The Art of the North German Organ - Part 4

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The Art of the North German Organ - Part 4


A close understanding of a) appropriate performance practice, b) the original instruments and c) the complete surviving repertoire represents the ideal starting point for the interpretation of organ music of a given stylistic or historical period. The insights gained in this way should not only take the place of modern performance practice but also needed to be sensibly transferred to the instruments the player has at his dispoal. When North German organ music was discovered earlier the last century and made available in so-called "practical editions" by such men as Hanns Henny Jahnn, Gottlieb Harms and Karl Staube, the emphasis then was on accommodating it within the performance practice of the time. In doing so they deloped standards of technical execution, articulation, rhythm and registration which are still in use to a degree today and which often distort access to the music. Today we have an abundance of literature on the theoretical basis of keyboard technique in old music but relatively little, however, on the registration of North German organ music.


The manual and pedal keys of North German baroque organs will not admit modern fingering and pedalling techniques, which means that the modern notion of absolute legato is invalid for this type of music. Instead, the norm should be an even style of playing half way between present-day legato and staccato, thereby allowing expressive possibilities in the direction of either extreme. Applying this general statement to both manual and pedal playing, we should bear in mind that lower notes with their longer frequencies are less easily shortened than high ones. this playing style is also determined by the wind supply of the North German organ with its pressure of around 80mm WG provided by wedge bellows without percussions or intermediate reservoirs. The wind suppley "breathes" according to the amount of wind used by the player who must control it by means of a proper non-legato touch to enhace his playing.

The wind suppley determes not only the way of playing but also the choice of stops. The basic rule, with a few exceptions, is that no more than one stop of the same pitch should be drawn in each "Werk" or division (42). In practical terms non-observance of this rule on an origional instrument means a loss of tonal definition and stability of wind. The construction and voicing of original North German registers took account of this. The principal stops are sufficiently strong and characrerful without the need for strengthening by flute stops. The same is true of the full-length reeds, which, with their leathered shallots and thick tongues are equally rich in the fundamental and in harmonics. As a result the "Organo pleno" in both manual and pedal can be built up at both 16´ and 8´ pitches on just one flue or reed register. The richly endowed pedal divisions are a further consequence of this type of wind supply which rules out pedal couplers completely on technical grounds.

There are naturally some exceptions to the ban on pitch doubling. For example, in the Hauptwerk of large scale organs we find a Principal 16´ and Quintadena 16´, which were intended to be drawn together as the flue foundation for the "Organo pleno". Their combined effect on the wind supply assists with the speech of the pipes and developing a particular "Gravität" (44). A Quintadena 8´ is useful, among other things, for strengthening the fundamental sound of short-length reeds such as a Krummhorn 8´ or Regal 8´ (43). In slow pieces it is permissible to draw Principal 8´+ Gedackt 8´ or Quintadena 8´ + Rohrflöte 8´, with or without the tremulant.

The 3-rank (Terz-) Zimbel is a high-pitched solo stop (1/4´, 1/6´, 1/8´), It is always used with the Trompete 8´ and does not belong in the "Organo pleno". Drawn with the Trompete 8´, Gedackt 8´ (?), Octave 4´ and Nasat 3´(?) in sollo bass or treble passages it adds brilliance to the fundamentally voiced Trompete.


An anonymous treatise on registration from Mölln in Schleswig-Holstein and dating from the second half of the 16th century specifies the following:

1. The full organ comprises in the manuals - Principals, Octaves, Rauschpfeifen, Mixtures, Zimbeln (= Scharff) & Trompeten;

2. The tremulant is only effective with Principals, Gedackts, and Flutes, whether used individually or in combination;

3. Principals, Gedackts and Flutes only can be played on their own, with the addition to of a suitable pedal stop (45).

In this very early document, we see defind a registrational practice which is still valid for North german organists of the generation of Sweelinck pupils.

