Early History of the Pipe Organ

1606 Words Sep 26th, 1999 7 Pages
Early History of the Pipe Organ

The "king of instruments" has a long history, one which can arguably be traced to the concept of a collection of "fixed-pitched pipes blown by a single player
(such as the panpipes)" (Randel 583). The first examples of pipe organs with the basic features of today can be traced to the third century B.C.E. in the
Greco-Roman arena; it is said to have been invented by Ktesibios of Alexander and contained "a mechanism to supply air under pressure, a wind-chest to store and distribute it, keys and valves to admit wind to the pipes, and one or more graded sets of fixed-pitch pipes." (Randel 583) These early organs used water as a means to supply air-pressure, hence the use of the terms hydraulic and
hydraulis.
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By "adding" a stop to a manual, one could then play, in unison, two or more sets of ranks simultaneously. These stops included new types of pipes created by the Germans which provided varying sounds, including those that mimicked the viol family, reed stops (trumpet, posaune, shalm, vox-humana, etc.), closed pipes adding a much softer and deeper sound and smaller pipes which produced more penetrating sounds. There was also the mixture stop, which originated (we think) in the twelfth century when one or two pipes were added to a key, usually tuned to a fifth and octave or third and tenth; it is also speculated that this practice helped spark harmony in music composition. (Hopkins & Rimbault 36-8) During this time the pedal began receiving its own set of stops separate from those of the other manuals.

At this point in the organ's history, development was fairly uniform throughout
Europe due mainly to the unrestricted travel of organ builders and musicians whose input would influence foreign builders. The uniformity of the Catholic church also helped perpetuate the use of similar organs throughout Europe. This trend of consistent organ building began to decline during the Reformation and
Counter-Reformation, both leading toward more political and national boundaries being enforced, which increased the difficulty of unrestricted travel. Now we begin to see trends and different regional styles of construction,
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