The Recent Revolution in Organ Building - Being an Account of Modern Developments
by George Laing Miller
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This book contains a number of references to organ notes in form "c3", where the "3" is superscripted. In the text version of this e-book, the superscripted characters are surrounded with the vertical bar symbol " ", e.g. "c 3 ".


Being an Account of Modern Developments



Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, Eng.; First Mus. Bac., Dunelm.; Organist of Christ Church, Pelham Manor, N. Y.; late of All Angels', New York; St. Clement's, Philadelphia, and Wallasey Parish Church, England

Second Edition

[Frontispiece: The Organ in St. George's Hall, Liverpool, Eng. Built by Henry Willis in 1855. Rebuilt 1867 and 1898. The White Marble Bust Seen in Front is That of W. T. Best.]

New York The Charles Francis Press 1913

Copyright, 1909, 1913, by George L. Miller Entered at Stationers' Hall, London

Reprinted by the Vestal Press, Vestal, N. Y. 13860 1000 copies, 1969 Second Reprinting, April 1971, 1000 copies Write for catalog of other reprinted books in the field of piano and organ literature


Some years ago the elders and deacons of a Scotch church were assembled in solemn conclave to discuss the prospective installation of a pipe organ. The table was piled high with plans and specifications and discussion ran rife as to whether they should have a two-manual or a three-manual instrument—a Great and Swell or a Great, Swell, and Choir organ. At last Deacon MacNab, the church treasurer and a personage of importance, got a chance to speak.

"Mr. Chairman," said he, "I don't see why we should have a Great, a Swell, and a Choir organ. I think that one organ is quite enough."

Now, Deacon MacNab was a master tailor, and a good one at that; so the musical man who was pushing the thing through appealed to his professional instincts in explaining the situation by saying:

"Surely, Mr. MacNab, you would not say that a man was properly dressed with only a coat on! You would expect him to have on a coat, waistcoat and trousers!" And the day was won for the three-manual organ.

Of course there had been no organ in this church before, or the worthy deacon might have known more about it. If he had read the second chapter of this book, he would have known all about it. The following pages have been written with the idea of helping those who may be placed in a similar position; who may be called upon to decide the serious question of the purchase of a new organ for their church, town hall, or an auditorium, or the rebuilding of the old one now in use; who are distracted by the conflicting plans and contending claims of rival organ builders; who are disinclined to rely upon so-called "expert" opinion, but wish to look into these things for themselves and intelligently purchase an instrument which is thoroughly up-to-date in every particular, which will not drive the organist to the verge of profanity every time he plays upon it, and will not prove a snug source of income to its builders—for repairs.

The organ-student, the amateur, and eke the professional organist, will also find much here that will interest them and lead to a better understanding of the instrument.

The revolution in organ-building herein described has for the most part taken place under the personal notice of the author, during the last fifty years. The organists of a younger generation are to be congratulated on the facilities now placed at their disposal, mainly by the genius and persevering efforts of four men—as hereinafter described.



As It Was in the Beginning


The Organ in the Nineteenth Century


The Dawn of a New Era; the Pneumatic Lever


Pneumatic and Electro-pneumatic Actions—Tubular Pneumatics—Division of Organs—Sound Reflection—Octave Couplers and Extensions


Stop-keys—Control of the Stops


Radiating and Concave Pedal Boards—Pedal-stop Control—Suitable Bass Attachments


Means of Obtaining Expression—Crescendo Pedal—Sforzando Pedal—Double Touch—Balanced Swell Pedal—Control of Swell by Keys—Swell Boxes—the Sound Trap Joint—Vacuum Swell Shutters


A Revolution in Wind Supply—Springs vs. Weights—Individual Pallets—Heavy Wind Pressures—Mechanical Blowers


Transference of Stops—Double Touch—Pizzicato Touch—the Unit Organ—Sympathy


Production of Organ Tone—Acoustics of Organ Pipes—Estey Open Bass Pipes—Diapasons—Flutes—Strings—Reeds—Vowel Cavities—Undulating Stops (Celestes)—Percussion Stops—the Diaphone


Tuning—Equal Temperament—New Method of Tuning Reeds


Progress of the Revolution in Our Own Country


Chief Actors—Barker—Cavaille-Coll—Willis—Hope-Jones


How We Stand To-day—Automatic Players—Specifications of Notable Organs: St. George's Hall, Liverpool; Notre Dame, Paris; St. Paul's Cathedral, London; Westminster Abbey; Balruddery, Scotland; Worcester Cathedral; Yale University, U. S. A.; St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo; Paris Theatre, Denver; Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York; University of Toronto, Canada; City Hall, Portland, Me.; Liverpool Cathedral, England


The Organ in St. George's Hall, Liverpool, Eng. . . . Frontispiece Prehistoric Double Flutes The Wind-chest; Front View. The Wind-chest; Side View. The Pneumatic Lever Nomenclature of Organ Keyboard Portrait of Moitessier Tubular Pneumatic Action The First Electric Organ Ever Built The Electro-Pneumatic Lever Valve and Valve Seat, Hope-Jones Electric Action Portrait of Dr. Peschard Console, St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo Console on Bennett System Console, Trinity Church, Boston Console, College of City of New York Principle of the Sound Trap Sound Trap Joint The Vacuum Shutter Series of Harmonics Estey's Open Bass Pipes Diapason Pipe with Leathered Lip Haskell's Clarinet without Reed Diagram of Reed Pipe Vowel Cavities Diaphone in Worcester Cathedral Diaphone in Aberdeen University Diaphone in St. Patrick's, N. Y. Diaphone in Auditorium, Ocean Grove, N. J. Diaphone in St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo Diaphone Producing Foundation Tone. New Method of Tuning Reeds Portrait of Aristide Cavaille-Coll Portrait of Charles Spachman Barker Portrait of Henry Willis Portrait of Robert Hope-Jones. Keyboards of Organ, St. George's Hall Keyboards of Organ, Notre Dame, Paris Keyboards of Organ, Westminster Abbey Organ in Balruddery Mansion, Dundee, Scotland The Author Playing a Hope-Jones Unit Orchestra




"The Organ breathes its deep-voiced solemn notes, The people join and sing, in pious hymns And psalms devout; harmoniously attun'd, The Choral voices blend; the long-drawn aisles At every close the ling'ring strains prolong: And now, of varied tubes and reedy pipes, The skilful hand a soften'd stop controuls: In sweetest harmony the dulcet strains steal forth, Now swelling high, and now subdued; afar they float In lengthened whispers melting into cadenced murmurs, Forming soft melodious strains, and placid airs, Spreading gently all around, then soaring up to Heav'n!" —Dryden.

The origin of the pipe organ is lost in the mists of antiquity. Tradition hath it that there was one in Solomon's Temple at Jerusalem, the sound of which could be heard at the Mount of Olives. It has the honor of being the first wind instrument mentioned in the Bible (Genesis iv, 21), where we are told that "Jubal is the father of all such as handle the harp and the organ." The Hebrew word here is ugab, which is sometimes translated in the Septuagint by cithara (the ancient lute), sometimes by psalm, sometimes by organ. Sir John Stainer ("Dictionary of Musical Terms," p. 444) says: "It is probable that in its earliest form the ugab was nothing more than a Pan's-pipes or syrinx, but that it gradually developed into a more important instrument." The passage, however, shows that the ugab was known in the time of Moses, who was "learned in all the learning of the Egyptians."

The flute, a component part of the organ, is one of the most ancient of musical instruments. We find it pictured on the walls of early Egyptian tombs, and specimens of it, still in playable condition, have been unearthed and can be seen in our museums. Some of them were double, as shown in the illustration. Side by side with these flutes we find the shepherd's pipe with a reed or strip of cane in the mouthpiece, which may be found in the Tyrol at the present day. The next step was probably the bagpipes. Here we find four of these pipes attached to a bag. The melody or tune is played on one of the pipes furnished with holes for the purpose, while the other three give a drone, bass. The bag, being blown up, forms a wind reservoir and the amount of tone can be regulated by the pressure of the arm. Here we have the precursor of the organ bellows. Next comes the Irish bagpipes, with a bellows worked by the arm furnishing the wind to the bag, the reservoir, and producing a much sweeter tone. This is one line of advance.

