Shelf (musical instrument)

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Copy of a shelf from the Germanic National Museum in Nuremberg, original around 1600, copy from 1988

The shelf is a keyboard instrument . It is a portable small organ that is only equipped with reed pipes. The name is probably derived from “rigole”, the old French name for “throat” in reed voices. The derivation of “regalis” ( royal ) would also be conceivable , since Emperor Maximilian I received such an instrument as a gift.

Construction and sound

A shelf consists of a narrow box that contains the wind chest with the whistles . In front of it is the keyboard , behind it are two wedge bellows , which are not operated by the musician , but by a second person (the calculator). The shelf is placed on a table for play. Because the weight of the two bellows is not enough to generate the necessary wind pressure, weights are placed on each end of the bellows. In the case of the shelf shown, there are two 2.5 kg lead ingots that are wrapped in a tin jacket. A so-called bible shelf is a shelf when the keyboard and pipes can be stowed in the foldable bellows. These bellows are then designed as "book halves". According to its name, the instrument is only the size of a Bible and looks like it (from the back). The shelf enjoyed great popularity not only in church music , but also in theater, table, dance and house music, especially in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the 18th century the shelf lost its popularity because its overtone-rich, rattling tones no longer corresponded to the ideal sound.

“The shelves are useless here, and I am surprised that you still need these creaky, surly tools here and there. The clavicimbel, codend or grand piano do a good and far more pleasant service than those in all places: How much it would not be bad for various reasons if in the churches clean and quickly appealing little positives could be combined with the clavicimbel without any jarring. "

- Johann Mattheson: 'The perfect Kapellmeister. 1739 p. 484

The shelf shown is a copy of an instrument from the collection of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg. The original was built by Michel Klotz around 1639. This copy, unlike the original, has two felted muffler strips that cover the sound opening above the reed pipes. In the audio example, these two wooden strips are removed by the player after the first dance rhythm. The tone becomes significantly more robust and brilliant.

Designation as an independent organ register

Sometimes organs have so-called shelf registers as an independent family . These are labeled according to the pitch of comparable labial pipes with 16 ', 8' or 4 'or another addition and are switched on and off via register switches. Another possibility for changing the sound is a movable blind behind which the shelf whistles are located. You can choose to play with the blinds open (sound richer in overtones) or closed (darker, quieter sound). The effect corresponds to the swell of an organ.

Furthermore, there are designs for small organs which, in addition to one or two registers, shelf pipes also contain labial registers, such as Gedackt 4 ', whereby the registers can be divided into bass and treble. It is then usually divided in the middle at h or c '. This enables different timbres to be played with the right or left hand for melody and accompaniment.

Modern shelf

Nowadays, in addition to copies of historical instruments, modern shelves are built that have a range of C – C 3 and are operated with an electric fan.

See also


  • Susan Ingrid Ferré: The Development and Use of the "Bible Shelf" . In: The Diapason , 48, 1976/77, 2, p. 1, ISSN  0012-2378 .
  • John Koster et al. a .: Keyboard musical instruments in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston . Museum of Fine Arts Distributed by Northeastern University Press, Boston 1994, ISBN 0-87846-401-8 , pp. 62-69.
  • Reinhardt Menger: The shelf . Schneider, Tutzing 1973, ISBN 3-7952-0997 .

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