Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 309 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Michael and he writes:
"Hi Vidas, You're very welcome! I very much enjoy your music scores, and I intend to purchase more in the future. Thank you for making them available for purchase! They are all excellent works. I was hoping you and Ausra might consider discussing the following organ history subjects in future podcasts: 1. When was the organ introduced into the Christian liturgy? Where were the first church organs installed (e.g. in which regions of Europe or Western Asia, etc)? How did the earliest organists serve in the context of the liturgy? Were the service-playing responsibilities quite different from that of a parish organist today? What was the medieval (pre-Tridentine) mass like? 2. Historical tunings/temperaments: Pythagorean tuning, Mean-tone temperament, the "well-temperaments," etc. When and were where these tunings were used? 3. Compositional practices/features of organ music prior to 18th century? Who were the key composers in the development of organ music composition from the medieval period to the 17th century? Thank you for your very helpful and informative podcast and blog posts! Most sincerely, Michael"
V: What do you think for starters, Ausra?
A: Well I thought how many dissertations one could defend on these subjects.
V: This is like an outline of at least several organ literature classes and workshops too. Organ literature, organ building, what else? Organ composition probably, history of organ composition. So these are all questions that Michael is very interested and we really appreciate the broadness of these topics.
A: I think we might have to divide them somehow.
V: Obviously it’s impossible to cover even in a detailed manner at least a few of them in one sitting. Even in one sitting it would be impossible to do detailed analysis of one question because for example when Michael asks about how did the earliest organist serve in the context of the liturgy we could talk for hours about that. Or what was the medieval mass like? These are very broad questions. For this conversation what would you like to start with Ausra?
A: Maybe from the beginning.
V: When was the organ introduced into the Christian liturgy? This is a riddle.
A: This is a riddle. I don’t think anybody has solved it yet. But, from what we know now, that organ came to the monasteries first.
V: Remember that book by Peter Williams. He wrote many books but I’m thinking that actually any book that he wrote about the history of the organ would deal with that question because he kind of specializes in that history of the organ art and I think that I read about a gift by the Byzantine emperor to the father of Charles the Great, Pepin the Short was his name, in the year of 767 I think and the history was that he gave a gift of organ, probably positiv organ, and Pepin the Short was so impressed that he asked his monks to dissect how this organ was constructed and build more of them for him.
A: I don’t think that right at the beginning they were used for liturgical purposes.
V: So that’s into the western part of Europe from the Byzantine empire. If we’re talking about ages before that how did organ come into the Christian liturgy in general, let’s say into Byzantine liturgy, we don’t know for sure obviously, but we might guess it was like maybe 1000 years ago.
A: I think naturally because you know Byzantine culture took over classical tradition, Greek and roman empire, so that’s how we inherited the organ in general. But I’m not sure that we used much also organ in the liturgy because look at the Orthodox church now. We don’t use instrumental accompaniment at all or instrumental music in the liturgy. Basically we just sing. Voice is the main instrument.
V: I guess it was introduced into the western tradition more deeply about 1000 years ago and they have a theory that it was because organ represented the harmony of the universe in some way, maybe because each pipe was like a human being and together like in a choir they make harmony, those pipes. It’s a complicated theory.
A: Yes, it is. And in general I think that organ was started to use more often when liturgy needed it because in the early time in Catholic churches too basically Gregorian chant was sung and it didn’t need much instrumental support at that time.
V: Umm-hmm. And I guess when we are talking about early Christian liturgy organ was like more of a signal instrument at first. If you look at paintings or representations of early organs in frescoes, medieval paintings, they are small, they sit on a swallows nest on one column and they are very narrow. I think in that case they didn’t have stop handles. They didn’t have possibility to change organ colors. What was this term called? Blockwerk, right?
A: Yes, it was Blockwerk. And I think in Blockwerk you could not use separate organ stops, everything would sound together. And only in the Renaissance I believe this big discovery or organ mechanic was made where you could have separate stops.
V: So if you play on the medieval organ the sound would be like a big, big organ, principal chorus sound with powerful mixtures up to 25 ranks or something like that.
A: And I think with Blockwerk, especially if it was portable it was used during processionals.
V: Right. Do you remember the story of how organ came into Lithuania?
A: Yes, I remember Ulrich von Jungingen.
V: Grand Master of Teutonic Order.
A: Yes he gave us a present to our Grand Duke Vytautas Magnus' wife. Organ and clavichord too, not only organ.
V: Umm-hmm. Clavichord was a novelty at this time and he gave also a portative organ to Vytautas' wife Ona. And it was usual to exchange gifts. I would presume Vytautas would also give gifts on other occasions when he visited Teutonic order too. But remember it was in the year of 1408, two years before the battle of Grunwald in 1410. In the current territory of Poland joined forces of Poland, Lithuania and other united alliances defeated Teutonic order. So maybe Teutonic Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen was trying to avoid this battle.
A: Probably organ was too small to avoid this big war.
V: Right. And those battles actually were part of the expansion politics of Christianity, at least officially.
A: True, true. But it’s funny because our country was already Christian country by this time. It means that all those wars were just somebody’s cover up for basically expanding the territory and taking of money and treasures.
V: Although they were probably officially declared as crusades but…
A: There were no pagans at that time in Europe anymore so…
V: Umm-hmm. They have little to do with religion literally if were talking about religion expansion of Christianity. More about politics.
A: Yes, not let’s go back to the organ. And I think that’s the end of middle ages and renaissance was sort of a very good period for organ to develop and I think it advanced a lot. But still if you look at different countries I believe that basically reformation, especially Luther’s’ tradition gave the biggest inspiration for organ to develop and expand especially if we’re talking about pedal section because if you would take catholic countries such as Italy or France in the early ages the pedal is very undeveloped.
A: But if you look at Northern Germany, look at those big huge pedal towers. Because Catholics at that time didn’t sing I think altogether. And liturgy was more for clergy and people would just observe things what was happening because everything was in Latin and nobody could understand anything so we could just watch. But in Lutheran tradition people became an important part of liturgy itself and congregational singing began to develop and that’s why we needed these big organs, to support congregational singing.
V: And still today in Lithuania congregational singing is not a very strong part of the worship because of that Catholic tradition of Gregorian chant. OK guys, I hope this was useful to you for closing our conversation I think I might add to Michael that if these questions are interesting to him, what he could do, when he’s reading books about that, obviously our Podcasts cannot be the only source for information on such subjects, right. You have to dig deeper but when you dig deeper, and for everybody who digs deeper I think it’s wonderful to a little bit document your discoveries and maybe do it online in the form of little blog or on social media you could have a public record of your discoveries and also you could leave a trace online for other people to follow when they are interested in these subjects in the future.
A: Yes, I think it would be very helpful for others.
V: I know Michael has SoundCloud channel too so he could do a Podcast like we are doing but maybe more about organ history side about what he is studying with. He could do it in written form as well. Alright, wonderful questions brought topics for discussion in the future and please send us more of your feedback and stories. We love helping you grow. And remember when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.
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Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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