On the other hand we have the syrinx or Pan's-pipes. Stainer says this was undoubtedly the precursor of the organ. "It was formed of seven, eight or nine short hollow reeds, fixed together by wax, and cut in graduated lengths so as to produce a musical scale. The lower ends of the reeds were closed and the upper open and on a level, so that the mouth could easily pass from one pipe to another." This is the instrument used at the present day by the Punch and Judy man. He wears it fastened around his throat, turning his head from side to side as he blows, while with his hands he beats a drum.

The next step would be to combine a set of flutes or shepherd's pipes with the wind reservoir of the bagpipes, placing a little slider under the mouthpiece of each pipe which could be opened or closed at will, so that they would not all speak at once. Then some genius steadied the wind pressure by pumping air into a reservoir partly filled with water. This was the so-called "hydraulic organ," which name has given rise to the impression that the pipes were played by the water passing through them—which is impossible.

And so we come down the ages to the Christian era. The Talmud mentions an organ (magrepha) having ten pipes played by a keyboard as being in existence in the Second Century. "Aldhelm (who died A. D. 709) mentions an organ which had gilt pipes. An organ having leaden pipes was placed in the Church of S. Corneille, at Compiegne, in the middle of the Eighth Century." St. Dunstan had an organ with pipes made of brass. Then we have the organ in Winchester Cathedral, England, described by Wulfstan of Winchester in his "Life of Saint Swithin." This was a double organ, requiring two organists to play it. It contained 400 pipes and had thirteen pairs of bellows. It was intended to be heard all over Winchester in honor of St. Peter, to whom the Cathedral was dedicated.

The year was now A. D. 951, and this is an important date to remember, as modern harmony took its rise about this time. Before this, as far as we know, there had been no harmony beyond a drone bass, and the vast companies of musicians described in Holy Writ and elsewhere must have played and sung in octaves and unison. I quote Stainer again:

"The large pipes of every key of the oldest organs stood in front; the whole instrument sounded and shrieked in a harsh and loud manner. The keyboard had eleven, twelve, even thirteen keys in diatonic succession without semitones. It was impossible to get anything else than a choral melody for one voice only on such an organ * * * the breadth of a keyboard containing nine keys extended to three-quarters the length of a yard, that of the single key amounted to three inches * * * even from five to six inches * * * The valves of the keys and the whole mechanism being clumsy, playing with the finger was not to be thought of, but the keys were obliged to be struck with the clenched fist, and the organist was often called 'pulsator organum' (organ beater)."

Gradually the keys were reduced in size and the semitones were added. By 1499 they had almost reached the present normal proportions. In 1470 pedals were invented by Bernard, the German, a skilful musician of Venice, the pipe work was improved and so we come to the Sixteenth Century[1] after which the organ remained almost in statu quo for hundreds of years.

Since then there have been four great landmarks in organ construction, viz:

1. The invention of the swell box by Jordan in 1713;

2. The invention of the horizontal bellows, by Samuel Green, in 1789;

3. The invention of the pneumatic lever by Barker in 1832; and the electro-pneumatic action, by Peschard in 1866; and,

4. The marvelous improvements in mechanism and tone production and control in 1886 to 1913 by Robt. Hope-Jones.

[1] The organ compositions of Frescobaldi, a celebrated Italian organist who flourished 1591-1640, show that the organ must in his time have been playable by the fingers.



Before proceeding further we propose to give a brief description of the construction of the organ at the beginning of the last century and explain the technical terms we shall use later.

As everybody knows, the tone comes from the pipes, some of which are to be seen in the front of the instrument. The pipes are of various shapes and sizes and are arranged in ranks or rows upon the wind-chest. Each of these ranks is called a stop or register. It should be borne in mind that this word stop refers to the row of pipes, and not to the stop-knobs by the keyboard which operate the mechanism bringing the row of pipes into play. Much confusion of ideas prevails on this point, and cheap builders used to take advantage of it by providing two stop-knobs for each row of pipes, thereby making their instruments appear to contain more pipes than were actually there. This practice was at one time very prevalent in the United States.

The early organ-builders to obtain variety of tone divided the pipes into groups placed in various positions, each playable from a separate keyboard, and this practice prevails to this day. An average church organ will contain three or four wind-chests, each with its quota of pipes and designated as follows:

1. The Great organ, consisting of the front pipes and other loud-speaking stops. Back of this and usually elevated above the level of the Great organ pipes is

2. The Swell organ, all the pipes of which are contained in a wooden box with Venetian shutters in front, the opening or closing of which modifies the tone; below the Swell box is placed

3. The Choir organ, containing soft speaking pipes suitable for accompanying the human voice; and back of all or on the sides is

4. The Pedal organ, containing the large pipes played by the pedals.

Larger instruments have still another wind-chest called the Solo organ, the pipes of which are very loud and are usually placed high above the Great organ.

In some large English organs, notably that in the Town Hall of Leeds, a further division was effected, the pipes of the Great organ being placed on two wind-chests, one behind the other. They were known as Front Great and Back Great.

The original reason for dividing a church organ in this manner seems to have been the impossibility of supplying a large number of stops with wind from a single wind-chest.

It will thus be seen that our average church organ is really made up of three or four smaller organs combined.

The wind-chest is an oblong box supplied with air under pressure from the bellows and containing the valves (called pallets) controlling the access of the wind to the pipes. Between the pallet and the foot of the pipe comes another valve called the slider, which controls the access of the wind to the whole row of pipes or stop. The pallet is operated from the keyboard by the key action. Every key on the keyboard has a corresponding pallet in the wind-chest, and every stop-knob operates a slider under the pipes, so that both a slider must be drawn and a pallet depressed before any sound can be got from the pipes. The drawings will make this plain.

Fig. 1 is a front view and Fig. 2 a side view of the wind-chest. A is the wind-chest into which compressed atmospheric air has been introduced, either through the side or bottom, from the end of the wind-trunk B. The pallets, C C C, are held against the openings, D D D, leading from the wind-chest to the mouth of the pipes, by springs underneath them.

The spring S (Fig. 2) keeps the pallet C against the opening into D. The wires called pull-downs (P, P, P), which pass through small holes in the bottom of the wind-chest and are in connection with the keyboard, are attached to a loop of wire called the pallet-eye, fastened to the movable end of the pallet. A piece of wire is placed on each side of every pallet to steady it and keep it in the perpendicular during its ascent and descent, and every pallet is covered at top with soft leather, to make it fit closely and work quietly. When P is pulled down (Fig. 1) the pallet C descends, and air from the wind-chest A rushes through D into the pipe over it. But the slider f is a narrow strip of wood, so placed between the woodwork g and h that it may be moved backwards and forwards from right to left, and is pierced with holes corresponding throughout to those just under the pipes. If the apertures in the slider are under the pipes, the opening of a pallet will make a pipe speak; if, however, the slider has been moved so that the apertures do not correspond, even if the pallet be opened and the chest full of air from the trunks, no sound will be produced.

When the apertures in the slider are under those below the pipe, the "stop," the handle of which controls the position of the slider, is said to be out, or drawn. When the apertures do not correspond, the stop is said to be in. Thus it is that when no stops are drawn no sound is produced, even although the wind-chest be full of air and the keys played upon.

This wind-chest with the slider stop control is about all that is left to us of the old form of key action. The pallets were connected to the keys by a series of levers, known as the tracker action.

There were usually six joints or sources of friction, between the key and the pallet. To overcome this resistance and close the pallet required a strong spring. Inasmuch as it would never do to put all the large pipes (because of their weight) at one end of the wind-chest, they were usually divided between the two ends and it became necessary to transfer the pull of the keys sideways, which was done by a series of rollers called the roller-board. This, of course, increased the friction and necessitated the use of a still stronger spring. That with the increased area of the pallet is why the lower notes of the organ were so hard to play. And to the resistance of the spring must also be added the resistance of the wind-pressure, which increased with every stop drawn. When the organ was a large one with many stops, and the keyboards were coupled together, it required considerable exertion to bring out the full power of the instrument; sometimes the organist had to stand on the pedals and throw the weight of his body on the keys to get a big chord. All kinds of schemes were tried to lighten the "touch," as the required pressure on the keys is called, the most successful of which was dividing the pallet into two parts which admitted a small quantity of wind to enter the groove and release the pressure before the pallet was fully opened; but even on the best of organs the performance of music played with ease upon modern instruments was absolutely impossible.



