ dates back quite far, today I'll start with the Renaissance.


When the Renaissance began, organists usually were able to play on a single 8' Principal stop, or the Blockwerk, which included every stop on the organ.


During the late Renaissance and Baroque periods, the organ's sound became more varied with stops such as the krummhorn and the viola da gamba. This is often considered the organ's golden age.

During this time period, different national styles of organ building began to develop. According to Wikipedia:

"In the Netherlands, the organ became a large instrument with several divisions, doubled ranks, and mounted cornets. The organs of northern Germany also had more divisions, and independent pedal divisions became increasingly common. "

"In France, as in Italy and Spain, organs were primarily designed to play alternatim verses rather than accompany congregational singing. The French Classical Organ, became remarkably consistent throughout France over the course of the Baroque era, more so than any other style of organ building in history, and standardized registrations developed."

"English organs evolved from small one- or two-manual instruments into three or more divisions disposed in the French manner with grander reeds and mixtures."


Organ music was seldom written in the Classical era--the organ pretty much skipped the classical period in favor of the piano.


During the Romantic period, the organ became more symphonic. Due to new technologies, it was now possible to build larger organs with more stops, which meant more variation in sound and timbre, and more divisions. The desire for louder, grander organs required that the stops be voiced on a higher wind pressure than before, so Cavaillé-Coll configured the English "Barker lever" that we discussed here.

During this period, organ builders began to use more 8′ and 16′ stops and created a warmer, richer sound. Camille Saint-Saëns and Gustav Mahler used the organ in their orchestral works.

Modern Day

Pipe organ require a lot of space and a huge amount of money in order to be built. Instead, modern electronic organs are often preferred due to their smaller size and lower price tag. Electronic organ builders are constantly striving to make their organs sound as authentic as possible by sampling authentic pipe organs.


Continue practicing the organ as often as you are able so that you continue to retain what you have learned. Feel free to choose another hymn to mark and learn.

Take some time to read up on the history of the pipe organ online. Spend time listening to different online videos of pipe organs. Listen to and enjoy all of the different tonal colors that are out there.

In Conclusion

I am about as far from an expert as you can get when it comes to the history of the organ, but it does fascinate me. One of the reasons I love the organ so much is because of the numerous colors that are available at my fingertips, and because every organ is a new experience.

Continue on to lesson 22.

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