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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Mailbag: “Everything Old is...”

January 10, 2012

Dear Michael,

Now I have seen major instruments by some of the best name in the industry being rebuilt. This has not been one or two, but many. What has happened that instruments built in the 60's must now be altered or updated? Have pipes become as replaceable as tubes? Am I missing something here?



You ask an interesting and pointful question. Part of the answer has to do with changing tastes...the engine behind the replacement of so many of the organs of the early 20th century by new ones in the 1960s and 1970s when the 'Baroque' style (as opposed to the previous 'orchestral' style) was more in vogue. Often, instruments of one style were 'adapted' in the direction of another style, though not always successfully. Sometimes well-intentioned changes were poorly accomplished.
Some of the ideas of the mid-century organ reform (brighter, thinner tone) have since been thought to have been over-reactions...the Baroque organ was, more often than not, the anti-romantic organ. The pendulum of taste swings too far, and then 'corrects'. The so-called 'Baroque' organs of the 1955-1975 period followed a neo-Baroque, modernist trend, but were quite different from authentic 17th-18th century Baroque organs (which are providing the basis for numerous modern instruments that recreate the 'authntic' Baroque manner). Meanwhile, the notion of an eclectic organ that can play music from many (or event attempt all) periods and styles is somewhat back in fashion.
Some American instruments with mechanical action from the 19th century are continuing, with some careful repairs, in good stead on into the 21st century. Some organs from the orchestral period, though perhaps requiring some considerable repair of the leather parts in their electro-pneumatic actions, continue to give good service.
As is often the case, where money is available, change happens...where it is not available, history is preserved. The replacement of one organ by another most often is related to ability rather than necessity, though not always.
Do you have some particular subjects in mind?


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