Whilst "Organo pleno" was called in the performance of Praeambula and Preludes as well as for chorale settings with "Cantus planus", the early baroque period also saw a desire to adapt the sound of courtly instrumental consorts for the organ through the use of stops imitating contemporary instruments. An important source in this respect is the second volume of Michael Praetorius' "Syntagma musicum" in which the author bases his descriptions of stops and registrational practice on organs of the Magdeburg builder, Esajas Compenius (46). The following stops were recommended for the imitation of stringed instruments: "Schweizerpfeife 8´ and 4´ have the resonance of a violin and in the pedal resemble a bass fiddle". 'The Gemshorn 8´ is often callled Viola da Gamba on account of the similarity of tone. For treble solos of violin character Praetorius suggests a Regal
4´drawn with Quintadena 8´, Quintadena 8´, Zimbel and Flachflöte "provided it is at Quint (1 1/2´pitch)". The Gedackt
2´ can be used with lower-pitched flue stops, with or without tremulant, or to colour a Ranckett or Sordunn 16´. On its own in the treble it can imitate a recorder. A beautifull descant for the right hand can be achieved with the Nasat 3´ and other stops. Imitating the human voice are the Jungernregal 4´ in the pedal, drawn with flutes, or Cornet 2´ alone. To play a chorale melody as an descant in the pedal, Praetorius recommends Bauernflöte 1´, Flöte 2´or 1´, with or without the tremulant and accompanied by an 8-foot manual stop. Of the Schweizerpfeife 8 and 4´, he notes they should only be used in slow-moving passages or for special coloratura effects, on account of their slow speech.

A good example of the repertoire that would have been registered according to these tonal principles is the organ section of Samuel Scheidt's "Tabulatura Nova", published in 1624 together with works for harpsichords and virginals. It contains taoccatas, fantasies, fugues and variations on chorales and secular songs, as well as motet intabulations and the popular canzonas of other masters. It is perfectly in order to transfer Praetorius' observations on registrational practice to other organists of the Sweelinck school and to their contemporaries. The Hamburg organist, Johann Kortkamp's account, already quoted, of Jacob Praetorius' organ playing is an indication of the "culinary" element of this registrational style - "one had to savour not only the playing but the organ itself" (47). If one had to put forward general criteria for the registrational style of the period, one would have to cite the sense of colour of the organs and the sense of adventure of the organists.

In addition to the suggested, often unconventional registrations given above, the following may also be considered - accompaniments played on Principal 8´ alone or on Gedackt 8´ Quintadena 8´ plus Flute or Octave 4´: solos with 8´ and 4´ plus Sesquialtera and / or Scharff. Reeds were almost always coloured by higher-pitched flue stops. In particular, the abundance of harmonics in the reed stops makes "gapped" registrations possible, e. g. 8´ + 2´. An organ typically suited to these tonal ideas, although not directly in the North German Hanseatic tradition, is the instrument built by Esajas Compenius in 1615 for the town church in Bückeburg (48).

Rückpositiv (Manual I)
Principal 8´
Nachthorn 8´
Gedacktflöte 8´
Nasatpfeife 4´
Spillpfeife 4´
Rohrflöte 4´
Octave 2´
Kleingedackt 2´
Sifflöte 1´
Klingende Zimbel 3fach
Ranckett 16´
Krummhorn 8´

Oberwerk (Manual II)
Principal 16´
Quintadena 16´
Octave 8´
Gemshorn 8´
Blockpfeife 8´
Viola da Gamba 8´
Octave 4´
Querpfeife 4´
Blockpfeife 4´
Gemshorn-Quinte 3´
Flachflöte 2´
Mixtur 8-14fach
Trompete 16´

Brustwerk (Manual III)
Rohrflöte 8´
Offenflöte 4´
Nachthorn 4´
Gemshorn 2´
Hohlquinte 1 1/2´
Zimbel 2fach
Regal 8´
Geigenregal 4´

Pedal I (main chest)
Principal 32´
Gemshorn 16´
Rohrflöte 16´
Querflöte 8´
Nachthorn 8´
Hohlpfeife 8´
Octave 4´
Gemshorn 4´
Posaune 16´
Trompete 8´

