English Summary PhD-thesis


English Summary PhD-thesis

One of the essential tools for influencing the sound of an organ is the choice of the temperament. Accordingly, musical temperament has, for centuries, been treated recurrently and extensively in the literature.

Since the organ reform movement (Orgelbewegung) of the early 20th century, the most significant influence on modern organ building and performance has been the North German organ building tradition of the 17th and 18th centuries, as represented by builders such as Gottfried Fritzsche and Arp Schnitger, who were active even outside their own region. This period coincides with essential discussions about various kinds of organ temperament. By influencing the temperaments that organ builders used, theoreticians aimed to bring organ building practice in line with current musical taste, especially regarding the changed use of tonality. But while many printed sources from the 17th and 18th centuries discuss the theoretical background, they scarcely ever mention any practical application of non-meantone temperaments in either old or new organs. In consequence, this study will generally not consider the various theoretical temperaments, which have received ample attention elsewhere.

Preserved historical organs have generally been altered too much to reveal how they once were tempered. It is, therefore, of fundamental importance to establish which temperaments were in fact used, which developments took place (or did not take place), and how organ temperaments met (or failed to meet) the demands of contemporary musical practice.

This study begins with three introductory technical chapters, which contain text annotations, a preface, and an introduction divided into "Questions" and "Methods."

The discussion proper begins in Chapter 4, "Temperament, pitch and keyboard compass on and around the North Sea coast." The chapter is essentially a collection of facts together with commentary, more or less extensive, as the material requires. The material presented consists mainly of modern source studies and monographs about organ building in the areas in question. The order of the presentation is geographical, moving along the North German coast and including the hanseatic cities of Bremen and Hamburg. The information is complemented with occasional references from the North German inland and from the former Northeast German regions.

This material has, by virtue of the added commentary, a significant value of its own, but it will also be used as a reference in the following chapters. Material dealing with pitch and keyboard compass is also included here, since both have frequently been discussed in connection with temperament issues. These fields have at times considered to be connected causally. The plausibility of this idea will, in the following chapters, be discussed against the background of the historical documents.

Tuning an organ was mainly a practical matter of a craftsman’s circumstances and requirements. These are discussed in Chapter 5, "The tuning process: its technique and duration." Tuning technique depends on the positions of the pipes and the pipe material; it is discussed here together with an account of the various tuning devices and tools. External circumstances, such as pitch deviations due to temperature changes in the unheated rooms of the 17th and 18th centuries, greatly influenced the duration of the tuning session, and could be just as cumbersome as an unstable wind supply (or even just a 'living' one). To alter an organ from one temperament to another implies, as a rule, substantial mechanical intervention. Many pipes must be shortened and re-voiced. The duration of any proposed re-tempering would to a large degree depend on the exact makeups of both the starting temperament and the desired new temperament.

This duration can often be deduced from the payments to the bellows treaders. Their work during a tuning session was generally not part of their ordinary duties, so they received additional payments. The tuning sessions at the organs of the Marienkirche in Lübeck during the 17th and 18th centuries are very well documented. The appendix (section 11.1) presents the tuning-related entries in the accounts of the Marienkirche between 1622 and 1707 in full transcription. A careful analysis of these entries can be found in section 5.2. The evidence indicates that a re-tempering of the organs (which were used by Tunder and Buxtehude) cannot be assumed. The full significance of this fact is explored in Chapter 8.

The focus shifts to the Netherlands in Chapter 6, "A case study: tuning and temperament at the Hagerbeer/Schnitger organ of the Grote Sint Laurenskerk in Alkmaar." This chapter depicts the rebuilding of a large city organ, carried out in 1723–1725 by Arp Schnitger’s son Frans Caspar Schnitger, which inspired criticism from some Dutch organists. Both, the organist in residence, Gerhardus Havingha, who favoured the changes, and the opponents published extensively about their opinions during 1727. They agreed on almost nothing except for the advisable (and eventual) temperament of the organ: a meantone temperament with pure thirds. Even after the rebuilding, the organ retained this temperament, which can be considered to be the Dutch standard until the second half of the 18th century.

An important element in the contemporary accounts of the Alkmaar 'Orgelstreit' is the repeatedly stated connection between the temperament question and the usefulness of the organ when playing together with other instruments. The problem arose because of the variety of pitches in simultaneous use in North Germany and the Netherlands. If an organ did not correspond to the local pitch used by other instruments, the necessary transposing in ensemble playing was bound to cause conflicts. The Alkmaar opponents cited an example: when building his large organ for Zwolle a few years earlier, Frans Caspar Schnitger had tried to solve a similar problem by using a modified meantone temperament, but this had been criticized by the organists who inspected the organ. Since the Alkmaar organist Havingha (who was, as mentioned, an advocate of the reconstruction) had also been involved in the Zwolle dealings, it was feared that Schnitger would try a similar solution in Alkmaar (this fear turned out to be groundless). The conflicts between temperament and ensemble playing in Zwolle and Alkmaar highlight the position of the organ in musical practice.

