Organ music

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Organ music is music that has been improvised or written specifically for the organ . Organ music can be divided into epochs , analogous to music history . A second distinguishing criterion in addition to the historical classification is that of the organ landscape , since organ music was often written for, or at least inspired by, very specific instruments or types of instruments. A third distinguishing criterion is the difference between sacred and secular organ music.

  • Religious music is considered secular organ music, e.g. B. the ancient organ music on the Hydraulis , the arrangements of dances and secular songs in the time of the Renaissance, which were usually played on house organs , positives and shelves , or the silent film accompaniment on the cinema organ .
  • Sacred organ music is what is played in the context of religious ceremonies or based on religious songs. This includes B. With a few exceptions, the organ music that is played in the context of a Christian worship service ( liturgical organ playing ). In the field of sacred organ music, a differentiation between “chorale-related”, i.e. based on a sacred song, and “free” literature is common.

Organ music, together with organ building , was included in 2014 as one of 27 cultural forms and handicraft techniques in the nationwide directory of intangible cultural heritage in Germany and in December 2017 in the representative list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity .


middle Ages

The music from the Robertsbridge Codex (appendix around 1350) is considered to be the oldest organ music handed down in writing. A few sources date from the late Gothic period, such as the Codex Faenza (around 1420), the organ pieces from the sermon collection from Winsen (1431), the Oldenburg organ tablature by Magister Ludolf Lying (1445) and the tablature by Adam Ileborgh from Stendal (1448). The Buxheim organ book (1460/1470) , which was very extensive for the time, dates from the time of musical upheaval from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance .


In the 16th century already numerous, in published tablature recognized organ pieces. Organ music experienced its first heyday. Well-known representatives of this era are u. a. Arnolt Schlick (~ 1460 ~ 1521), Leonhard Kleber (~ 1495–1537), Hans Kotter (~ 1485–1541), Antonio de Cabezón (1510–1566) and Jacob Paix (1556–1623?). In the Renaissance there was a great deal of secular organ music in addition to sacred organ music. In addition to the church, the organ also had a permanent place in castles and similar properties. Mainly smaller instruments ( house organ , positive , shelf ) were used there. As a result of the Thirty Years' War , sources and organs from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance were lost in Germany to an incomprehensible extent.


Organ music experienced its second climax in the Baroque period . The fully developed, regionally very different organ types at that time led to correspondingly diverse and equally different organ music. Organ music from the Baroque era is still an integral part of many organ concerts today, which also has to do with the fact that many sources from this time, but also a number of organs, have survived to this day.

The most famous composers of baroque organ music were:


Some Bach students such as B. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788) and Johann Ludwig Krebs (1713–1780), but also Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767), as representatives of the Sensitive Style, already hinted at the classical. In contrast, the famous classical composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) or Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) hardly ever composed for the organ, even if the former occasionally played the organ. Christian Heinrich Rinck (1770–1846) stands on the threshold of the classical to the romantic .


With the end of the Baroque period in the middle of the 18th century, interest in the organ decreased significantly. After a long break in classical music, organ music experienced its third climax in the period of romanticism , when symphonic organ music developed alongside the renewed interest in old forms that were combined with the new tonal language. Famous representatives of this era are u. a. Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809–1847), Franz Liszt (1811–1886), Johannes Brahms (1833–1897), Julius Reubke (1834–1858), and Josef Gabriel Rheinberger (1837–1901). On this historical basis, Max Reger (1873–1916) developed his own, late-romantic-expressive organ style that went to the limits of the major-minor tonality. In France, a symphonic style emerged at the same time, founded by César Franck (1822–1890) and Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens (1823–1881). Other famous composers of this style are Charles-Marie Widor (1844–1937) and Alexandre Guilmant (1837–1911).

20th century

In the first half of the 20th century a special neoclassical school ( Siegfried Reda , Johann Nepomuk David ) emerged, on the other hand there was a further development of symphonic music for organ ( Sigfrid Karg-Elert , Louis Vierne , Charles Tournemire , Marcel Dupré , Maurice Duruflé , Jean Langlais ). Composers of dodecaphones ( Arnold Schönberg ) and subsequently serial music ( Olivier Messiaen ) also wrote for the organ. The increased building of organs outside of sacred buildings ( cinema organ , organ in the concert hall) meant that more secular music was played on the organ again. However, with the advent of electromechanical organs, and later electronic organs , most of this new secular organ music has shifted to these instruments.

Experimental elements and new compositional methods have also been used since the second half of the 20th century ( cluster with György Ligeti , graphic notation with Mauricio Kagel ). In addition, elements from older epochs (Gregorian chant, Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque) and genre-independent styles of music (blues, jazz, rock) flow into the organ music. Borrowings from film music can also be observed, although this is not primarily about reviving the old cinema organ tradition.

