Prospectus (organ)

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Draft for a baroque organ prospect from the workshop of Johann Georg Dirr

The term prospectus ( the , Austrian also the prospectus ; derived from the Latin prospectus = sight) describes the external appearance of an organ .


The organ is the only musical instrument for which in some respects there are no fixed construction and dimensions. This applies in particular to the organ prospectus, i.e. the front side of the organ. In some cases the prospectus reveals a lot about the sound structure of the organ through its design and structure, in other cases the prospectus is a facade designed purely according to artistic standards. When creating a prospectus, various criteria must be taken into account, such as fitting into the existing architectural overall picture, the spatial conditions of the installation site, the optimal musical development and other, individual criteria.

In the prospectus of an organ there can be a different number of organ pipes compared to the total number of all pipes . However, these are by far not all pipes that an organ has, but in almost all cases only a small fraction of the actual pipe inventory. As a rule, the prospect pipes come from the principal registers of the individual parts of an organ. In contrast to other registers of the same design and similar sound, only these registers are sometimes called prefix in the German-speaking area (from Latin praestare - to project).

The arrangement of the pipes is almost always divided into several similar, often different in size, pipe graduations or groupings.

In many cases, the prospectus is designed symmetrically to give the organ a uniform appearance. The length and diameter of the pipes used are, however, very different depending on the pitch they produce; these deviations can also be seen in the prospectus. In a classic, mirror-inverted prospectus, the pipes on the so-called C sharp side (in contrast to the C side) are often slightly shorter than their counterparts on the other side of the prospectus. In other cases, pipes with excess length are used (which is irrelevant for the pitch, since the fine-tuning of the pitch is done differently) to visually compensate for these differences.

Freiberg Old Elisabeth wooden organ LvT.JPG
Freiberg Old Elisabeth wooden organ detail LvT.JPG

Organ prospectus with silent wood "whistle"

Usually labial pipes made of organ metal are placed in the prospectus , but there are also organs in which wooden pipes were deliberately used in the prospectus , and reed pipes are rarely placed in the prospectus. In addition to pipes that produce sound, a prospectus can also contain non-sounding pipes (silent pipes, blind pipes) for design reasons .

In the case of electronic organs , the loudspeaker system can, for optical reasons, be installed in a silent prospectus based on the appearance of pipe organs.

An occasional, special sculptural design of the prospectus or its illustration is the blind prospectus (dummy, blendergel, organ cover) , behind which there is no organ and which was usually built in addition to the actual organ. It was executed in the style of illusion painting or was built as a decorative mock organ or as a blind prospect, behind which there is no organ.

Sometimes organs - especially in concert halls - deliberately do not have a prospectus. In this case, the organ is set up invisibly behind a sound-permeable wall or above the ceiling.

Even if an organ consists of several cases in which the various works are housed, there is only a singular mention of a prospectus. There are only a few double organs that have two different faces. In southern Europe, organs on a rood screen or a free-standing gallery sometimes have two prospects, one facing the nave and one facing the choir .


Only earlier and smallest organs of antiquity needed and had no prospectus. Even the earliest organs usually had a case with a few pipes from the entire pipework in the front. However, the brochures differ considerably from epoch to epoch.

The epochs of the brochures used here are not based on those of the visual arts , but on the musical epochs , although even these only partially apply to organ building for the post-classicism period.


At the beginning of the history of organ building, the organ case originally served primarily to protect the precious instruments. Ornaments were based on the architectural style of the time. The often existing double doors had several functions. On the one hand, like the rest of the case, they served to protect the “inner workings” of the organ. On the other hand, the organs that were mostly in block form at that time (no registers could yet be selected individually) were generally quieter and had fewer overtones when played with the doors closed. In addition, the doors were closed on Holy Week to symbolize the silence of the organ (and the bells). The lowest row of pipes in the blockwork was usually chosen as the prospect pipe. This circumstance led to the voting decision (splitting of the block work into individual registers) to the name "Prestant" or "Principal" for the register in the prospectus.


The design of the organ case is based on the furniture of the time. The basic elements are boxes lined up symmetrically with decorations such as battlements. Organ cases of the early Renaissance, like their Gothic predecessors, were often equipped with double doors in order to be able to play quieter and with fewer overtones when the doors were closed. The prospect pipes are usually arranged as rising or falling flat fields . They always come from the largest principal register of the respective sub-work and often contain all the pipes of this register. During the Renaissance the development began to attach such importance to the organ case with its sculptures, ornamental carvings , paintings and gilding that its production costs often exceeded those of the actual organ work.

Even by the standards of those days, organs that were very large were only medium-sized organ works by today's standards. In order to still be able to fill the sometimes quite large church buildings with satisfactory sound, the organs often found their place in the form of a swallow's nest organ on the side wall or in the end walls of the side aisles and occasionally merged optically with the loft-like substructure (for example St. Marien, Lemgo ). Only a few instruments have been preserved in their original form; most of the brochures from this period contain later new buildings that are themselves historical again, such as in St-Ouen (Rouen).