Pedal II ("Brust"-chest)
Hörnlein 2´
Bauernpfeife 1´
Zimbel 3fach
Sordun 16´
Dulcian 8´
Cornet 2´

Tremulant Oberwerk, Tremulant Rückpositiv, Tremulant Pedal "Brust"-chest (?)
Coupler Brustwerk-Hauptwerk


The so-called Hamburg prospect, or organ case, epitomised in the great Hamburg instruments of Arp Schnitger, represents the crowning achievment of North German organbuilding in spatially conceived tonal archiutecture, although they had been simular cases before then. The arrangement of the five "Werke" of such monumental instruments is as follows. In the centre of the gallery stands the main case with Hauptwerk (Manual II) and Oberwerk (Manual III), both high enough up to speak freely into the body of the church. Somewhat further back accoustically and shadowed by the Rückpositiv, is the Brustwerk (Manual IV), built in above the console. Around the console the gallery balustrade is pushed out, pulpitfashion, to incorporate the Rückpositiv (Manual I). To the right and left of the main case raise the pedal towers, integrated with the balustrade and on the same alignment as the main case, yet taken down to the gallery floor level, so that they, too, can speak freely into the church.

The musical function of the five "Werke" can be readily discerned from this layout. In the Hauptwerk are to be found the deep-sounding Principal and Trompete 16´. For tonal reinforcement of the Hauptwerk couplers are available to the Oberwerk, above all to complete the reed chorus with Trompete 8´ and Schalmey 4´, and to the Brustwerk in order to brihten up the mixture sound with the Scharff. The Brustwerk itself is an echo division, above all for the Rückpositiv. The Rückpositiv, not be coupled to the Hauptwerk, is to be seen as a second, smaller Hauptwerk based on 8-foot pitch and having an important solo function on account of its exposed position. This explains why the Rückpositiv contains most of the colouring stops in such an organ, such as the two tierce registers Sesquialtera and Tertian, the former equally a solo and a chors stop, the latter useable only in a solo capacity. Because of space constraints the Rückpositiv case, the 16-foot pitch is represented by a Dulcian 16´, whose musical contribution is to the "Plenum" rather than to the simular 8´ and 4´ reeds. This can be corroborated by looking at smaller village church organs, which often have a Dulcian 16´ on the Rückpositiv as he sole reed stop (49). Another important peculiarity of Rückpositiv schemes is that the 2-foot pitch is often omitted in older instruments and, in the case of Schnitger, only represented by a Flöte 2´. As a result the Rückpositiv "Organo pleno" consists of Principal 8´, Octave 4´, Scharff, Dulcian 16´, to which may be added the Sesquialtera. The placing of the two pedal towers on the gallery rail shows that, like the Rückpositiv, it can assume a solo roll as well as having the same tonal presence as the Hauptwerk and Oberwerk, and thereby serves as bass keyboard to these three divisions. Pedal, Hauptwerk and Rückpositiv share a 16-foot reed foundation. Another parallel between Rückpositiv and Pedal is is the provision of treble solo registers. The pedal Dulcian 16´, as opposed to the Posaune 16´, provides a suitable bass to the Rückpositiv "Organo pleno". The fact that the Hamburg prospect is entirely tailored to the musical demands of the leading North German organists becomes clear when one considers that Arp Schnitger chose other case layouts for the organs he built for Central Germany, and also that a generation later - for example in the time of Dietrich Gloger and Erasmus Bielfeldt - it had become outdated. Positivs and Pedal towers were then no longer integrated with the gallery balustrade but take back to the line of the main case.


