Pipe organ stops
Periods and aesthetics
Alsacian organ builders
Organs in Alsace
The Cavaillé-Coll in Mulhouse
The Positif de Dos in Uhlwiller
Tagsdorf, 180 inhabitants, 25
Alsace, organs, history and stories
The most captivating music instruments are not always the most
renowned or prestigious.
Most French books (or sites) related to pipe organ focus on the finest
organs built by the celebrated organ builders like Cavaillé-Coll, Dom Bedos de
However, the great majority of organs, in our towns or countrysides,
have been designed with less ambition. Far from being dedicated to concerts,
they are works by craftsmen who had to struggle with economical limitations.
These works have been paid, designed, and built to fulfill a precise purpose :
to accompaign the song and the liturgy in general.
In the great majority of cases, organs are not "prestige" instruments.
For centuries, those who have played the organ were not organ virtuoso,
but often the teacher of the village. And they were not necessarily bad.
Moreover, among the craftsmen who had in charge the design, the building
and the maintenance of these instruments, some did really distinguish themselves.
By the quality of their work, of the material used, by their fidelity to
Dom Bedos obviously was among these exceptional craftsmen. By his works,
by this book "L'Art du Facteur d'Orgues", that is still a reference.
Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, too. Everybody agrees on the fact he was a
man of genius. But it has to be pointed out that he was given the means
(money and human resources) to achieve the building of exceptional instruments.
This was not the case for all the craftsmen who, at the beginning of the 20th
century were compelled to destroy historical organs, only in order to survive.
Some others did not accept the unacceptable... and did not survive.
The study and the history of these instruments are really captivating.
All human behaviors can be found there. Each organ, even the most
unpretentious, has its part of the message, of the will of its builders,
its sponsors and of the people that used it. Each organ is the result of
many struggles first for its funding, then for its safeguard or "evolution".
The reasons for the choice of a region
- One has to begin somewhere...
- In order than others will feel like doing something alike elsewhere
- Because it is better to restrain to a given area, and to follow the
organ builders (in fact their schooling), their evolution of their deeds,
and the way these deeds came up to us.
Why Alsace ?
- Because in this small area (190 km N-S, 50 E-W, 8280 km2), can be
found not less than 1200 pipe organs (740 in Bas-Rhin, 440 in Haut-Rhin,
not taking into account private instruments)
It is very likely that nowhere in the world, the pipe organ density
is so high.
Some 70 (in 1985) have been inscribed to the "Inventaire des Monuments
Historiques" - French Heritage List - and are a renown part of
the musical and historical heritage. And this only takes into account
the inscription of the whole organ (a lot of chests are, besides, inscribed).
20% of the French organ builders are located in Alsace
There is practically and organ in each church, even in the smallest village
-even with less than 200 inhabitants. This reveals an obvious attachment of
Alsacians to pipe organs. A bit like the local dialect. And, like a dialect,
the organs have local specificity, their own aesthetics.
Nowadays, the maintenance and restoration of this exceptional inheritance
produces enough business to be recognized as an economic reality.
- Because an historian, Pie Meyer-Siat, has done a tremendous
work on Alsacian organs. He has written most of the books and articles
on this subjects, and done a analysis work that goes beyond imagination.
His work corrected a lot of "commonly admitted mistakes", and enlightens a
lot of captivating stories. It also enlightens many unknown point and
some mysteries who really match to an instruments that plays, far away
from then end of long naves, without moving.
The means of the discovery
In the middle of the 80's, there was an instruction by the French Ministry
of Culture, asking for an assessment of all the French pipe organs.
Parts of this assessment were :
...all that in the purpose to know the condition and the value of the
whole in order to target the maintenance efforts.
- the stoplists, disposition (keyboards compass, accessories...)
- the history (origin, maintenance, modifications...), thus an estimation
of their authenticity
- their working (technical data, working order)
In Alsace, the Assessment report consists in 4 (!) volumes : "Orgues
en Alsace". One of these is the Historical Inventory, by P. Meyer-Siat.
This work has been published in 1986 by the ARDAM ("Association Régionale pour
le Développement de l'Action Musicale") who was owner of the assessment.
There is a lot of other documentation, but very often published in
periodicals, often consisting in 1 to ca. 40 pages papers.
Some are nevertheless to be quoted :
- Médard BARTH "Elsass, das Land der Orgeln" ("Alsace, land of organs"),
"Société d'Histoire de l'Eglise d'Alsace, Haguenau, 1966"
- Pie MEYER-SIAT "Les Callinet"
- Pie MEYER-SIAT "Stiehr-Mockers",
in "Archives de l'Eglise d'Alsace", 1972-73
- Emile RUPP "Die Entwicklungsgeschichte der Orgelbaukunst" (The
intricate story of Organ building art")
This paper is the result of Rupp's flying into
a rage after hearing the organ in Strasbourg, St-Maurice, and its
"German Romantism"-typed high pressure stops. In Alsace, both the organ
and Rupp's paper point to the end of a time period.
Then, the real mean to discover organs, is obviously to go to the spot
in order to play the organs which have been designed for that. Obviously
with all the care and consideration involved.
Because it is useless to be aware of the presence of a unique heritage
if it stays still and silent.
For a long time, the person entitled to play the organs were above
all the fierce doorkeeper of the organ gallery. Some of them, even today,
would risk damnation to prevent any stranger to move near their precious
That's obviously forgetting the public money used for maintenance,
the dozens of donors or associations, and the audience of the concerts
given for the profit of the organ maintenance.
Today, the majority of the organs are open to the true organists.
The actors of the discovery
While surfing on organ builder and instruments pages, some characters
are often encountered. Some of them can't be ignored, neither in Alsace
nor in any part of the world :
- the organ builder, his apprentice, his sons, his foreman
- the priest, the clergyman
- the fabric, struggling for money
- the organist, arguing for a pedal flute 4'
- the mayor and his council, convinced or doubting the necessity to
buy an organ or repair the old one
- the prefect, granting the mayor to spend the public money
- the famous "experts" (often above all experts in bad faith), their
advice, their delivery dinners
- and, last but not least, the anonymous people who paid for the music,
just because they found it essential.
Alsace, organs, history and stories
Many thanks to :
- all those helped me to gather the documents, or sent images
- to the re-readers, and above all Emmanuel EYER, for his constant and
wise comments, and Philippe WOESSNER. Please visit :
- to those who share hypertext links with this site
- to those who sent encouraging e-mails
Basic sources :
- Alsacian organs assessment : "Orgues en Alsace".
Vol.2 : "Inventaire technique des orgues du Haut-Rhin" (Technical assessment of pipe organs in Bas-Rhin)
Vol.3 : "Inventaire technique des orgues du Bas-Rhin.1"
Vol.4 : "Inventaire technique des orgues du Bas-Rhin.2"
Published by the ARDAM, ("Association Régionale pour le Développement de l'Action Musicale") in 1986.
The ARDAM has now been dissolved.
- Historical Inventory of Alsacian organs : "Orgues en Alsace".
Vol.1 : Inventaire historique, P.MEYER-SIAT
Published by the ARDAM.
These two references are general, and apply to almost all description pages on this site.
- Caecilia : the review of liturgical music of Alsacian church choirs.
Published by Union Sainte Cécile (USC), 16 rue brûlée, 67081 Strasbourg Cedex
- Archives de l'Eglise d'Alsace (AEA) : (Alsacian Church records) Mouthpiece
of the historical society of the Alsacian Church.
Published by Editions de la Société, Haguenau. Some volumes with the participation of the CNRS.