Organ reform movement

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The Organ Reform Movement or Orgelbewegung (also called the Organ Revival Movement) was a mid-20th-century trend in pipe organ building, originating in Germany. It was influential in the United States in the 1930s through 1970s, and began to wane in the 1980s. It arose with early interest in historical performance and was strongly influenced by, among others, Albert Schweitzer's championing of historical instruments by Gottfried Silbermann and others, as well as by Schweitzer's declaration that the criterion for judging an organ is its fitness to play the polyphonic Baroque music of J. S. Bach. Concert organist E. Power Biggs was a leading popularizer of the movement in the United States, through his many recordings and radio broadcasts. The movement ultimately went beyond the "Neo-Baroque" copying of old instruments to endorse a new philosophy of organ building, "more Neo than Baroque".[1][2][3]


Holtkamp Organ #1,939 (1978–2015) at University of Notre Dame

The Organ Reform Movement sought to turn away from many of the perceived excesses of Romantic or Symphonic organ building and repertoire, in favor of organs understood to be more similar to those of the Baroque Era in Northern Germany, especially those built by Arp Schnitger. This took the form of a "vertical" style of registration in which ensembles were ideally built up with no pitch being duplicated in the same octave, and then the ensembles were crowned with high-pitched mixture stops. The movement endorsed the so-called Werkprinzip, in which each division of the instrument was based on a principal-scale rank of a different octave.[1]

Organ voicers strove for an articulate pipe speech characterized by "chiff", and avoided nicking and other means of achieving "smoothness". Low wind pressures were revived. Casework was sometimes eschewed in favor of open standing pipework, and swell boxes became less common.[2]

In Europe the movement was indelibly connected with tracker action (mechanical instruments). In North America this was not the case, and many instruments characteristic of the Organ Reform Movement had electric action.[1]

Some of the leading organ-builders of the movement were:[1]


A common criticism of the Organ Reform Movement was that its principles could be more dogmatic than musical.[5] Some of the alterations that the movement executed on pre-movement instruments have since been reversed to support a wider range of repertoire, such as on the notable pipe organs of Auckland Town Hall,[6] Princeton University Chapel,[7] and Chicago's Rockefeller Chapel.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d Phelps, Lawrence I. (Spring 1967). "A Short History of the Organ Revival". Church Music (Concordia) 67 (1). Retrieved 1 July 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Ambrosino, Jonathan (Spring 1999). "Present Imperfect". The Tracker (Organ Historical Society) 43 (2). Retrieved 23 April 2015. 
  3. ^ Owen, Barbara (1987). "Rosales Opus 11: The Trinity Cathedral Organ". Trinity Episcopal Cathedral (Portland, Oregon). Retrieved 23 May 2016. 
  4. ^ "The Schlicker Organ Company". Retrieved 9 September 2015. 
  5. ^ Hendrickson, Charles (1976). "Nicking". The American Organist (American Guild of Organists) 10. Archived from the original on August 28, 2008. Retrieved 9 September 2015. 
  6. ^ "Restored Auckland Town Hall organ ready to sing". City Scene (Auckland City Council). 7 March 2010. p. 1. 
  7. ^ "Princeton University Chapel". Mander Organs. Retrieved 18 April 2015. 
  8. ^ Gerber, James (May 2012). Ernest M. Skinner and the American Symphonic Organ (PDF) (D.M.A. thesis). Arizona State University. Retrieved 12 November 2015.