In the Baroque period , the structure of the organ was often reflected in the prospectus (cf. Hamburg prospectus ); the structure of the prospectus shows how many parts (manuals and pedal) an organ has. The baroque prospectus building is characterized by a strict symmetry . The design differed greatly from region to region: North German Hanseatic cities, for example, could afford large organ works and thus also large and elaborate brochures in which an open 16-foot principal register can very often be found in full. In southern Germany, 16 'principals were less common in the prospectus. Baroque prospectuses were often very splendidly decorated with figures making music, angels, many gold strips, gilded veil boards , columns, ornaments, in southern Germany they were painted as marble or even covered with stucco marble. Depending on the region, the financial situation of the community and denomination, there were also quite simple brochures. In some regions the wood was only painted in one color, in Protestant Reformed churches the prospectus and the rest of the interior furnishings were kept simple.

Until about the 19th century, the prospectus was not created by the organ builder, but by an art carpenter , which sometimes led to considerable difficulties if the agreements (especially regarding the dimensions) were not precise enough.

The prospect pipes were initially arranged primarily in round and pointed towers as well as flat fields. In the late baroque, the structure - also depending on the organ builder and region - became less detailed, and curved pipe fields and curved shapes emerged, as is typical for Silbermann organs, for example . In northern Germany (and especially in the early and high baroque periods) a Rückpositiv , a part of the work that the organist had behind him, was very popular. In addition to certain sonic advantages, a Rückpositiv required a complicated mechanism (in some cases the stops of this part of the work are therefore located directly in the Rückpositiv case, i.e. in the back of the organist), and the organist can neither see the pastor nor the community nor be seen at concerts. In southern Germany and Saxony, a Rückpositiv was generally seldom realized, from the late baroque period onwards this trend generally caught on. On the Iberian Peninsula, the prospectus is characterized by the long-bowl horizontal whistles ( Spanish trumpets ).

Due to their size alone, the organs almost always found their place of installation in the west gallery during the baroque period. Nevertheless, from an architectural point of view, they were usually an additional piece of equipment of their own value. Organs whose appearance also adapts to the given room conditions - such as in Weingarten Abbey - were the absolute exception.


In contrast to previous eras, around 1750, for a number of reasons, it was not possible to describe a specific type of prospectus typical of the time. The church as an institution lost its importance for the first time since the Enlightenment, and this was also reflected in organ building. In addition, over time, more and more efforts were made to make organs an easy and inexpensive industrial product. First steps there were a. done by JG Vogler with his "simplification".

Thus the baroque organ developed slowly but steadily at first. Return positives were generally no longer built. Works that corresponded to this in the disposition as the greatest ancillary work, often found their practical implementation as an invisible background work. The organ case (optically as well as statically) was no longer a juxtaposition or juxtaposition of the individual sub-works, but became a single case, from the design of which no conclusions could be drawn about the sub-works. As a result, there were often no longer any small pipe fields, just as hardly any pointed or round towers. The brochures were usually almost or completely flat and often only equipped with larger pipes, which were increasingly designed as silent pipes. On the one hand, these were easy to manufacture and often even lacked the core . In addition, mute pipes could only be manufactured and set up from an optical point of view, without having to take into account certain length ratios, furthermore without having to pay attention to the shortest possible connections for the supply of play wind. In southern Germany in particular, large side harp fields prevail, behind which the drawers for the pedal mechanism were usually set up. The brochures were much simpler in their artistic design, gold-plated decorations, veil boards and figures were no longer used or only in very limited numbers and in a simple design. Although - unlike in earlier times - the inner organ was no longer largely symmetrical, a symmetrical prospect design was still the order of the day, because the use of silent prospect pipes did not result in any restrictions for a symmetrical arrangement, even if the inner pipework was always was often set up chromatically.

While the design of the prospectus was initially explained as a pragmatic simplification of early forms, later classicist allusions emerged more and more often. For the design, everything previously described basically applied, but the side frame boards of the pipe fields were now often designed in the form of ancient Greek columns with fluting and capitals .


Even for the Romantic period, a generally applicable type of prospectus is initially not characteristic, this for completely different reasons: While the musical Romanticism can be identified a little later than in the fine arts and literature , this applies again in music for organ building. In organs from the actual romantic epoch, i.e. before 1850, remnants of baroque principles can often still be recognized in terms of the disposition and construction (especially regarding the action ). It took until the turn of the century until the romantic organ type (extremely many registers in the lower registers, various couplings) reached its peak in terms of sound and was the measure of all things when new organs were built.