21st century

The ORGAN² / ASLSP project was started in the 21st century . In addition to the organ's everyday function, composers are also interested in the instrument. Special centers for contemporary organ music are the Martinskirche in Kassel and the St. Peter art station in Cologne . Commissioned compositions for contemporary organ works are regularly awarded there.

to form

Solo organ playing

Lord Jesus Christ, turn to us , Organ Choral BWV 726
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The most artistically significant is the solo organ playing. Since the Baroque, its most important forms have been: Prelude , Toccata , Fantasy , Voluntary , Tiento , Chaconne , Passacaglia , Ricercar , Fugue , Variations , Suite , Sonata , Trio Sonata and Organ Symphony ; The combination of a fugue with a preceding further piece (e.g. prelude, toccata or fantasy) also occurs frequently. These organ pieces are called “free” organ music because they are based on themes freely written by the composer . In addition, there are chorale- related compositions: Gregorian chant or Protestant and Catholic hymns , some of which are also composed in the forms described above. A common form of organ arrangement of a mostly Protestant hymn is the chorale arrangement .

See also: List of Organ Composers


The improvisation is closely associated with the organ. One of the reasons for this is that a musician can create a polyphonic improvisation on the organ alone, i.e. without interacting with other instruments. On the other hand, improvisation is a very good opportunity to get to know the instrument, especially when coming into contact with an organ that is unknown to the musician, without being restricted by sound ideas associated with composed pieces.

Improvisation is extremely important in sacred organ music and an integral part of teaching in every church music education; it is also an integral part of liturgical organ playing in the form of chorale preludes and intonations and arose from the more functional demands on the music in church services .

See also: liturgical organ playing

In secular organ music, improvisation has always been an accompaniment to the organ. An example of this is the background music for silent films on the cinema organ. This almost always involves improvising, whereby the performing musician has to manage this in real time to the running film. Usually this is only possible if the musician already knows the film.

Chamber and orchestral music

The organ in the form described here does not play a major role in chamber music . Smaller organs have been particularly popular as basso continuo instruments since the baroque era . Orchestral music with an organ was initially cultivated in the Baroque period, particularly in Georg Friedrich Handel's organ concerts , more rarely in the Classical period , and then with a large organ occasionally in the Romantic period - in the latter case, in order to give the orchestras, which were increasingly huge towards the end of the 19th century, an even greater variety of timbres and to expand the pitch range into the subcontractive octave (32 'register of the organ).


Jazz is increasingly being played on the church organ , even if this is associated with particular difficulties due to the often reverberant acoustics in church rooms, which often stand in the way of the strongly accentuated playing. Barbara Dennerlein is currently the best-known example of a jazz organist. But also “classical” church musicians use elements of jazz , especially in the liturgical play of new sacred songs , but also in compositions or improvisations.


Current organ music is usually notated with three lines per system. In the upper two lines, the playing on the manuals is usually notated in the treble and bass clef, as is the case with piano notes, and the third line contains the notes for playing the pedal, which are usually notated in the bass clef. For simple chorale movements, notation on two lines is also common (as in piano music). Which tones are then played in the pedal is either not predetermined or easy to recognize, which usually applies to the deepest voice. For organ pieces that are not chorale-related, a two-line notation (as in piano music) often indicates playing without using the pedal. If the lowest voice is to be played in whole or in part on the pedal in such notated pieces, this is often noted accordingly. Caution is advised with baroque organ music in two-line modern notation. Here the impression can arise that the deepest part is to be played on the pedal, since otherwise the piece cannot be played on a modern instrument. In fact, many of these pieces can be played on short octave Baroque organs without using the pedal. With Iberian organ music from the Baroque period, this is the rule with a few exceptions. On modern instruments, the remedy is to attach the pedal without its own register to the manual leading the bass voice and, if necessary, to play the notes of the bass voice on the pedal.


  • Klaus Beckmann: Repertory of organ music: composers, works, editions; 1150-1998; 41 countries; a selection = A bio-bibliographical index of organ music. Schott, Mainz 1999, 2nd, revised. and exp. Ed., ISBN 3-7957-0358-1
  • Rudolf Faber, Philip Hartmann (ed.): Handbook of organ music. Composers, works, interpretation. Bärenreiter, Kassel 2002, ISBN 3-476-01877-6
  • Victor Lukas: Reclam's organ music guide. Reclam, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-15-008880-1
  • Daniela Philippi : New Organ Music. Works and composition techniques from the avant-garde to the pluralistic modern age. Bärenreiter, Kassel etc. 2002, ISBN 3-7618-1587-5
  • Arnfried Edler , in connection with Siegfried Mauser : History of piano and organ music , 3 vols., Laaber 2007, ISBN 978-3-89007-674-4
  • Gotthold Frotscher: History of organ playing and organ compositions , 2 volumes, Merseburger Verlag, Kassel 1966

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: Organ music  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. 27 forms of culture included in the German directory of intangible cultural heritage. Press release. Kultusministerkonferenz, December 12, 2014, archived from the original on July 7, 2015 ; Retrieved December 12, 2014 .
  2. German organ building is a Unesco cultural heritage. Spiegel Online, December 7, 2017, accessed on the same day.
  3. ^ Organ craftsmanship and music. Information on this on the UNESCO website, accessed on December 7, 2017. (English)