Just as we no longer see four men tugging at the steering wheel of an ocean steamer, the intervention of the steam steering gear rendering the use of so much physical force unnecessary, so it now occurred to an organ-builder in the city of Bath, England, named Charles Spachman Barker,[1] to enlist the force of the organ wind itself to overcome the resistance of the pallets in the wind-chest. This contrivance is known as the pneumatic lever, and consists of a toy bellows about nine inches long, inserted in the middle of the key action. The exertion of depressing the key is now reduced to the small amount of force required to open a valve, half an inch in width, which admits wind to the bellows. The bellows, being expanded by the wind, pulls down the pallet in the wind-chest; the bellows does all the hard work. The drawing on the next page, which shows the lever as improved by the eminent English organ-builder, Henry Willis, shows the cycle of operation.

When either the finger or foot is pressed upon a key connected with k, the outer end of the back-fall gg is pulled down, which opens the pallet p. The compressed air in a then rushes through the groove bb into the bellows cc, which rises and lifts with it all the action attached to it by l. As the top of the bellows cc rises, it lifts up the throttle-valve d (regulated by the wire m) which prevents the ingress of any more compressed air by bb. But the action of the key on gg, which opened the pallet p, also allowed the double-acting waste-valve e to close, and the tape f hangs loose. The compressed air, therefore, as it is admitted through bb cannot escape, but on the other hand when the key releases the outer end of g, and lets it rise up again, the tape f becomes tightened and opens the waste-valve, the bellows cc then drops into its closed position.

The organ touch could now be made as light as that of a pianoforte, much lighter than ever before.

This epoch-making invention, introduced in 1832, rendered possible extraordinary developments. It was at first strangely ignored and opposed. The English organ-builders refused to take it up. Barker was at length driven to France, where, in the person of Aristide Cavaille-Coll, he found a more far-seeing man.

After Cavaille-Coll had fully demonstrated the practical value of Barker's invention, Willis and others joined in its development, and they contemporaneously overcame all difficulties and brought the pneumatic action into general favor.

This process, of course, took time, and up to about fifty years ago pneumatic action was found only in a few organs of large calibre.

The recent revolution in organ building and in organ tone, of which this book treats, was founded upon the pneumatic and electro-pneumatic actions invented by Barker.[2]

It is safe to say that the art of organ building has advanced more during the last fifty years than in any previous three centuries. We are literally correct in saying that a veritable revolution has already been effected—and the end is not yet.

As leaders in this revolutionary movement, three names stand out with startling prominence—Henry Willis, Aristide Cavaille-Coll and Robert Hope-Jones.

Others have made contributions to detail (notably Hilborne L. Roosevelt), but it is due to the genius, the inventions and the work of those three great men that the modern organ stands where it does to-day.

We propose:

1. To enumerate and describe the inventions and improvements that have so entirely transformed the instrument;

2. To trace the progress of the revolution in our own country; and,

3. To describe the chief actors in the drama.

In the middle of the last century all organs were voiced on light wind pressure,[3] mostly from an inch and a half to three inches. True, the celebrated builder, William Hill, placed in his organ at Birmingham Town Hall, England, so early as 1833, a Tuba voiced on about eleven inches wind pressure, and Willis, Cavaille-Coll, Gray and Davison, and others, adopted high pressures for an occasional reed stop in their largest organs; yet ninety-nine per cent. of the organs built throughout the world were voiced on pressures not exceeding three and one-half inches.

In those days most organs that were met with demanded a finger force of some twenty ounces before the keys could be depressed, when coupled, and it was no uncommon thing for the organist to have to exert a pressure of fifty ounces or more on the bass keys. (The present standard is between three and four ounces. We are acquainted with an organ in New York City which requires a pressure of no less than forty ounces to depress the bass keys.)

The manual compass on these organs seldom extended higher than f 2 or g 3 , though it often went down to GG.[4]

It was common to omit notes from the lower octave for economy's sake, and many stops were habitually left destitute of their bottom octaves altogether. Frequently the less important keyboards would not descend farther than tenor C.[5]

The compass of the pedal board (when there was a pedal board at all) varied anywhere from one octave to about two and a quarter octaves. The pedal keys were almost invariably straight and the pedal boards flat.

[1] The invention of the pneumatic lever has been claimed for Mr. Hamilton, of Edinburgh, Scotland. It is, however, generally credited to Barker and known as the "Barker pneumatic lever." (See also note about Joseph Booth, page 129.)

[2] Barker was also associated with Peschard, who in 1864 patented jointly with him the electro-pneumatic action. (See page 37.)

[3] The pressure of the wind supplied by the old horizontal bellows is regulated by the weights placed on top. The amount of this pressure is measured by a wind-gauge or anemometer invented by Christian Foermer about 1677. It is a bent glass tube, double U shaped, into which a little water is poured. On placing one end of it fitted with a socket into one of the holes in the wind-chest (in place of a pipe) and admitting the wind from the bellows the water is forced up the tube, and the difference between the level of the surface of the water in the two legs of the tube is measured in inches. Thus, we always talk of the pressure of wind in an organ as being so many inches.

[4] The organ in Great Homer Street Wesleyan Chapel, Liverpool, England, had manuals extending down to CCC. It was built for a man who could not play the pedals and thus obtained 16 ft. tone from the keys. The old gallery organ in Trinity Church, New York, also has this compass.

[5] Tenor C is the lowest note of the tenor voice or the tenor violin (viola). It is one octave from the bottom note of a modern organ keyboard, which is called CC. The lowest note of the pedal-board is CCC. Counting from the bottom upwards on the manual we have, therefore, CC (double C), C (tenor C), c (middle C), c 1 (treble C), c 2 (C in alt) and c 3 (C in altissimo). This is the highest note on the keyboard of 61 keys. According to the modern nomenclature of the pianoforte keyboard this note is c 4 , and is frequently so stated erroneously in organ specifications.

GG is four notes below CC, the break in the scale coming between GG and FFF. Tenor C is an important note to remember. Here is where the cheap builder came in again. He cut his stops short at tenor C, trusting to the pedal pipes to cover the deficiency.

* * * * * *

In the year 1845, Prosper-Antoine Moitessier, an organ-builder of Montpellier, France, patented what he called "abrege pneumatique," an organ action in which all back-falls and rollers were replaced by tubes operated by exhaust air. In 1850 he built with this action an organ of 42 speaking stops for the church of Notre Dame de la Dalbade at Toulouse. This organ lasted 33 years. In 1866 Fermis, schoolmaster and village organist of Hanterire, near Toulouse, improved on Moitessier's action by combining tubes conveying compressed air with the Barker lever. An organ was built on this system for the Paris Exhibition of 1867, which came under the notice of Henry Willis, by which he was so struck that he was stimulated to experiment and develop his action, which culminated in the St. Paul's organ in 1872. (From article by Dr. Gabriel Bedart in Musical Opinion, London, July, 1908.)



Undoubtedly the first improvements to be named must be the pneumatic and electro-pneumatic actions.

Without the use of these actions most of the advances we are about to chronicle would not have been effected.

As before stated, Cavaille-Coll and Willis worked as pioneers in perfecting and in introducing the pneumatic action.

The pneumatic action used by Willis, Cavaille-Coll and a score of other builders leaves little to be desired. It is thoroughly reliable and, where the keys are located close by the organ, is fairly prompt both in attack and repetition. Many of the pneumatic actions made to-day, however, are disappointing in these particulars.


In the year 1872 Henry Willis built an organ for St. Paul's Cathedral, London, which was divided in two portions, one on each side of the junction of the Choir with the Dome at an elevation of about thirty feet from the floor. The keyboards were placed inside one portion of the instrument, and instead of carrying trackers down and under the floor and up to the other side, as had hitherto been the custom in such cases, he made the connection by means of tubes like gaspipes, and made a pulse of wind travel down and across and up and into the pneumatic levers controlling the pipes and stops. Sir John Stainer describes it as "a triumph of mechanical skill." He was organist of St. Paul's for many years and ought to know. This was all very well for a cathedral, where

". . . . the long-drawn aisles The melodious strains prolong"

but here is what the eminent English organist, W. T. Best, said about tubular pneumatic action as applied to another organ used for concert purposes: "It is a complete failure; you cannot play a triplet on the Trumpet, and I consider it the most d——nable invention ever placed inside an organ." Notwithstanding these drawbacks this action became very fashionable after its demonstration at St. Paul's, and was used even in small organs in preference to the Barker lever. One builder confessed to the writer that he had suffered severe financial loss through installing this action. After expending considerable time (and time is money) in getting it to work right, the whole thing would be upset when the sexton started up the heating apparatus. The writer is acquainted with organs in New York City where these same conditions prevail.

