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In churches, cathedrals, town halls and even department stores, the 'King of Instruments' can produce a huge variety of sounds and inspire a wide range of music. Here are a few fine examples.
In 1711, Freiberg Cathedral in Germany commissioned a 44-stop organ with pedals from J.S. Bach's friend Gottfried Silbermann. Mozart reckoned that his instruments were 'magnificent beyond measure’. After restoration in 1983, the organ is almost exactly as the builder intended. Silbermann’s admirers refer to its ‘Silberklang’ or ‘silvery sound’.
The church of St. Botolph without Aldgate in London - where author Daniel Defoe got married in 1683 - is home to the U.K.’s most ancient church organ. Although there are older pipes and organ cases, this is the oldest collection of pipes in their original positions on their original wind chests – which is hard to beat. Photo © St. Botolph without Aldgate.
With 12 of its pipes dating from around 1435, the oldest playable pipe organ in the world is located at the fortified Basilica of Valère in Sion, Switzerland. The organ's pipes were arranged to form a rough outline of a church; the larger ones forming two towers, and the smaller ones creating a triangular church roof. Very sweet.
Installed in 1954, the Royal Festival Hall’s magnificent Harrison & Harrison organ is a 7,866 pipe instrument that forms the centre piece of the auditorium. There is no comparable concert instrument in London, constructed in this neo-classical style. Its innovative design and construction principles gave rise to the English Organ Reform Movement.
This extraordinary instrument in Los Angeles is the product of a four-year collaboration between organ experts and the Walt Disney Hall’s architect – Frank Gehry. A stunning centre-piece for an outstanding venue, the organ has been described as ‘French fries’ or a game of 'pick-up sticks'. But everyone agrees it sounds amazing.
In the Old Cathedral of Brescia, Italy, there is a 1536 organ designed by Giovan Giacomo Antegnati. Greatly admired by his contemporaries, Antegnati was the church organist at St. Euphemia's in Brescia who also built organs for a number of other churches in the city. When in the 19th century this cathedral organ was restored and enlarged, the priests of the church, in admiration of Antegnati's masterpiece, asked all the old pipes to be preserved.
First unveiled in 1834, this organ in Birmingham Town Hall boasts enormous 32 foot pipes that were, for the first time in England, incorporated into the decorative case front. Paid for from public funds, it was the largest organ in England at the time. Even today, with its 6000 pipes, it is still comparable with the most powerful of cathedral organs around the world. It’s been constantly used in weekly recitals given by a string of city organists.
One of the oldest playable instruments in central Europe, this historic organ was built between 1587 and 1589 by Daniel Meyer. It was played for the first time on 23 May 1590 when the castle church was consecrated during the inauguration of the castle.Its facade pipes are veneered with ivory and the instrument receives its special timbre from 252 wooden pipes, six registers and its so-called ‘bird cry’.
France's finest classical organ in working order, this instrument is an object of pilgrimage for organists, on the tour path for any serious fan of Couperin. Built for the convent of Les Jacobins in Toulouse in 1683, it was rebuilt and restored by various builders until its complete restoration in 1983. It can now be seen and heard at the church of St Pierre des Chartreux in Toulouse.
In Philadelphia, U.S.A. you can find the largest operational pipe organ in the world, located within a spacious 7-storey department store owned by Macy's - formerly Wanamaker's. Built for the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, the organ has 28,500 pipes and has had works specially written for it by the likes of Marcel Dupré, Louis Vierne and Leopold Stokowski. The organ is played twice a day, from Monday to Saturday, and more frequently during the Christmas season.