Earlier in the 17th century the Alkmaar organ had been supplied with so-called sub-semitones. This particular feature and its spread in North Germany are discussed in Chapter 7, "Sub-semitones in North Germany and neighbouring regions." Sub-semitones are extra keys that are added to the normal 12-note octave to expand the tonal possibilities allowed by a given temperament. Sub-semitones were used chiefly in Germany and Italy between the middle of the 15th century and the end of the 18th century. In Germany, the organ builder Gottfried Fritzsche used them for the first time in 1611 in the palace chapel organ of the influential Lutheran Dresden Residence. This happened at a time when meantone temperament was the general rule, and indeed, the presence of the sub-semitones is a certain indication that Fritzsche’s organ was tuned in meantone. Fritzsche and his successors built organs with up to 16 notes per octave in, for example, the North German musical centres of Hamburg, Braunschweig, Wolfenbüttel, and Lübeck. Influential musicians and music writers like Michael Praetorius encouraged this trend, which gave the organs a larger supply of tones when used together with other instruments or singers. Again, this had to do with the various existing pitches of the organ and some instruments on one side, and singers, string instruments, and some other instruments on the other side. Remarkably, such organs can not safely be connected with contemporary keyboard compositions. A special interest in the use of sub-semitones on the part of composers cannot be established.

The end of the use of sub-semitones is apparently linked to changing tonal demands on ensemble music. The trend towards a tonal system with major and minor modes with its more complex harmonic structures made the use of sub-semitones less and less practical, even if, towards the end of the 18th century, some voices still mourned the passing of the old system.

Chapter 7 ends with a chronological summary and an annotated catalogue of 22 organs with sub-semitones, built either in North Germany, by North German builders, or by builders who were influential in North Germany.

Chapter 8 is titled "Organ building in the large hanseatic cities." Since we know that even in Hamburg and Lübeck, Fritzsche and his journeymen built sub-semitones into their organs, we can deduce that these organs were tuned in meantone at that time. For Hamburg we even have printed sources that describe a pure-third meantone temperament for all the organs, including the ones by Schnitger, up to 1730. In Bremen, too, meantone temperament is documented for the 1698 organ of the Bremer Dom.

In modern times, various hypotheses about a modified meantone—or later a well temperament—for the organs in the large Hanseatic cities came into being, in spite of written documentation and other indications suggesting that meantone temperament was used. Such hypotheses explained the existence of compositions by important organists, such as Tunder and Buxtehude in Lübeck, or Vincent Lübeck in Hamburg, which exceeded the scope of meantone temperament. For support, these hypotheses cited contemporary writings on the theory of temperaments.

A review of the material in the light of musical practice, however, shows an astonishingly clear picture: the demonstrable and probable temperaments of the organs did not allow for the performance of these compositions. Even the compasses of the important organs did not match the requirements of the pieces. Until now, surviving compositions have often been used to judge the original state of an organ, but there is a flaw in this logic. Strictly speaking, a specific piece should only be used to judge the original state of an organ if a performance of that piece on the organ in question can be independently established (problems related to providing positive proof of performances of organ repertoire are dealt with in Chapter 10).

Of fundamental importance to modern thinking on this issue has been the supposition of close ties between Buxtehude, the organ builder Arp Schnitger, and Andreas Werckmeister. The proposed ties have been taken to indicate that the composer Buxtehude and the organ builder Schnitger approved of the well-tempered models and had applied them in their organs. In fact, closer investigation shows that the connections were not as close as has been supposed; that neither Schnitger nor Buxtehude made any remark in connection with Werckmeister; and that Werckmeister did not, in promoting his ideas, use Schnitger or Buxtehude as references.

These hypotheses, therefore, have no foundation in the history of organ building and must hence be rejected.

The previous chapters have demonstrated the close connection between organ temperament and ensemble intonation in musical practice. Additionally, Chapter 8 has shown that at least part of the compositional production of important organists could not be performed on these organists’ own organs, or on most other organs of the same period. Chapter 9, "Ensemble intonation and organ temperament," shows how important authors on temperament questions connected their findings not with the performance of music specifically written for keyboard instruments, but rather with ensemble intonation. The discussion of the Alkmaar “Orgelstreit” in Chapter 6, for example, shed already some light on this connection.

In Chapter 9, the organ’s function as an ensemble instrument is investigated. The pure intonation of all the intervals, requested by 17th and 18th authors, could not be achieved on the organ, where the best one could do was keep the number of tempered intervals to a minimum.