The development of the North German chorale fanstasia "auff 2 Clavier", (on two manuals) was a many-layered process. Where the chorale melody is set in "Cantus planus", the long note vlues guarantee that all voices can be heard distinctly with a common registration. However, if the "Cantus firmus" is interrupted by pauses or undergoes change, for example through decoration, then is the necessary to bring out the voice in question. The tradition of the resultant method of playing on two manuals, with or witout pedal, arose out of four- or more part motet intabulations on two manuals, and belongs to the oldest type of North German music. The idea of multiple treatment of a single line of a chorale in varied compositional styles arose as matter of musical necessity because of the shortness of the two-line antiphonal gregorian Magnificat melodies. It was thus that chorale fantasias "auff 2 Clavier" established themselves above all as the central movements of Magnificat cycles, in which North German organists showed off their artistic prowess as composers and their mastery of the instrument. This is particulary evident where the setting is of several verses. By the time we reach the great chorale fantasias of Franz Tunder such compositions belonged to the standard repertory heard at church services.

There are a few original sources for the realisation of these pieces in terms of the tonal architecture of the North German organ. he most important consideration of the subject is to be found at the end of the third part of Samuel Scheidt's "Tabulatura Nova":

"When playing a chorale on two manuals, draw stops that may be cearly heard. 'Im Werk' Grob Gedact 8´, Klein Gedact 4´ together. 'Im Rückpositiv' sharp stops to make the chorale clearly heard - Quinitadena or Gedact 8´, Klein Gedact or Principal 4´, Mixtur, Zimbel or Superoctave, together, or other stops at will. 'Im Pedal' to make the chorale clearly heard - Untersatz or Posaunenbass 16´, Dulcian Bass 8´ or 16´, Schalmei (4´), Trompete, Bauernflöte (2´ or 1´), Cornet (2´), and others as may be available in large or small organs" (50).

Another source with instructions on the registration of North German chorale fantasias are the so-called Pelplin-Tabulatures from the monastery archives at Pelplin in Poland. They include, among other works, chorale fantasias by Heinrich Scheidemann, Franz Tunder and Nicolaus Hasse (51). The scores of the individual works are covered in markings and annotations, thought not to the work of the original writer(s) of the tabulature. There are details of the text, identifying the chorale setting and other analytical remarks, as well as instruction on the manuals to be used and the registrations, all lergely in agreement with Scheidt. The score of Tunder's "Christ lag in Todes Banden" and the C major fragment "Was kann uns kommen an für Not" contain various remarks such as "Ruc: scharf" (52) = Rückpositiv with Scharff. Even more interesting is the commentary on Nicolaus Hasse's "Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott" with reference to the pedal part. In the sections where the bass line quotes the melody in "Cantus planus" beneath free treble figuration on the Rückpositiv (Example 1), the marking specifies Posaune 16´, but, where the "Cantus planus" is accompanied only in the alto and tenor on the Oberwerk (Example 2), the Cornet 2´ is to be drawn.

These markings fit the architecture of Hasse's fantasia remarkable well, as one section follows another. In the passages with Cornet 2´, the pedal line sounds above the middle voices and thus has a dual bass and treble function. In a third type of passage the Cornet line provides a second discant alongside the solo on the Rückpositiv (Example 3).

Among other important information the Pelplin tabulatures contain directions on the distribution of chorale settings on three manuals. In Tunder's chorale fantasia "Christ lag in Todes Banden" there are echo passages over a "Cantus planus" in the pedal assigned to Rückpositiv and Hauptwerk, and other echo passages, when the pedal is silent, marked "p" and "f". The meaning of these two different instructions ca be deduced from a simular passage, also marked "p" and "f", in bars 15-33 of Nicolaus Hasse's chorale fantasia "Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott" (Example 4).

Here the passages marked "p" are to be played not on the Hauptwerk, for reasons of fingering, but on a third manual. So, following the Pelplin Tabulatures, "f" stands for the Rückpositiv and "p" for the Brustwerk or Oberwerk.

Although, up to the middle of the 17th century, many different types of chorale settings were developed, changes in "Affect" during the piece were certainly not typical, and they could be played throughout on a constant registration, apart from the addition of the prdal reeds to bring out the chorale melody, as for example: -

Rückpositiv - (Solo): Principal 8´, Octave 4´, Scharff (possibly + Sesquialtera);
Hauptwerk - (Accompaniment): Principal, Rohrflöte or Gedackt 8´, Octave 4´;
Brustwerk - (Echo): Gedackt or Regal 8´, Principal or Flöte 4´, Octave or Flöte 2´, Quinte 1 1/2´ (possibly + Sifflöte 1´ or Scharff);
Pedal - (Accompaniment and Solo): Octave 8´, Octave 4´ and for "Cantus planus" passages, Posaune or Dulcian 16´ or Cornet 2´.

