During his life, Bach was primarily known as a dazzling organist with virtuoso improvising abilities. Not surprisingly, his prowess gave rise to a number of urban legends.
One such legend had him traveling incognito, dressed as a village schoolmaster, going from church to church to try out the organs—prompting one local organist to cry out, “I don’t know who’s playing, but it’s either Bach or the Devil!”
Read on in “Tod und Teufel” by Frieder Reininghaus, an essay included in Bach-ABC (Sinzig: Studio-Verlag, 2007, pp. 91–93). This post originally appeared in Bibliolore on March 21, 2015 but it seems appropriate for Halloween 2023.
It was this annual celebration that brought the chapel to the attention of the Berlin artist and musician Carsten Nicolai, who was scouting for a location for an installation for the project 500 Kirchen—500 Ideen, which sought proposals for rescuing some of the many more or less abandoned Protestant churches in central Germany (2000 in Thuringia alone).
The resulting work, installed in 2017, is a sculptural piece entitled organ. A pyrophone built by Frank Fietzek in which gas flames generate sound by disturbing the airflow in 25 glass cylinders, the work/instrument is programmed to play a 12-minute piece composed for it by Nicolai. It has also been used for improvisation, and its presence has made the church a popular venue for various activities organized by both community members and visitors.
This according to “Klang-, Licht- und Wärmespender: Die Feuerorgel von Carsten Nicolai in der St. Annen-Kapelle Krobitz, Thüringen” by Elisa Wrobel (Organ: Journal für die Orgel XXV/4  34–36; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2022-15515).
In 1950 a pipe organ built to the specifications of Adriaan Fokker (1887–1972) with octaves divided into 31 steps was inaugurated at Teylers Museum in Haarlem. The instrument originally enjoyed considerable fame, and a lively circle of composers and performers developed around it.
Since 1942 Fokker, a physicist who had studied with Einstein, had been occupied almost exclusively with music-theoretical subjects. His interest was particularly captured by the writings of Christiaan Huygens (1629–95), who advocated the adoption of just intonation. This theme became the backbone of nearly all Fokker’s music-theoretical publications.
To turn his theories into sounds, Fokker had a small organ built in 1943. This instrument was the prelude to the realization of his greatest dream: a pipe organ with 31 tones per octave. This instrument was built starting in 1945 in close cooperation between Fokker and the organ builder Bernard J.A. Pels (1921–96).
Then for years the organ was forgotten; it was even dismantled and placed in storage. But since 2009 the instrument sounds again, in the Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ in Amsterdam. And again composers are inspired by the Fokker organ and its intriguing microtonal system.
This according to “Microtonaliteit van het Spaarne naar ’t IJ. Zestig jaar 31-toons orgel” by Cees van der Poel (Het orgel, 107/3  pp. 4–10; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2011-1372).
In addition to the piano and pumping pedals seen above, the original version included a 20-note pedalboard and an attachment allowing an assistant to pump the bellows while the player used the organ or piano pedals; these are lost and have not been reconstructed.
Part of the U.S. Army technical manual published on 13 November 1963 dealt with the installation, operation, and maintenance of the Hammond organ, which was then the instrument of choice in chapels on army bases.
One of the chapters details the destruction of the organ in the case of the capture or abandonment of the instrument to an enemy, urging all concerned to memorize the procedures so the manual will not have to be consulted in an emergency.
The chapter (above) is reprinted in “Your tax dollars at work for you” by Rollin Smith (The American organist LI/7 [July 2017] p. 88. Below, one way to do the job.
Charles Herbert Barritt (1869–1929, more generally known as Clifton Barritt) spent much of his life as a vaudevillian and music hall entertainer and his last years as a London publican.
Born in Manchester, Barritt was already treading the boards in his early twenties. Local newspaper notices chart a twelve-year career that took him from Ulster to the Isle of Man, Reigate to Grantham, and all points in between—there seems hardly a pier or stage that did not feature Barritt’s mellow baritone and perfect comic timing at some time between 1892 and 1904. One of his many favorable reviews praised his ability to imitate the styles of various composers, performers, and instruments, adding that he was “always funny, but without being vulgar.”
Barritt remains a notable figure to this day, as his funerary monument in London’s Hampstead Cemetery replicates the form of a life-size pipe organ (he was not known to play the organ at all).
In 1599 the English organ builder Thomas Dallam personally accompanied to Istanbul an instrument he had built for the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed III at the behest of Queen Elizabeth. The gift was intended to smooth relations in the hope of gaining access to Ottoman caravan routes.
The instrument, which could sound a fanfare, chime the hours, and play several pieces by itself due to controlled wind release, delighted the Sultan, who declared a festive occasion with amnesty for over 300 prisoners.
Dallam himself made a highly favorable impression, and was offered many luxuries in exchange for staying in Istanbul. He respectfully declined, however, citing his responsibilities toward his family. Dallam’s success assured his prosperity back home, and soon the trade routes to India were opened to the British.
Capable of producing sounds beyond the range of human hearing, the pipe organ presents the ultimate challenge for sound recording. The first known attempt was the Columbia Records recordings of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir from late August and early September 1910, which included two organ solos played by John J. McClellan.
Probably the very first pipe organ recording was a test made on 30 August 1910, with McClellan playing Wagner’s Tannhäuser overture. Two enormous acoustic recording horns, five feet long and two feet wide, were suspended on a rope strung across the Tabernacle. Although the engineer deemed the recordings successful, apparently they were never approved for release.
This according to “The first recordings of organ music ever made” by John W. Landon (Theatre organ: Journal of the American Theatre Organ Society LIII/4 [July–August 2011] pp. 22–28). Above, the Mormon Tabernacle organ as it appeared at the time of the recording (two 15-foot wings were added in 1915).
The heyday of the mortuary pipe organ was the 1920s and 1930s; only a few have been built since World War II. A uniquely American product, the instrument’s characteristics departed significantly from those of the conventional church organ, despite its quasi-liturgical setting and function.
U.S. organ builders, long known for their innovations, met the stringent tonal, space, and cost requirements of funeral homes, cemetery chapels, and mausoleums so successfully that their instruments displaced the reed organ and piano. Over 600 mortuary organs were sold during this period, contributing significantly to the industry’s survival during the Great Depression.
The long-lost pipe organ that belonged to the steamship Britannic, the sister ship of the Titanic, was identified in the collection of the Museum für Musikautomaten in Seewen, Switzerland, when restorers in 2007 discovered the inscription Britanik engraved on each beam under the instrument’s windchests.
After the outbreak of World War I in 1914 the British Admiralty requisitioned all large passenger ships as troop transports or hospital ships, so the Britannic was never outfitted for transocean luxury traffic. Around 1920 the organ, built around 1913 by M. Welte & Söhne, was installed in the villa of the camera manufacturer and designer August Nagel (1882–1943) in Stuttgart; around 1935 he returned it to the manufacturer for unknown reasons. In 1937 it was moved to the reception room of the Radium electric light company in Wipperfürth, where it remained in use until the 1960s.
When the Wipperfürth reception room was turned into a storeroom, the organ was offered for sale but attracted no buyers. Eventually it came to the attention of Heinrich Weiss, the founder of the Museum für Musikautomaten, who quickly acquired it for his collection; the instrument was completed and reinaugurated there On 30 May 1970, but its identity and history remained unknown for decades.
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