If the history of the organ is seen from the perspective of ensemble intonation, a multifaceted picture emerges. Pythagorean temperament suited the ensemble intonation best, as long as ensembles consisted of two or three voices, with the tenor as the basis for ensemble intonation. When, in the 15th century, four voices became common, an increased use of thirds was inevitable. On the other hand, an increased use of thirds impairs the stability of the intonation. One consequence was the emergence of the bass foundation of the continuo, which served as a support for intonation. Until this point, the organ could keep up with the developments, and meantone-tempered organs did provide ensemble intonation with optimal interval quality.

From about the middle of the 17th century, however, tonal developments in ensemble music made the organ less and less compatible with pure ensemble intonation: the tonally limited meantone temperament left little room for distant keys (and these were often exactly the ones required, precisely because of the combined problems of pitch and transposition). On the other hand, neither the ever-expanding group of well temperaments, nor the even more frequently requested equal temperament, delivered the required pure intervals. As a consequence of this insoluble problem, the organ as a continuo instrument was gradually abandoned after about 1750.

Chapter 9 ends with a survey of various known temperaments and temperaments, evaluating them with regard to their usefulness in supporting intonation. It turns out that none of the well-tempered systems is preferable to another. In practice, the particular nature of a circular organ temperament has no importance for ensemble accompaniment. The contemporary tutors for string instruments, woodwind instruments, and singers make clear that temperament did not apply to the musicians of an ensemble: they were always to intonate as purely as possible. Hence, of necessity, in an ensemble accompanied by a well-tempered keyboard instrument, at least two systems of intonation will sound simultaneously. The situation can most appropriately be compared to an organ plenum: while an organ is tuned in one basic temperament, the mutation and mixture stops are all tuned in pure octaves, fifths, or major thirds above the fundamental note. Also here the organ resembles an ensemble.

Chapter 10, "Outlook: Organ Repertoire, Improvisation, and Ensemble Intonation," deals with the function of the organ, the tasks of the organist, and repertoire playing. The material presented in the previous chapters has clarified why the meantone temperament with pure thirds survived so long in North Germany. In a few cases we even know about protests against the first re-tuning projects, which in fact came from the organists of large town churches. For playing in the services, meantone temperament was usually sufficient. The problems arose mainly during ensemble playing.

What then was the place of the repertoire? In fact, no single performance of what we today would call organ repertoire can be documented until around the middle of the 18th century. Werckmeister, of all people, in his Harmonologia Musica (1702; the dedication is by Buxtehude), rejects the playing of the so-called organ repertoire in public performances. Indeed, he was only one of many who explained that composed music should be used for study only. The training of organists, however, often did not take place on organs, but rather on stringed pedal instruments such as the pedal clavichord. The aim was not the development of interpretative skills, and a subsequent rendering of a ‘work’ at the organ, but rather the development of the skill to improvise in complex contrapuntal idioms – the skill to compose at the instrument.

The evidence from various sources from the 17th and 18th centuries can be summarized as follows: compositions were either not played at all on the organ, or at least, this would not have been regarded as professional or preferable. Until about 1750, professional organists did not perform their own or other composer’s compositions on the organ. The playing of repertoire thus being irrelevant, it would not have mattered very much whether an organ had a compass or temperament that did not allow for performing a particular piece. In other words: the compositions do not indicate “physical” features of the organs at a certain point in history.

The picture that finally emerges invites us to pose old questions anew, and adds a number of new ones:

How much do we know about the training of organists?

When were organs played or supposed to be played at all?

How much of a performance was actually improvisation? Which performances of genuine organ pieces can be proven?

How common were stringed keyboard instruments, with or without a pedal, in organists’ households? Which compasses were common in such instruments, and did they perhaps accommodate compasses in the pieces, which were not available in the organs?

Can the technical state of the organs—if known—help at all to establish a chronology of the works of important organists?

What is the meaning of the registration indications in the sources? Are these true instructions, or rather indications as to the appropriate choice of registers when improvising in a similar genre?

How are historical organs to be restored? Is it legitimate, based on current interpretations of a selected group of compositions, to tune them in temperaments that are proven, or assumed, to be irrelevant for any point in the organ’s history?

I do not intend to reject the current practice of repertoire performance. I do, however, want to draw attention to the fact that the various recognizable historical circumstances and the use of the organ then and now need not necessarily coincide; they need not even be compatible with each other. Today’s performances of historical “organ compositions” represent a legitimate practice with its own history. In the pedagogical context of the 17th or 18th centuries these pieces have a completely different function.

The connection between ensemble intonation and organ temperaments has in modern times not merely been underestimated. Rather, it has been largely disregarded. Perhaps our present knowledge about performance practice and our accustomed habits have sometimes hampered our will to go to the bottom of the relationship between organ playing, the compositions, organ temperament, and ensemble music – or to see where these elements did not belong together. In fact, until now, historical performance practice for organs has perhaps been more like historical interpretation practice, to show how historical compositions can be performed on organs today. The relationship of organ temperament to almost all aspects of musical practice, however, makes it a key element of historical performance practice whenever ensemble playing is discussed.

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