With the next generation of composers, such as Jan Adam Reincken, Dietrich Buxtehude or Vincent Lübeck, a subjective interpretation of the text fount its way imto the setting of individual lines ant the question arose as to whether a distiction should be made in thr registration (Example 5) (53).

In practice, this made no fundamental difference to the tonal architectur of the North German organ. The accompanimental stops on Hauptwerk and Pedal remain the same, and the rich palette of the Rückpositiv can be used for the solo voice, eg: -

1. Principal 8´, Octave 4´, Sesquialtera;
2. Rohrflöte 8´, Octave 4´, Waldflöte 2´, Quinte 1 1/2´;
3. Quintadena 8´, Octave 4´, Regal or Krummhorn 8´ (possibly with Waldflöte 2´).

Elements of the new interpretative style of composition are particulary well illustrated in Buxtehude's chorale fantasia "Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g'mein". The first two lines set in "Stylus fantasticus" (bars 1-12) are clearly distinguished from the following strictly through-composed development of the remaining lines and are counterbalanced by the toccata-like close (bars 239-256). The two framing sections ca be registered with much more "Gravität" than the middle section: -

Rückpositiv - Dulcian 16´, Octave 8´, Octave 4´ Sesquialtera, Scharff;
Hauptwerk - Principal 16´, Octave 8´, Octave 4´;
Pedal - Principal 16´, Octave 8´, Octave 4´.

The ending, with fanfares in the bass, is in the form of a "Jubilus" and will bear the addition of the Zimbelstern plus the Cornet 2´ and even the Rauschpfeife (Example 6).

This piece also includes double echos on three manuals (bars 131-166).

Further authentic guidance on registration has been passed down through Matthias Weckmann. The sixth verse of "Es ist das Heil uns kommen her" - chorale fantasia of 238 bars "auff 2 Clavier" - bears the comment "Upper part Positiv [for the solo in the treble] full [= Organo pleno] (54), soft stops in the left hand, Pedal with Cornet-Bass". These instructions are confirmed by another, indpendent source. Johann Kortkamp, reporting on Weckmann's playing as a candidate for the post of organist at St. Jacobi, Hamburg, in 1654, writes as follows:

"Then he improvised on the chorale 'An Wasserflüssen Babylon' on two manuals. On the Oberwerk he used the registration favoured by the late jacob Schultzen [meaning Jacob Preatorius the Younger], namely Trompete 8´, Zink 8´, Nasat 3´, Gemshorn 2´, Hohlflöte 4´, and on the Rückpositiv, Principal 8´ and 4´, for the soft middle parts, and in the Pedal Posaune 16´, Principal-Bass 24´ [= 32´, C-E stopped, open from F], Trompete 8´ and 4´, Cornet 2´. First of all he played the chorale in a very poor and simple fashion, in a way that the common man could understand" (55).

The annotation in the third verse of Weckmann's chorale setting "Es ist das Heil uns kommen her" (Example 7) specifies: - Rückpositiv - Principal 8´; Pedal - Trompete 8´ and Gedackt or Trompete 8´ and 4´; Hauptwerk - Trompete 16´ (56), that is registrations on of very similar kind, making it clear that this sound was intended for a different type of composition from the chorale fantasia "auff 2 Clavier".

A simular registration is required for the third verse of Weckmann's "O lux beata trinitas", which has a comparable structure - "the discant and alto lines on a soft 8 foot stop, the chorale in the Pedal, say, Trompete 8´, and the bass line, left hand on the Trompete 16´" (57). Another piece suited to the sort of registration referred above by Johann Kortkamp is the third verse of Jacob Praetorius's setting of "Was kann uns kommen an für Not".