The writer, however, will admit having seen some tubular actions which were fairly satisfactory, one in particular in the factory of Alfred Monk, London, England, where for demonstration purposes the tubes were fifty feet long. Dr. Bedart informs us that Puget, the famous organ builder of Toulouse, France, sets fifty feet as the limit of usefulness of this action.

Henry Willis & Sons in their description of the organ in the Lady Chapel of Liverpool Cathedral state that their action has been tested to a repetition of 1,000 per minute, quicker than any human finger can move. This is a square organ in one case, but we note they have adopted the electric action for the great cathedral organ where the distance of the pipes from the keys is too great for satisfactory response.

In view of the wide use at present of this action we give a drawing and description of its operation as patented and made by Mr. J. J. Binns, of Bramley, Leeds, England. J. Matthews, in his "Handbook of the Organ," says that this action is very good and free from drawbacks.

The tubes, N, from each key are fixed to the hole connected to the small puffs P in the puff-board E. Air under pressure is admitted by the key action and conveyed by the tubes N which raises the corresponding button valves S 1 , lifting their spindles S and closing the apertures T 2 in the bottom of the wind-chest A, and opening a similar aperture T in the bottom of the cover-board F, causing the compressed air to escape from the exhaust bellows M, which closes, raising the solid valve H in the cover-board F and closing the aperture J 1 in the wind-chest A, shuts off the air from the bellows, which immediately closes, drawing down the pallet B, which admits air (or wind) to the pipes.

No tubular-pneumatic action is entirely satisfactory when the distance between the keys and the organ is great. This is often due to a law of nature rather than to imperfection of design or workmanship.

Pneumatic pulses travel slowly—at a speed which does not reach 1,100 feet per second. In large organs where necessarily some of the tubes are short and some have to be long, it is impossible to secure simultaneous speech from all departments of the instrument, and in addition to this the crisp feeling of direct connection with his pipes, which the old tracker action secured for the organist, is lost.

It is generally thought amongst the more advanced of the builders and organists qualified to judge, that the tubular-pneumatic action will sooner or later be entirely abandoned in favor of the electro-pneumatic action. Certain it is that the aid of electricity is now called in in practically every large instrument that is built in this country, and in an increasing proportion of those constructed abroad.


The instance of St. Paul's Cathedral cited above shows the demand that existed at that time for means whereby the organ could be played with the keyboards situated at some distance from the main body of the instrument. In the Cathedrals the organ was usually placed on a screen dividing the Choir from the Nave, completely obstructing the view down the church. There was a demand for its removal from this position (which was eventually done at St. Paul's, Chester, Durham, and other Cathedrals). Then in the large parish churches the quartet of singers in the west gallery where the organ was placed had been abolished. Boy choirs had been installed in the chancel, leaving the organ and organist in the west gallery, to keep time together as best they could. In the Cathedrals, too, the organist was a long way off from the choir. How glorious it would be if he could sit and play in their midst! Henry Willis & Sons stated in a letter to the London Musical News, in 1890, that they had been repeatedly asked to make such arrangements but had refused, "because Dame Nature stood in the way,"—which she certainly did if tubular pneumatics had been used. The fact was that up to this time all the electric actions invented had proved more or less unreliable, and Willis, who had an artistic reputation to lose, refused to employ them. As an instance of their clumsiness we may mention that the best contact they could get was made by dipping a platinum point in a cell containing mercury! Other forms of contact rapidly oxidized and went out of business.

Dr. Gauntlet, about the year 1852, took out a patent covering an electric connection between the keys and the pallets of an organ,[2] but the invention of the electro-pneumatic lever must be ascribed to Barker and Dr. Peschard. The latter seems to have suggested the contrivance and the former to have done the practical work.

Bryceson Bros. were the first to introduce this action into English organs. They commenced work along these lines in 1868, under the Barker patents, their first organ being built behind the scenes at Her Majesty's Opera House, Drury Lane, London, the keys being in the orchestra. This organ was used successfully for over a year, after which it was removed and shown as a curiosity in the London Polytechnic Institute, recitals being given twice daily.

Schmole and Molls, Conti, Trice and others took a leading part in the work on the European continent, and Roosevelt was perhaps its greatest pioneer in the United States.

Various builders in many countries have more recently made scores of improvements or variations in form and have taken out patents to cover the points of difference, but none of these has done any work of special importance.

Not one of the early electric actions proved either quick or reliable, and all were costly to install and maintain.[3]

This form of mechanism, therefore, earned a bad name and was making little advance, if not actually being abandoned, when a skilled electrician, Robert Hope-Jones, entered the field about 1886. Knowing little of organs and nothing of previous attempts to utilize electricity for this service, he made with his own hands and some unskilled assistance furnished by members of his voluntary choir, the first movable console,[4] stop-keys, double touch, suitable bass, etc., and an electric action that created a sensation throughout the organ world. In this action the "pneumatic blow" was for the first time attained and an attack and repetition secured in advance of anything thought possible at that time, in connection with the organ or the pianoforte.

Hope-Jones introduced the round wire contact which secures the ideally perfect "nibbing points," and he makes these wires of dissimilar non-corrosive metals (gold and platinum).

He replaced previous rule-of-thumb methods by scientific calculation, recognized the value of low voltage, good insulation and the avoidance of self-induction, with the result that the electro-pneumatic action has become (when properly made) as reliable as the tracker or pneumatic lever mechanism.


The electric action consists substantially of a small bellows like the pneumatic lever, but instead of the valve admitting the wind to operate it being moved by a tracker leading from the key, it is opened by an electro-magnet, energized by a contact in the keyboard and connected therewith by a wire which, of course, may be of any desired length. We illustrate one form of action invented and used by Hope-Jones.[5]

Within the organ, the wires from the other end of the cable are attached to small magnets specially wound so that no spark results when the electric contact at the key is broken. This magnet attracts a thin disc of iron about 1/4 inch in diameter, (held up by a high wind pressure from underneath) and draws it downward through a space of less than 1/100 of an inch.

The working is as follows: The box A is connected with the organ bellows and so (immediately the wind is put into the organ) is filled with air under pressure, which passes upwards between the poles of the magnet N. Lifting the small iron disc L it finds its way through the passage L into the small motor M, thus allowing the movable portion of the motor M to remain in its lower position, the pallet C 1 being closed and the pallet C 2 being open. Under these conditions, the large motor B collapses and the pull-down P (which is connected with the organ pallet) rises.

When a weak current of electricity is caused to circulate round the coils of the electro-magnet N, the small armature disc J is drawn off the valve-seat H on to the zinc plate K.

The compressed air from within the small motor M escapes by way of the passage L, through the openings in the valve seat H into the atmosphere. The compressed air in the box A then acts upon the movable portion of the small motor M in such a manner that it is forced upwards and caused (through the medium of the pull-wire E) to lift the supply pallet C 1 and close the exhaust pallet C 2 , thus allowing compressed air to rush from the box A into the motor B and so cause this latter motor to open and (through the medium of the pull down P) to pull the soundboard pallet from its seat and allow wind to pass into the pipes.

The valve-seat H has formed on its lower surface two crescent shaped long and narrow slits. A very slight movement of the armature disc J, therefore, suffices to open to the full extent two long exhaust passages. The movement of this disc is reduced to something less than the 1/100 part of an inch. It is, therefore, always very close to the poles of the magnet, consequently a very faint impulse of electricity will suffice (aided by gravity) to draw the disc off the valve-seat H. The zinc plate K being in intimate contact with the iron poles of the magnet N, protects the latter from rust by well-known electrical laws. All the parts are made of metal, so that no change in the weather can affect their relative positions. R is the point at which the large motor B is hinged. G is a spring retaining cap in position; O the wires leading from the keys and conveying the current to the magnet N; Q the removable side of the box A.

Fig. 7 represents a larger view of the plate K in which the magnet poles N are rigidly fixed—of a piece of very fine chiffon M (indicated by a slightly thicker line) which prevents particles of dust passing through so as to interfere with the proper seating of the soft Swedish charcoal iron armature disc J—of the distance piece L and of the valve seat H.

On the upper surface of this valve seat H another piece of fine chiffon is attached to prevent possible passage of dust to the armature valve J, from outside.

As all parts of this apparatus are of metal changes in humidity or temperature do not affect its regulation.

The use of this action renders it possible for the console (or keyboards, etc.) to be entirely detached from the organ, moved to a distance and connected with the organ by a cable fifty or one hundred feet or as many miles long. This arrangement may be seen, for example, in the College of the City of New York (built by the E. M. Skinner Co.), where the console is carried to the middle of the platform when a recital is to be given, and removed out of the way when the platform is wanted for other purposes.