In addition, there was a stylistic three-way division in organ building over time. The sound pattern was oriented more and more towards romantic sound ideals - well beyond the actual Romantic era. In terms of technology, there was an extreme enthusiasm for technology. Virtually the entire technical structure ( wind chest , action ) was redeveloped with the help of the then modern technical possibilities and served in some respects to realize romantic sound ideas (installation of various sub and super octave couplings ). The design of the prospectus, on the other hand, was in no way based on the organ work behind it. Organ prospectuses increasingly corresponded to the neo-Gothic style. The first drafts of prospectuses inspired in this regard can already be found in the middle of that century (for example Walcker organ, Markgröningen ). From the founding years at the latest, neo-Gothic organ prospectuses became the norm. Now numerous new church buildings were built in the neo-Gothic style, which should receive a stylistically harmonious organ prospect. In the case of new organs in older church buildings, however, historical prospectuses were not infrequently used, but this was not always related to an appreciation, but often had simply financial reasons.

However, the new technical possibilities ( pneumatics ) made it possible to easily divide the organ into several parts and to set up the console again separately. Newly erected church buildings were often given a rosette in the west wall, and the organs were almost always divided into two parts on both sides of the rosette. In contrast to the Baroque period, a paradigm shift can be seen: in addition to the style of the prospectus, the external size and the exact location of the organ had to be strictly subordinate to the building's specifications.

The brochures were mostly made of dark wood and decorated with carvings. The dominant elements were flat fields, which were often delimited by veil boards in the form of pointed arches. Neo-Gothic brochures were almost always open at the top, so that the full sound of the romantic organs can spread well.

The flowing development towards the free pipe prospect began, in which no wooden strips or decorations were installed above a base (the substructure of the organ) and only pipes could be seen. On the way there, for example, there were brochures which, on the one hand, made use of a neo-Gothic design language in their decorations, but whose pipes, to a conspicuous extent, were only structured vertically by wider frame boards. The horizontal structuring elements, on the other hand, were much more subtle.

As a rule, however, the brochures were still designed symmetrically. The parts of the organ behind it, however, were often asymmetrical.


Once again, the design of the brochure goes its own way in terms of style. Art Nouveau, Impressionism, Art Deco as well as classical modernism did not provide any impetus in organ building in such a way that a fundamentally new type of prospect would have developed. There are several reasons for this. Although major changes in organ building in general or specifically in the technical area have prevailed (electrical action ), this did not result in any inevitable effects on the appearance. The stylistic independence of sound, technology and appearance (see above, romanticism) was still the rule. In addition, large organ building companies had been founded (for example Walcker , Furtwängler or Furtwängler and Hammer ), which had a supraregional importance for generations and thus set their own standards.

As far as there were new developments regarding the design of the prospectus, the so-called “ free pipe prospectus ” became more and more fashionable in the first half of the 20th century . Here, there is no visible roofing, sometimes there is even no housing at all and the pipes (apart from those in the swell box) are completely free and of course unprotected in the room. Next open principals It also set Gedackte , Rohrgedackte or conical reed pipes in the prospectus and also showed exceptional materials such as copper or wood. Instead of elaborate case carvings or veil boards, the pipes themselves became an ornament with their courses. The symmetry of the systems, which was often taken for granted up to now, has also been abandoned. Organs designed in this way can be found well into the 1950s and 1960s. After that they became more and more contemptuous. Because of their cold appearance and lack of ornamentation, they were and are often referred to as unimaginative, especially when old, elaborately crafted brochures had to give way to them.

In 1925 the organ builder Klais went one step further together with the architect Carl Moritz (1863–1944) and completely dispensed with the case and front pipes for the open organ for the Knechtsteden monastery church . The pipes, the high registers with the small pipes in front, the lower registers with the longer pipes in the back, nicely arranged with a symmetrical up and down of the pipe lengths, were completely free on the closed base for the remaining parts. The organ of St. John the Evangelist Church (Covington, Kentucky) even has cranked pipes as a design element, which are not necessary at all due to the sufficient height of the room.

Further stylistic innovations in the prospectus design were decades in coming. Already almost at the beginning of that century there were increasing efforts to build new organs based on Baroque models. However, this only affected the sound. In terms of technology and appearance, however, they were built unchanged in the style of the time. To a certain extent, the global economic crisis also slowed down organ building. In the time of National Socialism, however, very own ideals were applied at the beginning, since even organ building was brought into line. Later in the war, new organs were even forbidden - at least de jure - due to a lack of material. Although many organs had to be replaced as a result of the war damage, the financial and human resources were lacking after the war until the end of the 1940s to build new organs on a significant scale. In those cases where this was not a problem, new buildings initially failed due to a lack of material.

