In 1950 a pipe organ built to the specifications of Adriaan Fokker (1887–1972) with octaves divided into 31 steps was inaugurated at Teylers Museum in Haarlem. The instrument originally enjoyed considerable fame, and a lively circle of composers and performers developed around it.
Since 1942 Fokker, a physicist who had studied with Einstein, had been occupied almost exclusively with music-theoretical subjects. His interest was particularly captured by the writings of Christiaan Huygens (1629–95), who advocated the adoption of just intonation. This theme became the backbone of nearly all Fokker’s music-theoretical publications.
To turn his theories into sounds, Fokker had a small organ built in 1943. This instrument was the prelude to the realization of his greatest dream: a pipe organ with 31 tones per octave. This instrument was built starting in 1945 in close cooperation between Fokker and the organ builder Bernard J.A. Pels (1921–96).
Then for years the organ was forgotten; it was even dismantled and placed in storage. But since 2009 the instrument sounds again, in the Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ in Amsterdam. And again composers are inspired by the Fokker organ and its intriguing microtonal system.
This according to “Microtonaliteit van het Spaarne naar ’t IJ. Zestig jaar 31-toons orgel” by Cees van der Poel (Het orgel, 107/3  pp. 4–10; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2011-1372).
In 1599 the English organ builder Thomas Dallam personally accompanied to Istanbul an instrument he had built for the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed III at the behest of Queen Elizabeth. The gift was intended to smooth relations in the hope of gaining access to Ottoman caravan routes.
The instrument, which could sound a fanfare, chime the hours, and play several pieces by itself due to controlled wind release, delighted the Sultan, who declared a festive occasion with amnesty for over 300 prisoners.
Dallam himself made a highly favorable impression, and was offered many luxuries in exchange for staying in Istanbul. He respectfully declined, however, citing his responsibilities toward his family. Dallam’s success assured his prosperity back home, and soon the trade routes to India were opened to the British.
Capable of producing sounds beyond the range of human hearing, the pipe organ presents the ultimate challenge for sound recording. The first known attempt was the Columbia Records recordings of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir from late August and early September 1910, which included two organ solos played by John J. McClellan.
Probably the very first pipe organ recording was a test made on 30 August 1910, with McClellan playing Wagner’s Tannhäuser overture. Two enormous acoustic recording horns, five feet long and two feet wide, were suspended on a rope strung across the Tabernacle. Although the engineer deemed the recordings successful, apparently they were never approved for release.
This according to “The first recordings of organ music ever made” by John W. Landon (Theatre organ: Journal of the American Theatre Organ Society LIII/4 [July–August 2011] pp. 22–28). Above, the Mormon Tabernacle organ as it appeared at the time of the recording (two 15-foot wings were added in 1915).
The heyday of the mortuary pipe organ was the 1920s and 1930s; only a few have been built since World War II. A uniquely American product, the instrument’s characteristics departed significantly from those of the conventional church organ, despite its quasi-liturgical setting and function.
U.S. organ builders, long known for their innovations, met the stringent tonal, space, and cost requirements of funeral homes, cemetery chapels, and mausoleums so successfully that their instruments displaced the reed organ and piano. Over 600 mortuary organs were sold during this period, contributing significantly to the industry’s survival during the Great Depression.
The long-lost pipe organ that belonged to the steamship Britannic, the sister ship of the Titanic, was identified in the collection of the Museum für Musikautomaten in Seewen, Switzerland, when restorers in 2007 discovered the inscription Britanik engraved on each beam under the instrument’s windchests.
After the outbreak of World War I in 1914 the British Admiralty requisitioned all large passenger ships as troop transports or hospital ships, so the Britannic was never outfitted for transocean luxury traffic. Around 1920 the organ, built around 1913 by M. Welte & Söhne, was installed in the villa of the camera manufacturer and designer August Nagel (1882–1943) in Stuttgart; around 1935 he returned it to the manufacturer for unknown reasons. In 1937 it was moved to the reception room of the Radium electric light company in Wipperfürth, where it remained in use until the 1960s.
When the Wipperfürth reception room was turned into a storeroom, the organ was offered for sale but attracted no buyers. Eventually it came to the attention of Heinrich Weiss, the founder of the Museum für Musikautomaten, who quickly acquired it for his collection; the instrument was completed and reinaugurated there On 30 May 1970, but its identity and history remained unknown for decades.
In 1909 John Wanamaker bought the instrument for his new emporium. Thirteen freight cars were required to ship it, and installation took two years. The Grand Organ was first heard in the seven-story atrium on 22 June 1911; later that year it was prominently featured when President William Howard Taft dedicated the store. During the following 20 years it was continuously enlarged under the direction of William Boone Fleming.
Daily recitals by store employees provided a harmonious environment for shopping, and special performances, such as annual Christmas concerts, provided outreach to the community. Today the store is owned by Macy’s, and the traditions continue.
This according to “The Grand Court organ” by Ralph Blakely (The musical times CXXX/ 1761 [November 1989] pp. 703–707). Below, Virgil Fox discusses and performs on the organ.
Organ is published in Russian with a collective summary in English; it is edited by the musicologist, organist, and pedagogue Evgeniâ Krivickaâ. Introducing instruments from around the world with specifications and photographs, and providing interviews and reports on organ events, the journal addresses a wide range of readers, from organists and organ builders to students and teachers, and everyone interested in organ music.
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Articles in the first issue include a discussion of pedaling in Frescobaldi’s organ works, a study of organs in the Cattedrale di Mantova during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and an exploration of nineteenth-century organ case aesthetics.
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