As all the old mechanism—the backfalls, roller-boards and trackers—is now swept away, it is possible by placing the bellows in the cellar to utilize the inside of the organ for a choir-vestry, as was indeed done with the pioneer Hope-Jones organ at St. John's Church, Birkenhead.


Before the invention of pneumatic and electro-pneumatic action, organs were almost invariably constructed in a single mass. It was, it is true, possible to find instruments with tracker action that were divided and placed, say, half on either side of a chancel, but instances of the kind were rare and it was well nigh impossible for even a muscular organist to perform on such instruments.

The perfecting of tubular pneumatic and especially of electro-pneumatic action has lent wonderful flexibility to the organ and has allowed of instruments being introduced in buildings where it would otherwise have been impossible to locate an organ. Almost all leading builders have done work of this kind, but the Aeolian Company has been quickest to seize the advantage of division in adapting the pipe organ for use in private residences.

Sound reflectors have recently been introduced, and it seems likely that these will play an important part in organ construction in the future. So far they appear to be employed only by Hope-Jones and the firms with which he was associated. It has been discovered that sound waves may be collected, focussed or directed, much in the same way that light waves can. In the case of the Hope-Jones organ at Ocean Grove, N. J., the greatest part of the instrument has been placed in a basement constructed outside the original Auditorium. The sound waves are thrown upward and are directed into the Auditorium by means of parabolic reflectors constructed of cement lined with wood. The effect is entirely satisfactory. In Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland, Ohio,[6] Hope-Jones arranged for the Tuba to stand in the basement at the distant end of the nave. Its tone is directed to a cement reflector and from that reflector is projected through a metal grid set in the floor, till, striking the roof of the nave, it is spread and fills the entire building with tone. In St. Luke's Church, Montclair, N. J., he adopted a somewhat similar plan in connection with the open 38-foot pedal pipes which are laid horizontally in the basement. We believe that the first time this principle was employed was in the case of the organ rebuilt by Hope-Jones in 1892 at the residence of Mr. J. Martin White, Balruddery, Dundee, Scotland.


In the days of mechanical action, couplers of any kind proved a source of trouble and added greatly to the weight of the touch. The natural result was that anything further than unison coupling was seldom attempted.

In some organs hardly any couplers at all were present.

In Schulze's great and celebrated organ in Doncaster, England, it was not possible to couple any of the manuals to the pedals, and (if we remember rightly) there were only two couplers in the whole instrument. Shortly after the introduction of pneumatic action, an organ with an occasional octave coupler, that is a coupler which depressed a key an octave higher or lower than the one originally struck, was sometimes met with.

In the pioneer organ built by Hope-Jones in Birkenhead, England (about 1887), a sudden advance was made. That organ contains no less than 19 couplers. Not only did he provide sub-octave and super-octave couplers freely, but he even added a Swell Sub-quint to Great coupler!

Octave couplers are now provided by almost all builders.

Though condemned by many theorists, there is no doubt that in practice they greatly add to the resources of the instruments to which they are attached. We know of small organs where the electric action has been introduced for no other reason than that of facilitating the use of octave couplers, which are now a mere matter of wiring and give no additional weight to the touch.

Hope-Jones appears to have led in adding extra pipes to the wind-chest, which were acted upon by the top octave of the octave couplers, thus giving the organist a complete scale to the full extent of the keyboards. He made the practice common in England, and the Austin Company adopted it on his joining them in this country. The plan has since become more or leas common. This is the device we see specified in organ builders' catalogues as the "extended wind-chest," and explains why the stops have 73 pipes to 61 notes on the keyboard. An octave coupler without such extension is incomplete and is no more honest than a stop which only goes down to Tenor C.

[1] The researches of Dr. Gabriel Bedart, Professeur agrege Physiologie in the University of Lille, France, a learned and enthusiastic organ connoisseur, have brought to light the fact that the first tubular pneumatic action was constructed by Moitessier in France in 1835. It was designed upon the exhaust principle.

[2] Dr. Gauntlett's idea was to play all the organs shown in the Great Exhibition in London, in 1851, from one central keyboard. He proposed to place an electro-magnet inside the wind-chest under each pallet, which would have required an enormous amount of electric current. The idea was never carried out. This plan seems also to have occurred to William Wilkinson, the organ-builder of Kendal, as far back as 1862, but, after some experiments, was abandoned. An organ constructed on similar lines was actually built by Karl G. Weigle, of Echterdingen, near Stuttgart, Germany, in 1870, and although not at all a success, he built another on the same principle which was exhibited at the Vienna Exhibition in 1873. Owing to the powerful current necessary to open the Pallets, the contacts fused and the organ was nearly destroyed by fire on several occasions.

[3] Sir John Stainer, in the 1889 edition of his "Dictionary of Musical Terms," dismisses the electric action in a paragraph of four lines as of no practical importance. In that same year the writer asked Mr. W. T. Best to come over and look at the organ in St. John's Church, Birkenhead, which was then beginning to be talked about, and he laughed at the idea that any good could come out of an electric action. He was a man of wide experience who gave recitals all over the country and was thoroughly acquainted with the attempts that had been made up to that time. He did not want to see any more electric organs.

[4] Console—the keyboards, pedals and stop action by which the organ is played; sometimes detached from the instrument.

[5] from Matthews' "Handbook of the Organ," p. 52 et seq.

[6] Organ built by the Ernest M. Skinner Co.

* * * * * *

Dr. Albert Peschard was born in 1836, qualified as an advocate (Docteur en droit), and from 1857 to 1875 was organist of the Church of St. Etienne, Caen, France. He commenced to experiment in electro-pneumatics in the year 1860, and early in 1861 communicated his discoveries to Mr. Barker. From that date until Barker left France, Peschard collaborated with him, reaping no pecuniary benefit therefrom. Peschard, however, was honored by being publicly awarded the Medal of Merit of the Netherlands; the Medal of Association Francaise pour l'Avancement de la Science; Gold Medal, Exhibition of Lyons; and the Gold Medal, Exhibition of Bordeaux. He died at Caen, December 23, 1903. (From Dr. Hinton's "Story of the Electric Organ.")



On looking at the console of a modern organ the observer will be struck by the fact that the familiar draw-stop knobs have disappeared, or, if they are still there, he will most likely find in addition a row of ivory tablets, like dominoes, arranged over the upper manual. If the stop-knobs are all gone, he will find an extended row, perhaps two rows of these tablets. These are the stop-keys which, working on a centre, move either the sliders in the wind-chest, or bring the various couplers on manuals and pedals on or off.

We learn from Dr. Bedart that as early as 1804 an arrangement suggestive of the stop-key was in use in Avignon Cathedral. William Horatio Clarke, of Reading, Mass., applied for a patent covering a form of stop-key in 1877. Hope-Jones, however, is generally credited with introducing the first practical stop-keys. He invented the forms most largely used to-day, and led their adoption in England, in this country, and indeed throughout the world.

Our illustration (Fig. 8) gives a good idea of the appearance of a modern Hope-Jones console. The stop-keys will be seen arranged in an inclined semi-circle overhanging and just above the keyboards. Fig. 9 shows a console on the Bennett system. Figs. 10 and 11, hybrids, the tilting tablet form of stop-keys being used for the couplers only.

There is much controversy as to whether stop-keys will eventually displace the older fashioned draw-knobs.

A few organists of eminence, notably Edwin H. Lemare, are strongly opposed to the new method of control, but the majority, especially the rising generation of organists, warmly welcome the change. It is significant that whereas Hope-Jones was for years the only advocate of the system, four or five of the builders in this country, and a dozen foreign organ-builders, are now supplying stop-keys either exclusively or for a considerable number of their organs. Austin, Skinner, Norman & Beard, Ingram and others use the Hope-Jones pattern, but Haskell, Bennett, Hele and others have patterns of their own. It is a matter of regret that some one pattern has not been agreed on by all the builders concerned.[1]


In older days all stop-keys were moved by hand, and as a natural consequence few changes in registration could be made during performance.

Pedals for throwing out various combinations of stops were introduced into organs about 1809; it is generally believed that J. C. Bishop was the inventor of this contrivance.

Willis introduced into his organs pneumatic thumb-pistons about the year 1851. These pistons were placed below the keyboard whose stops they affected.

