The History of Organs

The organ is a classic musical instrument that has been used for centuries. Organs make music that is played on a keyboard and some types use pedals for the feet. Historically, there are several types of organs. The pipe organ moves air through pipes of differing sizes, producing various sounds to make music. Other types of organs are theater organs, used during shows to replace orchestras; reed organs, which use bellows or pumping pedals over reeds instead of pipes; and electronic organs, which are mechanical and have digital recording capacities.

Origin of the Organ

The first organ can be dated back to the 3rd century BC in Greece. It was called the Hydraulis and was made with pipes positioned above a compartment of air. Water pressure forced the air through the pipes, which created a sound. The Hydraulis was an early form of the pipe organ. Later, the water pressure was replaced with air used by bellows to create the same sound.

The Middle Ages

Organs in the Middle Ages became chamber instruments and were used frequently for church services. Another type of organ used during this time was called a portative organ, a smaller model that could be carried. Portative organs had less sound and octave capabilities, but were used by musicians to accompany singing during celebrations or in the courts.

The Fifteenth Century

During the fifteenth century, organs evolved into those that used bellows for air. Multiple keyboards could be found on one organ, as well as pedalboards to control sound. Another aspect that developed during this time was the beginning of stops, which allowed a player to limit how much air went into the pipes, controlling the sound of the music.

The Sixteenth Century

Organs continued to evolve in the sixteenth century, and some of the first artifacts of organs and music can be found from this time period. Pipes were beginning to have different positions, and many organs could play harmonies and create choruses. Organs were most commonly used in Europe in this period.

The Seventeenth Century

During the seventeenth century, religious separations in Europe affected music. The use of organs in churches was granted and then revoked multiple times, ultimately stabilizing again at the end of the seventeenth century. It was also during this time that organs began to arrive in the United States from France and Spain.

The Eighteenth Century

Organs increasingly continued to be imported to the United States from Europe during this time period. Their design continued to evolve, and many organs had several keyboards. Building of organs also began in the United States, and David Tannenberg is credited with being one of the first American builders.

The Nineteenth Century

The industrial revolution changed the way organs were being made. Organ factories emerged and the United States’ supply of organs increased. Organ use extended beyond the church and became popular in secular society. Reed organs were built and it was not uncommon for wealthy families to have one of these small organs in their home.

The Twentieth Century

Silent films developed in the early twentieth century, and theater organs were used to play the music that had once been the role of the orchestra. Electric organs started in the 1930s by Hammond, which included options such as percussion and vibrato. Jazz music used many of these types of organs. Electric organs developed at such a pace that in the latter part of the twentieth century, they were used frequently in bands as a popular part of music culture.

The Modern Organ

Some of the organs of history have come and gone, but today, pipe organs are still found in many churches and theaters. They remain a popular form of music to accompany singing and chorus. Synthesizers are modern varieties of organs that offer various sounds and unusual tones. Digital recording is also available. As technology continues to increase, organs will change and modify as a method of providing music that can be enjoyed by people in the years to come.