The tradition of composing chorale settings to be played "In Organo pleno" - including J. S. Bach's "Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir" BWV 686 and "Jesus Christus, unser Heiland" BWV 665a - is well documented. Here we may mention Nicolaus Hasse's three-verse through-composed setting, given in the Pelplin Tabulatures, of "Jesus Christus, unser Heiland" and slso the three-verse setting of the same chorale by Franz Tunder, with double pedal in the first verse. Evidence that pieces with double pedal were Played "In Organo pleno" is to be found in the note to the seventh verse of Matthias Weckmann's "Es ist das Heil uns kommen her" (Example 7) (58).

Further examples for registrations "In Organo pleno" are verse 1 of the same chorale and verses 1 and 6 of "O lux beata trinitas" (59). In settings with double pedal the function of the Hauptwerk Trompete 16´ becomes clear, in helping to put manual and pedal on a simular basis of pitch and tone colour.

Among the many shorter North German chorale settings with a single, usually coloured solo "Cantus firmus" in the soprano or tenor, those of Andreas Neunhaber ("Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ" - verse 2) (60), Nicolaus Hasse (Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr") (61) and Ewald Hintz ("Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ") (62), require special mention as being marked to be played on three or even four manuals, with successive lines allocated to different manuals such as Rückpositiv or Brustwerk.

Will be continued ...

(41) First published in Organists' Review, 1998, p. 14-18, 100-104, 196-199, 328-330.
(42) This can be expressed by, among others, Andreas Werkmeister in his Erweiterte und verbesserte Orgelprobe, Quedlinburg 1689, facsimile Kassel 1970, p. 71-2.
(43) Suggested, amomg others, Johann Matheson Der vollkommene Capellmeister, Hamburg 1759, facsimile Kassel 1954, p. 467.
(44) Michael Paetorius also recommended this registration expressly for 16-foot pitch in Syntagma musicum, Vol. II, Wolfenbüttel 1619, facsimile Kassel 1958, p. 141.
(45) Quoted from Hans Klotz, Über die Orgelkunst der Gotik, der Renaissance und des Barock, Kassel 1975, p. 228.
(46) Michael Praetorius, Syntagma musicum, Vol. II, p. 124-148.
(47) Hamburg, Staatsarchiv, 512-6, St. Gertrudenkapelle IV hh.
(48) Michael Praetorius, Syntagma musicum, Vol. II, p. 186-7.
(49) See the specification of the organ in St. Jacobi, Lüdingworth, given in Part 3 of this article.
(50) Samuel Scheidt, Tabulatura Nova für Orgel und Klavier (= Denkmäler deutscher Tonkunst I,1), Wiesbaden and Graz 1958, p. 224.
(51) The Pelplin Tabulatures 1-6, facsimiles edited by Adam Sutowski and Alina Osotowicz-Sutkowska, Graz and Warsaw 1964 & 1965 (= Antiqitates Musicae in Polonia 2-7).
(52) Eg. in the treble of bar 134 of the chorale fanrasia "Christ lag in Todes Banden".
(53) See Christine Defant, Instrumentale Sonderformen in Norddeutschland. Eine Studie zu den Auswirkungen eines Theologenstreits auf Werke der Organisten Weckmann, Reincken und Buxtehude (= Europäische Hochschulschriften, XXXVI, 41), Frankfurt am Main 1990, p. 59-75.
(54) Lüneburg, Ratsbücherei, Signatur Mus. ant. pract., KN 209.
(55) Hamburg, Staatsarchiv, 512-6, St. Gertrudenkapelle IV hh.
(56) Lüneburg, Ratsbücherei, Signatur Mus. ant. pract., KN 209.
(57) Ibid.
(58) Ibid.
(59) Ibid.
(60) Berlin, Deutsche Staatsbiblothek, Musikabteilung, Signatur Lübbenauer Orgeltabulaturen MS. Ly B 8.
(61) Pelplin, Biblioteka Seminarium Duchowne, Signatur 305.
(62) Ibid., Signatur 304