T. C. Lewis, of England, later introduced short key-touches arranged above the rear end of the keys of the manual. Depression of these key-touches brought different combinations of stops into use on the keyboard above which they were placed. Somewhat similar key-touches were used by the Hope-Jones Organ Co. and by the Austin Organ Co.

Metal buttons or pistons located on the toe piece of the pedal-board were introduced by the ingenious Casavant of Canada. They are now fitted by various builders and appear likely to be generally adopted. These toe-pistons form an additional and most convenient means for bringing the stops into and out of action.

At first these various contrivances operated only such combinations as were arranged by the builder beforehand, but now it is the custom to provide means by which the organist can so alter and arrange matters that any combination piston or combination key shall bring out and take in any selection of stops that he may desire. Hilborne Roosevelt of New York, was the first to introduce these adjustable combination movements.

The introduction of the above means of rapidly shifting the stops in an organ has revolutionized organ-playing, and has rendered possible the performance of the orchestral transcriptions that we now so often hear at organ recitals.

In order to economize in cost of manufacture, certain of the organ-builders, chiefly in America and in Germany, have adopted the pernicious practice of making the combination pedals, pistons or keys bring the various ranks of pipes into or out of action without moving the stop-knobs.

This unfortunate plan either requires the organist to remember which combination of stops he last brought into operation on each keyboard, or else necessitates the introduction of some indicator displaying a record of the pistons that he last touched. In the organ in the Memorial Church of the 1st Emperor William in Berlin, the builder introduced a series of electric lights for this purpose. This device can be seen in use in this country.

When this plan is adopted the player is compelled to preserve a mental image of the combinations set on every piston or pedal in the organ and identify them instantly by the numbers shown on the indicator—an impossibility in the case of adjustable combinations often changed—impracticable in any case.

Almost all the greatest organists agree in condemning the system of non-moving stop-knobs, and we trust and believe that it will soon be finally abandoned.

[1] Organists find, after using them a short time, that a row of stop-keys over the manuals is wonderfully easy to control. It is possible to slide the finger along, and with one sweep either bring on or shut off the whole organ.



Pedal boards had always been made flat with straight keys until Willis and the great organist, Dr. S. S. Wesley, devised the radiating and concave board whereby all the pedal keys were brought within equal distance of the player's feet. This was introduced in the organ in St. George's Hall, Liverpool, in 1855, and Willis has refused to supply any other type of board with his organs ever since. Curiously enough, the advantages of this board were not appreciated by many players who preferred the old type of board and at a conference called by the Royal College of Organists in 1890 it was decided to officially recommend a board which was concave, but had parallel keys. The following letter to the author shows that the R. C. O. has experienced a change of heart in this matter:


LONDON, S. W., 27th May, 1909.

Dear Sir: In answer to your inquiry the Resolutions and Recommendations to which you refer were withdrawn by my Council some years ago. No official recommendation is made by them now. It is stated in our Calendar that the Council wish it understood that the arrangements and measurements of the College organ are not intended to be accepted as authoritative or final suggestions. I am,

Yours faithfully, THOMAS SHINDLER, Registrar.

The radiating and concave board has been adopted by the American Guild of Organists and has long been considered the standard for the best organs built in the United States and Canada. It is self-evident that this board is more expensive to construct than the other. That is why we do not find it in low-priced organs.

In most American organs built twenty years ago, the compass of the pedal board was only two octaves and two notes, from CCC to D. Sometimes two octaves only. Later it was extended to F, 30 notes, which is the compass generally found in England. Following Hope-Jones' lead, all the best builders have now extended their boards to g, 32 notes, this range being called for by some of Bach's organ music and certain pieces of the French school where a melody is played by the right foot and the bass by the left. The chief reason is that g is the top note of the string bass, and is called for in orchestral transcriptions. Henry Willis & Sons have also extended the pedal compass to g in rebuilding the St. George's Hall organ in 1898.


For a long time no means whatever of controlling the Pedal stops and couplers was provided, but in course of time it became the fashion to cause the combination pedals or pistons on the Great organ (and subsequently on the other departments also) to move the Pedal stops and couplers so as to provide a bass suited to the particular combination of stops in use on the manual. This was a crude arrangement and often proved more of a hindrance than of a help to the player. Unfortunately, unprogressive builders are still adhering to this inartistic plan. It frequently leads to a player upsetting his Pedal combination when he has no desire to do so. It becomes impossible to use the combination pedals without disturbing the stops and couplers of the Pedal department.

The great English organist, W. T. Best, in speaking of this, instanced a well-known organ piece, Rinck's "Flute Concerto," which called for quick changes from the Swell to the Great organ and vice versa, and said that he knew of no instrument in existence on which it could be properly played. An attempt had been made on the Continent to overcome this difficulty by the use of two pedal-boards, placed at an angle to each other, but it did not meet with success.

The Hope-Jones plan (patented 1889) of providing the combination pedals or pistons with a double touch was a distinct step in advance for it enabled the organist by means of a light touch to move only the manual registers and by means of a very much heavier touch on the combination pedal or piston to operate also his Pedal stops and couplers. Most large organs now built are furnished with a pedal for reversing the position of the Great to Pedal coupler. Though to a certain extent useful when no better means of control is provided, this is but a makeshift.

Thomas Casson, of Denbigh, Wales, introduced an artistic, though somewhat cumbersome, arrangement. He duplicated the draw-knobs controlling the Pedal stops and couplers and located one set of these with the Great organ stops, another set with the Swell organ stops and a third with the Choir. He placed in the key slip below each manual what he called a "Pedal Help." When playing on the Great organ, he would, by touching the "Pedal Help," switch into action the group of Pedal stops and coupler knobs located in the Great department, switching out of action all the other groups of Pedal stops and couplers. Upon touching the "Pedal Help" under the Swell organ keys, the Great organ group of Pedal stops and couplers would be rendered inoperative and the Swell group would be brought into action. By this means it was easy to prepare in advance groups of Pedal stops and couplers suited to the combination of stops sounding upon each manual and by touching a Pedal Help, to call the right group of Pedal stops into action at any moment. The combination pedals affecting the Great stop-knobs moved also the Pedal stop-knobs belonging to the proper group. The Swell and Choir groups were similarly treated.

But the simplest and best means of helping the organist to control his Pedal department is the automatic "Suitable Bass" arrangement patented by Hope-Jones in 1891 and subsequently. According to his plan a "Suitable Bass" tablet is provided just above the rear end of the black keys on each manual.

Each of these tablets has a double touch. On pressing it with ordinary force it moves the Pedal stop keys and couplers, so as to provide an appropriate bass to the combination of stops in use on that manual at the moment. On pressing it with much greater force it becomes locked down and remains in that position until released by the depression of the suitable bass tablet belonging to another manual, or by touching any of the Pedal stop-knobs or stop-keys.

When the suitable bass tablet belonging to any manual is thus locked down, the stops and couplers of the Pedal department will automatically move so as to provide at all times a bass that is suitable to the combination of stops and couplers in use upon that particular manual.

On touching the suitable bass tablet belonging to any other manual with extra pressure, the tablet formerly touched will be released and the latter will become locked down. The Pedal stops and couplers will now group themselves so as to provide a suitable bass to the stops in use on the latter-named manual, and will continue so to do until this suitable bass tablet is in turn released.

This automatic suitable bass device does not interfere with the normal use of the stop-keys of the pedal department by hand. Directly any one of these be touched, the suitable bass mechanism is automatically thrown out of action.

The combination pedals and pistons are all provided with double touch. Upon using them in the ordinary way the manual stops alone are affected. If, however, considerable extra pressure be brought to bear upon them the appropriate suitable bass tablet is thereby momentarily depressed and liberated—by this means providing a suitable bass. In large organs two or three adjustable toe pistons are also provided to give independent control of the Pedal organ. On touching any of these toe pistons all suitable bass tablets are released, and any selection of Pedal stops and couplers that the organist may have arranged on the toe piston operated is brought into use. The Hope-Jones plan seems to leave little room for improvement. It has been spoken of as "the greatest assistance to the organist since the invention of combination pedals." [1]

Compton, of Nottingham, England[2] (a progressive and artistic builder), already fits a suitable bass attachment to his organs and it would seem likely that before long this system must become universally adopted.

[1] Mark Andrews, Associate of the Royal College of Organists, England, President of the National Association of Organists and Sub-Warden of the American Guild of Organists.

