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An organist is a musician who plays the organ. The organ as a pipe organ or (rarely) as a digital sacred organ is mainly used in churches and worship services. There are also organists in the concert area. In light music, e.g. B. in jazz , the term organist usually describes the player of an electronic organ .


In addition to the manual playing known from the piano (often on several manuals), the organist must also be able to play the pedal .

On the one hand, playing the organ requires the interpretation of the musical text and, on the other hand, a selection of the available timbres that is as appropriate to the work as possible (“registration”). It is through this targeted selection of registers that a piece of music played on the organ is given its sound character that is appropriate to the style and work.

In addition to playing literature and improvisation , organist service in the role of church musician also includes basic knowledge of organ building , e.g. B. retuning individual pipes, especially reed registers . Organists must also have knowledge of, among other things, organ music , music theory , liturgy , hymnology and the history of church music .

Organists as church musicians

Historical illustration from 1568

The liturgical organ has a permanent place in worship in many Christian churches . It includes the intonation and accompaniment of the congregation chant, the prelude and postplay according to the character of the respective service and the solo organ literature play during the further course of the service. In a church service, at least in Germany, the role of the organist is often associated with that of the cantor .

Positions for full-time organists are rare in German-speaking countries and can only be found at large and artistically significant churches ( e.g. St. Thomas Church ( Leipzig) , Cologne Cathedral , Paderborn Cathedral , Frauenkirche Dresden , Marienkirche (Lübeck) ). "Cathedral organists" are responsible, together with the cathedral music director, for the musical organization of the services at the cathedral . Organists often give concerts in addition to playing in church services . Full-time organists in the field of Christian churches can occasionally also be found in regional offices or in the service of several neighboring churches.

The organ service is often provided in connection with other tasks (e.g. choir direction , Christian teaching or sexton service ) in order to achieve an adequate income. In smaller parishes, the organist's service is carried out on a part-time basis or on a voluntary basis.

In France and Austria it is not common to combine choir conducting and organ service in larger churches. There is a specially employed musician for each of the two tasks.

Even at weddings, baptisms and funerals, an organist often plays the organ as a soloist, accompanies other musicians and the singing congregation, at the funeral service in the cemetery chapel , often on an electronic instrument or a harmonium .

Concert organists

The distinction between church organists and concert organists is not always clear. Usually it is the same people who take on different tasks. Additional special training as a concert organist is not absolutely necessary. However, the demands placed on the quality of the playing can be significantly higher than that of an organist who, for example, works at a neighboring church. This is why there is a tendency to find musicians in this area who have a higher level of church music education or who have even studied the organ as a purely concert subject. Often you can also find organists without any notable exams, who are active part-time and as a hobby, but in terms of their level of play, they come close to professional concert organists and can therefore also work in the secular area. As early as the Baroque period, organ concerts were held in churches in the Protestant north, primarily for representational and less spiritual purposes. In addition, the repertoire of the individual keyboard instruments did not differ significantly in many areas. In the private domestic space there were, in addition to the other keyboard instruments, many smaller organs as well as stringed keyboard instruments with pedals. Harpsichordists (and harpsichordists) were often virtuoso organists at the same time. In addition to the typical “secular” genres for keyboard instruments ( toccatas , sonatas , contrapuntal forms), there were also religious works (such as chorale variations) that were played outside the church. Improvisation was always of great importance. The organ also plays an important role in interaction with other instruments. Since the advent of the figured bass , the organ has been one of the possible instruments for performing it, for example in early opera. In the 19th century the organ - and with it the organists - found their way into concert halls. There were now compositions in which the organ becomes an independent member of the orchestra or is opposed to it as a soloist. Many large concert halls now have organs that can be heard in solo concerts or in conjunction with orchestras. Today organists perform both in the field of “early music” and in the large concert halls. The literature is therefore extremely diverse.

In jazz, the Hammond organist often also takes on the role of bassist with the help of the pedal .


The term or the title of organist is not protected in Germany, so that anyone who plays the organ can in principle call himself an organist. For a job as an organist that is also secured under labor law, however, two to three years of part-time training for organists on a part-time basis and a minimum of four years of study at a music college for organists in their main occupation are generally required. The corresponding training is usually offered by the churches free of charge or for a low fee , as there is at least a great need for part-time organists. In the case of part-time church training, the D and C exams must be achieved as qualifications, with the C exam placing higher demands on the candidate.

In addition to church training courses, there are also offers at music colleges and universities of applied sciences, as well as organ courses (with or without a certificate). Ultimately, however, it is not the formal requirement of examination regulations that is decisive, especially in the case of part-time service, but the probation in everyday service.

The university education ends with the Bachelor of Music / Master of Music or the Bachelor Church Music B / Master Church Music A (formerly: B-exam or A-exam; the latter also corresponds to a higher level here).

A corresponding course of study is the exception in the jazz sector. The Hammond organ is usually played by trained pianists in a similar way to other keyboard instruments, so sometimes the pedal keyboard is not used.

See also


  • Arnfried Edler : The North Elbian organist. Studies on social status, function and compositional production of a musician profession from the Reformation to the 20th century (= Kieler Schriften zur Musikwissenschaft. Vol. 23). Bärenreiter, Kassel u. a. 1982, ISBN 3-7618-0636-1 (also: Kiel, Univ., Habil.-Schr., 1978).

Web links

Commons : Organist  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Organist  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Keyword organ playing. In: Music in the past and present . Volume 10. Bärenreiter, Kassel, 1997, p. 385 ff.
  2. Archived copy ( memento of the original from January 26, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Example of a training regulation @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  3. - job description of the church musician