The historic organ and improvisation

by Han Leentvaar | Het ORGEL | Year 94 | (1998) | Issue 16


Ewald Kooiman

‘he historic organ and improvisation

Het ORGEL 94 (1998), nr. 2, 35-38 [summary]

The historic organ can be described in general terms as an instrument from the past, built with unmistakable craftsmanship. Improvisation has many different forms too, which vary from improvisations during worship services to the ones during contests like the Internationaal Improvisatieconcours in Haarlem. Improvisation in worship, as a craft, belongs to the tradition of church music for which many historical organs were built, and to the necessary capabilities of each organist; whereas not every organist has to be able to compete in Haarlem.

The significance of the nostalgic desire of the last 30 years for a return to the organ-for-hymn-singing and to ‘powerful’ congregational singing is relative: in former centuries congregational singing was a laborious affair, and this ‘powerful’ kind of singing often comes only with a strict theology. It is more important to look for connections with the context of contemporary church music.

To play historical organs well, music schools provided not so long ago study trips, lessons in improvisation and church music. Nowadays the duration of curriculum has been severely limited, so organists just learn to play the highlights of the organ literature. Many achievements of recent decades are threatened by this development, and may be abrogated. Wouldn’t it be a good idea for the Dutch Institute for Organ Culture, the conservatories and organists’ societies to collaborate to reverse this trend?