[2] Mr. R. P. Elliott, organizer and late Vice-President of the Austin Co., said on his last return from England that Compton was at that time doing the most artistic work of any organ-builder in that country. He is working to a great extent on the lines laid down by Hope-Jones, and has the benefit of the advice and assistance of that well-known patron of the art, Mr. J. Martin White. His business has lately been reorganized under the title of John Compton, Ltd., in which company Mr. White is a large shareholder.




To most organs in this country, to many in Germany, and to a few in other countries, there is attached a balanced shoe pedal by movement of which the various stops and couplers in the organ are brought into action in due sequence. By this means an organist is enabled to build up the tone of his organ from the softest to the loudest without having to touch a single stop-knob, coupler or combination piston. The crescendo pedal, as it is called, is little used in England. It is the fashion there to regard it merely as a device to help an incompetent organist. It is contended that a crescendo pedal is most inartistic, as it is certain to be throwing on or taking off stops in the middle, instead of at the beginning or end of a musical phrase. In spite of this acknowledged defect, many of the best players in this country regard it as a legitimate and helpful device.

We believe the first balanced crescendo pedal in this country was put in the First Presbyterian Church organ at Syracuse, N. Y., by Steere, the builder of the instrument.


Under the name of Sforzando Coupler, the mechanism of which is described and illustrated in Stainer's Dictionary, a device was formerly found in some organs by which the keys of the Swell were caused to act upon the keys of the Great. The coupler being brought on and off by a pedal, sforzando effects could be produced, or the first beat in cadi measure strongly accented in the style of the orchestration of the great masters. Hope-Jones in his pioneer organ at St. John's Church, Birkenhead, England, provided a pedal which brought the Tuba on the Great organ. The pedal was thrown back by a spring on being released from the pressure of the foot. Some fine effects could be produced by this, but of course the whole keyboard was affected and only chords could be played. Various complicated devices to bring out a melody have been invented from time to time by various builders, but all have been superseded by the invention of the "Double Touch." On a keyboard provided with this device, extra pressure of the fingers causes the keys struck to fall an additional eighth inch (through a spring giving way), bringing the stops drawn on another manual into play. If playing on the Swell organ, the Choir stops will sound as well when the keys are struck with extra firmness; if playing on the Choir the Swell stops sound; and if playing on the Great the Double Touch usually brings on the Tuba or Trumpet. It is thus possible to play a hymn tune in four parts on the Swell and bring out the melody on the Choir Clarinet; to play on the Choir and bring out the melody on the Swell Vox Humana or Cornopean; or to play a fugue with the full power of the Great organ (except the Trumpet) and bring out the subject of the fugue every time it enters, whether in the soprano voice, the alto, tenor, or bass.

In the latest Hope-Jones organs arrangements are made for drawing many of the individual stops on the second touch, independently of the couplers.


At the commencement of the period of which we are treating (some fifty years ago) the Swell shutters of almost all organs were made to fall shut of their own weight, or by means of a spring. The organist might leave his Swell-box shut or, by means of a catch on the pedal, hitch it full open.

When, however, he wanted the shutters in any intermediate position, he had to keep his foot on the pedal in order to prevent its closing.

The introduction of the balanced Swell pedal (Walcker, 1863) has greatly increased the tonal resources of the organ. It is used almost universally in this country, but strangely enough the country in which the Swell-box was invented (England, 1712) lags behind, and even to-day largely adheres to the old forms of spring pedal.

A further and great step in advance appears in recent organs built by the Hope-Jones Organ Company. The position of the swell shutters is brought under the control of the organist's fingers as well as his feet. Each balanced swell pedal is provided with an indicator key fixed on the under side of the ledge of the music desk, where it is most conspicuous to the eye of the performer. As the swell pedal is opened by the organist's foot, the indicator key travels in a downward direction to the extent of perhaps one inch and a quarter. As the organist closes his pedal, the indicator key again moves upward into its normal position. By means of this visible indicator key the organist is always aware of the position of the swell shutters. Through electric mechanism the indicator key is so connected with the swell pedal that the slightest urging of the key either upward or downward by the finger will shift the swell pedal and cause it to close or open as may be desired and to the desired extent. When an organ possesses four or five swell boxes, and when these swell boxes (as in the case of Hope-Jones' organs) modify the tone by many hundred per cent., it becomes highly important that the organist shall at all times have complete and instant control of the swell shutters and shall be conscious of their position without having to look below the keyboards. Hope-Jones also provides what he calls a general swell pedal. To this general swell pedal (and its corresponding indicator key) any or all of the other swell pedals may be coupled at will.

Hope-Jones has also recently invented a means of controlling the swell shutters from the manual keys to a sufficient extent to produce certain sforzando effects.

When this contrivance is brought into use upon any manual and when no keys upon that manual are being played, the swell shutters assume a position slightly more open than normal in relation to the position of the swell pedal. Directly any key upon the manual in question is depressed, the swell shutters again resume their normal position in relation to the swell pedal. This results in a certain emphasis or attack at the commencement of each phrase or note that is akin to the effect obtained from many of the instruments of the orchestra.

These contrivances are applicable only to such organs as have the balanced swell pedal.


The invention of the Swell is generally attributed to Abraham Jordan. He exhibited what was known as the nag's head Swell in St. Magnus' Church, London, England, in the year 1731.

The "nag's head" Swell, with its great sliding shutter, rapidly gave place to the "Venetian" Swell shades, used almost universally to this day. At the beginning of the period under consideration Swell boxes were almost invariably made of thin boards and their effect upon the strength of the tone was small. Willis was one of the first to realize the artistic possibilities of the Swell organ and in almost all his organs we find thick wooden boxes and carefully fitted shutters, and often an inner swell box containing the delicate reeds, such as the Vox Humana and Oboe.

Many of the leading organ builders now employ this thicker construction, and it is no uncommon thing to find Swell boxes measuring three inches in thickness and "deadened" with sawdust or shavings between the layers of wood of which they are formed.

A few organs of Hutchings and other makers are provided with a double set of shutters, so that sound waves escaping through the first set are largely arrested by the second. The crescendo and diminuendo are thus somewhat improved.

By the adoption of scientific principles Hope-Jones has multiplied the efficiency of Swell boxes tenfold. He points out that wood, hitherto used in their construction, is one of the best known conductors of sound and should, therefore, not be employed. The effects produced by his brick, stone and cement boxes (Worcester Cathedral, England; McEwan Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland, Ocean Grove, New Jersey, etc.) mark the dawn of a new era in Swell-box construction and effect. It is now possible to produce by means of scientific Swell boxes an increase or diminution of tone amounting to many hundred per cent.

We have heard the great Tuba at Ocean Grove, on 50-inch wind pressure, so reduced in strength that it formed an effective accompaniment to the tones of a single voice.

The Hope-Jones method seems to be to construct the box and its shutters (in laminated form) of brick, cement or other inert and non-porous material, and to substitute for the felt usually employed at the joints his patented "sound trap." This latter is so interesting and of such import in the history of organ building that we append, on the next page, illustrations and descriptions of the device.

If a man should stand at one end of the closed passage (C) he will be able to converse with a friend at the other end of the passage (D). The passage will in fact act as a large speaking tube and a conversation can be carried on between the two individuals, even in whispers (Figure 12).

This passage is analogous to the opening or nick between Swell shutters of the ordinary type.

If a man should stand in room 1 at A, he will be able to see a friend standing in room 4 at B, but the two friends will not be able to converse. When A speaks, the sound waves that he produces will spread out and will fill room 1. A very small percentage of them will strike the doorway or opening into room 2. In their turn these sound waves will be diffused all through room 2, and again but a small percentage of them will find access into room 3. The sound waves will by this time be so much attenuated that the voice of the man standing in room 1 will be lost. Any little tone, however, that may remain will become dissipated in room 3, and it will not be possible for a person standing in room 4 to hear the voice.

This plan illustrates the principle of the sound trap joint.

Figure 13 shows in section the joint between two Swell shutters. A small proportion of the sound waves from inside the Swell box striking the sound trap joint, as indicated by the arrow, will pass through the nick between the two shutters, but these sound waves will become greatly weakened in charging the groove A. Such of the sound waves is pass through the second nick will become attenuated in charging the chamber B. They will be further lost in the chamber C, and practically none will remain by the time the chamber D is reached.

It is Hope-Jones' habit to place the shutters immediately above the pipes themselves, so that when they are opened the Swell box is left practically without any top. It is in such cases not his custom to fit any shutters in the side or front of the Swell box.

