Pipe Organ in Western Culture

There is more than one reason why the pipe organ is often called "the king of instruments." Our often-irreverent age of postmodernity , which is not always very kind to monarchs, does not promote knowledge of the glorious history of the pipe organ. In our contemporary world , where there is not much awe left for the royals, most people do not have any insight into its splendor. The instrument, which originated in ancient Rome, came into regular use more than seven centuries ago and more solo compositions have been written for pipe organ than for all other instruments combined. Even classical music radio stations, with a few honorable exceptions, do not venture into organ repertoire. Consequently, most people today know only a few organ works, such as famous toccatas by Bach (Toccata in D) or Widor.

The most complex of all mechanical instruments, the pipe organ comes in such a variety of shapes and sizes that it should be regarded more like a family of instruments than a single instrument. Its pitch range, palette of tone colors and dynamic range have no match in the history of other instruments. Pope Benedict XVI said that the organ could express the fullness of human experience and transcendent the human sphere evoking the divine (Regensburg, September 2006).

The pipe organ's profound and lasting influence on Western societies is reflected by other arts and literature. Here is just one literary fragment illustrating the impact of a live organ performance on the listener provided by Herman Hesse (Nobel Prize in Literature, 1946) in his last novel, The Glass Bead Game:

"There - a high, strong note from the organ. Swelling, it fills the vast space, becomes space itself, completely surrounding us. It grows, then pauses; other notes join with it,
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and suddenly plunge together in hurried flight into the depths; prostrate themselves, do reverence, but nonetheless assert themselves, directed by the sustained bass. Now they fall silent. A quiet fills the church like the calm before a storm. (...) how miserable, how paltry, how bad are the lives we lead! Which one of us would dare, like this composer, to stand before God and fate, with such cries of accusation and of thanksgiving, with such aspiring grandeur from so profoundly reverent a mind? Ah, one should live differently, one should be different, should spend more time beneath the sky and among the trees, should keep for oneself more time to be closer to the beautiful and great mysteries."

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