It was not until the mid-1950s that new organs were built on a large scale. In terms of sound, only neo-baroque models had established themselves. This was also reflected in the coarse design language in the organ building, since the organs were now rebuilt in accordance with the workmanship and very often received a positive return. However, there was no baroque equivalents in the fine design language. As a rule, there were no veil boards and decorations, and no valuable paintings and gilding. The pipes in the individual parts of the work were often set up chromatically and therefore not symmetrically, and accordingly the arrangement of the parts was often asymmetrical.

Modern materials were used both in the technical area of ​​organ building and in the building of brochures. Although the sub-movements again had individual housings, these were often only “thin shells” made of plywood. In contrast to real baroque organs, the prospect had no supporting function, the organ itself stood on a wooden or steel frame.

In the past it was common practice to always build new organ works behind older brochures from a different era. In principle, however, no neo-baroque organs were built behind romantic prospects. Either older organs were lost altogether and were completely replaced. In other cases they were completely preserved - often on the west gallery - another new neo-baroque organ was added at another location (for example Bremen Cathedral or Verden Cathedral ).


Up until the 1980s, almost all brochures were built that were almost of the type described above. Only small changes were recorded. Since the 1960s, the entire housing was often made of solid wood again and was also part of the structure of the individual sub-structures. Ornaments and carvings also adorned the brochures to a somewhat more subtle extent than real baroque organs. Furthermore, symmetry did not become the absolute rule again, but new organs were at least more often structured symmetrically than in the previous decades - or asymmetrical differences were at least not as important as before.

Also from around the 1980s, the neo-baroque ideal was finally overcome as universally valid in terms of sound. The chosen means of designing the prospectus have also become significantly more diverse. The most noticeable changes relate to organs, for example, whose prospectus (in the sense of the front side with pipes) is no longer just on the front of the case.

Unlike in earlier times, when designing prospectuses, in the present day one often tries to walk a fine tightrope. On the one hand, organs must fit into the church building and must not interfere architecturally, for example they must not obstruct the view of west wall windows or rosettes. On the other hand, they can and should take up and quote individual stylistic elements of the church building (e.g. Elisabethkirche Marburg ). On the one hand, brochures should therefore have an “independent” appearance, without either being too integrated into the overall stylistic impression of the building or being too disruptive to it. Often the brochures are therefore - unlike in the Baroque period - made by the organ building workshop, but designed by an architect or artist.

But there are also organs in architecturally significant church buildings, the prospectus of which is deliberately kept extremely simple and inconspicuous - or the other way round, organs that are deliberately designed to be very conspicuous in their appearance in order to set an accent in a rather simple building.


  • Daniel Brunzema: The design of the organ prospectus in the Frisian and bordering North Sea coast area up to 1670 and its significance for the present . (Treatises and lectures on the history of East Frisia; H. 35). Verlag der Ostfriesische Landschaft, Aurich 1958 (at the same time dissertation. Technical University Braunschweig 1958).
  • Georg Büttner : The organ prospectus . In: Hans von Lüpke (Hrsg.): The village church - monthly for the care of religious life in local and popular form . 1st year, issue 3; December 15, 1907. Deutsche Landbuchhandlung, Berlin 1908, p. 128-130 .
  • Roland Eberlein : The history of the organ. Siebenquart Verlag, Cologne 2011, ISBN 978-3-941224-01-8 , pp. 400-466.
  • Friedhelm Grundmann: The organ prospect in the church . In: Art and Church . tape 58 , 1995, ISSN  0023-5431 , pp. 37-41 .
  • Walter Kaufmann : The organ prospectus. A contribution to the historical development of the organ case . 3. Edition. Rheingold-Verlag, Mainz 1949, republished by epOs-Music, Osnabrück 2011.
  • Klaus Könner: The southern German organ prospectus of the 18th century . Development process and artistic working methods for furnishing baroque church rooms (=  Tübingen studies on archeology and art history . Volume 12 ). Wasmuth, Tübingen 1992, ISBN 3-8030-1911-7 (also Diss. University of Tübingen 1988).
  • Uwe Pape : The design of the modern organ prospectus. In: Music and Church. 34, 1964, pp. 222-228, ISSN  0027-4771 .
  • Jenny Setchell: Close to Heaven. Fascinating views of organs and vaults . Butz, Bonn 2015, ISBN 978-3-928412-17-9 .

Web links

Commons : Organs  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Commons : Organ brochures  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Cervione, St Erasme , accessed May 8, 2019.
  2. ^ Tiefenau, Castle Chapel. Retrieved May 8, 2019 .
  3. Repair report of the Sauer organ opus 1333 in the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. Retrieved May 8, 2019 .
  4. Rouen, France (Seine-Maritime (76)) - Église Abbatiale de Saint-Ouen. In: Organ Databank. Piet Bron, accessed May 26, 2020 .
  5. The development of the external design of the organ 8. Open organ without prospect pipes. Retrieved May 8, 2019 .