To relieve the compression of the air caused by playing for any length of time with the shutters closed, he provides escape valves, opening outside the auditorium. He also provides fans for driving all the cold air out of the box before using the organ, thus equalizing the temperature with the air outside—or he accomplishes this result through the medium of gas, electric or steam heaters, governed by thermostats.

The Hope-Jones Vacuum Swell Shutters, with sound-trap joints, are shown in Figures 14 and 15.

It is well known that sound requires some medium to carry it. Readers will doubtless be familiar with the well-known experiment illustrating this point. An electric bell is placed under a glass dome. So long as the dome is filled with air the sound of the bell can be heard, but directly the air is pumped out silence results, even though it can be seen that the bell is continuously ringing. As there is no air surrounding the bell there is nothing to convey its vibrations to the ear.

That is why the hollow swell shutter, from the interior of which the air has been pumped out, is such a wonderful non-conductor of sound.

The shutters shown in Figures 14 and 15 are aluminum castings.

Ribs R 1 and R 2 are provided to support the flat sides against the pressure of the atmosphere, but each of these ribs is so arranged that it supports only one flat side and does not form a means of communication between one flat side and the other. Thus R 1 supports one flat side whilst R 2 supports the other. The aluminum shutters are supported by means of pivot P.

They are very light and can therefore be opened and closed with great rapidity.

A very thin vacuum shutter forms a better interrupter of sound waves than a brick wall two or three feet in thickness.

When partially exhausted the aluminum shutters are dipped into a bath of shellac. This effectually closes any microscopic blow-hole that may exist in the metal.

The use of Swell boxes of this vastly increased efficiency permits the employment of larger scales and heavier pressures for the pipes than could otherwise be used, and enormously increases the tonal flexibility of the organ.

It also does away with the need for soft stops in an organ, thus securing considerable economy. Where all the stops are inclosed in cement chambers (as in the case of recent Hope-Jones organs) and where the sound-trap shutters are employed, every stop is potentially a soft stop.



Prior to the construction of the above-named organ at Birkenhead, England, it had been the custom to obtain or regulate the pressure of wind supplied to the pipes by means of loading the bellows with weights. Owing to its inertia, no heavy bellows weight can be set into motion rapidly. When, therefore, a staccato chord was struck on one of these earlier organs, with all its stops drawn, little or no response was obtained from the pipes, because the wind-chest was instantly exhausted and no time was allowed for the inert bellows weights to fall and so force a fresh supply of air into the wind-chests.


In one of Hope-Jones' earliest patents the weights indeed remain, but they merely serve to compress springs, which in turn, act upon the top of the bellows.

Before this patent was granted he had, however, given up the use of weights altogether and relied entirely upon springs.

This one detail—the substitution of springs for weights—has had a far-reaching effect upon organ music. It rendered possible the entire removal of the old unsteadiness of wind from which all organs of the time suffered in greater or less degree. It quickened the attack of the action and the speech of the pipes to an amazing extent and opened a new and wider field to the King of Instruments.

In the year 1894 John Turnell Austin, now of Hartford, Conn., took out a patent for an arrangement known as the "Universal air-chest." In this, the spring as opposed to the weight is adopted. The Universal air-chest forms a perfect solution of the problem of supplying prompt and steady wind-pressure, but as practically the same effect is obtained by the use of a little spring reservoir not one hundredth part of its size, it is questionable whether this Universal air-chest, carrying, as it does, certain disadvantages, will survive.


Fifty years ago the pallet and slider sound-board was well nigh universally used, but several of the builders in Germany, and Roosevelt in this country, strongly advocated, and introduced, chests having an independent valve, pallet or membrane, to control the admission of wind to each pipe in the organ.[1]

In almost all of these instances small round valves were used for this purpose.

A good pallet and slider chest is difficult to make, and those constructed by indifferent workmen out of indifferent lumber will cause trouble through "running"—that is, leakage of wind from one pipe to another. In poor chests of this description the slides are apt to stick when the atmosphere is excessively damp, and to become too loose on days when little or no humidity is present.

Individual pallet chests are cheaper to make and they have none of the defects named above. Most of these chests, however, are subject to troubles of their own, and not one of those in which round valves are employed permits the pipes to speak to advantage.

Willis, Hope-Jones, Carlton C. Michell and other artists, after lengthy tests, independently arrived at the conclusion that the best tonal results cannot by any possibility be obtained from these cheap forms of chest. Long pallets and a large and steady body of air below each pipe are deemed essential.[2]


As previously stated, the vast majority of organs built fifty years ago used no higher wind pressure than 3 inches. Hill, in 1833, placed a Tuba stop voiced on about 11 inches in an organ he built for Birmingham Town Hall (England), but the tone was so coarse and blatant that such stops were for years employed only in the case of very large buildings.[3] Cavaille-Coll subsequently utilized slightly increased pressures for the trebles of his flue stops as well as for his larger reeds. As a pioneer he did excellent work in this direction.

To Willis, however, must be attributed greater advance in the utilization of heavy pressures for reed work. He was the first to recognize that the advantage of heavy wind pressure for the reeds lay not merely in the increase of power, but also in the improvement of the quality of tone. Willis founded a new school of reed voicing and exerted an influence that will never die.

In organs of any pretensions it became his custom to employ pressures of 8 to 10 inches for the Great and Swell chorus reeds and the Solo Tubas in his larger organs were voiced on 20 or 25 inches.

He introduced the "closed eschallot" (the tube against which the tongue beats in a reed pipe) and created a revolution in reed voicing. He has had many imitators, but the superb examples of his skill, left in English Cathedral and town hall organs, will be difficult to surpass.

Prior to the advent of Hope-Jones (about the year 1887) no higher pressure than 25 inches had, we believe, been employed in any organ, and the vast majority of instruments were voiced on pressures not exceeding 3 inches. Heavy pressure flue voicing was practically unknown, and in reeds even Willis used very moderate pressures, save for a Tuba in the case of really large buildings.

Hope-Jones showed that by increasing the weight of metal, bellying all flue pipes in the centre, leathering their lips, clothing their flues, and reversing their languids, he could obtain from heavy pressures practically unlimited power and at the same time actually add to the sweetness of tone produced by the old, lightly blown pipes. He used narrow mouths, did away with regulation at the foot of the pipe, and utilized the "pneumatic blow" obtained from his electric action.

He also inaugurated "an entirely new departure in the science of reed voicing." [4]

He employs pressures as high as fifty inches and never uses less than six. His work in this direction has exercised a profound influence on organ building throughout the world, and leading builders in all countries are adopting his pressures or are experimenting in that direction.

Like most revolutionary improvements, the use of heavy pressures was at first vigorously opposed, but organists and acousticians are now filled with wonder that the old low-pressure idea should have held sway so long, in view of the fact that very heavy wind is employed for the production of the best tone from the human voice and from the various wind instruments of the orchestra.

Karl Gottlieb Weigle, of Stuttgart, was a little in advance of many of his confreres in using moderately heavy pressures, but he departed from the leather lip and narrow mouth used by Hope-Jones and has obtained power without refinement.

In employing these heavy pressures of wind, increased purity and beauty of tone should alone be aimed at. Power will take care of itself.


The "organ beater" of bygone days was invariably accompanied by the "organ pumper," often by several of them. There is a well-known story of how the man refused to blow any longer unless the organist said that "we had done very well to-day." The organ pumper's vocation is now almost entirely gone, especially in this country, although we know of organs in England which require four men "to blow the same" unto this day.

When Willis built the great organ in St. George's Hall, Liverpool, in 1855, he installed an eight-horsepower steam engine to provide the wind supply. There is a six-horse steam engine in use in Chester Cathedral (installed 1876).

Gas and petrol (gasoline) engines have been used extensively in England, providing a cheaper, but, with feeders, a less controllable, prime mover. By far the commonest source of power has been the water motor, as it was economical and readily governed, and as water pressure was generally available, but the decline of the old-time bellows, with the fact that many cities to-day refuse to permit motors to be operated from the water mains, have given the field practically to the electric motor, now generally used in connection with some form of rotary fans. The principle of fans in series, first introduced by Cousans, of Lincoln, England, under the name of the Kinetic Blower, is now accepted as standard. This consists of a number of cleverly designed fans mounted in series on one shaft, the first delivering air to the second at, say, 3-inch pressure, to be raised another step and delivered to the next in series, etc., etc. This plan permits tapping off desired amounts of air at intermediate pressures with marked economy, and as it is slow speed, and generally direct connected with its motor on the same shaft, it is both quiet and mechanically efficient.

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